THE SAN FRANCISCO DISASTER
Specially written for FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.
SAN FRANCISCO, May 19, 1903.
Although the subject of the awful disaster that befell this city; has been pretty well threshed out, a few details as to the condition of our fire department, how it fared, how nobly it worked, and how its excellent chief died will not be without interest to your readers—especially to those who belong to the fire service.
Approximately 38,000 feet of hose were burned, and the value of the engines destroyed, all off which were in very fair condition, is set down at $13,500. The loss oss of one was due to the fact of its being in the repair shop, with its wheels removed. It could not be hauled out, and it was, therefore, consumed with the building.
Old No. 12 engtne—”Old which had done service in the San Francisco department for thirty years, Was destroyed on the Street, as, having no horses, they had to abandon her. She was burned oit the corner of Post and Kearny streets, and her rentailis stand there now among the ruins and tell a story more vividly than words can portray of the utter helplessness of the San Francisco firciiien in this terrible calamity. They were absolutely without water, and a fire department t hits handicapped can do btt t little. There was a Iso iiic hook and ladder ho rued in the Corporation yard, and engine No. 4 was bti rued the cower cf tloworcl Folsom Street The department has fllowing fire apparatus it present ready for duty. Thirty-eight engines; one water t over ten hook and ladder trucks tight chemical engines; two batteries; and approxiniately 38,000 feet of Ii oSe in fair condition. The firemen are all on duty, though si inte Ire still in the hospital recovering from their mijuries. Several of the engine companies are quartered on the street, and the stcaitlers boilers are kept hot by maintaining a stitall tire in the grate of each. Ihe men sleep in adjacent houses, wltich have been provided with the necessary tappers and gongs for alarm purposes, while the horses are quartered in sonic stable as near as possible to the engine. These companies will soon he housed, as the fire co,iililtssiolicrs are itow iitaking provis ions for temporary quarters, and, as there are many temporary buildings now being erected in the burned district, several of these companies will be moved to their neighborhood.
The water system has been almost restored, and water facilities are provided throughout the city for fire purposes. The Spring Valley Water company has had all the men at work that it could possibly get repairing the pipes, and wonderful results have been accomplished in the short space of time, as many of their large mains were broken where they enter the city, as well as in the Mission district, where the earthquake played havoc with all the made ground out there. Wherever the pipes passed through this made ground in localities where formerly there were gullcys that had been filled, the earthquake shifted it in some places as much as ten feet, which, of course, pulled the pipes asunder and left the streets in a very crooked condition, resembling the outline of a snake. In these districts the foundations of many of the houses were absolutely kicked out from beneath them, and the houses themselves were tumbled against one another. No one, however, was injured, owing to the fact that the structures were wooden and did not collapse, though their foundations were absolutely puikd frot beneath them. In this made-ground district many of the Streets sank. some of them as much as ten feet, and the streets were put all out of shape. Repairs in this por tion of the city will require a large expenditure of money. This made ground is mostly éom posed of street refuse and sand and brush from the hills. The lower part of the city, from Mont goniery street down to the. Bay, in the days of `49 was only a big mud flat. 51’oday it is prac t~ally the businesS. portion of San Francisco. Tt was filled in with good earth, and the foundations of all its buildings are on piling. Excavations were first mad~ down to the old nuid, then piles~ were driven down from twenty to thirty feet to hard jan, On these piles are placed the eoncrete foundations, and thus a secure structure is had.As a result, this portion of the city did not suffer much from sinking ground, nor did the buildings shrink away, as they did on the made ground in the-higher localities.
Too much praise cannot he given the fire defartuient for the efficient manlier in which it worked at time off-set, when the lire alarm service was immediately lestruvemi. The men vcnt out bravely to fight a dozen or more fires, all of which took the proportions of contiagrations al most immeliately, and the firemen succeeded in extingishing several bad fires that were not in the burned list net. A fter their work was finished at these fires, the firemen took up their hose and apparatus and went to wprk on large fires in the different parts of the city. They (lid splendid work. until the city water supply gave out, and there is no doubt that, if water had been plentifmil, there would be a different story to tell of San Francisco today. It is agreed by every one who knows anything about it, that, if the fit departnlent had had its usual quantity of water, the tire would have been stopped in any event at Kearity street, which is two miles inside of the lmmmrned district line at present and, further, that the fire south of Mission Street would not have burned over an area of more than one mile square. San Francisco would certainly have stil fered a trementlons conagration in any event; but no such fire as we had, if the department had not been handicapped from first to last
The loss of Chief Sullivan at the very begin ning was a serious blow; but Assistant Chief Dongherty and Assistant Chief Shaunessy did great work. It is to them that the greatest credit is due for the efficient manner in which they handled the situation, aided by their battalion chiefs, who, one and all, worked as hard as firemen ever worked in this world before, placing engines in relays and connecting very long lines of hose, draughting water from the Bay; and wherever they would hnd a hydrant from which even a pencil stream of water would run out, they would couple an engine on to it, in the hope of getting even a half-inch stream to he thrown on the flames so as to cut off the blaze. The lire, however, even with the aid of the tremend otis quantities of dynamite employed, was a most uneven one, and it was not until it had burned to the sparsely settled district where there were wide streets, such as Van Ness avenue, that the firemen and their able assistants, the military, succeeded in stopping the fire; and it was due only to the wind being in the right direction that they were successful at these points. Even at Van Ness avenue, which is a very wide street, the fire crossed in several places: but by super human efforts the firemen managed to stop it be fore another block was reached, a.id the western portion of the city, which is all a residential district, saved. Besides that, the extreme southwestern portion of the Mission was also saved. It is estimated about eight square miles were burned over, and the recorded loss of life tip to the present time is 50o; but, no doubt, there were man~ people under the ruins of tumbleddown houses that were buried, whose remains will never he found, as there was nothing left that could burn, excepting ashes. The heat was at times so intense that no one could get within a block of the fire; consequently, when the firemen did have water. it was in such small quantities that it could not be applied. The endurance shown by these men was most remarkable. From Aetitig Chief Dougherty down there werc no complaints, and for three continuous days and nights they worked on without rest and scarcely anything in the way of food to sustain them. The universal opinion of everybody here is, that be fire denartment did most nobly.
Too mttch praise cannot be given the verY effi dent manner in which the hoard of fire commis sioiwrs handled the affairs of the fire department under such trying conditions. Commissioner J. S. Parry was contintsouly on duty with the fire apparatus. directing the operations. and through his able assistance the officers of the department were the better enabled to carry out their plans.Commissioner Parry is a born fireman and for many years he has been more or less connected with fire departments; consequently, his knowledge of firefighting stood him well in hand in this catastrophe, and he did not hesitate to make use of his experience on the firing line, but was seen actively directing everything from the moment of the fire continuously until it was extinguished, Each fire commissioner gave his aid in a suitable manner, and President Wreden could be seen everywhere giving directions to aid the firemen wherever necessary, while Commissioners Barrett and Bolo acted in similar capacities. The praise of the San Francisco fire department extends to these men, who, under the able leadership of Mayor Eugene E. Schmitz, rose to the occasion and one and all showed themselves men of action and remarkable ability. As for Mayor Schmitz he proved himself a man of extraordinary executive talent. In the trying moments of this great calamity he could be seen everywhere administering to the emergency conditions with a decisiveness of character that placed him in the foreground of the great many able men who were giving their assistance. The mayor has certainly endeared himself to the hearts of all the people, of San Francisco, in this their supreme hour of need.
Chief Sullivan’s death was pitiful in the extreme. With his wife, he occupied the upper story of the fire department house on Bush street, just above Kearny street, and along-side of the California hotel, a brick, six-story structure. On the side next to the three-story engine house was a large chimney that ran up above the hotel about fifteen or twenty feet. The chief occupied a separate room adjoining Mrs. Sullivan’s, and, as soon as the earthquake started, he jumped out’of his bed and proceeded to put on his turn-outs. Just at that moment the hotel chimney crashed down on the engine house, carrying down a portion of the roof, which dropped down through the far side of Mrs. Sullivan’s room, carrying the floor down with it. At the same time the bed in which Mrs. Sullivan was sleeping tumbled over into the hole through the floor made by the chimney. Fortunately for her, the mattress upon which she slept, folded over her and protected her in her fall. Chief Sullivan heard the crash, and ran into his wife’s room in the dark. Not knowing what he was running into, he fell through the same hole which had, ingulfed his wife. The two floors of the engine House were carried on down on to the chemical engine, which stood on the first floor. Mrs. Sullivan fell with the bedstead on the top of the engine, and, luckily for her, was protected by the mattress. This was all that saved her life, but, as it was, she received a terrific shaking-up and many bruises, and was taken out in a very precarious condition. Chief’ Sullivan was terribly injured, but, hurt as he was, he got up with the aid of one of the firemen, walked to his automobile which had been carried out by the men at the beginnig of the earthquake, got into it, and was taken to the Railroad hospital. He complained but slightly, and his greatest concern seemed to be for his wife. Mrs. Sullivan was carried into the California hotel, where she remained until she was taken to the hospital, and it was only after Chief Sullivan learned that his wife was safely quartered at the St. Francis hospital that he was consoled. It was found that at least three of his ribs on his left side were crushed, and he was frightfully gashed and cut across the face. Although he was attended by the best physicians, and the greatest care was given him, he died about the fourth day. It was necessary to remove both Mrs. Sullivan and the chief from the hospitals to which they had been taken, as the fire burned right up to that quarter. The chief was was removed to, the, Presidio hospital, where he died. Mrs. Sullivan as carried to a place, of safety. Chief Sullivan had phtnned and laid out a method to handle just such a catastrophe. He had many times called the attention of the authorities to the fact that, if a great fire should ever start in San Francisco the city would be in great danger of being consumed. He had talked of a salt water system and additional apparatus, and there is no doubt that, if these had been given him-es pecially a salt water system-a different story would be told of San Francisco today, since The water mains in the city limits pro~r were tinin~ured liv the earthnuake, and the condition of the water mains of a salt water system would have been the same. When the chief was lying in the hospital, everything was done to keep him from knowing that the fire had grown to -tremendous magnitude. But, even when there lying on his back, he was ever on the alert, asking questions and receiving answers that were evasive. The sound of the dynamiting however, they could not shut off, and one day, when he was almost in a stupor, he heard them blowing up the buildings. On the instant he was all alive to the situation, and, turning to his attendants said, “They are blowing it up!” He then expressed his fear that the tire was getting away from the department, and it was only by the assurances of his attendants that the firemen had the situation well in hand that he was reconciled. Funeral services have been held over the chief’s remains, and he has been laid away temporarily until such time as the fire department can hold the proper ceremonies and pay the last honors to their beloved chief, whose memory will ever be very dear to those that were associated with him both_socially and officially.
The fire alarm service has been re-established in San Francisco—in fact, that task was accomplished within four davs after the fire by Win. E. Hewitt, chief of the department of electricity. Of course, the service was temporarily re-established, but still it was done in such a way that alarms could be transmitted to the fire department without delay from the fire alarm boxes in the regular order. The department of electricity is now situated in temporary quarters in the Western addition, and all the fire alarm boxes, some 341 altogether, in the unburned district are connected up. The -fire department houses are ail connected up with the gong and tapper-circuits, and a temporary fire alarm office has been established, which will answer all needs for the present. Too much praise cannot be given Chief Hewitt for the very efficient and effective manner in which he has accomplished this task—one that can be appreciated only by those who know the tremendous difficulties that had to be surmounted, as there were scarcely any supplies to be had, and his men were scattered all over the city, their whereabouts being unknown: yet, with all this, Chief Hewitt got them all together, after it was seen that the fire would be stopped, and, by employing a great many additional wire workers, he managed to get all the service once more in good order. San Francisco had practically installed a new manual central office in the city hall, now a wreck, and much of the apparatus had been completed and was in position; but the entire outfit was consumed. The old manual office that was situated on Brenham place was also consumed, as were a great many fire alarm boxes and police boxes in the burned district. Several police station equipments were consumed, all of which will have to be replaced in the near future.Chief Hewitt is fullv alive to the situation and is making out plans for a new manual central office with fireproof building and fittings, which he will, very soon submit to the commission of the department of electricity. In the meantime he will take care of all alarms over the old outfit.”
A friend added the following: “The city looks like a panorama of the ruins of Pompeii; but everybody is alive—no dead ones here, unless it might be some fellow who, without caring or knowing. had called this Frisco.’ They will not stand for that for a moment. Street cars are running, and we have street lights and expect to have gas this week. Then we will have banks next week and a week later savings banks, so you see we are going to be a city after a while.”—“Among the losses of the Southern Pacific railway in San Francisco, which were finally placed at $50,000, no one seems to have taken into account the destruction of the plates of an elaborately illustrated book published by the passenger department, which, it is estimated, will require $50,000 to replace. The first edition of this book, called ‘The Road of a Thousand Wonders, had nearlybeen exhausted when the earthquake destroyed, not only the printing plates, but the original negatives. The clear atmosphere of California and the other states of the Southwest through which the road passes allows the taking of belter pictures than is possible in the East, and for this reason the views in ‘The Thousand Wonders’ book gave the volume a large demand. Before another edition can be printed the photographs will have to be made all over again.—Acts relative to land titles in San Francisco have been drafted bv a subcommittee of forty citizens. This subcommittee is to frame bills to obviate the difficulties caused by the destruction of court and municipal records and has taken as their working basis the Burned Records acts of Illinois and the Congressional statute which was ad to fit similar Federal need. Nearly 700 scnoolma’ams received their pay for the first time since the fire on May 25. All were in very high spirits. Just as the cashier had paid out almost the last of the $63,000 and seen many kiss the new twenty-dollar bills, he said: ‘Blessed if I don’t believe they would have kissed me, if that wicket hadn’t been between us.’”
Just five weeks after the destruction by fire of its new building, at Pine and Batter street, the firm of Payot, Upham & Co., a stationery and jobbing book house, opened its immense vaults, and the instant the big steel doors were swung open everything of an inflammable nature in the vaults burst into flames. All the concern’s books, accounts, and records were destroyed, and, in addition to the loss through the destruction on April 18, now comes the heavy loss that will result through the inability’ of the firm to realise on its accounts. Before the opening of the vaults a chemical engine was obtained; but the flames that sprang forth when the doors were opened defied the efforts of the engine crew, and not a paper was saved.
The death list has been increased by the finding of four more bodies of victims of the recent disaster. The coroner now admits that the record will exceed 500 before it is complete. Two bodies have been found in the ruins of 440 Fllis street. The building did not collapse, and what prevented the victims from leaving the place will never be known.
The Home Fire and Marine Insurance company, of California, has levied an assessment on its stockholders, which will at once put into the treasury of the company $600,000. This sum, together with the surplus of between $500,000 and $600,000, the officers of the company say, will be sufficient to meet its San Francisco liabilities and enable it to continue its business with unimpaired capital.
Ernest Denicke, son of E. A. Denicke, a hanker of San Francisco, and former president of the Mechanics’ Institute, was arrested the other day, charged with killing an unknown man, whose bodv was thrown from the Lombard street wharf on Friday, April 20. Denicke admitted the killing. He said he had volunteered as a guard, although not in the National Guard; but as a former volunteer in the Spanish-American war. He had been assigned to guard duty, and. while on guard, a man. either a Mexican or an Italian, bad been directed by a soldier to assist in nulling hose, but, misunderstanding the order, faded to obey. The soldier thereupon stabbed him in the back with a bayonet. He turned round to protect himself and seized the bayonet, and then, it is charged. Denicke shot him. The bodv, it is alleged was weighted and thrown into the water.
San Francico has made a beginning towards bringing about better conditions than existed at the time of the conflagration by adding 150 blocks to the fire limits, official action to that end having been taken bv the building committee on Mav 12. Sixty blocks north and ninety blocks south of Market street are added to the old fire limits. Residence districts, however, have been avoided in erecting the new limits.