The following interview was published in Vol. 1 No. 1 of the Golden Hindesight in 1975, a magazine project designed by
San Anselmo teacher, Bernie Griff with his students in the 6th grade class at Wade Thomas Elementary School.
AMBROSE FERRARIO ~ THE OLD FIREHOUSE
Ambrose Ferrario called us from up north - a town called Kelseyville - and told us about the Fire Department in San Anselmo. As a kid, he remembered being a volunteer. There was a fire wagon and two white horses called Major and General.
Mr. Ferrario explained that the fire bells would ring, then the horses would come out of their stalls. Then the harnesses would be released and fall down upon the waiting Major and Colonel. There was a chain across the front door. Whe that was released, the horses knew what to do - they took off! The firehouse driveway was ribbed concrete, so that the horses could get good traction as they pulled the heavy fire wagon up San Anselmo Avenue.
In 1916, the two horses left - one put out to pasture and the other gone to the street department with the wagon to clean the streets and gutters of San Anselmo. Ambrose Ferrario recalls: "... Poor Frank Milani, the street cleaner. When the fire alarm rang, the horse would always take off, thinking it was a fire... the horse would take off period! ... Frank would be off chasing the horse." It was still a volunteer Fire Department in 1921. Charles Cartright was the chief then.
Then, in 1916, two San Anselmo men, Deysher and LaFargue, built the first fire truck for the station. It was a "White" truck. ambrose Ferrario remembers the Red Hill fire of 1924: "... One night at 2 or 3 A.M., the bell rang. I lived on Tam Avenue, heard the bell, came over. The whole town was lit up!" Mr. Ferrario said that there wasn't much that they could do. He remembered the Flood of 1925 when the water came surging down San Anselmo Avenue... "We had to sandbag the doors. The Home Market was being built then - 1925 - and the bridge at Tam Avenue was washed out."
Nello E. Marcucci was Assistant Fire Chief under Cartright in 1923. He had joined the Fire Department in 1917 as a volunteer. In 1930, he was Chief, and held that position for 33 years. He recalled in the early days working 6 months without a day off. Memories of a wagon drawn by two horses to six trucks under Chief Frank Sousa (October 31, 1967). the present Fire Chief is Richard McClaren.
In a talk with Assistant Fire Chief Beedle and Captain Cahill, they told us how the hay for Major and Colonel was still in the attic above the firehouse and they knew because they had crawled up there lately. They told their old fire hats were made of leather with a big eagle on it. San Francisco firemen still use the big leather ones. He used to wear suspenders, blue shirts and scratchy wool pants. They had only lost one man thorugh the years - Robert Meagor. He was killed in a grass fire in 1936. He was 36 years old. Now there are 21 in the Fire Department.
Captain Cahill and assistant Chief Beedle explained to us the meaning of the rank of fireman. Five bugles crossed is Chief. Four horns crossed is Deputy Chief. A Batallion Chief has two horns crossed. A Captain has two horns straight down and a Lieutenant has one bugle. These are the old "calling" horns to warn of fire.
The Fire Department had a 1930 Seagraves fire truck they sold to University of the Pacific in Stockton. Then a 1938 Seagraves they sold to a Pacifica Fire Department. They used it for parades. The poor old rescue truck is getting tired they said - "tired and top heavy" - and so ended our firehouse interview.