Guardians of The City SFFD Home Page - San Francisco Fire Department Museum
SFFD - Those Who Died in the Line of Duty:
Black Ribbon Dennis T. SullivanBlack Ribbon

Dennis T. Sullivan, Chief Engineer - April 18, 1906 (#47)

Dennis T. Sullivan


D. T. Sullivan, Chief Engineer of Department, died April 22, 1906, from injuries at his quarters by falling walls, on April 18, 1906

Shortly after midnight on April 18, 1906, a second alarm of fire was called in the North Beach district. Chief Engineer Sullivan responded. At about 2:00 in the morning, the Chief returned to his family’s quarters on the third floor of Chemical Company No. 3 located at 410 Bush Street. As not to disturb his wife Margaret, who was sleeping in the front master bedroom, it was the Chief’s practice when returning from a night alarm to use their rear bedroom. When the earthquake hit, the Chief hastened down the hallway to comfort his wife. In the darkness he did not see that the floor between him and the front bedroom had been taken away by the falling dome of the California Hotel. The large hotel dome was located sixty feet higher than the roof of the firehouse.

Chemical Company 3 is also houses the Battalion Chief of District 2. Chief Walter A. Cook, on duty on April 18, 1906, wrote the following report concerning the rescue of Chief Sullivan and his wife Margaret.

“On the 18th inst. at 5:13 a.m. our quarters were carried down by the dome of the California Hotel; all hands were in bed at the time except Hoseman Maroney who was watch at that time. The roof and third and second floor came down through the apparatus floor to the cellar. Apparatus floor resting on coal pile; Third floor occupied by the late Chief and his wife; Second floor occupied by Chemical Crew and Operators; All went for the stairs except John Coyne who fell through the coal hole.

“When the crash ceased we started at once to dig for the Chief and Mrs. Sullivan, assisted by the “Bulletin” [San Francisco Bulletin newspaper, with offices directly across the street] employees and J. O’Brien, Police Officers Berg, Welsh, Farrell and Tutenberg. While so digging the Chief walked from the rear of the pile. P. Gallagher and Jerry Collins, Chief’s Operator, assisted him into the St. George Stables. Chief’s Operator, drove him away at once to the Hospital [at 14th and Mission streets]. Mrs. Sullivan was taken out shortly afterwards and we carried her into the California Hotel where a Doctor took charge of her.”

The chief had a slight fracture of the skull, several broken ribs, one of them punctured a lung; his right hip was badly lacerated and his body was covered with bruises and abrasians. The most dreadful injuries were caused by steam and scalding water from the radiator that was in the spot where he was carried by the avalanche of rubble and was spurting on him while the rescuers were at work.

Sullivan lingered near death for four days and finally died at the Presidio’s U.S. Army General Hospital, where he was taken when the Southern Pacific Company Hospital at Fourteenth and Mission streets was evacuated because of the fire.

By: Battalion Chief Walter A. Cook



Dennis T. Sullivan, late Chief Engineer of the San Francisco Fire Department, died April 22, 1906, from injuries received during the earthquake of April 18, 1 906.

Chief Sullivan and wife occupied quarters on the third floor of the building occupied by Chemical Company No. 3 on Bush street above Kearny.

The earthquake overthrew the high ornamental tower that surmounted the roof of the California Hotel, immediately adjoining and high above the quarters of the Chief, which, toppling over on the latter roof crashed through the building to the ground floor, going through the room occupied by Mrs. Sullivan and carrying her in her bed down to the bottom floor. Meanwhile the Chief, who occupied the adjoining room, was awakened by the crash, and unmindful of anything but his wife's safety, rushed into the room occupied by her, and in the dim light fell through the opening in the floor made by the falling tower down to the bottom floor, receiving injuries that resulted in his death four days later.

Chief Sullivan was born at Florence, New Jersey, on November 2, 1852, and was fifty-three years of age at the time of his death. His early life was spent at Utica, New York, where he attended the Assumption Academy, and there after leaving school he learned the trade of carriage blacksmith. He was for several years a member of Empire and Eagle Hose Company No. 4, of that city.

After the death of his parents he came to San Francisco in 1874, and entered the fire department in 1877 as hoseman of Engine Company No. 3. He was promoted to stoker of Engine Company No. 12 ml 1879, to hydrantman in 1880, to district engineer (now termed battalion chief) in 1883, and to first assistant chief engineer in 1891 . On the death of Chief Engineer David Scannell, who died on March 30, 1893, he succeeded to the position of chief engineer, which rank he held continuously up to the time of his death.

Upon assuming the command of the fire department he immediately proceeded to install the latest and best improved fire fighting apparatus then in operation or being introduced in the larger cities of the East, and it was due to his untiring zeal and energy as well as his natural fitness for the position that the San Francisco Fire Department very quickly gained a national reputation, both in efficiency and discipline of its members as well as completeness of apparatus and appliances for fire fighting purposes. As an illustration of this, when Chief Webb, of the New Zealand fire brigade, arrived in New York City from Europe on his official tour around the world inspecting fire department methods of the principal cities, he was told by Chief Bonner, of that department, that he would have saved considerable time and expense had he first visited San Francisco, as he would have found there a fire department as efficient and as fully equipped with fire fighting appliances as any city in the world, and further, that he would have learned there all that could be learned of fire departments and their methods.

While by no means an alarmist, it was always Chief Sullivan's aim to be prepared for any exigency that might arise in fire protection matters, and as far back as twelve or fifteen years ago he earnestly advocated the establishment of an auxiliary high pressure salt water supply for this city, which undoubtedly would have proven of inestimable value during the conflagration of April, 1906. Some ten years ago he also conceived the advisability of the establishment of a trained corp of engineers and sappers, well versed in the proper methods and application of high explosives as a preventative of the spread of a serious conflagration, and with this object in view he entered into communication with the proper military authorities on the subject, which finally resulted in an agreement with the War Department, whereby it consented to furnish a competent corps of engineers and sappers, with the necessary explosives, to be always in readiness at the Presidio Military Reservation to a call of the Chief Engineer in the event of a serious conflagration. The only obstacle to the immediate putting into effect of these plans, was the providing of about one thousand dollars for the building of a brick vault in the reservation grounds for the storage of the explosives. The United States Government could not provide the funds for this purpose, and an appeal to the Board of Supervisors by the Chief Engineer for an appropriation for this purpose was fruitless, and so a project that would certainly have insured a more practical and systematic method of razing buildings in the path of the conflagration of April, 1906, was lost to this community.

No public official ever commanded a greater respect and esteem of the general public than did Chief Sullivan during his long service in the San Francisco Fire Department, as was attested by the immense assemblage of public officials and citizens that attended the burial services over his remains, which took place on April 14, 1907, nearly one year after his untimely death.

In private life he was noted for his exemplary habits as well as his charitable and kindly acts, so generously and modestly bestowed whenever occasion required, it being his particular care to see that the families of firemen who met their death in the discharge of duty were provided for.

At a meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners of the City and County of San Francisco, on June 15, 1908, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted and ordered spread in full on the records of the Board:


Whereas, We have lost in death our great and beloved Chief, Dennis T. Sullivan; and
Whereas, His long and loyal service in this community earned him a high and lasting
place in its gratitude and remembrance ; and
Whereas, Through all the long years we had him with us we found him brave, strong,
just and faithful, devoted to his work, considerate to his men, a stranger to fear,
choosing always the post of greatest danger for himself, never calculating the
difficulty or the peril, indifferent always to his own safety when life or property
stood in danger. Be it
Resolved, By the San Francisco Fire Department that we record our profound sorrow
at his sad and untimely death and our deep sense of the loss it means to us and
to the community he served so well. That he was a born fireman; that he was a
chief among men by nature ; that he was a lofty character that would have
adorned the highest stations in the world's affairs; that he was a public servant,
faithful and devoted ; that he earned his rest.

Source: 1907 Municipal Report, page 897


1906 April 24

The funeral services the late Chief Sullivan of the San Francisco Fire Department will take place today (Tuesday) at 1 o'clock from 1984 Forty-ninth avenue, Oceanside. The remains will be placed temporarily in Mount Calvary Cemetery vault.

Source: San Francisco Call, Volume 99, Number 145, 24 April 1906 — FUNERAL OF FIRE CHIEF. [ARTICLE]

D.T. Sullivan Funeral Procession

Funeral procession of Chief Engineer Dennis T. Sullivan, April 14, 1907, on Van Ness Avenue crossing Olive Street,
proceeding south towards Market Street.



1906 April 26

The funeral of the late Dennis Sullivan, chief of the Fire Department, was held yesterday afternoon at his home on the Ocean boulevard. Many of his life-long friends were gathered around his bier, while, Archbishop {Montgomery delivered a eulogistic address. Mrs. Sullivan, who is still suffering from the injuries received In the collapse of the Bush street fire house was not present. The Fire Department was represented by the Fire Commissioners, Chief Dougherty and other officials. Archbishop Montgomery spoke feelingly of the great work that the dead Chief had accomplished in his lifetime; After the services the body was removed to the receiving vault at Calvary cemetery, where It will be held until arrangements can be made for its interment at Holy, Cross.

Source: San Francisco Call, Volume 99, Number 147, 26 April 1906 — CHIEF SULLIVAN'S REMAINS INTERRED WITH HONORS [ARTICLE]


1906 May 27

Tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock a solemn requiem mass will be celebrated at Sacred Heart Church. Fell and Fillmore streets, for the repose of the soul of Dennis T. Sullivan, late chief engineer of the Fire Department. 

Source: San Francisco Call, Volume 99, Number 179, 27 May 1906 — Requiem 3lass for Dead Chief. [ARTICLE]


1906 May 29

The Church of the Sacred Heart was filled to overflowing yesterday morning by the friends and relatives of the late Chief D. T. Sullivan of the Fire Department, who succumbed to injuries that he received the morning of the earthquake. The occasion was a month's mind mass for the repose of Chief Sullivan's soul and was held under the auspices of the Knights of Columbus, of which order he was a prominent |member. The celebrant of the mass was Father J. A. Grant, the chaplain of San Francisco Council No. 615. The other dignitaries were Father Horan, deacon, and Father Wyman, sub-deacon. Among those who attended were Neal Powers, grand knight of' Council No. 615 ; Chief J. Dougherty, Fire Marshal  Charles Towe, Chief M. O’Brien and Chief Shaughnessy. Mrs. Sullivan occupied a seat in the front row with Mrs. T. D. Bulger.

Source: San Francisco Call, Volume 99, Number 181, 29 May 1906 — Month's Mind Mass Said. [ARTICLE]

During the year the following named widow of a late member of the Fire Department was pensioned under the provision of Article IX, Chapter 7, Section 5, of the Charter, viz: Mrs. Margaret T. Sullivan, widow of Dennis T. Sullivan, Chief Engineer. Pensioned May 18, 1906. Effective May 1, 1906.

Mrs. Margaret T. Sullivan was granted a quarterly pension of $499.95.

In 1906 the yearly salary of the Chief Engineer was $4,000.

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

Back to the Top

SFFD Home Page Guardians of The City Home Page