The San Francisco Fire Department is internationally known for their ladder work. With the City's side by side buildings on hilly streets, narrow alleys and many overhead wires, laddering a building is a difficult task. The Department has always been able to confront and conquer this extraordinary challenge.
The 65 foot ladder was the principal means of rescue before the advent of the aerial ladder and was also used in locations were the aerial ladder trucks could not operate. The ladder can, when fully extended, reach a five story roof or a sixth floor window.
The SFFDHS Muster Team demonstrates a ladder evolution that is known as the auditorium raise. The auditorium raise, or church raise as it also known, would be used to reach the interior ceiling of a building when it is necessary to check for the extension of a fire, or to change a church light bulb.
The hand raising of the 65 foot wooden extension ladder, weighing a quarter of a ton, is performed by six firefighters. The ladder is raised to a vertical position and is extended from the base ladder to its full 65 feet by a crew of six. It is then supported by four additional firefighters with guy ropes. The high point of the demonstration occurs when one of the members climbs the fully extended ladder and then locks in to the top most rung, and places the American Flag at the apex of the ladder.
This auditorium raise of the 65 foot ladder has become the trademark of the SFFDHS and has been presented throughout the west. In the City, the team has raised the ladder before 65 enthralled members of the Sunshine School and again for 65,000 screaming faithful fans at Candlestick Park for the unveiling of the first Forty Niner Super Bowl flag. The raise was one of the highlights of the 1906 survivors meeting on April 18, 2006, 5:13 am, at Lotta's Fountain. This “100 Years After” ceremony of the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire was attended by over 15,000 people and seen on international television.
All ladders of the Department's truck companies are made at the City and County of San Francisco Central Shops ladder shop. Many years ago, San Francisco had its own grove of Douglas Fir trees on an eastern slope of a forest in Oregon. That grove produced the necessary straight grain wood for the beams of the ladders as the base of the 65 foot ladder is 38 feet. The rungs of the ladder are made from Oregon Ash or Hickory. The ladder shop tags, inventories and monitors every ladder that is in service in the Department. Their records show that the 65 foot ladder currently used by the Department's muster team was placed into Department service on May 5, 1925. A 65 foot ladder was carried on every truck until the 1960's when each new truck placed into service came equipped with an aerial ladder.
The San Francisco Fire Department Historical Society is unique in historical organizations. Not only does the society restore and preserve fire related artifacts, but also seeks to preserve the physical techniques and evolutions used by the Department in days gone by making the SFFD Museum a museum of living history.
It is hoped that through the enthusiastic display of historical color and techniques at parades and other civic functions within San Francisco, and representation at firemen's musters on behalf of San Francisco, that our citizens will be the recipients of much good will, and that, in turn they will support the SFFD Historical Society as an important and unique part of the color of a great city.
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