Presidio Military Center Has Efficient Fire Service
Modern Fire Department, Manned by Civilians and Soldiers and Well Equipped Makes Enviable Record
THE largest military post within the city’s limits in the United States, the Presidio of San Francisco, is well guarded from fire by modern apparatus and a crew of firemen consisting of both civilians and “G. I. Joes.”
The Presidio, which has a historical background dating back before it was first fortified in 1776 by the soldiers of Charles III of Spain, is a wooded tract of 1,540 acres on the northwest side of the city where it borders the Golden Gate. Since the time it was chosen by Juan Kautista De Anza as military headquarters back in 1776, the Presidio has been occupied by Spanish garrisons, was host to Fremont’s buckskin’-clad followers, welcomed volunteers during the Spanish-American War, trained doughboys for service in the first World War and has played and is still playing a most important part in the present war.
In 1906, the Presidio became a haven for refugees of the great earthquake and fire who lived there in tents while San Francisco rose from the ashes. In 191718 it played host in an even grimmey manner, housing a concentration camp for enemy aliens.
The reservation is now headquarters for the Western Defense Command, of which Lieut. Gen. Delos C. Emmons is the commandant. Post commander is Colonel George Munteanu. The reservation, which includes sand dunes and heavily forested hillsides, contains bayracks, warehouses, officers’ quarters, a guard house, recreation centers, a hospital, aviation field, hangars and a lot of other things that are military secrets at the present.
Before the war Letterman General Hospital w’as the largest military hospital in the West and one of five Army general hospitals in the country. At that time it had 1000 beds, consisted of 56 permanent structures spread over 48 acres. Still in use is the old Station Hospital constructed in 1854 of materials shipped around the Horn.
Civilians are still allowed to enter the reservation to go to the National Military Cemetery, subject to scrutiny and approval of MP’s but what goes on in this military reservation in the heart of the most important port of embarkation on the West Coast is strictly a military secret. Needless to say, the greatly increased fire hazards brought about by wartime conditions are not non-existent at the Presidio.
Nevertheless, regular and continuous fire inspections have paid big dividends foy there was only $15 fire loss within the reservation from October 1942 to October 1943.
Fire protection for the Presidio is under the direction of Fire Marshal (Capt.) J. T. Jones of the Port Engineers’ Office. His assistants are Captain S. W. Muir and Lieut. Charles Middleton, also members of the Army’s Corps of Engineers. They are responsible to the post commander for the fire protection and prevention service, a task not a small one.
Heading the actual fire fighters is Fire Chief A. E. Miller. Miller, formerly captain of Engine 1 of the Oakland Fire Department, where he served 26 years, took over direction of Presidio Fire Fighting activities in July, 1942. He has a bit of military background, too, for he served in the Navy prior to World War I and was with the 102nd Infantry of the 26th Division (N. Y.) in France where he was wounded, receiving the Puyple Heart. Modestly, he declaims being anything but a “buck private” in the war. He is married, has a daughter, 19.
Assistant Chiefs W. A. Wagner and William Dineen both hail from Omaha, both are retired captains of the Omaha Fire Department. Wagner put in 26 years, Dineen 25 before coming to the Presidio where the former has been for two years and the latter more than a year.
The chief, his assistants and all pump operators are civilians. Company officers and hosemen are enlisted men who work48 hours and are off 24 in contrast to the 24-on-24-off worked by the civilians. Military police companies and headquarters troops form a huge reserve of manpower for the fire department. The men are drilled constantly.
Alarm system used consists of Gamewell Automatic boxes augmented by a number of ADT boxes. In addition alarms may be given via telephone and companies dispatched by the same method. Each house is equipped with register and bell as well as a telephone. Headquarters station has a special alarm room complete with alarm equipment, a battery of telephones and siren control.
Assignment cards are used for alarm response which varies according to the location and hazard involved. Fort Scott, which is actually within the reservation, has its own fire department as has each of the other forts making up the harbor defenses. They are under separate command but have a mutual protection system which calls for moving up of companies on second or greater alarms.
Also within the reservation are four San Francisco city alarm boxes to which full assignments of city apparatus respond. They are located at the main post, in the warehouse area and two are at Letterman General Hospital. City fire equipment is also available for response to multiple alarm fires within the reservation.
The Presidio has a large fresh water Supply plus unlimited supply from the Bay through manifolds. The main reservoir contains nearly three million gallons of water. In addition there are cisterns spotted at points of vantage about the reservation, each containing 20,000 gallons.
While the apparatus does not carry much in the way of ladders, all buildings on the reservation are provided with fire escapes and ladders.
Several types of apparatus are used on the .reservation, including pumpers, crash trucks and brush trucks.
In Headquarters Station, for example there is quartered a Holabird truck equipped with a Hale 750-gpm pump. The truck carries 1100 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose, 300 of l 1/2-inch, a 35 and 24-toot extension ladders and a 12-loot roof ladder. It is also equipped with a 125-gaIlon water tank equipped with a power takeoff which will deliver 35 gallons a minute, a 250-foot reel of one-inch hose, fog nozzles and other equipment.
Other pumpers, some of them Hale pumps mounted on Ford or Chevrolet chassis, carry much the same equipment, deliver 500 gallons per minute. Other makes such as American LaFrance and Peter Pirsch are also used. Most of them carry 300-gallon water tanks.
Several brush trucks, specially equipped for fighting brush and incendiary bomb fires, have been installed.
The crash truck at the Crissy Field Station is typical of Army type crash trucks. It is mounted on a Dodge chassis, carries 300 gallons of water, has Bean fog equipment that enables discharge of 60 gpm at a pressure of 600 pounds per square inch. It carries two reels of high pressure one-inch hose, foam and CO2 equipment as well as other apparatus. Crash truck crews have been specially trained to fight plane crash fires.
Auxiliary pumpers consisting of 500gpm Chrysler-powered, skid-mounted Hale pumps on either Chevrolet or Ford Army truck chassis are held in reserve. The one at Letterman Hospital Station, for example, carries 700 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose.
Because post sirens are used as air raid warnings, no sirens are sounded bv the apparatus in responding to calls within the reservation.
Most stations have sleeping quarters on the apparatus floor level although the bunk room in the headquarters station is upstairs. Quarters stand frequent military inspection and all those visited were as neat as the proverbial pin.
Most quarters have day rooms equipped with radios and amusement devices, magazines and writing facilities.
There are men assigned to duty in the alarm office at headquarters ’round the clock and they are responsible for handling all still alarms and dispatching of companies.
Apparatus and manual drills are held frequently and Chief Miller or his assistants make a tour of inspection every day. Violations of fire rules and regulations are reported to the Fire Marshal who takes prompt action to see that they are abated immediately.
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Companies are assigned to special duty at times, especially when a military operation of haza.rdous nature is under way.
While the alarm system is old and not as fast as systems installed more recently, response of companies is very speedy despite heavy traffic, hills and narrow, winding drives. Frequent test runs are made, boxes being pulled by the Fire Marshal o.r Fire Chief without previous notification to companies involved.
In one such instance while this reporter was present, three companies from two stations, responding to a box alarm in the hilly, residential section and more than a half-mile from either station, had lines laid, charged and were throwing water in less than two minutes. The first company, a light pumper roared up to the scene of the “fire” just 40 seconds after the box was snapped.
The fire fighting forces at the Presidio, together with those of the harbor defense forts, the Port of Embarkation apparatus at Fort Mason and the Coast Guard Fire Battalion, provide a mighty assemblage of well-trained men and modern apparatus with which to fight a peacetime and wartime enemy, fire.