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Great Fires: 1906 Great Earthquake & Fire

Reports of Fire Officers
San Francisco Fire Department
1906 Great Earthquake & Fire
Captain G. F. Brown
Engine Company No. 2, 22 O'Farrell Street
Apparatus: 1902 Clapp & Jones, 2nd size, steam engine, 900 GPM

This is a brief and detailed report of the operations of Engine Company #2, of the San Francisco Fire Department during the recent conflagration:

On the night of April 17th, 1906, at about 11 o'clock Engine Company #2, responded to a second alarm of fire from the vicinity of Mason and Francisco Sts., where a Cannery Building was afire, and worked on the same until about 3 A. M. April 18th, 1906, at which time the fire was gotten under control and we returned to our quarters No. 22 O'Farrell St., arriving there about 3.30 A. M. The members of the company after putting the equipment etc., in proper condition, retired.

At about 5.20 A. M. April 18th, 1906, we were awakened by the shock of the earthquake and all the members of the company immediately repaired to the apparatus floor, harnessed their teams and prepaired [sic] for action. When out in the street the first intimation of fire we noticed was in the nieghborhood [sic] of Bush & Kearny Sts. We immediately went there and found the house of Chemical Company #3, S. F. F. D. wrecked and lamented, Dennis Sullivan, Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department, and his wife, buried in the ruins. We lent our assistance in the rescue of our late Chief and his wife, and then responded to a fire call from Market & Keanry [sic] Sts. Arriving there we connected with the hydrants and found that there was no water supply. In an endeavor to locate water, we tried all the hydrants on Market St., between 3rd and 4th Sts., down 4th to Mission St., and along Mission Street. At this time I was informed that a fire was burning at O'Farrell and Taylor Streets. We responded to that call, but were unable to secure water in any of the hydrants in that neighborhood. The fire, which had started in a Drug Store at N. W. Corner William & O'Farrell Sts., underneath a large Apartment House, had assumed quite serious proportions, but we were enabled to extinguish the same with sand that we secured from a building in course of construction in the immediate neighborhood.

We then proceeded to Geary & Stockton Streets, where we were confronted with a most heartrending sight. A large dwelling building had fallen by reason of the earthquake and an incipient blaze was in progress. We immediately proceeded to work and extinguished it. A number of men and women were pinned under the ruins, and the members of my Company started the work of rescuing these unfortunate people, the acts of heroism displayed by them receiving the applause and other marks of approbation of a large gathering of citizens and the residents of that neighborhood. In carrying out one of the unfortunate victims of this house, a stairway gave out under our combined weight and I sustained as a result of the consequent fall a dislocation of the small bones in the heel of my right foot and a badly sprained ankle. After seeing to it that the fire was entirely subdued in this building, I called upon the Police and the citizens standing about to take up the work of rescue. Seeing that they had the matter well in hand we left this place. It might be well to say that we were unable to procure any water with which to fight the fire above mentioned in this neighborhood.

At this time the fire was raging in all parts of the city and we tried to locate water in a dozen places, viz: Third and Mission Streets, New Montgomery and Mission Streets, Second and Mission Streets, along Market Street to Main Street, then along Davis Street, Battery, Sansome, Montgomery, Sutter, Bush, Pine and Californi [sic] Streets. At this time, 7 A. M., we were ordered by Acting Chief Dougherty to take up a position at a cistern located at the Corner of California and Montgomery Streets.

At about 8 A. M. my injuries were dressed by a member of the hospital corps who happened along in this neighborhood, and again about 4 o'clock of the same day it was dressed by Dr. Jones, Surgeon for the Police Department of this City and County.

Upon our arrival at this station the fire was burning fiercely in the lower district. Originally there were 35,000 gallons of water in this cistern. Engine Company #2 pumped the water contained in this cistern into Engine Company #31, which Company was stationed at California and Sansome Streets. At my suggestion Engine Company #28 proceeded to the cistern located at the Corner of California and Dupont Streets, and led a line of hose down the hill pumping the water contained in said cistern, amounting to about 35,000 gallons, into the cistern where Engine Company #2, was located. After exhausting the supply in this cistern Engine Company #28 proceeded to the cistern located at the corner of Commercial and Montgomery Streets, and pumped the water there-in contained into the cistern at California and Montgomery Streets. The members of Engine Companies Nos. 2 and 31 managed the line, doing great work, and prevented the fire from crossing Sansome Street at that point until about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when the fire advanced along Montgomery Street, from Sacramento Street, and we were compelled to abandon the cistern.

Under orders issued by M. O'Brien, Battalion Chief, we proceeded to Sacramento and Powell Streets, where we discovered a hydrant containing a small supply of water and led a line from Engine #2 down the hill to Engine Company #28 stationed at Sacramento and Dupont Streets. The members of my Company, in conjunction with the members of said Engine Company #28, led a line and worked on the fire which was raging along Kearny St., having a fair supply until 3 A. M. the morning of April 19th, at which time the water supply became exhausted.

I have to report that about 7.30 P. M. April 18th, Stoker M. Cunningham sustained a sprained ankle in the performance of his duty, at Sacramento and Kearny Streets, and was removed to the Harbor Hospital; that he is still under the care of his physician and unable to report for duty.

Acting again on orders received from Battalion Chief, M. O'Brien, we left this point and at that hour (3 A. M. April 19th) and proceeded to Eddy Street and Van Ness Avenue, arriving there at about 3.30 A. M. the same morning, and secured a supply of water from the hydrant located at that corner. We led a line of hose down Van Ness Ave. to Turk Street, thence down Turk Street to Larkin Street, and with a good supply of water we worked in that neighborhood until midnight of the 19th, of April, at which time it was extinguished.

Engine Company #2 then proceeded to Franklin and Geary Streets, where it was supplied with water pumped from Engine Company #34, stationed at Ellis Street and Van Ness Avenue. My company led a line of hose to Bush and Franklin Streets where we worked, under Assistant Chief John Wells, until 6 A. M. April 20th, at which time the fire was subdued at that point.

Then by orders issued by Assistant Chief Shaughnessy we proceeded to Filbert Street and Van Ness Avenue, arriving there at about 6.30 A. M. April 20th, in company with Assistant Chief Wells. The Fire Boats, which were stationed at the Northern end of Van Ness Avenue, pumped a supply of water to Engine Company #2, and four or five other Engine Companies which were also stationed at contiguous points, and we worked on the fire from this location until it was extinguished.

I have to report that by reason of over fifty hours continuous service Engineer J. Mitchell and Lieutenant Edward Lennon became exhausted and were removed to the Government Hospital at Fort Mason for treatment. After confinement there for about six hours they returned and reported for further duty.

The other members of the Company, when opportunity afforded, got an hour or two of rest in the doorways and in the streets along side their apparatus, and the little they had to eat during these fifty hours of continuous service was given to them by kind hearted people along the route of the fire. Their clothing, of course, was in an extremely wet condition, and our headquarters having been consumed by the conflagration, none had a change, and things remained in this condition until I was able to make arrangements to secure clothing, blankets, tents and other necessary equipment to clothe and shelter them and afford much needed rest.

I wish to say, in this connection, that all of the members, of this Company are men of family and all suffered by the conflagration, but in the fact of this none of them faltered in the performance of their duty nor asked for a leave of absence for a sufficient length of time to save any of their personal effects or those of their families, and that they worked hard, faithfully and conscientiously.

(Signed) Geo. F. Brown.
Captain of Engine Co. #2, S. F. F. D.
Lieut. Ed. Lennon.
Engineer John Mitchell.
Driver. Chas. Schemel
Stoker M. Cunningham.
Hoseman Geo. Bury.
Hoseman A. Cunningham
Hoseman L. Balletto.
Hoseman M. Collins.

From the files of Battalion Chief Fred J. Bowlen, S. F. F. D.

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