San Francisco’s collection of 32 antique fire-fighting vehicles is probably one of its best-kept historical secrets, all in the care of the nonprofit Guardians of The City.
Want to see a “hose cart” that saved San Francisco from flames in 1850? They’ve got it. How about a 75-foot “water tower” on wheels, used to douse the 1906 fire following the earthquake? You bet. Maybe take a trip down memory lane with a 1958 cherry-red fire engine? That too.
Here’s the catch: You can’t see any of the vehicles because the collection is essentially homeless.
Guardians of The City is pulling the proverbial fire alarm and calling on San Francisco to find a home where people can visit this beautiful vintage collection. The group will present its dilemma to the Fire Commission on Wednesday night.
James Lee, a retired firefighter and chair member of Guardians’ board, told me he hopes the Fire Commission and the mayor will help find a permanent residence for the vehicles.
“We’re going hat in hand” to city leaders, he said.
You see, San Francisco actually owns most of the collection but hasn’t found it a home.
Right now, the fire apparati are essentially “couch-surfing” in an Academy of Art garage on Jerrold Avenue.
Prior to that, the collection of machines that spans from 1820 to 1992 bipped and bopped from facility to facility, from Treasure Island to the Bayview. But time in open-air garages led to weather damage.
In 2014, the estimated value of the collection was $2,647,500. After a few damp winters, the new estimated value is $1,437,080.
A San Francisco native raised “where the fog meets the mountain” west of Twin Peaks, Lee sadly noted, “Some of it is beyond repair.”
As a fellow San Francisco native with pride in my hometown, I should point out that last year was the 150th anniversary of the fire department — a missed opportunity to seek aid to house the collection, if there ever was one.
Even Willie Brown, Da (former) Mayor turned columnist, said “absolutely” the vehicles should be preserved, due to “the amount of lives lost over the years and the amount of attention, and pride, everyone has in the fire department.”
I reached out to Mayor Ed Lee’s office, and spokesperson Ellen Canale told me, “San Francisco is committed to preserving and protecting pieces of history that tell the story of our city.”
Even that endorsement may be enough to push for action.
San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White told me in a statement, “The Department supports identifying and securing space to house and protect our vintage apparatus, which is an important piece of our history.”
Tune in tonight to find out if San Francisco’s blazing, amazing collection will be preserved.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.