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Death of Fire Chief Engineer Dennis T. Sullivan

Photograph of San Francisco Fire Chief Engineer Dennis T. Sullivan

Dennis T. Sullivan was the revered chief engineer of the San Francisco Fire Department at the time of the Great Earthquake and Fire. He was at the Chief’s Quarters, 410 Bush Street, during the disaster, and was mortally injured when he fell through the floor and into the cellar. According to eyewitnesses, brick chimneys and the dome of the California Hotel crashed 60 feet through the adjoining fire station, which housed Chemical Company No. 3, as well as Chief Engineer Sullivan and his wife Margaret.

Battalion Chief Walter A. Cook wrote in his official Department report:

“On the 18th inst. at 5:13 a.m. our quarters were carried down by the dome of the California Hotel; All hands were in bed at the time except Hoseman Maroney who was watch at that time. The roof and third and second floor came down through the apparatus floor to the cellar. Apparatus floor resting on coal pile; Third floor occupied by the late Chief and his wife; Second floor occupied by Chemical Crew and Operators; All went for the stairs except John Coyne who fell through the coal hole.

“When the crash ceased we started at once to dig for the Chief and Mrs. Sullivan, assisted by the “Bulletin” [San Francisco Bulletin newspaper, with offices directly across the street] employees and J. O’Brien, Police Officers Berg, Welsh, Farrell and Tutenberg. While so digging the Chief walked from the rear of the pile. P. Gallagher and Jerry Collins, Chief’s Operator, assisted him into the St. George Stables. Chief’s Operator, drove him away at once to the Hospital [at 14th and Mission streets]. Mrs. Sullivan was taken out shortly afterwards and we carried her into the California Hotel where a Doctor took charge of her.”

The chief had a slight fracture of the skull, several broken ribs, one of them punctured a lung; his right hip was badly lacerated and his body was covered with bruises and abrasians. The most dreadful injuries were caused by steam and scalding water from the radiator that was in the spot where he was carried by the avalanche of rubble and was spurting on him while the rescuers were at work.

Sullivan lingered near death for four days and finally died at the Presidio’s U.S. Army General Hospital, where he was taken when the Southern Pacific Company Hospital at Fourteenth and Mission streets was evacuated because of the fire.

A new chief’s residence was constructed in the early 1920s, and named for Chief Engineer Sullivan. It is still occupied by San Francisco fire chiefs of department.

Return to History of the San Francisco Fire Department.