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Jan 23

Horse drawn chemical truck, San Luis Obispo firefighters in 1906

CHEMICAL TRUCK — The latest thing in fire fighting equipment — in 1906, that is—is pictured here in a photo which was presented to the San Luis Obispo fire department by Mrs. Callie M. John in 1948. The gallant volunteers in uniform are as follows: Top row, left to right—Charles Hasse, John Isola, Manuel Lopez, Billie Bambrouck, John Kirkeby, Johnnie Martin, a Mr. Parsons, Henry Berkemeyer, Frank Tercis and Warren M. John. Lower row same order, Frank Soto, Ernest Taylor and Joe Ghigliotti. Volunteer fire companies took great pride in their appearance and equipment.

A little over 100 years ago the pride and joy of the fire department was the horse drawn wagon. This would be state of the art firefighting in San Luis Obispo until 1916 when petrol would replace equine power.

This photo was made a year after one of the worst fires in history struck downtown, destroying a whole city block. A few months later in 1905, the city’s first luxury hotel, the Ramona, was also destroyed in a fire. This is no reflection on the bravery of the firefighters, who would find their faces blistering in the heat. The technology of firefighting had not yet caught up to the demands of urban living. Or the city was to stingy to upgrade services.

At this time dynamite was sometimes suggested as a method for preventing the spread of an out of control fire by knocking down buildings next to a conflagration.

The surnames of the firefighters reflect the Western European settlers who made the Central Coast their home. I don’t see any Asian, African or Native American’s represented in the ranks. At least six of the firefighters sport extravagant mustaches that would make breathing equipment of today less  than comfortable.

A teamster’s knowledge was required then, a skill modern firefighters are not trained in. City streets are unpaved, but who would want paved streets in a horseback world.

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  2. 1963 Hydrant Break, Ford dealership – San Luis Obispo
  3. San Luis Obispo Tank Farm Fire
  4. Guy Crabb author of San Luis Obispo: 100 Years of Downtown Businesses: The Cross Streets
  5. The first woman judge in San Luis Obispo County, Teresa Estrada-Mullaney