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SFFD - Those Who Died in the Line of Duty:
Black Ribbon Louis R. Mambretti Black Ribbon

Louis R. Mambretti, Lieutenant - March 9, 1995 (#146)
Appointed to the Department, July 7, 1970
Engine Co. No. 26 - 80 Digby Street


One thousand firefighters stood at attention in the rain yesterday as fallen comrade Louis Mambretti took a final ride on Engine 26.

From throughout California they came wearing white gloves to honor the San Francisco firefighter who was killed Thursday in a three-alarm house fire.

"Thank you, Lieutenant Mambretti," said Mayor Frank Jordan, eulogizing the 25-year veteran before a standing-room gathering of mourners inside St. Mary's Cathedral. "Thank you for your courage, bravery and sacrifice."

The flag-covered coffin was borne to the cathedral on the back of the same engine that had carried Mambretti to the fire on Everson Street four days earlier. Mambretti was trapped inside a burning garage after an electric garage door inexplicably closed behind him. He died an hour later at San Francisco General Hospital, where three colleagues injured in the same fire remain hospitalized.

An honor guard of seven mounted police officers stood by as the coffin was carried down the long stone walkway to the cathedral, past firefighters standing 10 deep on either side. Their embroidered shoulder patches read like a California road map -- Roseville, Rohnert Park, Manteca, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Sacramento.

Among the mourners was Dolph, a fire dog from Santa Clara County. "We're here to honor our colleague," said Dolph's handler, arson Investigator Bill Hardwicke, while the black Labrador retriever sat at attention, a strip of black crepe on his collar.

In front of the cathedral, on closed-off Geary Boulevard and Gough Street, was a long line of fire engines, ambulances, chief's cars, rescue trucks and other emergency vehicles.

Inside, former Fire Department chaplain Bruce Dreier recalled Mambretti's "deep faith and conviction."

"There was a fire that burned in his heart, a fire of love and life and faith," Dreier said. "No greater love can one have than to give up his life for his fellow man."

Attending were San Francisco supervisors, fire commissioners, politicians, civic leaders, and the Mambretti family -- his widow, Diana, and children John, Leane, Vicki and Laura -- who were presented with Mambretti's badge by Fire Chief Joseph Medina. Also attending were many grateful citizens.

"I'm just here to say thank you for what he did," said one man, who did not wish to give his name.

Mourners sang, prayed, knelt, listened and wept.

Speakers called for more prayers for 34-year-old firefighter Melanie Stapper, critically injured in the same fire that killed Mambretti. Also remaining hospitalized were firefighters John Pieretti, 44, and Keith Onishi, 31, both in fair condition.

Jordan said Mambretti instinctively "knew what to do" when the fire broke out shortly before 1 a.m. at 75 Everson Street, two blocks from the fire station. While residents ran for safety, Mambretti and his fellow firefighters went inside, Jordan said, because that is what firefighters do.

"They go in when the bell sounds. They do it superbly, quietly, unassumingly and reliably," Jordan said. "Lieutenant Mambretti's courage and his sacrifice will be an inspiration for the rest of us."

Throughout the ceremony came frequent reminders that a firefighter's job does not respect funerals. Mourning paramedics were called upon to administer first aid to a visiting firefighter who fainted near the front door and then, halfway through the ceremony, the crew of a rescue truck discreetly dashed from the cathedral, donned its turnout gear and sped off on an emergency call. During the eulogies and prayers, other mourning firefighters monitored emergency calls through earphones.

The funeral ended with the tolling of a silver fire bell nine times, in the tradition of the city's Fire Department.

The enormous numbers of visiting firefighters resumed their positions outside the cathedral and stood shoulder to shoulder, ladder straight, as the coffin was carried back to Engine 26 for the trip to the cemetery. The mounted officers and two dozen police on motorcycles led the procession down westbound Geary Boulevard in a relentless rain.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, page A - 1


Mon, Sep 24, 2007

You never get used to the fact that you may lose one of your own. This can happen when the rescuer becomes the rescued. Events take place beyond your control.

One unusually windy night in the City of San Francisco on March 9, 1995 a call came in that there was a fire in a residence located in the Diamond Heights Twin Peaks neighborhood. The winds were gusting at 80 miles per hour, which is the perfect fuel to fan a fire.

The first engine crew to arrive put their scott airpacks on and led a charged line to the fire entering the open garage and proceeded through an open door in the rear. Winds roaring up Glen Canyon were blasting into an open sliding-glass door at the back of the house, creating a funnel effect that pushed the fire straight toward the crew. There, however, was one major unforeseeable problem.

The fire exploded due to the high winds and created a backdraft. The crew quickly retreated to the garage hoping to avoid the smoke and flames. Something terribly had gone wrong, someone had closed the garage door and the crew was now trapped. Since the power had been cut off the crew was unable to open the electric door. The air was getting hotter and hotter- it was unbreathable. Onishi jammed the door to keep it open. The scott airpacks the firefighters wore only had 30 minutes of air at the most. Valuable time was passing and there was no way out. The two firefighters Keith Onishi and Melanie Stapper and their officer Lieutenant Lou Mambretti laid on the ground attempting to get air from under the garage door. They choked and gagged as they banged on the garage door for help. Personal safety alarms would have been of no additional help since the firefighters calls for help were much louder than any activated personal alarm scream.  These personal alarm devices work well when a firefighter passes out and is unable to call for help.  Firefighters heard the calls for help and began attempting to lift the heavy door. The door refuse to budge and they could hear the shouts for help becoming fainter.  Firefighters outside used axes, chain saws and a circular saw. Finally two firefighters, with almost super human strength, lifted up the electric garage door.

Two of the three firefighters were not breathing. There are some firefighters who believe that Lieutenant Mambretti had given the remaining air in his tank to the rookie firefighter Melanie Stapper who was lying next to him and as a result he died. If this is true, the Lieutenant had given his life so that another may live. This is the greatest gift of all. Firefighter Onishi had burned his lungs and suffered third degree burns on both hands and other parts of his body. Firefighter Melaine Stapper was placed in a coma by the medical doctors in an attempt to save her. Due to her serious injuries she was no longer able to work as a Firefighter and was forced to retire. She suffered permanent partial blindness as well as other serious permanent injuries. Firefighter Onishi after many months of medical care and physical therapy was able to return to full duty. Nine other firefighters suffered serious injuries. The death of Lt. Mambretti shocked all the members of the Fire Department. He was two weeks short of retiring.   Thousands of  firefighters from around that state attended Louis Mambretti’s funeral.

Many lessons are learned from this fire. Nobody is to blame, that is the nature of the job. Finger-pointing only comes from being naive about firefighting. Fire is an act of nature that sometimes has its own mind. I know that I will never forget the events that occurred that windy night.

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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