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San Francisco Firefighters parade City's greatest pride

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

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.

Nancy Pelosi

"San Francisco Firefighters fought a disaster without people and they responded with heroism without parallel," Pelosi began.

"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 only grew.

"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 smoke inhalation.

"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 equipment.

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White
demonstrates buggle used as Fire Department communication 100 years ago.
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, Sarah Ballard

Sherriff Michael Hennessey and District Attoryney Kamala Harris

Mayor Gavin Newsom keeps up with a Penny Farthing

High fivin' Supervisor Fiona Ma

Janet Reilly

Tim Paulson leads the way for San Francisco Labor. Reports labor unity in California.




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