The Heroes of San Bruno

By Lori Preuitt
|  Wednesday, Sep 15, 2010  |  Updated 7:04 AM PDT
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They ran into the fire zone as everyone else did what they could to run out of it.

They ran into the fire zone as everyone else did what they could to run out of it.

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The heroic efforts from the San Bruno gas line explosion came to light Tuesday. First responders, who ran into the fire as other ran away from it, talked about their experiences as they faced burn victims, an unknown source of flames and a scene of chaos in San Bruno last Thursday.

The stories of the first responders bring chills to those who hear them. Many dropped everything and drove to the scene, even though the explosion happened during their off hours. One firefighter said his wife said one word after seeing the explosion on television, "Go," and that is what he did.

Captain Bill Forester, with Truck 51, was one of the first people at the scene. Forester said his team found an entire neighborhood on fire.

Forester said when he first heard the call, he thought that a plane had crashed from nearby San Francisco International Airport. He said his second thought was that they were under a terrorist attack.

He said the sound was deafening and was similar to a jet engine. Crews initially thought an engine from a crashing plane might be still running, and they worried -- along with the victims on the ground -- that they would find victims inside an airplane. Forester said they went with the airplane crash theory for the first 20 minutes of the emergency.

Forester said police handled the evacuations, while firefighters tried to get water on the flames.

One of the first big problems they faced was empty fire hydrants, so they had to pull lines from other blocks down the street.

"It was all hands on deck," which included citizens helping firefighters pull fire hoses, said Forester.

Another firefighter named John Priolo has lived in San Bruno his entire life. He was home at the time of the explosion, but rushed to work as soon as he learned of the fire. He said by the time he arrived at his station, walking wounded were arriving there on foot. He said citizens volunteered to take those people to nearby emergency rooms. Priolo worked for the next 12 hours straight. He called Thursday a life-changing event.

Also Tuesday, police and fire released the 911 dispatch calls from that night.

First 30 minutes following the incident courtesy

Next 30 minutes following the incident courtesy

As of Tuesday, the official death toll remained at four, with the number of missing and presumed dead holding at three. The Bullis family -- Greg Bullis, his mother Lavonne and his son William -- were in a home near the blast area and, by all accounts, did not survive.

The identity of the fourth formerly unidentified victim was also released Tuesday. The coroner said 81-year-old Elizabeth Torres died in the blast. Several members of her family were critically hurt with burn injuries.

The other three victims are 20-year-old Jessica Morales, who was watching the football game with her boyfriend at the time, and Jacquelin Grieg and her 13-year-old daughter, Janessa. Jacquelin worked for the California Public Utilities Commission for more than 20 years. Janessa was an eighth-grade student at St. Cecelia Catholic school in San Francisco.

The explosion destroyed 37 homes.

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