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Chief Engineers - Chiefs of Department:
Charles P. Duane
Charles P. Duane

Charles P. Duane
Chief Engineer
October 1, 1853 - December 3, 1855

Charles P. Duane played a leading part in the beginnings of our city, but today his name is practically unknown. He arrived here in 1849 when just 20' years old. He was active in organizing the St. Francis Hook and Ladder Company.

In 1853, he was elected Chief when he was only 24 years old. He had already been Assistant Chief for a year. Chief Duane held office two years, declining a third term.

One story told about his career is not only typical of the man but the conditions of the pioneer times. Shortly after organization of the department in 1850 there had been an explosion of the boiler of the river steamer Sagimore, about to start for Sacramento. Several were killed and 30 injured, the latter being taken to Peter Smith's Hospital, Clay, near Mason. Ten days later, and while the injured were still there, the hospital went afire.

Duane, with another fireman, finally got to the garret where it was believed patients had been trapped. All others had been removed. Here the two lay on the floor to escape the smoke and yelled to see if any were up there. They found themselves trapped by flames, broke a hole in the roof and then became involved in a heated argument as to whom should go first. Both wanted to be the last to leave. They both finally got to the edge of the roof and to a ladder, going down as flames burst through the windows. Flames singed their hair as they went. It was at this fire that Duane, only a fireman, established himself as a great firefighter.

By: Frederick J. Bowlen, Battalion Chief, S.F.F.D. (1939)


Duane, Charles P. was Chief Engineer of the Volunteer Fire Dep't, 1853-54. It was on account of Gov. Bigler's pardon of him for an assault on one ball, that the grand jury appeared before County Judge Campbell, on Sept. 10, 1851, and demanded to be discharged. The Judge refused their request. The fatal shooting of Col. Wm. G. Ross, with whom Duane disputed about the ownership of a piece of land, occurred on May 23, 1866. D. was tried in the 12th District Court, and acquitted on Oct. 31, 1866. In the Assembly, in 1855, D. presented a portrait of Henry Clay to that body; that was the only California Assembly which ever had a Whig speaker (W. W. Stow). On Feb. 13, 1856, Silas Selleck, a Know Nothing Assemblyman from Placer, afterwards a well-known resident of S. F., moved to have this portrait of Clay removed, as being a caricature; the motion was lost. Duane died at S. F., May 13, 1887; he was a native of Tipperary, Ireland, aged 58. A graphic account by Duane with some amusing features, of the duel between David C. Broderick and J. Caleb Smith, at Oakland, in 1852, is in Ben. Truman's "Field of Honor." Broderick's pistol was borrowed from Duane, and had been presented to the latter by John A. McGlynn, in 1850.

Source: San Francisco Genealogy


Broderick, David C. and J. Caleb Smith fought in 1852, at a spot which is now the foot of Broadway, Oakland. They used navy revolvers, at ten paces. S. escaped injury, but one of his shots struck the watch in B.'s pocket, and the fragments of the watch slightly cut B.'s stomach; this was S.'s second shot, and B. received it while he was engaged in freeing the cylinder of his pistol from the exploded cap which had caught in it; both parties then emptied all their barrels, after which the seconds established peace. So many people had gone to the dueling ground from S. F., in small boats, all through the previous night, that they could not all get back the same way without great delay, and many secured horses and got home by way of San José. Chas. P. Duane's account of this duel, and of the laughable part he played in connection with it, is to be found in Ben Truman's "Field of Honor."

Source: San Francisco Genealogy

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