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Fire leaves tenants in 43-story downtown building without water, power or elevators

A paramedic van parks outside a downtown city building.
A San Francisco Fire Department paramedic van is parked outside the Paramount building on Mission Street Thursday, a day after a fire left the building without electricity, water or elevator service. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

A fire at a downtown San Francisco residential high-rise building has left hundreds of tenants without electricity, running water or elevator service, disrupting their lives.

The incident at the 43-story Paramount building, which has 387 apartments and was built in 2001, began Wednesday morning with a fire in the main electrical room. Residents reported flickering lights, alarms going off and an announcement to evacuate before the power went out completely. Several residents were trapped in elevators and had to be rescued by San Francisco firefighters.

A spokesperson for the Paramount said the fire caused the power outage.

“We are in touch with all of our residents and providing accommodations while repairs are made. We are in close coordination with PG&E and expect a temporary repair to be completed by tonight that will restore additional basic building systems,” the spokesperson said Thursday.

“Simultaneously, we are working around the clock to restore full power as soon as possible.”

A big-rig truck and a towing truck bearing equipment park outside a city building at a red painted curb.
Heavy equipment trucks pull up Thursday outside the Paramount building on Mission Street in downtown San Francisco. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

A PG&E representative told The Standard that the utility first received word of the problem at 1:44 p.m. Wednesday, and that crews would restore power as soon as issues on the building’s side allowed.

Outside the building at 680 Mission St. on Thursday, vans for PG&E and a local electrical company were parked while crews assessed the equipment, and a heavy truck bearing additional equipment pulled up outside.

In the building’s lobby, shortly before a management representative asked The Standard to leave the premises, residents came and went with suitcases, out of breath from climbing the stairs to their rooms and stressed about the outage and what they said was limited information.

A San Francisco Fire Department paramedic crew responded to assist a resident in the lobby on Thursday, but a department spokesperson would not answer questions about the incident.

Residents expressed frustration with what they called a lack of transparency and support from building management amid the prolonged outage. Dylan Dawson, who lives on the 25th floor, said residents had received contradictory updates from building management about when power would be restored.

By Wednesday night, the building also lost running water, apparently because pumps had no power. “The stairwells were completely blacked out. No exit signs. We were in an abandoned, vacant building,” Dawson said.

People wait in a marble floored building lobby.
Residents come and go Thursday inside the Paramount on Mission Street in downtown San Francisco. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Dawson said the building has emergency generators, but he was informed that there was insufficient fuel to run them.

“The fact that they weren’t replenishing the fuel in the emergency generators is unacceptable,” Dawson said. “Losing running water and access to elevators—that’s a real issue.”

Tenants had to navigate pitch-black stairwells and feared for disabled residents who might be stranded. A resident said the building’s general manager left the property Wednesday night. The Standard was unable to verify that information.

Jessica Gorton, who lives on the 10th floor, managed to make her way to the lobby on Thursday to charge her cellphone. By late morning, temporary service had been restored to one elevator. Gorton was waiting for it to allow her to return upstairs and retrieve medication and supplies.

“It was like camping the first night, but now there’s no running water and no toilet,” said Gorton, balancing her cane and a heavy backpack. “It’s kind of a big deal.”

George Kelly can be reached at

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