In 1989, San Francisco witnessed one of its most destructive earthquakes in recent history. The magnitude 6.9 earthquake left 3,000 people injured and 67 dead. The second level of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed onto the road below it, killing 42 people. The San Francisco Fire Department was very involved in rescue attempts due to building collapses and gas main breaks, which caused catastrophic fires throughout the city. During the earthquake, SFFD was so overwhelmed that many residents were left unaided and unprepared for a disaster of such magnitude.
Lieutenant Erica Arteseros of SFFD recalls the fire and the damage it did. She believes that in emergencies, the entire community should assist first responders in their rescue efforts. . In her opening remarks, she described her family situation growing up. “The focus was not on disaster preparedness,” said Arteseros, “it was on getting food on the table.” While her family was unable to take measures towards disaster preparedness, Arteseros emphasized, “If you have the means, you must.” It is the responsibility of those who have the means to receive disaster training to aid their community in case of emergency.
In accordance with her passion for community disaster preparedness, Arteseros now leads the Neighborhood Emergency Response Training (NERT) program as Program Coordinator. The NERT program was established by the SFFD in 1990 as a response to the 1989 earthquake. Since then, NERT has successfully trained 24,700 residents and counting.
The first day of training was on Sept. 17 and included training on personal preparedness, utility safety, fire behavior, hazards and terrorist attacks. The classes are taught by firefighters who rotate throughout the day. Arteseros explained that the program features “hands on training and allows [San Francisco] residents to form a connection with the fire department.” The second day of training will take place on November 23 and will include topics such as disaster medicine, search and rescue and building hazards. The third and final day, September 30, will feature more hands on training exercises which will show participants how to use a fire extinguisher, support heavy objects using cribbing and shut off gas valves in homes. The final class will also include information on team structure, interfacing with the fire department and triage.
The USF Office of Campus Resilience hosts one NERT session every year which takes place over the course of three Saturdays for 24 total hours. This year, the class was at full capacity. Director of Campus Resilience Eric Jardini oversees emergency preparedness on campus, and emphasized the importance of hosting this training at USF. “In the event that there is an emergency on campus or in the neighborhood, we’ll have folks on campus who are trained to do search and rescue and first aid,” Jardini said.
John Troccoe, USF’s emergency management consultant in the Office of Campus Resilience, reached out to the SFFD in 1990 just and offered USF as a venue for the NERT training. Troccoe was involved with NERT during his time as the district manager in the Office of Emergency Management and Safety at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Troccoe will be present at all three days of the NERT event. “It’s a great way for students and employees to learn how to help each other in case of a crisis,” said Troccoe. He also explained that the NERT program is especially beneficial for nursing students, as an emergency response certification will be a pragmatic addition to their resumes.
Arteseros hopes that through the SFFD’s relationship with USF she will foster campus disaster preparedness with a zombie themed disaster safety event. She hopes to partner with an on-campus organization to emulate an event put on by Tulane University, CSU Northridge, and several other universities. During this event, students, faculty and staff complete “missions,” which educate participants on disaster safety and teamwork. “The whole campus would participate,” Arteseros said, “and folks will be able to work together in case of emergency.”
The most recent major disaster in USF history occurred in 1974. Only five minutes before a fire drill was scheduled to take place, room 408 in the Hayes-Healy dorm became engulfed in flames after a decorative candle set fire to the drapes. The fire was discovered when the adjacent room caught fire and the flames spilled into the hallway, licking the opposite wall.
According to a news article in the March 15, 1974 issue of the Foghorn, seven engines, two rescue squads and four fire chiefs rushed to the scene. Although an inflamed mattress sent heavy black smoke into the halls and created an environment with very little oxygen, the fire was under control in under 15 minutes. Nothing from room 408 was salvageable, and the fire destroyed a few belongings from the room adjacent. A copy of the original newspaper is in the Foghorn office on the UC 4th floor and in the Gleeson Library Digital Collections.