San Francisco (Calif.). Board of Supervisors.

The municipal employee (Volume v.3 (Jan. - Sept. 1929)) online

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Consider that in the fiscal year just
closed on June 30. nearly 8000 fire
alarms were received and transmitted
to the Fire Department, and more than

Front viii:: of the Central Fire .Harm Station in Jefferson Square, ^.herein is housed the elettrical "pulse" of a great city





I'pper: Pouer room uit/i engine ijeneratnr: Center: Dynamolor ami cliarijino
boards; Bottom: Storage Battery Room

30,000 Other signals were handled over
the "joker" circuits ; 3000 complaints
were received, recorded and assigned
to trouble-shooters on Fire Alarm, Po-
lice and Traffic Signal circuits and

1185 Fire Alarm Boxes

We now have in service 1185 fire
alarm boxes, mostly all constructed by
our own department, connected ot
fifty-four signal circuits teniiinating ir
this office ; twenty-two tapper and "jO'
ker" circuits for transmission of alarm;
and joker signals to engine houses
terminal connections with Ferry build
ing alarm system as well as connectioi
with the American District Telegrapt
Company for reception of alarms orig
inating on premises of their hundred
of subscribers.

If, for any reason, this system shoul
fail to operate, it would be necessar]
for the Fire Department to patrol th(
streets like policemen in order to re
ceive word of fires anywhere in thi
city ; therefore one can imagine thai
our service is protected by reliefs an
stand-by in every conceivable manner
which is true to the fullest degree.

Manual System

The Fire Alarm system is termed i
manual system ; box alarms, still alarmi
and jokers, or miscellaneous signals
all being transmitted to the Fire De
partment over a master key at the cen
tral desk of the office.

On receipt of a box alarm one op
erator attends the relays pen registei
and observes the box list o'f that par
ticular circuit ; the other operator at
tends the master key and transmits the
alarm to the engine houses.

After the second round of an in
coming box alarm, the two operaton
check the numlier for correctness an(
it is then tapped to the engine house;
over the tapper and "joker" circuits
striking two rounds first on the tappet
and then two rounds on the "joker'
circuits. The two circuits arc dupli
cated, and it is evident that in event
either circuit should happen to be in
operative, through any source, the othei
would be intact and two rounds on
either circuit is sufficient advice foi
the Fire Department to dash to th(
location given h\ number of the bo>

On receipt of telephoned alarms, th(
nearest company is notified by tele
phone and then struck out of servict
over the "joker" circuits.

I just noted an entry on my com-
parative statement for the various fiscal
years since my incumbency as Chief
Operator and wliich shows that the fis
cal year ending June 30, 1919. rolled
up a gross number of alarms totaling

T 1 1 E M u x ici ['A I. employep:


.i570! Some contrast with our year
just ended.

The office force consists of one chief
i';re alarm operator, eight fire alarm
operators and four telephone operators.

Fire alarm and telephone oi)erators"
service is in three shifts, with two fire
alarm and one telephone operator con-
stantly on duty. .Vt night, as well as
on Sundays and holidays, a trouhle de-
tail is stationed at the office to attend
service complaints. Records are kept
on all operations, tests and complaints
in loose-leaf records of special form.

Maintenance Complaints

Complaints on maintenance of all
fire alarm circuits and equipment in
various engine houses : Police Station
circuits or equipment, including the
new teletype system ; Traffic signal cir-
cuits or equipment are all received at
this station and assigned to proper
quarters for attention.

The new master-timer for traffic
signals and pedestrian equipment is
situated in this oftice : to be in opera-
tion about August 1. Its operation is
covered by Chief \\'iley's article. I'm
free to say that it is some piece of
mechanism, and I don't mean just
maybe !

The growth of this system has
'lubled and trebled since the beginning
1 Mayor Rolph's administration. The
number of fire boxes in service has
nore than doubled. There has been a
, onerous increase in provision of po-
lice boxes for the Police Department :
installation of a teletype system for
':.e Police Department. One man at
Lcntral Station can t\pe a bulletin or
liroadcast on a typewriter transmitter
and which appears simultaneously on
receiving typewriters at all the police
stations in the city.

Traffic signals at approximately
eighty intersections already are in op-
eration from this office and more are
being installed rapidly. The depart-
ment's luiderground facilities are now
tar ahead of the older overhead tvpe of
construction, and with a minimum of
Know Your Alarm Box Location!

I could hardly call any article com-
plete without making a plea to anv
and all readers of this to Icani the lo-
cation of their nearest fire alarm bo.v
and then, in case of fire, "break the
(/lass and pull the hook!" This is the
positive course to use and will bring
plenty of equipment and man power to
your fire. Do not try to telephone an
alarm that will bring you onlv one piece
of equipment.

Remember that the Fire Department
has 1100 men not only willing but anx-
ious to extinguish your fire and to be
first on the scene if you'll only do your
part. Girc them [•roper location service


Tvio- position Telephone S^-itchboard in the Central Fire Alarm Station.

Miss Sorma Davis, Operator.

by use of the fire alarm bo.v provided
for your use!

You could more readily understand
the reason for m\- plea to use the boxes
if you had spent seventeen years in this
office and heard such telephoned alarms
as : "Quick, quick, up on the hill I"
(and then hang up) or,

"Hurry, Hurry
bouse is afire !"

Gene Mulligan's

Or any of a thousand other such tele-
phoned messages from excited people
trying to report a fire ; plenty of words
but no actual information.

If you don't think messages of that
kind are conducive to gray hair, come
round some day and take a look at my
force and you'll see. Also notice mine
— same shade.


By Joseph A. Rossi
Department Store Keeper


E to the precise system of ac-
counting placed in the store and
warehouse of this department by Chief
\Vile\-. we have as accurate an account
on material purchased and disbursed
as any banking institution. Further,
the care in selection of merchandise
needed must be technical as to quality,
material and workmanship, or serious
consequences might develop in break-
downs in our fire, police and traffic

Xo materials can be purchased with-
out sanction of the Chief or .\ssistant

.Ml materials, including labor, are

segregated among forty clerical ac-
counts so that we mav tell at any time
the cost of any piece of construction,
maintenance, damage or repair.

It is impossible to disburse any ma-
terial by the storekeeper unless the
foreman gives the location where to be
used and account nimiber on the ma-
terial requisition, over his signature.

.\n accurate card accounting system
is kept of all merchandise received and
disbursed. This includes the date,
amount received or withdrawn, the
price and remainder. This enables us
to have an accurate, perpetual inven-
torv at all times.



Thirty-seven Years in the Department

of Electricity

By Frank A. Biedermann

IX the life of an individual thii't\-
seven years is a long time ! \Vhen I
joined the Department of Electricity,
known as the Fire Alarm and Police
Telegraph office, in 1892, had anyone
told me that thirty-seven years later I
would be still connected with the same
department, I would have judged him
a little "queer." The thought of look-
ing forward nearly half a century is
one fearsome to contemplate, but, ret-
rospectively, it seems that the year 1892
was only yesterday, so happily, so har-
moniously have the years passed.

9 Brenham Place

In 1892 the Fire Alarm and Police
Telegraph ofifice was located at 9 Bren-
ham Place. Brenham Place is the little
street on the west side of Portsmouth
Square, facing the old City Hall, the
site of which is now occupied by the
Hall of Justice. At that time the Sher-
iff's office, as well as those of the
County Clerk and the Fire Commis-
sioners, were still housed in the old
City Hall.

Number 9 Brenham Place was a
two-story brick building. The first floor
housed the headquarters of the Exempt
Firemen, which really was a museum
of obsolete fire equipment and fire ap-
paratus of the old man-power, hand-
pump days, when going to a fire was
almost everybody's business. On the
second floor was located the club rooms
of the Exempt Firemen. In a wooden
superstructure on the roof was the cen-
tral station of the Fire Alarm and Po-
lice Telegraph office.

His First Boss

My first boss was George Thomas,
Chief of the Department and the opera-
tors : Frank Bishop, now retired on
pension and who, despite his seventy-
seven years, is still as chipper as a
cricket. It has been reported that Frank
still runs to all fires in his neighbor-
hood. Frank Haskell has passed to his
eternal reward. William R. Hewitt,
who later succeeded William Torphy,
became the third chief during my con-
nection with the department. William
Hewitt was the nephew of Sam Rainey.
well known to the old timers as a big
political boss and nobody ever lived
who had a bigger heart than Sam
Rainey. The superintendent of con-
struction at that time was George
Sweeney. The lineman foreman was
Walter King, father of Walter King,
well known clubman and orchestra
leader. Walter King, Sr., at the age

IN the old days there was no
traffic control system — to-
day the traffic control signal
system originated and devised
by Chief Ralph W. Wiley is
the most modern and efficient
in the world, says Mr. Bieder-
mann. This angle of the De-
partment's duties is many times
greater than the entire job back
in 1892. Mr. Wiley has been
Chief since 1920, and the im-
provement in the efficiency of
the department, under his guid-
ance, has been phenomenal. To
detail all the many things he
has done in this way would fill
a big book.

of seventy-seven years, is hale and
hearty. The linemen were Jim Kenny
and Jim Gorman.

In those days, before establishment
of the Gamewell Police Call System,
which originally was introduced in New
York, both the police and the fire de-
partment call boxes were of the "pull-
the-hook" telegraphic type, when the
only medium of communication be-
tween the man at the box and head-
quarters was by means of the Morse
code. It may be of interest to state that
this system still prevails in the fire de-
partment. Every battalion chief is ac-
companied by a "key man" who acts
also as chauffeur. In the days of horse-
drawn equipment the "key man" was
driver or coachman.

One of the first jobs wished on me
was that of hooking-up and cutting in
Eutchertown to the central fire and po-
lice call system. Prior to that time,
Eutchertown, while within the city lim-
its, was almost a law unto itself and
was still using the village system of
fire control and police protection, which
meant, in case of fire, that thev ahvavs
managed to save the lot.

In the case of apprehension of crim-
inals or hoodlums, Butchertownites fig-
ured that if anybody attempted to es-
cape the town limits, he'd get mired in
the marshland that surrounded Eutch-
ertown on all sides.

I well remember that the gang had
to leave Brenham Place before dawn,
even in the summertime, to make liie
trip to Eutchertown. We traveled via
horse and buggy and got back never
until way after dark. The roads were

so bad we were unable to ger in niDrt
than five or six hours on actual con-
struction work. I

Hall of Justice Connected I

My next job was that of connecting;
the Hall of Justice with County JaH
No. 2 in the Ingleside district — it. -
present location. We had to hook up
a direct telephone line between thesL
places. The type of telephone then in
vogue was the old coffee-grinder style
and one almost wore out one's arm in
callitig a party. We ran the lines from
the Hall of Justice over Clay Street to
Stockton Street to Market Street ; out
Market Street to Valencia Street; out
Valencia Street to the old Southern
Pacific right-of-way at Twenty-fifth
Street, and thence along the right-of-
way to the Jail. That was before the
days of steps, and we had to mount the
poles with our climbing irons.

The poles, which were the property
of the Western Union, were not the
soft wood poles of fir or pine used so
much nowadays, but were of some
extremely hard wood. It was almost
impossible to drive our spurs in far
enough to get a good hold. The result
• was that for every two feet we climbed
up we slipped back three feet. Til tell
the world we were glad when that job
was finished. We used to bang our
heads against the poles every time
we slipped. You never saw such a
gang of "big heads" and "sore heads"
in your life.

A Strenuous Trip

Another nice all-day and half-the-
night job was the trip to the old Alms
House, now the Laguna Honda Home.
We made that trip twice a month to
keep the line in operation.

In 1892 the fire alarm system con-
sisted of eight signal circuits, four tap-
per circuits and four alarm circuits.
One alarm circuit, of house-top con
struction, was confined to the insurance
district, and gave the alarm of fire to
insurance people, restaurants and sa

Oh, yes ! The office telephones were
Main 468 and Main 491. Big office,
with two telephones !

The method of handling fire alarms
was slow. The operator released a
-shunt behind the second and third
time the number was repeated direct
from the fire-box. This would strike
all the tappers. Then the number was
set up on a three-dial repeater. This
sent out the signal on the alarm lines.

THE .\l U .\ IC 1 P A I.


(J V (•: !■:

This instrument was made by the Cali-
fornia Electrical Manufacturing Com-
pany, located in the 100 block on the
south side of Market Street. The con-
cern was destroyed by the fire of 1906.
Changes in the old s\stem were
started when Chief Hewitt headed the
department. He added signal and tap-
per lines which struck all tappers by a
special tapper key. He established a
machine shop where all new tappers,
gong, fire boxes, police boxes, horse
electric releases, and everything elec-
trical for the fire and police depart-
ments were made. The department then
started to grow.

The Central Fire Alarm System was
operated by two operators from 8 a.m.
to 4 p.m. ; two operators from 4 p.m.
to 12 midnight ; one operator from mid-
night to 8 a.m.

The night of the Baldwin Hotel fire
in October, 1898, I was working the
midnight watch. Before that fire broke
out there was a third alarm fire from
box 157, at Folsom and Fourth Streets.
The fire was in a large hay barn. After
the fire was brought under control I
sent orders for a special detail of men
to work at that fire.
Then —

Box 47 rang in !

I don't mind saying that my heart
leaped into my mouth. Cold shivers
ran up and down my spine.

Box 47 was then and still is the fire
box located at Powell and Market
Streets. Box 47 was a general alarm
box, calling for every available man
and every piece of fire-fighting appa-
ratus in San Francisco. Number 47
was a dreaded number to every man in
the San Francisco Hre Department,
or in the Fire Alarm and Police Tele-
graph office.

The old Baldwin Hotel was a wooden
structure located where the Flood build-
ing is today. The hotel was known as
both a fire menace and a notorious fire-
trap. I forgot all about the smoulder-
ing hay on Folsom Street and called
out every man in the fire department,
on or off duty, and summoned every
company in San Francisco. So great
was the excitement occasioned by the
glare of the flames as they reached to-
wards the sky that people all over town
turned in fire alarm boxes.

In that mad turmoil I was forgotten.
It was not until noon the next day that
anyone thought of the man on watch in
the Central station, and a relief man
was sent out to take my place.

A short time prior to the conflagra-
tion of April 18, 1906. I was installing
a new switchboard controlling the un-
derground signal system, in the rotunda
of the new City Hall. The morning of
the fire I was living in Divisadero
Street, between Hayes and Grove
Streets. I walked to the headquarters
at Brenham Place. There I met the

chief of the department, William Hew-
itt. The building was a total wreck,
the walls having fallen in and the whole
l)uilding collapsed.

We went to St. George's stable near
Kearny Street and secured a horse and
buggy and drove out to the City Hall,
where we were installing the new cen-
tral station. The City Hall was in fair
condition, and although a steel girder
had fallen into the office we succeeded
in hooking up the underground system
with the call boxes still in operation.
We weren't allowed to stay there long
as the militia came along and ordered
us out of the building. At that time the
city was under martial law and neither
Chief tlewitt nor myself knew of any
argument to circum\'ent the business
end of a steel bayonet.

After the fire temporary headquar-
ters were established on Steiner Street,
between Pine and California Streets.
Afterwards we moved to Fulton Street,
between Polk and Larkin Streets. The
present central station of the police and
fire signal system is located in Jeffer-
son Square. It was completed in 1915
before the opening of the Panama-Pa-
cific International Exposition and is
the last word in modern equipment, up-
to-date appliances and safety devices,
being in these respects the outstanding
station of its kind in the United States.


AVTSIT to the Central Fire Alarm
station today will show the vast
improvement which has been made in
the Fire Alarm and Police electric
s}stems since 1876, when William G.
Pennycook was learning his trade in
the Paul Seller Electric Company
and when Samuel Urquhart was
superintendent of the Fire Alarm
and Police systems.

In those days one had to turn a crank
between thirty and thirty-five times in
a fire alarm box before it registered
in the fire alarm office ; but this was
not for long. When the city found that
this electrical work was not satisfac-
tory, the California Electric Works
was employed to make approved fire
alarm boxes, repeaters, and other ap-

Mr. Pennycook was appointed to the
position of electrical inspector for the
Fire Alarm and Police Telephone by
the Board of Supervisors April 1, 1892.
and had under his supervision all the
electrical apparatus and wiring for the
Fire and Police Departments. At this
time, there were six alarms and four
tappers and ten signal circuits with
about 403 fire alarm boxes, also two
additional fire alarm stations which
were at that time called the "village
system" ; one of these was located at
Ocean \'iew and was 33 Engine : the

.■ll l/ie lop, left, uv have William G.
Pennvcook. and at his right, Frank .1.
BieJt'rmann, in point of service the ti^o
oldest employees in the Department of
Elertriiity. In the center is a picture of
the old horse-draivn days ivith foreman
Jere P. Counihan — still liith the Depart-
ment — and his constructio'n crev:. At the
bottom iL-e have Frank A. Biedermann
piloting the Department's first motor cat

Other, 11 Engine, was located in South
San Francisco.

In 1900 when the Charter went into
effect, the Fire Alarm and Police Tele-
phone were changed to the Department
of Electricity, and all positions were
under civil service. JNIr. Pennycook
passed the examination and was ap-
pointed to the position of inspector.
Inspectors enforce all rules, regula-
tions, orders and requirements of the
Board of Supervisors in regard to
electric wires, fixtures, and appliances
in or on buildings or structures of any
kind, in the City and County of San



Adjusting Claims on San Francisco s
Municipal Street Car Railway

V By Ray W. Taylor

Chiim Adjuster. Municipal Street R/iikv/iy


FROM the explanalioiis of many in-
dividuals as to how they became
involved in accidents with Municipal
Railway cars, it is becoming more and
more evident that motorists fail to ap-
preciate the fact that street cars cannot
be stopped with the same precision and
promptness as automobiles.

"Why, the street car had plenty of
time to stop," is a common complaint
of aggrieved drivers, who find them-
selves being pushed aside by a street
car sliding into them, with fenders bent
and twisted or wheels dished and mud-
guards dented.

Car Weighs 26 Tons

The fact is that a street car weighs
twenty-six tons. From tables worked
out by engineers, a car going at the rate
of five miles an hour will slide four
feet, seven inches after the brakes are
set. If the car is going ten miles an
hour it will slide eighteen feet, nine
inches. At fifteen miles an hour it will
go forty-three feet, and at twenty miles
an hour the car will continue on for
eighty feet, ten inches.

A motorist who suddenly stops his
car close to the street car tracks in or-
der to take advantage of a parking
space, or possibly is forced to stop by
the unexpected appearance of an indi-
vidual or another automobile, fails to
take into consideration the rate at which
the car is following. If he sees a space
of feet between his machine and
the street car, he maintains it was the
motorman's fault. Yet, if that street
car was traveling at the rate of ten
miles an hour it would be humanly im-
possible for the car to be stopped under
eighteen feet, nine inches.

A Case in Point

In a recent decision in the Superior
Court by Judge C. J. Luttrell in a case
where a Market Street Railway car
was telescoped by a municipal car that
was following close behind, the Judge
held the municipal car blameless be-
cause the car traveling in front stopped
unexpectedly in the middle of the block.
Such a stop he said could not have been
anticipated by the motorman in the
rear. 'I'here is no ordinance governing
the distances to be maintained between
cars, the Judge pointed out, and conse-
quently he held that the motorman on
the second car could not be responsible


lor the sudden action of the man op-
erating the first car.

This would seem to be both logical
and in accordance with the provisions
of the State Motor Vehicle Act, Sec-
tion 130, which places the responsibil-
ity squarely on the driver who wishes
to start, turn or stop, to first see that it
can be done with safety.

Oil Company Claim Rejected

Recently the claim of an oil company
for damage to one of its tank trucks,
and the loss of 500 gallons of gasoline,
was rejected by this office on the same
grounds. Judge Luttrell's decision had
not been rendered at that time. But the
fact was that the driver of the oil truck
drove onto the street car tracks in front
of a municipal car and then came to an
abrupt stop in the middle of a block,
on Van Ness Avenue. The distance
between the truck and the car was not
sufficient in which to bring the car to
a stop.

It might be said that a street car's
speed should be kept so slow that such
accidents would never occur. Or that
sufficient space should be maintained
between the vehicles following each
other, so that this type of accident
would be avoided. But if one tries to
imagine what would result on the city's
crowded streets if such regulations
were made, he would quickly realize
that the business of the city would have
to come to a standstill. The people
would never get to and from their
homes via the street railway lines ; that
is a certainty. Autos would wedge
themselves in between two street cars
attempting to maintain a stipulated dis-

tance between each other and it is proi
able that conditions would be wor;
rather than better.

Motorists are often compelled to stop,
suddenly without warning, or if sigf
nals are hastily made and not givei^^
sufficiently in advance to avert an acci
dent, it might appear that an injustices
In done if claims of this nature are re

Not an Insurance Company

The answer is that the Railway is no^

Online LibrarySan Francisco (Calif.). Board of SupervisorsThe municipal employee (Volume v.3 (Jan. - Sept. 1929)) → online text (page 28 of 84)