San Francisco Firefighters parade City's greatest
By Pat Murphy
April 19, 2006
San Francisco Firefighters took Market Street center stage Tuesday
parading the City's greatest pride.
At the time of the march from City Hall to Justin Hermann Plaza,
one hundred years earlier, firefighters fought unfathomed desolation.
Betty Burnham's grandmother experienced the Great Quake
Three thousand were dead or dying, buildings and homes were broken,
and sleepless firefighters already were exhausted from battling
a massive fire the night before.
Photo by Sean Posey
One-fifth of the entire San Francisco Fire Department had stretched
itself to tame a huge fire at the California Cannery Company.
When the 5:12 a.m. quake struck, their first battle was to escape
their stations and homes, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
recalled to hundreds gathered in the plaza.
And they responded with heroism beyond parallel, stated Pelosi.
"San Francisco Firefighters fought a disaster without people
and they responded with heroism without parallel," Pelosi
"The first battle for most of them was to get out of their
firehouses which were twisted and collapsed.
"It is impossible to exaggerate the danger and the challenges
"The water mains were broken, which is bad. The gas mains
were broken too, which is worse. The winds were swirling. The
dispatcher's office was leveled. The town's telegraph systems
were almost entirely destroyed.
"As a result not one official alarm was sounded for the
largest fire ever to be fought in a major American city."
They fought with their hands, Pelosi continued.
"The safety gear that the firefighters had was primitive.
The best things that some firefighters had was a mask which they
called 'elephant ears' which they dipped in mineral oil to prevent
"Some doused their shirts in what little water they could
find and tied them around their faces.
"Others simply tore off doors from houses and used them
for shields as they battled the fires."
They fought without knowing whether their families were safe.
"To make matters worse half the firefighters had lost their
own homes," recalled Pelosi.
"They really didn't know about the safety of their own families
- and yet not one the hundreds of San Francisco Firefighters,
not one, abandoned his post.
"Imagine the courage. Through the confusion and chaos firefighters
led the way.
"They led the way because they were tough and they were
strong. They were fighters. They were children of pioneers."
They worked for days without rest.
"Many of them... worked for days without any rest,"
said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
"Without knowing the status of their family situation, day
in, day out, for 72 straight hours," continued Hayes-White.
"Without the benefits of modern technology, of modern safety
San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White
demonstrates buggle used as Fire Department communication 100
The buggle became part of the department's official insignia worn
on uniforms today.
"Today I am deeply proud to represent and serve with 1,800
men and women in the San Francisco Fire Department.
"I thank God for it everyday."
"When you think about what happened in the spirit of rebirth
and renewal in 1906 you need to also be reminded that the foundation
was laid when the City was conceived some 50-plus years ago,"
Mayor Gavin Newsom pointed out. "Where people came from all
over the planet for gold and riches - the most diverse City overnight.
International in every context and that has been our godsend."
Sacred Heart student Julie Riley offers surprise rose to Senator
Barbara Boxer with help of Firefighters Union president John Hanley
who organized the march. "Your work is so essential,"
Boxer told firefighters. "We honor the memory of those who
lost their lives during that disaster. We dedicate ourselves to
avoiding and preparing for an earthquake, avoiding as much pain
as possible. San Francisco you're a City of Hope, you're a City
of perseverance, you're a gorgeous City, and yes you're a diverse
City, and you're a City of progressive values that have always
prepared us well as we moved forward."
Sun worshipers Wade Crowfoot, Boe Hayward, Cassandra Costello,
Sherriff Michael Hennessey and District Attoryney Kamala Harris
Mayor Gavin Newsom keeps up with a Penny Farthing
High fivin' Supervisor Fiona Ma
Tim Paulson leads the way for San Francisco Labor. Reports labor
unity in California.