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San Francisco Fire Department
Bluxome St. Collapse and Other Major Incidents

The San Francisco Fire Department also responded to another disaster within the first few minutes of the earthquake.

The Communications Center dispatched Engine No. 8, No. 29 and No. 37; Truck No. 8 and No. 3 and Battalion No. 2 and No. 3 to Box 2241 at Fifth and Bluxome streets for a reported building collapse at 665 Sixth Street.

The building on the southeast corner of Sixth and Bluxome streets was a four-story structure and the fourth floor wall peeled away from the building during the earthquake and showered the street below with tons of bricks. Five people were killed, crushed in their automobiles or while walking upon the sidewalk.

Responding Fire Department companies, with the help of police officers and many brave citizen volunteers, used pry bars and power cutting tools, as well as bare hands to free victims trapped in crushed automobiles, in the hope that survivors might be found.

To speed this rescue effort, members of the San Francisco Fire Department operated a PG&E backloader that was parked near the scene to move heavy debris.

Firefighters, police officers and citizen volunteers worked to remove the fallen bricks for more than two hours as several aftershocks rocked the tottering walls of the remaining lower three stories of the severely-damaged structure.

Five bodies were recovered.

Six minutes after the earthquake, the Communications Center dispatched Engine No. 19 to Box 8436 on a report of fire in the basement at 354 Byxbee Street. Lieutenant Richard A. Robinson of Engine No. 19 saw smoke as his company responded, and he spotted the engine at the intersection, connected to the domestic low pressure hydrant at Holloway and Byxbee streets, and made a supply line lead to the fire.

A citizen volunteer with a garden hose in front of the house attempted to hold back the fire that was rolling from the garage. The crew of Engine No. 19 lead a ready-line to the garage entrance in an attempt to knock down the fire and prevent its spread.

Battalion Chief George L. Politis of Battalion No. 9 heard the alarm on the Department radio and also responded. At 5:14 p.m., as he arrived, Box 6913 for San Francisco International Airport special-call was broadcast.

This box called for the response of Battalion No. 9. However, because of the conflagration risk from this fire, Battalion Chief Politis placed himself out-of-service at the Byxbee Street fire and requested additional companies.

Because of the immediate and massive drain on the resources of the Department, the Communications Center advised Battalion Chief Politis that the only available unit in that district was a truck company, and Truck No. 19 was dispatched to the fire at 5:18 p.m.

At 5:09 p.m., Engine No. 15 had been dispatched to 105 Lee Street for a reported natural gas leak. There was no leak, and when Lieutenant Harry L. Conry of Engine No. 15 saw the smoke rising from the fire on Byxbee Street, he responded without placing the engine back in service.

Upon arrival, Engine No. 15 led a supply line from Byxbee and Garfield streets to the fire.

Now, with the aid of Truck No. 19 and Engine No. 15, the fire, which would have been a normal second alarm assignment, was knocked down, but not before 354 Byxbee Street and the exposure building at 350 Byxbee Street were lost.

The majority of Fire Department's post-earthquake calls were for PG&E gas leaks.

At 6:45 p.m., the Communications Center dispatched Engine No. 20 and Truck No. 12 to 69 Castenada Avenue for a reported gas explosion. Lieutenant Gary A. May of Engine No. 40 heard the call on the Department radio and also responded. Arriving companies found that a natural gas explosion at 69 Castenada Avenue had blown the house from its foundation and started a small fire. The companies quickly extinguished this fire and reported the incident under control at 7:04 p.m.

The San Francisco Fire Department also provides fire protection to San Francisco International Airport located in San Mateo County, south of the City and County of San Francisco. At the time of the earthquake, there were 14 firefighters and three officers on duty. The Division of Airports is composed of eight first-line pieces of apparatus, with several other reserve engines, vans, first aid units, light units and small boats also available.

When the earthquake struck, all apparatus was removed from quarters and the buildings inspected for damage. The two fire stations were not damaged and units began to respond to calls at various parts of the airport. The first major rescue operation was at Gate 78 of the North Terminal where passengers were trapped and buried under fallen debris. Additional fire units responded to other airport terminals and the crews began to search for and treat victims injured generally by fallen ceiling materials.

At 5:13 p.m., Lt. Dobbins ordered the recall of all off-duty airport fire personnel.

Sixty seconds later, he sent, a special-call request to Central Fire Alarm Station and Battalion No. 10, Engine No. 44 and Truck No. 15 were dispatched from San Francisco to the airport.

Upon arrival, Truck No. 15 was immediately detailed to assist in treating injured passengers who were milling about outside the terminal buildings. Engine No. 44 was staged at Airport Fire Station No. 1 to await dispatch for any possible structure fires. However, Lt. Dan Dobbins, the senior officer on duty at the time of the earthquake, saw television coverage of the Marina District fire and ordered the special call companies to return to San Francisco for duty.

Because of conditions in communities surrounding the airport, no mutual aid forces were available and all subsequent calls at San Francisco International Airport were handled by recalled personnel.

While the rescue operation continued at Gate 78 and other terminals, additional units were dispatched on numerous PG&E gas leaks and water line breaks. Natural gas service was shut down at the Chevron Hanger and TWA cargo area because of the danger of aftershocks and fires.

Recalled personnel began to arrive at Airport Stations No. 1 and No. 2 by 6 p.m., just a few minutes before a fire was reported at the United Airlines Maintenance building.

Upon arrival at the maintenance building's dock area at 6:05 p.m., the firefighters found that the foam deluge and sprinkler systems had been activated by the earthquake, and foam had risen to a height of more than six feet. Firefighters worked their way through the foam and darkness to find the seat of the fire which appeared to be on the second floor of the maintenance structure. There was also a significant amount of non-structural damage in the building, and the firefighters climbed over and around fallen lockers, cabinets and miscellaneous equipment in the darkness, foam and smoke to reach the second floor.

The fire was found and extinguished with a hose attached to a wet standpipe. This fire occurred because flammables, including paper, fell upon a floor heater in the electrical room during the earthquake and ignited. The blaze was extremely smoky, but the heat did set off a sprinkler head which partially controlled the spread of the fire, however the flow was not sufficient to reach the seat of the fire under the fallen debris.

By midnight, 26 officers and firefighters had returned to duty, which more than doubled the normal staffing level. It should be noted that one firefighter on sick leave and two on disability leave reported for duty at the airport. One officer and two firefighters while responding to the recall signal heard that freeway access to the airport had been closed and so reported for duty at the Marina District fire.

Recalled personnel were assigned throughout the night to continue to shut down damaged gas and water service to various structures and to inspect major facilities including the fuel Tank Farm and sewage treatment plant which were not damaged. They also readied the Rescue Boat to pump water from San Francisco Bay should the domestic water supply to the airport fail. Later, personnel provided a Fire Watch Detail at the damaged North Terminal because the water supply had been cut by a broken main.

The Division of Airports responded to more than 26 alarms in 15 hours and resumed normal staffing on Thursday, October 19.

Fires by Location and Origin
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