This bust is on display in the museum
January 1, 1820 - March 30, 1893
David Scannell was born in New York, and he was a very well educated man. He served as an officer in the Mexican War with extraordinary distinction, and in 1851 he came to San Francisco on the steamer "Gold Hunter." He ran unsuccessfully for the office of Sheriff in 1852. A year later he served as Undersheriff to Sheriff William Gorham. In the spring of 1855, he was successful in his bid and was elected to the position of Sheriff. He served during turbulent times in a young and wild San Francisco. In the fall of 1856, he was removed from office because when his bank failed he could not post the bond required to be Sheriff.
Upon leaving the Sheriff's department, he turned his attention to the fire department, and became a member of Empire Engine Company No. 1. In the annual election of the Chief Engineer by the members of the department held in December of 1860, Scannell was elected to Chief Engineer, and he quickly won the admiration of his men. He was re-elected each of the next six years. In 1865 the City realized that it would be beneficial to change the department from the volunteer companies to a paid-call organization. In April of 1866, Chief Scannell signed the declaration of approval to make this change over occur the following December. In October of 1866, Chief Scannell lost his bid to be appointed by the Town Council to be the first Chief Engineer of the paid department. Instead they choose Franklin E. R. Whitney as Chief Engineer.
Five years later on April 3, 1871, the Town Council did appoint David Scannell as Chief Engineer, and approximately five hundred former volunteers paraded through the streets to show their support for this decision and appreciation for their former Chief. Due to ill health it was necessary for him leave office at the end of April. Amidst much controversy, on March 16, 1874, he was reappointed Chief Engineer. He quickly over came the controversies and remained in office as Chief for the next twenty years, until his death, due to ill health, on March 30, 1893.
At the time of his death the department was composed of 25 engine companies, 6 truck companies, 9 hose companies and the first water tower and first fireboat. He was also responsible for the fire codes requiring fire escapes and standpipes on all multi story buildings.
His will provided $2,000 to establish a fund for the meritorious service medal which bears his name. The David S. Scannell Medal is awarded to San Francisco firefighters who have performed meritoriously at personal risk of their own life.
His legacy in the department remains. In 1909 one of the two new fireboats was commissioned the David S. Scannell in his honor. The David Scannell Club was organized in 1913 by department members in order to maintain and protect the Civil Service provisions of the Charter relating to the Fire Department and to promote the efficiency and good name of the Fire Department. In essence, this was the department's first labor union.
It is without question that he was the most influential and esteemed leader in early department history.
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