ALL FIRED UP IN
By John M.
Back in 1883, Captain James, Editor of the Shipping Gazette, called
for a volunteer fire department for San Pedro. Apparently,
such complicated matters take some time. It was not
until early 1889 that news concerning the first San Pedro Volunteer
Fire Department began to appear in the weekly newspapers. The
San Pedro Advocate noted with satisfaction on February 9th
that it was glad to learn signals to be rung on the church
bells" to get the volunteers out of their homes and down to the
fire station on Sixth Street across from Crockers' Hall.
Two fire companies had been formed -- a hose
company and a hook and ladder company. Each had its stout-hearted
lads who reveled in rivalry. Manning the fire engine pump,
backbreaking work after fifteen minutes, the Hose Company lads
considered it great sport to direct a strong stream of water on the
flames or blast out a window or two. The Hook and Ladder men
would wield an axe and envision the rescuing of damsels in distress.
D. R. Clay was named as chief of the combined companies with
attorney W. H. Savage appointed foreman. These two men seem to have
been responsible for the alarm system. They arranged for the
church bells to be tapped rather than rung. Continuous
tapping, as loudly as possible, meant a fire. Three taps and a
pause, and three more taps and a pause meant the volunteers were to
come to the fire house for a meeting. Chief Clay warned home
owners to wait and listen for the pauses before throwing their furniture
out of their windows.
In March 1889, the bells tapped continuously--FIRE!
The volunteers dropped their work and ran for the fire house.
Ladies shopping along Front and Beacon Streets, each thinking it was
their own home burning, picked up their skirts and scrambled up Nob
or Vinegar Hill to scan the sky for smoke. The hand-drawn fire
engine arrived at its destination in record time. The destination
was a vacant lot and the fire only a practice exercise.
Angry citizens claimed the wrong signals had been given
and the Editor of the Advocate agreed. Clay and Savage were
accused of playing a dirty trick on an unsuspecting community.
All was forgiven in a few days, however, when the
facts were made known. It seems that men from the Board of
Fire Underwriters had come into town unexpectedly in order to determine
the effectiveness of the new fire-fighting facilities. With a
view to reducing the City's insurance rates the skill of the
unsuspecting volunteers had to be tested. The men from the
Board were very pleased with what they saw. "The boys got
a stream of water going in six minutes," was the report.
The managers of the California Fire Apparatus
Manufacturing Company of San Francisco, who no doubt sold
equipment to San Pedro, sent a letter of commendation to the City
Trustees. Also with the letter were two gold badges which were
presented to D. R. Clay and W. H. Savage for heading "the newly
organized Fire Department of San Pedro." Thus began a
long and proud history of organized fire fighting in the port city.