SAN FRANCISCO FIREMEN PREPARE FOR AIR RAIDS
Firemen on 168 hour week for Duration of War Emergency
SAN FRANCISCO’S Are department went on a wartime basis a few moments after war came to the United States with Japan’s unprovoked attack on Hawaii and other outposts on December 7.
Ordered by Chief Charles Brennan, a 10-7 signal was struck over the alarm system, “freezing” men on duty to their posts and calling back all off-shift men for duty until further notice. Chief Brennan later said men would be allowed time off for meals if the 168-hour week became a necessity for the duration of the emergency.
Chief Brennan also immediately ordered into service all available relief apparatus. A pumper was placed in each house where there had been none before, and double pumper companies were established in the quarters of Engines 15 and 48, in the Japanese section and in the shipbuilding yards’ district, respectively.
Training for Civilian Corps
Citizens who had been signing up for Civilian Defense were immediately started on a course of training. The Fire Department took over the task of instructing auxiliary firemen; the Police Department began instruction of those who signed for the auxiliary police and as air raid wardens and the Red Cross began instruction of rescue and first aid squads.
Supplies of first aid materials were immediately moved to strategic points. Heavy rescue equipment was placed, ready for instant use. Two new tonand-a-lialf pumpers, capable of delivering 500 g.p.m. at 120 pounds pressure from a pump mounted ’midships, are being used to train the auxiliary firemen.
Training of volunteers, despite lack of equipment, is being rushed. Newspapers and radio Stations cooperated with the Fire and Police departments, federal agencies and the armed forces in impressing upon the public the seriousness of the situation.
Three new signals have been established for the Fire Department due to the emergency. The signal 10-7 is struck over the system when a “blue” or alert warning is sent out from the Fourth Interceptor Command which has a filter station in San Francisco. This signal is for the benefit of police and firemen and other defense agencies only and does not go out to the general public. The signal 10-8 is the “red” of blackout signal and all firemen go to their posts, standing by for immediate response. The signal 10-9 is the “all clear.”
Lack of air raid warning equipment presented a problem. The only big siren in the city was on the Ferry Building and could not be heard outside the downtown section and financial district. A temporary solution was found by using the two sirens located on the Islais Creek and Third Street bridges together w ith the Ferry Building siren, and by having fire and police apparatus move into the street and blow their sirens.
Since then, eight powerful sirens, ordered from Chicago, have arrived and have been strategically located in various sections of the city. The signal for an air raid is a fluctuating tone, or warbling, for two minutes, repeated several times.
City trucks, aided by private trucks belonging to scavenger companies have distributed free sand throughout the city to be used in combating fire bombs.
The newspapers have published information released by the Office of Civilian Defense, covering what to do in an air raid, how to handle bombs and fires started by them, the location of all emergency hospital facilities, how to combat poison gas, what may be done and not done during a blackout, etc. The Board of Supervisors passed a “blackout ordinance,” seeking to rectify conditions that showed up in San Francisco’s first blackout, the Monday night following Japan’s attack.
This writer, employed by a San Francisco newspaper, was ordered to go to the roof of the publication building a few seconds after the report was received that “planes were over Daly City,” a small suburban community contiguous to San Francisco, to “see if bombs were falling,” and to determine the extent of the blackout.
Blackout Slow in Starting
There was no evidence of planes overhead, or bombs falling. But neither was there any evidence of a blackout. Neon signs blazed; store windows, decorated with Christmas trimmings, were lighted as usual; the majority of street lights were on; a huge sign at least 50 feet high and atop a tall downtown building blazed high in the air, ironically enough, w’ith the word “SAFE;’’ street cars moved; buses traveled with full loads of passengers; the sodium vapor lights on the Bay and Golden Gate bridges blazed brightly. Only evidence of a blackout anywhere was on the military reservations—the Presidio of San Francisco, Forts Scott, Funston, Mason, Barry, Baker, Cronkhite and others in the Bay Area.
Fully an hour later, when this writer was on his way home, lights began to flicker out. Autos moved as usual, but with light extinguished. Then a policeman on a motorcycle rode through the downtown area hollering, “All clear, all clear.” In the North Beach section the lights were still out. At the Golden Gate Bridge, on the way home to Mill Valley (north of San Francisco and in Marin County), this writer was warned to extinguish his lights. The bridge at last had been blacked out as was the tortuous Waldo approach, a winding, twisting grade over the “hump” from the north approach of the bridge that leads to the little towns north. It was a dangerous ride, for drivers coming into town drove in total darkness, then became panicky for a moment and flashed on their brightest lights, for an instant blinding those drivers approaching them in the dark.
All that has been changed now. There is an ordinance covering blackouts and it has teeth in it. It was hastily drawn and passed after the first blackout failure.
Chief Brennan has asked the citizens to cooperate in preventing and fighting fires and the response is now magnificent. Only 3.000 persons had registered for Civilian Defense in the several weeks before the war. Now there are more than 50,000 registered. The various agencies are swamped with manpower. The problem now is to train them.
Hazard of Large Fires
San Francisco has a high conflagration danger because, as one fire official once remarked, “the city is built to burn.” Most residences are of wooden construction. The so-called Western Addition, that section spared in the 1906 disaster by the heroic efforts of firemen and army troops using dynamite, is full of large rooming houses and flat buildings built of wood. Wood is used because it is plentiful and because it is resilient, a major factor in an earthquake zone.
The city bristles with Army, Navy and California State Home Guard (organized to replace the National Guard) patrols. First company to use sandbags on the front of its building was the important Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company. Workmen stacked them two stories high.
The FBI has conducted a school to teach policemen how to combat sabotage. They have rounded up aliens. The Japanese district was roped off and all aliens questioned. Alien firms were “frozen” by the Treasury Department.
No sabotage has been reported, although during one of the air raids, a woman took moving pictures of mysteriously blinking lights, thought to be signals, and turned them over to the FBI for investigation.
Special instructions have been issued for conduct in schools, hospitals and public institutions during air raid warnings, all after the pattern laid down by the OCD and after consultation with Chief Brennan of the Fire Department and Chief Dullea of the Police Department.
Home, flat and apartment dwellers, as well as owners of plants, stores, factories and other business institutions have been busy buying material or using material already on hand with which to black out their establishments. After the first blackout, stocks of flashlights and batteries were exhausted. Heavy black paper and cloth stocks ran low before they could be replenished.
San Francisco, a city with a tremendous number of homes in ratio to other buildings, has made the best of a situation that has been thrust upon it. People, formerly apathetic, are now fully aware of the danger. There is a calm sort of determination to cooperate, to go all out.