Shortly after 11a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30, San Jose’s emergency response received a number of calls reporting smoke pouring out of San Jose’s St. Patrick’s Church.
The church, located at 389 East Santa Clara Street, is the second-oldest church in the Diocese of San Jose, and it served as the diocese’s proto-cathedral from 1981-1990 while the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph was being renovated.
The fire quickly went to three alarms and approximately 60 firefighters arrived to battle the blaze. The fire was reported extinguished at 12:05 p.m. At about the same time, firefighters discovered that one of their own had collapsed.
Firefighters found Francis “Frank” Ryan, a 15-year veteran of the SJFD, in a state of cardiac arrest in front of the church. NBC Bay Area reported, “Ryan was given immediate medical attention by his fellow firefighters. They said he had no pulse and was not breathing for a time, but his ‘brothers’ brought him back to life before rushing him to the hospital.
Ryan was walking back to his rig as crews wrapped up operations when he collapsed, Fire Chief William McDonald said. He was taken to Regional Medical Center in San Jose, where he was reported to be in “critical but stable” condition.
After the fire had been extinguished, SJFD Capt. Mary Gutierrez, her voice choking with emotion, spoke with reporters. “This firefighter, at great risk today, has a pretty serious injury. Our hearts are going out to him and his family… It’s been an incredibly tough day for all of us. It’s been a tough day for the city.”
Gutierrez said that firefighters had faced “blackout conditions” inside the smoke-filled church. Eyewitnesses reported stained-glass windows cracking from the heat and plummeting to the street below. Smoke from the blaze was visible through San Jose.
St. Patrick’s today primarily serves Catholics of Vietnamese ethnicity. The pastor is Fr. Peter Loi Hunyh. The parish also has a school. School was in session during the fire, and the students were evacuated to nearby Horace Mann Elementary School. The school, which is separated from the church by a parking lot, was not harmed, and the students were allowed to return after the fire was extinguished.
Capt. Gutierrez told reporters that the cause of the blaze had not yet been determined, but that it had started in front of the church. Fire investigators are currently examining the site.