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Report: Water blast knocked California firefighter over rail

This undated photo provided by the San Francisco Fire Department shows firefighter paramedic Jason Cortez, who died Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, after being injured during a training exercise. His colleagues immediately gave him medical care and he was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where he died an hour later, San Francisco Fire Department spokesman Lt. Jonathan Baxter said. (San Francisco Fire Department via AP)
Posted at 5:07 PM, Oct 11, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A San Francisco firefighter who died this week was knocked over a third-floor railing by a water blast from a valve he had “inadvertently” opened during a training exercise, authorities said in a preliminary report.

Firefighter Jason Cortez, 42, was participating in a training drill Wednesday when he was injured. The married father of two died an hour later at a hospital. Fire officials previously described his death publicly as a “training accident.”

The fire department on Sunday released a copy of the preliminary investigation’s findings to The Associated Press. KNTV first reported it the day before.

The tragedy may have been compounded by confusion about protocols designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to a copy of the five-page report. Only four firefighters — half the typical amount — participated in Wednesday’s “pump drill” exercise meant to train a rookie.

For reasons that aren’t known, Cortez left other firefighters who were dousing a simulated fire on the third floor of a training tower and went to a fire escape, the report stated. There, he “inadvertently” opened a valve — possibly intending to drain water — that did not have a hose connected to it, and a stream flowed out at as much as 100 pounds per square inch pressure.

“The stream of water coming from the (valve) struck him in the chest, knocking him backwards into the fire escape railing, causing him to fall backwards off the fire escape,” according to the report.

Cortez, the son of a retired San Francisco firefighter, was assigned to Station 3 in the Tenderloin, one of the busiest in the city.

A 13-year veteran of the department, he worked his way up the ranks of the department starting as an ambulance paramedic at Station 49, then going to the SFFD Academy and graduating as a paramedic and firefighter.

Services for Cortez have not yet been arranged.

“Local 798 and its membership are mourning the tragic death of our brother, Jason Cortez,” union president Shon Buford said in an email. “As can be expected, his family and our Department are trying to cope with and process his untimely departure.”