Museum of the City of San Francisco
By Subject
By Year
The Gift Shop


FREDERICK F. POSTEL, Chief of Department
MICHAEL T. FARRELL, Deputy Chief, Operations
JOHN F. BOSCACCI, Deputy Chief, Administration

December 15, 1989

Gayle Orr Smith
Deputy Mayor of Public Safety
City and County of San Francisco
Room 200, City Hall
San Francisco, CA 94102

Dear Deputy Mayor:

This letter is in answer to your request for information regarding the earthquake, I will attempt to provide anecdotal information regarding the Department's response to the earthquake.

I am including excerpts from four meritorious recommendations to give you an example:

1. Marina Rescue: (as told by Company Officer)

"While attempting to locate and hook up to an adequate water supply, civilians notified us that persons were trapped in the building on the northeast corner of Beach and Divisadero. The building was collapsed in such a way that it was at least one story shorter and was partially across Beach Street. Firefighter [Gerald] Shannon entered the collapsed building from the Divisadero Street side after being told people were deeper inside and couldn't be reached from the Beach Street side. The side of the building he entered was directly across from a fully involved apartment complex. While Firefighter Shannon searched for survivors, he acquired a small line (with inadequate pressure) and began fighting exposure fires which were flashing in the collapsed building he was searching. The radiant heat from the totally involved building across the street was so intense that we were forced to work in teams, spelling each other when the heat became unbearable. The fully involved building began to explode and collapse. Firefighter Shannon was told on two separate occasions to vacate the building, fearing fire and collapse on him at any moment. Firefighter Shannon, however, heard someone banging with a pipe and he refused to leave the building. He took off his protective clothing, his helmet and turnout coat, and squeezed through a small opening toward the sound of the banging. Firefighter Shannon found the victim, a trapped woman, [Sherra Cox] pinned under a door on which the ceiling and beams had fallen. He gave her his turnout coat and flashlight to comfort her. When he said he needed to go back and get equipment she pleaded with him not to leave by saying "Please! Please! Don't leave me," Firefighter Shannon said "I'm here, I'm here."

"Captain Robert Boudoures handed Firefighter Shannon several pieces of equipment which included two chain saws, a multipurpose saw, jacks, blocks and a hatchet. Firefighter Shannon dug and sawed for two hours in an extremely unsafe and unstable building to save the woman's life.

"On the way back to the fire station Firefighter Shannon told me he just couldn't leave the woman after he saw her even when being told to. He said that while he was in the building 'he knew he was going to die' but just couldn't leave."

2 . Responding to Recall to Duty: (as told by California Highway Patrol Officer)

"As I approached the Bay Bridge at approximately 1720 hours, I was stopped by a California Highway Patrol unit who informed of the damage to the bridge. The officer then told me that he believed that all roadways to San Francisco were blocked, but that rescue workers were needed immediately for the Cypress structure.

"I joined the officer and discovered that Fireman [Michael] Bryant had also volunteered his services. The three of us responded to the disaster scene and found that we were among the first professionals there.

"We discovered numerous injured persons, and some people were dead. Fireman Bryant immediately went to the aid of several Oakland Firemen. Together the Firemen established a make shift triage. They quickly made the difficult decisions as to who would receive initial first aid. The Firemens' resources and equipment were limited and the terrain was extremely dangerous.

"While Bryant and the other Fireman worked, the pavement around them smoldered. They were located on the upper structure of the overpass which still had the obvious potential of further collapse. I personally saw Fireman Bryant render aid, organize volunteers and search for survivors at the risk of his own life.

"Within two hours of our arrival, all the victims which could be reached were aided and the dead were retrieved. Once the situation was secured, Fireman Bryant insisted that we find some way to get to San Francisco.

"We were taken to Emery Cove Marina by the California Highway Patrol. There we met a nurse who was also trying to get into the City. Fireman Bryant and I were able to secure transportation on a Power Boat to Treasure Island.

"The owner of the boat, named Tiger, warned us that the trip could be hazardous due to wreckage in the water, but all parties agreed to go.

"After we reached Treasure Island, we were driven to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) by Navy personnel. The C.H.P. took us to Mission Station where San Francisco Police Department officers were able to take Fireman Bryant to his station."

3. Routine: (as told by Company Officer)

"I had arrived back at Station 13 at approximately 1720 hours after leaving the Bureau of Training where I had just concluded teaching a class to the probationary firefighters. Upon arrival, I found an empty station as both units were at incidents.

"Inspector [Sonny] Armada arrived simultaneously and asked if he could be of any help. I asked him to help set up some type of Division Control until we heard from the on-duty Assistant Chief. Numerous citizens came by the station asking for help and some direction. Inspector Armada calmly and professionally advised these alarmed citizens and reassured them of known "safe" areas. A distraught female citizen came in and needed immediate help, again Inspector Armada calmly reduced her anxieties and recommended that she stay at the station.

"The security guard from our next door neighbor at 500 Sansome Street advised us that his large capacity roof water tank had heavy water leaking from its base and was flooding the roof. Immediately, Inspector Armada went to the roof and surveyed the damage. We decided to shutdown this tank to reduce a possible collapse condition. This decision was given by Battalion Chief Vouchilas of Battalion 1. Inspector Armada again returned to the roof and shutdown the leaking tank.

"He later returned with his own portable HONDA generator and donated it to the station for our use. It was utilized to operate the C02 Unit refrigeration system and the charging system on Engine 13.

4. Rescue: (as told by Company Officer)

"When I arrived [ in the Marina District] I found that two buildings had collapsed, one on the northwest corner and one on the northeast corner, people were trapped in both buildings. Both buildings had pitched forward at an approximate angle of 45 degrees toward Beach Street. In the advent of a strong aftershock both buildings were in danger of collapse. I called in my location to Radio and apprised them of the situation -- two buildings collapsed, people trapped, one building on fire -- I requested assistance. We had visible contact with some of the people trapped in the building on the northeast corner because both buildings were in danger of collapse; I split my company and attempted both rescues. The driver and tillerman went into the building on the northeast corner and I, along with the remaining two firefighters, went into the fire building. Civilians were the first on the scene and had heard the voices coming from inside the building. I worked with the civilians while Firefighters Reed and Bailon searched the inside of the building. Attempts to reach the trapped people from the side of the building were impossible, just then Firefighter Bailon called out and said that 'he found them.' I entered the building with four or five civilians to begin extraction.

"Firefighters Reed and Bailon had cut open the floor using axes and found two people trapped beneath debris from the collapsed building. We felt strong after-shocks and heard a loud BANG. At this point I ordered the civilians out of the building. Smoke was now starting to fill the floor (I learned later that the noise we heard was an explosion possibly caused by escaping natural gas) and I could see flames coming from the front of the building. We could not free the trapped victims from the debris so I had power saws and jacks brought into the building. We were racing against time as the fire was spreading rapidly and the only defense we had was a 1-1/2" hose line working under reduced pressure. Voices from outside the building called saying 'the building is going to collapse.' I looked out the window and saw that the top floor of the building was fully involved with fire. At this point we decided to continue rescue attempts. Heat and smoke drove us from the building, but the male victim had crawled out of the hole we cut in the floor. Myself and a male civilian carried the victim across the partially collapsed roof to safety and a waiting ambulance."

John F. Boscacci
Deputy Chief, Administration

Back to 1989 Earthquake Exhibit Page

Return to top of page