History of San Diego, 1542-1908

PART SIX: CHAPTER 10: Account of the Fire Department

The first agitation for the purchase of a fire engine at Horton’s Addition began in the fall of 1869, when the newspapers took the ques­tion up and discussed it with some vigor. As a first step, a benefit was given at Horton’s Hall, which netted $250, and on the 20th of the same month another entertainment was given for their benefit. The formal organiza­tion was effected on May 17th, when about 50 citizens met and formed themselves into the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company. The following officers were selected: Foreman, W. S. McCor­mick; first assistant, John N. Young; second assistant, William P. Henderson; secretary, B. C. Brown; treasurer, A. H. Julian. On June 8th, the first regular meeting was held and the same officers chosen to serve for the ensuing year, except that John H. Todman was made treasurer, in place of A. H. Julian, and the following additional officers were selected: President, Chal­mers Scott; steward, John M. Heidelburg; trustees, A. H. Julian, E. W. Nottage, and George W. Hazzard.

It took more than a year to raise money enough to secure a truck. In June, 1871, it is recorded that Mr. Whitaker had returned with all the materials for the construction of a first­ class fire-truck. The sum of $500 had been subscribed for the purchase of apparatus and $400 more were needed. The first ball was given by the new department early in September; it was a social success, but a financial failure. On October 12th the new truck was finished and housed. In November of this year, the business men sank a well opposite the store of Julian & Stutsman, expressly as a protection against fire. Additional equipment was gradually acquired and the efficiency of the department began to improve.

A year later, October 9, 1872, the successor of the hook and ladder company, known as San Diego Fire Engine Company No. 1, was organized, and the agitation for the purchase of an engine was renewed. The first fire plug in the city was set up by S. P. Abell, in front of his building on Fifth and D Streets. The water was turned on and a test of it made on April 9, 1874, In November San Diego Engine Company No. 1 received a new hose carriage.

In January, 1878, the arrival is proudly recorded of a new fire alarm bell, which “measures over 3 ft. across the mouth and will be heard for miles around.” It weighed 550 pounds, and cost $95. This bell was used until July 1, 1880, when it was broken. As the department was a volunteer one, the loss of the bell was a serious matter. There was some difficulty and delay in replacing it, and the fire company resolved, early in Septem­ber, that it would consider itself out of active service until the city had a new bell. It was not secured until February 1, 1881. The new bell weighed 1,000 pounds and cost $300.

In the early 80’s the fire department ran down and reached a very low ebb. In September, 1883, there was danger that it could not be kept up any longer, and the newspapers appealed to the citizens to aid it. An appropriation of $100 by the city council was asked, so “that the fire department can be brought up to an effective force of 25 or 30 members,” and the Union hoped that “no calamity may befall this city while in the help­less condition of being without a fire department.” These efforts resulted in an improvement in the condition of the department, but no large departures followed.

On December 12, 1884, occurred one of the most noted fires of early days. This was the burning of the planing mill and beehive factory of George M. Wetherbee, on the corner of G and Arctic Streets, with a loss of $12,000.

In April, 1885, another new fire bell was needed, and there was some trouble in securing a satisfactory one. The first bell sent had to be returned; a new one arrived on July 23d, and was put into commission. Bryant Howard gave the sum required for its purchase, $500, and the bell was inscribed: “Presented to San Diego Engine Company No. 1, by Bryant Howard, Cash­ier Consolidated National Bank, San Diego.”

Coronado Engine Company No. 1 was organized on April 22, 1886, and the following February it was announced that bids for the erection of an engine house for its use would be adver­tised for.

The fire department having sent for a belt, hat, and trumpet, they were offered to Chief Engineer S. M. McDowell, who used them from December, 1886. In the following March, McDowell made a number of recommendations in his annual report. He wished a tower erected at the foot of Fifth Street and the old bell placed in it; a steam fire engine was needed, also two new hose carts and more horses. He also suggested the considera­tion of a paid fire department and an electric alarm system.

The new hose carts were promptly furnished, and, in April, Coronado Fire Engine Company No. 2 was formed and negotia­tions were opened for the purchase of a steam fire engine. The engine purchased was made by La France Engine Company, of Syracuse, New York. It cost about $4,000 delivered, arrived early in November, 1887, and was San Diego’s first steam fire engine. It is now kept as a relic in Engine House No. 1.

In the fall of 1886, the city trustees created the Board of Fire Delegates of the City of San Diego, to consist of the trustees of the different fire companies. These trustees met on January 6, 1887, for organization and election of officers. Those present were James Rooney, Theodore Fintzelberg, and Albert Hertz, trustees of San Diego Engine Company No. 1; and Frank J. Higgins, Henry L. Ryan, and A. F. Dill, trustees of Coronado Engine Company No. 2. They chose for their president, James Rooney; secretary, Frank J. Higgins; treasurer, Bryant Howard; chief engineer, S. 112. McDowell; assistant engineers, John Moffitt and C. F. Murphy.

The equipment of the fire department at the close of the year 1887 consisted of the following: 2 steam fire engines, 2 hook and ladder trucks, 1 hose cart, 3,500 feet of hose, 11 horses, and 6 chemical fire extinguishers. The expenses of the department for the year were between $12,000 and $13,000, although there were only 2 salaried officers.

In the year 1888, the department not having kept pace with the growth of the city and the bursting of the boom making it impossible for the trustees to provide sufficient equipment, the department had a hard struggle and was unable to perform its work properly. The hook and ladder trucks had to be pulled by hand, on account of the shortage of horses. There were other causes of complaint, and the dissatisfaction and disorganization were so great that insurance men became alarmed. Engineer McDowell resigned in March and was succeeded by Albert Hertz. The fire companies then in existence were San Diego Engine Company No. 1, consisting of 32 men, 12 of whom were active; Howard Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, 48 men, 25 active; and Coronado Engine Company No. 2, 65 men, which had disbanded, but was reorganized in April. On June 4th a new volunteer company was organized and called the M. D. Hamilton Brigade. In July, the department was reorganized, new officers elected, and a set of by-laws adopted.

During the spring, summer, and fall of 1888, a series of dis­astrous fires occurred, which many believed were of incendiary origin. A list of the principal conflagrations at that time is given herewith:

On May 3d, a fire burned over half the block bounded by Fifth, Sixth, F and G Streets. The heaviest losers were Ham­ilton & Co., Fred N. Hamilton, and Williams & Ingle. The total loss was about $150,000, The building consumed was known as the Central Market, and was built in 1873.

Sixth Street, between F and G, was the scene of a destructive fire on May 26th. The San Diego Printing Company was burned out and the post office had a narrow escape. The loss was about $40,000.

On June 1st, the buildings of Foreman & Stone, on Seventh Street, with their contents, were burned. The loss was about $40,000.

A frame building on H Street, between State and Union, was consumed by fire on August 29th; loss, $6,000.

On September 5th, the new Backesto Block, on the corner of Fifth and H Streets, was totally destroyed by fire. It was owned by Dr. J. P. Backesto, of San Jose, and was built in 1887 at a cost of $45,000. The heaviest losers were Klauber & Levi, whose loss was about $250,000, with $150,000 insurance. Hunsaker, Britt & Lamme, attorneys, lost their law library (the best in the city), valued at $15,000. The total loss was over $300,000.

A.B. CAIRNES. Who served for years as Chief of the Fire Department and developed the organization from the level of a country town to a metropolitan standard.

On January 23, 1889, the Board of Fire Delegates ordered certificates of membership to be issued to the following fire companies, which shows the organizations that were in existence at that time, as re-numbered:

San Diego Engine Company No. 1.
Horton Engine Company No. 2.
Hamilton Engine Company No. 3.
Howard Hook & Ladder Company No. 2.
Hart Hook & Ladder Company No. 4.

When the new city charter was adopted, in the spring of 1889, provision was made, for the first time, for the organization of a paid fire department. The control of this department was vested in a board of fire commissioners, appointed by the mayor. In pursuance of this power, Mayor Douglas Gunn sent to the council, early in May, 1889, the following names for members of the first board: John P. Burt, J. K. Hamilton, and E. F. Rockfellow. This board was approved by the council, and organ­ized by electing Burt president, and Henry Bradt secretary. On June 5th the board selected A. B. Cairnes as the first chief engineer of the new department.

Mr. Cairnes was an old fireman. He was a member of the New York fire department several years, and foreman of Wash­ington Engine Company No. 20, in that city, from May, 1862, until the volunteer service was terminated by the organization of the present Metropolitan Fire Department, in 1866. He remained at the head of the San Diego fire department until November 29, 1905, when he resigned on account of age and ill health.

At the time of this reorganization, the force and equipment of the fire department were as follows: 1 chief, 2 engineers, 5 foremen, 6 drivers, and 28 firemen; there were 2 steam fire engines, 2 hose carriages, 1 hose wagon, 2 hook and ladder wag­ons, and 11 horses.

RICHARD A. SHUTE. Who succeeded Chief Cairnes as head of the Fire Department, retiring from the position in 1907 with a good record to his credit.

The Gamewell system of electric fire alarms was installed in 1892. In this year also a number of new engine houses were fit­ted up and occupied.

The successor of Chief Cairnes is Richard A. Shute. Mr. Shute has been identified with the department since 1888, when he became driver of Horton Hose Company No. 1. Before com­ing to San Diego, he was member of the San Francisco fire department and saw considerable service.

At the present time, there are 30 fire alarm stations. The loca­tion of the different engine houses is as follows:

Engine and Hose Company No. 1; southeast corner of Second and E Streets:
Hook and Ladder Company No. 1; southeast corner of Tenth and B Streets;
Engine and Hose Company No. 2; southeast corner of Tenth and B Streets;
Hose Company No. 3; southeast corner of Eighth and J Streets;
Chemical Engine; Fourth and Laurel Streets;
Combination Chemical; Kearny Avenue between Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Streets;
Combination Chemical; Twenty-third and F Streets;
Combination Chemical; Ninth and University Streets.

The following table shows the officers of the fire department, from its organization:

1889 1891 1893
Pres. J. P. Burt G. B. Grow G. B. Grow
J. K. Hamilton J. P. Burt J. P. Burt
E. F. Rockfellow E. F. Rockfellow Geo. W. Marston
A. B. Cairnes A. B. Cairnes A. B. Cairnes
1895 1897 1899
Pres. G. B. Grow Geo. R. Harrison J. E. Wadham
Geo. R. Harrison G. B. Grow G. B. Grow
Geo. W. Marston C. A. Dievendorff J. P. Burt
Chief Eng’r A. B. Cairnes A. B. Cairnes A. B. Cairnes
1900 1901 1903
Pres. B. F. Mertzmann A. G. Edwards A. G. Edwards
E. J. Carter B. F. Mertzmann B. F. Mertzmann
Jno. P. Burt Jno. P. Burt Jno. P. Burt
A. B. Cairnes A. B. Cairnes A. B. Cairnes
1904 1905 1905-6
Pres. Jno. P. Burt Geo. R. Harrison Geo. R. Harrison
A. G. Edwards Jno. P. Burt Vernon D. Rood
Geo. R. Harrison A. G. Edwards A. G. Edwards
A. B. Cairnes
A. B. Cairnes R. A. Shute R. A. Shute


Department called out:
Losses     Remarks
1889 $33,145 $29,245 before department
1890 19 10 29 17,650
1891 28 8,035
1892 25 10 35 11,175
1893 15 13 28 9,145
1894 25 12 37 9,700 Average per fire $388, lowest on record.
1895 54 29,900
1896 28 11 39 10,980
1897 31 11 42 37,700 City $14,000. Outside $16,700.
1898 27 13 40 12,640
1899 38 16 54 13,485 City $8,485. Schooner Sequoia $5,000.
1900 21 17 38 37,560
1901 29 6 35 5,575 Smallest in dept. history.
1902 50 17,420
1903 38 23,966 Prop’ty involved $388,850.
1904 17 30 47 14,840 Prop’ty involved $170,950
1905 53 13,693

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Main Page
Author’s Foreword
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego

PART ONE:   Period of Discovery and Mission Rule

  1. The Spanish Explorers
  2. Beginning of the Mission Epoch
  3. The Taming of the Indian
  4. The Day of Mission Greatness
  5. The End of Franciscan Rule
    Priests of San Diego Mission

PART TWO:   When Old Town Was San Diego

  1. Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
    List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
  2. Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
    List of Ranchos in San Diego County
  3. Political Life in Mexican Days
  4. Early Homes, Visitors and Families
  5. Pleasant Memories of Social Life
  6. Prominent Spanish Families
  7. The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
    List of Mission Indian Lands
  8. San Diego in the Mexican War
  9. Public Affairs After the War
  10. Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
  11. Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
  12. American Families of the Early Time
  13. The Journalism of Old San Diego
  14. Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego

PART THREE:   The Horton Period

  1. The Founder of the Modern City
  2. Horton’s Own Story
  3. Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
  4. San Diego’s First Boom
  5. Some Aspects of Social Life

PART FOUR:   Period of “The Great Boom”

  1. Coming of the Santa Fe
  2. Phenomena of the The Great Boom
  3. Growth of Public Utilities
  4. Water Development

PART FIVE:   The Last Two Decades

  1. Local Annals, After the Boom
  2. Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
  3. Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
  4. The Disaster to the Bennington
  5. The Twentieth Century Days
  6. John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem

PART SIX:   Institutions of Civic Life

  1. Churches and Religious Life
  2. Schools and Education
  3. Records of the Bench and Bar
  4. Growth of the Medical Profession
  5. The Public Library
  6. Story of the City Parks
  7. The Chamber of Commerce
  8. Banks and Banking
  9. Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
  10. Account of the Fire Department

PART SEVEN:   Miscellaneous Topics

  1. History of the San Diego Climate
  2. San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
  3. Governmental Activities
  4. The Suburbs of San Diego

Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County