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San Francisco, California

Pier 22½ & the SFFD Fire Boats

Prone to disastrous fires, the city of San Francisco has the Guardian, a fireboat gifted by residents, to watch over them from the bay. 

A city with a history of devastating fires and a design that invites disaster, San Francisco runs a tight ship when it comes to emergency services, and the fireboats are a historical and quite literal example.

The Fireboat House on Pier 22½ is home to the fireboats that patrol the bay. The Renaissance Revival structure was designed by Alfred A. Pyle. The house is an uncommon example of cooperation between the Port of San Francisco and the Fire Department, and is the only firehouse that serves the fireboat crew. While it used to be a crowded station housing around 15 men, not counting officers, its current in-house staff is made up of only three – a marine-qualified pilot, an engineer, and a firefighting captain or lieutenant.

While the fireboats aren’t as vital to San Francisco’s emergency structure as they once were, they embody the extensive maritime history of the city, and there are two vessels that shine as historical treasures, the Phoenix and the Guardian.

The Phoenix was a vital tool in the Marina District during the chaotic aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Pumping water from the St. Francis Yacht Harbor into the SFFD’s portable water system, the Phoenix delivered critical assistance to the conflagration at Beach and Divisadero Streets, saving countless homes.

As a heartfelt thank-you for the successful efforts of the Phoenix, two anonymous donors purchased a $300,000 vessel shortly after the earthquake, and after serving as a fireboat for the city of Vancouver and being retired as surplus, the Guardian was rescued from the salvage chopping block and became a part of San Francisco maritime lore.