You are facing San Francisco's only waterfront firehouse, built in 1913 for the fireboats and their crews. Fireboats stand by, directly alongside the fire station wharf, always ready for action. All along the waterfront are special manifold pipes designed to pump salt-water. For a city nearly surrounded by water, it made no sense that firemen were deprived of live-saving water when the 1906 earthquake broke both the gas mains that started fires and the water mains could have saved the city. This taught San Francisco a terrible lesson, and the city commissioned two fireboats - the Dennis T. Sullivan and David Scannell (sic) - equipped to pump the salt water of the bay through thousands of feet of hose.
Every South of Market kid in San Francisco yearned to be a fireman - and many a fireman sought duty on the fireboats. The Dennis T. Sullivan lowers a lifeboat to rescue someone from the bay. Fire chief Dennis T. Sullivan, had lost his life in the 1906 earthquake, when the California Hotel collapsed on Chemical Company #3 on Bush Street, burying the fire chief and his wife in rubble at the time the city needed him most, Rescued, but wounded, he died as the city burned.
Flames roared through creosote soaked pilings beneath the entire 500-foot length of Pier 48 on April 13, 1938. On the land side, hose tenders ran hoses to connect directly to the salt-water manifolds on the upper deck of the Dennis T. Sullivan. The powerful fireboat pumps forced unlimited quantities of bay water where it was most needed. Dennis T. Sullivan and David Scannel (sic) were retired in 1954 after forty six years of fire-fighting on the bay, replaced by the diesel powered Phoenix.
Dennis T. Sullivan puts on a pumping drill in 1934. She could always be recognized by her immense twin smokestacks billowing pitch black smoke. Her steam turbine-driven centrifugal pumps were an innovation. They supplied pressure to force the sea water from three monitor guns and nozzles mounted in all directions. As seen here, salt water could spew down on the boat to keep it from burning, so she could nudge in close to any fiery wharf or ship.
Extremely important were the ten salt-water manifolds, seen here directly in back of the lifeboat. Firemen on land ran their hoses directly to the fireboat, to use the water from the bay delivered by the boat's powerful centrifugal pump system. From fifty-one feet up the monitor tower, firemen could send water up another four hundred feet.
For most San Franciscans, Phoenix played her most crucial role on the earthquake night of October 18, 1989, when the Marina district was the scene of partly and completely collapsed buildings. The sickening odor of gas was overwhelming. As in 1906, the water mains were broken and hydrants were dry. It looked as if the Marina would burn.
Engine 35 from the waterfront firehouse was off on a medical emergency, leaving Pilot Arvid Havneras, Engineer Nate Hardy and Lt. Bob Banchero to man the Phoenix. "We could see the smoke as we headed up the city front, so to save time we got our three pumps ready to go and we were underway." Even as the Phoenix headed north, the tide was beginning to ebb and it was essential to get her into the Marina harbor before the tide moved out. Pilot Havneras maneuvered Phoenix into the yacht harbor at the foot of Divisadero Street with only a few feet of water under the boat. Using portable fire hydrants and three-inch hose, firemen completely encircled the blazing apartment buildings, pouring salt water on from all sides. The fireboat ran two pumps, maintaining over 6,000 gallons per minute for over sixteen hours. When the fire was finally out, Phoenix and her fast-moving three-man crew has saved the Marina. Two grateful residents put up $300,000 to buy San Francisco a surplus fireboat from Vancouver - newly christened the Guardian.