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Chief Engineers - Chiefs of Department:

Dennis T. Sullivan
Chief Engineer
1893 - 1906

Came to California in 1874 from Utica, New York where he was a member of Empire and Eagle Hose Companies

  • Appointed to the Department, 1877, age 25, occupation, Blacksmith
    • Assignments as a fireman: Engine Co. No. 3, 1877, Engine Co. No. 2, 1879, Engine Co. No. 12, 1880
  • Appointed Hydrantman, 1880
  • Appointed District Engineer, December 29, 1886
  • Appointed Assistant Engineer 2, 1887
  • Appointed Assistant Engineer, 1888
  • Appointed Assistant Chief Engineer, February 24, 1890
  • Appointed Chief Engineer, March 30, 1893

Highlights of his tenure as Chief Engineer:

After Chief Scannell's death, Dennis T. Sullivan assumed command of the Department, and it soon became evident that he was fully equal to the task. A fireman of the highest ability, and a firm disciplinarian, his leadership brought the Department to a very high standard of efficiency.

During his term of office several more companies were organized and two Drill Towers were erected. The first Drill Tower was built in July 1898 at 3050 - 17th Street, and a second one was also constructed at Francisco and Stockton Streets. The latter was destroyed by fire in 1906, while the first one burned on November 1, 1919, with the loss of one fireman's life. This tower was then replaced by one of brick and steel, seven stories high, located in a gore of land bounded by Bryant, Eleventh, and Division Streets.

In 1898, Chief Sullivan recommended that the use of "Call" or extra men be abolished and the Department be organized into a fully paid department. At the time, there were 344 "Call" men who worked at their regular occupations throughout the City and only responded when needed. During the day, they were summoned by steam whistles, while at night, fire alarm tappers installed in their homes notified them of an alarm. Chief Sullivan's recommendations were adopted when a new City Charter, passed on January 8, 1900, reorganized the Department upon a fully paid basis.

The Department had grown in size to thirty-six engine companies, eight truck companies, seven chemical companies, one water tower and two monitor batteries.

Civil Service replaced the former methods of determining the fitness of departmental candidates. The first examination under the new charter was held on February 1903, in the gymnasium of the Olympic Club.

Pension provisions were also liberalized, providing half pay for disability and a service pension after twenty-five years of duty.

A modern fire alarm system had been installed. Water mains with over four thousand hydrants connected had displaced the old time fire cisterns. These cisterns were, despite Chief Sullivan's recommendations to the contrary and in the face of his repeated warnings, allowed to deteriorate. All other equipment and appurtenances of the Department, on the whole, where thoroughly modern and in good condition.

Most of the big downtown fires had combined into one, the oncoming flames having at one time formed a three mile front. The Department never stopped, its men dropping from exhaustion and sleeping as they lay in the streets - only to get up in a few minutes and go after the fire again. Word that their beloved Chief, Dennis T. Sullivan, was dying from injuries spurred the men on to make a valiant battle for him, as he would have wanted done had he been able to direct them. Chief Sullivan was injured by falling walls while in his quarters on Bush Street and died four days later in Letterman Hospital.

Auxiliary Water Supply System considered being one of the most important protective features of the Department. It permits the rapid concentration of powerful streams without the use of pumpers in the congested value and adjoining mercantile, industrial and closely built residential districts.

Construction of the system had been repeatedly urged by Chief Sullivan since the late 1800's, but it took the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 to give the necessary impetus for initiation.

Two fireboats, the Dennis T. Sullivan, and David Scannell, while independent fire fighting units, were built as, and formed part of, the city's "Auxiliary Water Supply System." Completed in 1909 at the Risdon Iron Works at a combined cost of $279,618, they were each capable of delivering 10,000 gallons of water per minute. Permanent manifold connections located along the waterfront permitted either or both of the boats to pump into and supplement the high pressure system.


SAN FRANCISCO, April 22. — Chief D. J. Sullivan of San Francisco's fire department passed away at 1:10 o'clock this morning from the effects of the injuries received on the morning of the earthquake. Chief Sullivan and his wife were sleeping in the firehouse adjoining the California hotel on Bush Street. The earthquake shook down the chimney of the hotel and sent it crashing through the firehouse. Chief Sullivan and his wife were carried with the debris two stories to the ground floor 'where they were extricated after great difficulty. The chief and' Mrs. Sullivan were at once taken to the Southern Pacific hospital at Fourteenth and Mission streets, but when the flames reached the Mission district they were again moved, this time to the general hospital at the Presidio. It was found that Chief Sullivan was suffering from a fractured skull, four broken, ribs and other Injuries. Eddie Graney, was with Chief Sullivan from the time he was removed from the firehouse until his death. Mr. Graney today stated, "that Chief Sullivan never knew, there was a fire." After recovering consciousness the chief took great, Interest in the affairs of the city, "being always apprehensive that a fire would break out. He knew from the first that he would die from his Injuries," but never forgot the Interests of his department. His mind seemed to dwell on the need by the city, of a salt, water fire fighting plant, and he repeatedly spoke to his friends of the Increasing, necessity for such an adjunct to the fire department of the city. Mrs. Sullivan, who suffered serious Injuries has progressed satisfactory totally and It Is believed that she will recover.

Main News Section
Los Angeles Herald, April 22, 1906
From the Library of Congress

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