Officials at the San Francisco Fire Department are now dealing with trying to plan a funeral during a pandemic. They are also investigating the death of one of their firefighters.
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Jason Cortez, 42, died during a training exercise Wednesday morning. Fire officials say investigators from the police, fire and CAL OSHA departments will look into what happened.
They have not released any details.
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“We want to be positive and respectful to what Jason deserves, what his family deserves and what this community deserves. And that is the facts. And having a non-biased group of individuals investigate this, witness statements, facts leading up to this incident, and coming up with something that is conclusive to bring to the family, to our department and to our communities,” said Lt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesperson for the fire department.
Fire officials say planning the funeral is going to be a challenge.
“That’s going to entail some creative thinking. Traditionally, we like to have a large showing of support to pay tribute to a person who dedicated their life to giving to the public. So, in the next couple of days, we will be evaluating our options to adhere to the COVID-19 rules and regulations to keep us safe. As we are first responders, and we need to stay safe so we can help keep others safe,” Lt. Baxter said.
They are also focused on helping the department through its grief. Counselors have gathered in one central location where firefighters can meet and process Cortez’s death together. The married father of two has been at the department for 13 years. His father was also a San Francisco firefighter.
VIDEO: Paying respects to late SF firefighter, Jason Cortez
“We also have measures available for members to go one-on-one with a mental health professional or a peer support professional during these trying times. And we understand that the community is also feeling this grief and we ask that if you’re feeling this grief to please reach out to a friend or family member or a religious figure or a mental health professional to help you get past this events, as we are doing the same thing,” Lt. Baxter said.
San Francisco residents have left flowers, candles and cards outside Fire Station no. 7, where Cortez died, to show support and thank Cortez for his service. Fire officials say this gesture means a lot to them.
“When we see a simple candle, or a simple wave, thumbs up, like we’ve been seeing overwhelmingly in our community, it not only brings us comfort, speaking personally for myself, (it) brings tears to our eyes. It’s very helpful and again we thank the public,” Lt. Baxter said.
He also expressed thanks to neighboring police departments for helping them after Cortez’s death along with the staff at San Francisco General Hospital, including Dr. Erlich and Dr. Colwell.