THE HISTORY OF SAN FRANCISCO'S PHOENIX SOCIETY
The Phoenix Society is unique among the many civic and fraternal organizations in San Francisco. The membership is composed of individuals who are interested in the various aspects of the Fire Department and the various principles of fire protection.
It was the custom of Thomas H. Larke, Jr., a prominent insurance broker who was active in community and civic affairs, to respond to all greater alarms of fire in San Francisco. Over the years attending fires, he met and came to know others who held like interests that encouraged them to show up at major alarms day or night. This gave him the idea of organizing the group to promote their common interest in the San Francisco Fire Department.
On May 13, 1932, Mr. Larke brought these gentlemen together in his office and the Society was formally organized. The name "PHOENIX SOCIETY OF SAN FRANCISCO" was selected as being most appropriate because the name "Phoenix" is so closely associated with the City of San Francisco, the City having risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of destructive conflagrations which destroyed it no less than seven times. The Phoenix is the central theme of the Seal of the City and County of San Francisco.
The Phoenix was a fabled bird in Egyptian mythology. The red and gold feathered creature - likened at times to a heron and to an eagle - was said to live exactly 500 years. At the end of that period, legend tells us, it would build a nest of herbs in which it burned itself to death, only to arise from its ashes in full splendor to live for another 500 years.
Following the organization meeting, a Constitution and By-Laws were drawn up and adopted and a few selected, qualified men became members and joined the ranks of the charter members. The Society was incorporated as a non-profit organization under the laws of the State of California on April 19, 1940.
The principal qualification for membership in the Society is attendance at greater alarm fires day or night. Applicants for membership are scrupulously investigated and interviewed before their applications are submitted to the membership for decision. If the vote is favorable, the applicants must be approved by the Chief of the Fire Department before they are admitted to full membership participation.
Provision is made for Honorary Memberships for individuals who, while not intending to be active in the Society's affairs, support the Society and its purposes. The Chief of Department and the Deputy Chief are Honorary members. The former carries the title "THE PRAETORIAN" and the latter "THE PATRICIAN." The special title "CHARIOTEER" was conferred on Edward F. Donahue who, as operator of the Commercial Fire Dispatch in San Francisco, occupied a singular role in the Society's activities until his death in 1964. Other Honorary Members are 'known as "PATRICIANS."
To this day the officers of the Society carry titles reflecting the influence of Egyptian mythology. The President is called the RA; the Vice President the PHARAOH; the Treasurer is the BURSAR; and the Secretary is the RECORDER. Members of the Executive Committee are the PATRIARCHS. Members as a group are PHOENICIANS.
Members of the Society constitute the Survey Committee of the Red Cross Disaster Service. In their response to greater alarms they give aid to fire victims and activate Red Cross resources when disposed persons require emergency assistance.
The Phoenix Society offers its support of the San Francisco Fire Department in several ways. Each year the Department honors one of its members as "Firefighter of the Year." The Society joins with the Department to recognize the recipient(s) at a dinner in their honor and presents a plaque to the honoree(s) to commemorate their achievements.
When a station of the Fire Department is originally placed in service or returned to service after significant renovations, the Society welcomes them back to quarters with a "Housewarming" and presents a gift to the station members in recognition of the occasion.
The Society sponsors an "Old Timers Night" dinner for retired members of the Department. Four retired members of the Department are honored for their many years of outstanding service.
The Society meets monthly for dinner, usually on the second Wednesday of the month. The Society also publishes a bimonthly newsletter, "The Phoenician News," which contains information about the SFFD and other fire departments in the area, as well as a summary of all greater alarm fires in the city.
For information on dinner locations, newsletter subscription and general information about the Society please write:
The Phoenix Society of San Francisco
P.O. Box 31847
San Francisco, CA 94131-0847
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