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Thomas F. Collins, Operator - May 11, 1925 (#77)

Thomas F. Collins

On the morning of May 11, 1925, Chief's Operator Thomas Collins waved to his family as he went off to work.  His wife Molly and their seven children did not know that it would be the last time they would see him alive.

Arriving at the firehouse, he reported for duty as operator, District 2.  During the day he was ordered to the Drill School for training.  His assigned task was to carry a charged large line up a ground ladder into the building by himself.  It was later determined that the amount of exertion required to perform this assignment caused his death.  Just one month earlier Operator Collins had passed his department physical examination and no heart problems were detected. After this tragic accident, the drill and department fire ground policy was changed to prevent this from happening to another member of the Department.

Scannell Medal
Recipient of the David Scannell Medal

Thomas F. Collins
Hoseman Detailed as Operator
Engine 10
November 23, 1906
Date of Award: June 6, 1909
Scannell Medal

Rescued a child, Fannie Arleson, at a fire at 518 Minnesota. “Mr. Arleson and wife fled at the first cry of fire and in the excitement that followed they forgot all about their three year old daughter Fannie, who they had left in the house. Collins’ attention was called to the loss of the child, and he entered the house which was heavily charged with smoke, and in one of the back rooms he found the child in its cradle, almost suffocated by the heavy smoke, and he carried it to the street.

“The people who witnessed the good work performed by Operator Collins all agree that if it was not for his prompt action, the child’s life would not have been saved.”
Source: Fire Commission Meritorious Journal

Source: San Francisco Call, Monday, June 7, 1909


SAN FRANCISCO, June 6. For heroic rescues, accomplished at the risk of their own lives, six members of the San Francisco fire department were decorated with medals today. The ceremony took place at Golden Gate Park during the intermission of the concert, and the medals were by Mayor Taylor. The men to receive the badge of courage and devotion to duty were Captain W. T. Farrell, Captain Murray, Walter Cook, Jeremiah Sullivan, Thomas Collins and James Rogers. The medals are of those provided for by the founders of the department as an incentive to all members.
Source: Sacramento Union, Number 106, 7 June 1909

1911 Merit Letter

By: Bill Koenig, Truck 10, retired
Submitted following article to Local 798, IAFF, Main Line publication, January, 2000

Thomas Collins' on duty death qualified him to be placed on the Line of Duty Death List, yet he was not.

In 1989, I married Nancy Joyce, a granddaughter of Thomas Collins.  I heard the story about Thomas Collins' death from my late mother-in-law, Margaret Collins Joyce. 

Margaret told me that for years after her father's death, firemen from his fire house came over to help her mother with home maintenance projects that her father was no longer there to do.  The Collins family always believed that their father died in the line of duty, as he died doing a required fire department drill, and they never knew that the department had neglected to add his name to the memorial plaque at headquarters.

Last year as a member of the Local 798, IAFF, line of duty death committee, I was given the responsibility of checking over the official Line of Duty Death List to make sure that it was correct.  Reviewing the 143 honored men, I noticed many mistakes as to their full name, their company or a full date of death.  Often, the department had the month and year but not the day of those tragic accidents.  I found that the last six deaths, numbers 137 to 143, were not on the list at all even though their names were on the department's memorial plaque in the lobby of headquarters.   Obviously, this list had been neglected for decades.

I began researching the fire commission meeting minutes and municipal reports to fill in the missing items for several of the honorees.  It was interesting to find that while Thomas Collins' death had been acknowledged at fire commission meetings, some members on the line of duty death list had never been acknowledged at those meetings.  I also found that another fireman who died at the drill school just seven months before Thomas Collins had been named on the line of duty death list and plaque.

On July 9, 1999, I sent a petition through channels to Chief Demmons, asking him to place Thomas Collins on the department's line of duty death list.  I received no response.   I sent another request in December 1, 1999.  No response to this request either. 

During this process I was working with Kevin Starr, the State Librarian and noted California historian who is my wife's cousin and a grandson of Thomas Collins.  I mentioned to Kevin that for the past six months I had not received any response from headquarters concerning my petition.  Kevin then sent our packet of information and a cover letter to Mayor Willie Brown.  Within weeks Mayor Brown acted on our request.

The Collins family wishes to thank Mayor Brown for giving Chief's Operator Thomas F. Collins his rightful place on the department Line of Duty Death List, and on the memorial plaque at headquarters. 

The line of duty death list now contains the names of 144 firemen and firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice for the citizens of San Francisco.  Chief's Operator Collins will be listed in his rightful place as the 75th member of the department so honored.  All members after have had their number increased by one, making the last, Lt. Louis Mambretti, the 144th  so honored.

The following is a portion of the petition presented in behalf of Operator Collins:



on the 




Appointed – September 28, 1899
Assigned to: Engine Company No. 10 - 1905
Listed on the “Hero's of Great Calamity” 1906 (#15)

other records list:
Appointed - Operator - 7/1/08
Appointed - Lieutenant 12/23/09
Assigned to: Engine Company No. 1 - 1911
Assigned to: Engine Company No. 35 - 1911

Journal 25, page 184, item (d)
Meeting of May 28, 1925
“reporting death of Thos. F. Collins, Chief's Operator, District 2,
which occurred during practice drill at the Drill School on
May 11, 1925 of heart trouble.
Filed for record.”

From Claire Collins Andre, Pacifica, California, one of his two (of seven) surviving children:

“My father was participating in drill at the Drill tower on May 11, 1925. He was carrying a heavy hose up a tall ladder causing him to have a heart attack.  He had a physical examination just a few months before and was found to be in good health.  It was later determined that the amount of hose he was carrying, and the type of drill he was doing, caused his death.  The drill was changed so that this type of accident would not occur again.”

From Firefighter Bill Koenig, Truck Co. No. 10, SFFD Museum director, 1973-93:
In my review of the Department's Line of Duty Death List, research of fire commission meeting minutes and municipal reports, I have found the following facts:

  1. Chief's Operator Thomas Collins death is so noted in fire commission meetings. Other members already on the list are not noted in fire commission meeting minutes. That Operator Collins was included in these records of a regular meeting shows acknowledgment by the Commission and Department that his death occurred at the drill school while on duty.
  2. Seven members who died at drills are on the list, showing drills qualify members to be so placed on the list. (Please refer to the Local 798 committee report showing the seven members) This clearly shows that drills have qualified members for such honor. 
  3. And, therefore, it is my conclusion that Operator Thomas F. Collins should be added to the department's line of duty death list.

July 9, 1999




 The petition to add Operator Thomas F. Collins' name to the Department's Line of Duty Death list, has been forwarded by Deputy Chief of Department Patrick White to the Line of Death committee of Local 798 for our review.

The committee has determined the following:

1.  Chief's Operator Thomas F. Collins' death is reported in the Fire Commission meeting of May 28, 1925, Journal 25, page 184, and item (d), “reporting death of Thomas F. Collins, Chief's Operator, District 2, which occurred during practice drill at the Drill School on May 11, 1925 of heart trouble.  Filed for record.”  This acknowledgement is clearly written showing the death occurred on duty and at the Drill School and is so recognized by the Chief Engineer. 

2.  During our research we found that while Thomas F. Collins death is noted in the records of the fire commission meeting, several of the line of duty deaths already on the list are not recognized in fire commission proceedings.

3.  Seven members who also died at department drills are on the Line of Duty Death list thus showing that drills have been accepted as line of duty deaths.  (The below listing shows the members' name, date of death, number of death in Dept. history, and assigned company and address at time, and how the death occurred as noted in department records).  They are:

WILLIAM B. LUDLOW  1/11/1886    (20)
Hose Co. No. 3 - 1214 Pacific Avenue
Fall from a ladder at drill

EDWARD RILEY 11/29/1890     (26)
Engine Co. No. 5 - 1219 Powell Street
Fall from ladder at drill
MICHAEL KELLEHER 10/30/1898    (38)
Truck Co. No. 3 - 1421 Market Street
Fall from ladder at drill
HENRY T. HEFFERNAN  9/24/1902     (41)
Engine Co. No. 28 - 301 Francisco Street
 Fall from ladder - Drill Tower
OWEN WILLIAMS  6/7/1920   (68)
Fall from broken ladder at Drill Tower
FRANK W. BECKER  10/29/1924   (74)
Engine Co. No. 23 - 3022 Washington Street
Drill Tower
ROBERT HUTCHINSON  5/2/1970   (128)
Truck Co. No. 10 - 655 Presidio Avenue
Fell from aerial ladder - school drill

4.  We therefore have concluded and have voted affirmatively, that Chief's Operator Thomas F. Collins should have his name added to the Departments Line of Duty Death list and be so noted on the headquarters memorial plaque.

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