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San Francisco Command
Oakland Division C
Berkeley Division A

Engine Companies 6, 7, 13, 17 and 25
Attack Hose Tender 7
Battalion 4
Battalion 9
Division 2
Self-Recalled Personnel

San Francisco Strike Team 2 arrived at the Oakland command post at state Highway 24 and Broadway St. at 1:10 p.m.

Oakland Assistant Chief John K. Baker directed Battalion 9 Chief Paul J. Tabacco to respond with the strike team to the Claremont Hotel at Ashby and Domingo avenues.

There was extreme concern about the Claremont Hotel. If the structure caught fire it would become a conflagration-breeder and spread firebrands ahead of the main body of the firefront. Those firebrands would then spread the conflagration to downtown Berkeley.

There was historical precedent for this concern.

During the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, the Palace Hotel at Market and New Montgomery streets became a conflagration-breeder when it burned. This was partially responsible for the destruction of much of downtown San Francisco.

The Palace Hotel had an independent water supply, and its pumps and reservoirs supplied water to hydrants along Market St. used by San Francisco and Oakland engines in the attempt to stop the conflagration then burning several blocks away through the Financial District. Loss of the Palace Hotel and its water supply caused the loss of water to engines in the Financial District, and the area was then lost to conflagration.

The Claremont Hotel is said to be the second-largest wood-frame structure in the United States. The hotel contains 239 guest rooms and an additional 32,000 square feet of conference space, restaurants, a spa and fitness center set on 22 acres in the urban/wildland interface along the Oakland-Berkeley border.

The hotel has a wood and stucco exterior with decorative rock trimming. The structure was built in three sections of varying height from three-to-five stories.

The hotel is fully sprinklered and is in compliance with State of California Code of Regulations Title 24.

Water is provided by domestic supply from the East Bay Municipal Utility District, augmented by private wells for landscaping. There are also eight domestic hydrants on the grounds, each capable of supplying 125 psi.

There is no significant water storage capacity within the structure, however there are two outdoor swimming pools on the northeast side of the main building.

The two private wells provide water to irrigate shrubbery and foliage on the grounds, and sprinklers had been turned on by the hotel's staff before the arrival of any fire apparatus. A one-and-one-half-inch line from the structure's interior fire protection system was also led through the lobby and out to the hilly area behind the building by hotel employees for further protection.

Evacuation of the hotel complex was begun at 11:30 a.m. by Dennis M. Tucker, a member of the Claremont's engineering staff.

Upon arrival at the hotel complex, Strike Team 2 reported to Oakland Capt. Donald R. Parker who was designated Division C commander, and had already established a staging and operations base in the hotel's parking lot.

Captain Parker briefed the San Francisco officers and firefighters, and told them he desired to establish a water curtain around the hotel utilizing San Francisco Fire Department Multiversals, Gorter pipes and Oakland Truck 18's aerial water tower.

Officers were also briefed by the hotel's chief engineer Roy Johnson about the structure's layout, internal fire protection systems and the location of isolation valves. San Francisco apparatus were then positioned at various points behind the hotel. The fire, at this time, could be clearly seen from the hotel grounds.

Engine crews connected to the hotel's low-pressure hydrants and then extended leads to wet – with master streams – thick foliage and blue gum eucalyptus trees between the hotel and the firefront.

The crew of San Francisco Engine 17, commanded by Lt. Mark Groshong, also identified conflagration hazards and established a defensive position on the southeast side of the hotel.

San Francisco Engine 6 commanded by Temporary Lt. Gerald K. Scullion, and San Francisco Engine 13 commanded by Capt. Louis R. Mambretti, were directed to the rear parking lot of the hotel.

San Francisco Engine 25 was also positioned in the lower parking lot of the hotel, and the crew commanded by Temporary Capt. Thomas F. Underwood led one three-inch line from the engine to the hydrant on Tunnel Rd. This hydrant was supplied by a East Bay Municipal Utility District large-diameter main.

One-thousand feet of three-inch line with a wye outlet was then led from the engine across the parking lot – through a fence – and up the steep hill behind the hotel to Alvarado Rd. One-hundred feet of one-and- one-half-inch line from a Piedmont Fire Department engine was connected to the wye and led to another section of Alvarado Rd. for perimeter defense.

Captain Underwood's crew also took an additional three-inch line wye and a one-and-one-half inch line lead from the pumper and began to make its way up to the top of the hill.

Captain Parker felt that the unchecked firefront would soon sweep down from the canyon above the hotel and ordered Oakland Truck 18 – equipped with an aerial water tower – placed in the mid-level parking lot to take the conflagration head on. If this strategy failed, Battalion Chief Tabacco and Capt. Parker considered drafting from the hotel's pools to protect the structure.

Battalion 9 Chief's Aide Michael R. Bryant, in preparing the perimeter defense, asked Capt. Mambretti to instruct Dennis Tucker, of the hotel's engineering staff, to close windows along the rear of the structure facing the conflagration because firebrands were already falling upon the hotel grounds.

"Battalion Chief Tabacco had companies in the second strike team set up a perimeter on the back side of the hotel," said Chief's Aide Bryant, "and he told me to place one company in the employee's parking lot, and the other one on the access road next to the eucalyptus trees. He wanted the companies to basically stop the fire the if it came down that far. He also wanted the units to face away from the fire and to drive out if the fire rolled down upon them. He told them, `Just be prepared to leave'."

After placing apparatus in position around the hotel, Battalion Chief Tabacco climbed the steep hill and put his companies to work. He also found Hayward Battalion Chief Dennis O'Sullivan and firefighters from that department also at work along Alvarado Rd.

"Before Battalion Chief Tabacco met up with O'Sullivan, we were already working in the area with crews from Engine Companies 7 and 25. They had dragged three-inch lines through a fence, up some stairs, and were set up in two back yards," said Chief's Aide Bryant.

Battalion Chief Roybal arrived at the hotel to act as staging officer, and he also surveyed the protective strategy for the hotel with Assistant Chief Hickey, who had arrived earlier in Mini-pumper 43.

It was soon apparent that the conflagration was moving with greater rapidity and increasing fire volume. Officers of all apparatus were ordered to change to smaller tip sizes so water could be thrown greater distances with the available pressure.

Oakland Capt. Parker also ordered the replacement of the Oakland water tower's Akron Black Widow tip with a straight tip to increase volume and penetration range.

Sixty-four personnel from the Division of Training staging area in San Francisco were dispatched on the orders of Chief Postel to the Claremont Hotel command post at 6:09 p.m. aboard a Municipal Railway articulated motor coach under the command of Assistant Chief Musante. Battalion chief officers Frisella and Cercos were also dispatched with this contingent. All personnel were equipped with full protective clothing.

The San Francisco command post was notified by Department radio at 6:15 p.m. that Chief Postel had ordered the additional firefighters and officers to Oakland to relieve personnel on the fire lines.

Upon arrival in Oakland, Battalion Chief Cercos began to relieve companies at work along the fireline with personnel brought from the City. Battalion Chief Frisella was detailed to relieve Battalion Chief Tracey in Division G.

Battalion Chief Roybal was concerned about dwindling fuel supplies, and was prepared to siphon diesel from from Oakland Truck 18 to keep San Francisco apparatus in operation. However, a diesel tanker from the City of Oakland's equipment shop soon arrived with a sufficient quantity of fuel to keep all apparatus in service for the rest of the operation.

Fremont Patrol Unit 4 – a brush truck – was detailed to the area of hotel by the commander of Strike Team 12 from southern Alameda County. This unit, commanded by Capt. Dean Freeman, was to saturate foliage and combustible shingle roofs on structures between Alvarado Rd and the hotel.

The hotel was the base for all San Francisco operations within the conflagration zone, and relief apparatus and firefighters were staged there.

Assistant Chief Hickey operated from the Claremont Hotel, and later that evening assumed command of Division C from Oakland Capt. Parker.

A full-scale relief operation began around 8 p.m., with recalled firefighters brought to the Claremont aboard a Municipal Railway motor coach commanded by Assistant Chief Musante.

Assistant Chief Musante's first responsibility, upon arrival, was to relieve companies that had been within the conflagration zone for several hours. He said, "When we got over there, we had the fresh people, and it took time to relieve those teams. And when those teams got off the fire lines, we put them on the bus and sent them back to San Francisco."

Assistant Chief Musante also examined the perimeter fire defense strategy around the hotel and ordered the crew of Attack Hose Tender 7 to take two additional supply lines from a hydrant in the parking lot because the fire was nearing the hotel.

Battalion Chief McGuire left San Francisco at 9:02 p.m. on the orders of Chief Postel, with two more company officers, eight firefighters as well as a small generator, extra fuel and additional Department radios and batteries.

This convoy crossed the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge without a California Highway Patrol escort and reported to Assistant Chief Musante at the Claremont Hotel command post at 9:40 p.m.

Battalion Chief McGuire began to strengthen the perimeter line around the hotel because of transmissions he heard from Battalion Chief Cercos on the Department radio. "We had four engines, two aerial trucks and an attack hose tender" on the new perimeter, he said. He also set up all Multiversals and Gorter pipes on the engines and charged all lines in anticipation of the sweep of conflagration down the canyon.

Lieutenant Gary S. Leal and his crew arrived with Battalion Chief McGuire and was detailed to relieve personnel assigned to San Francisco Engine 13.

Lieutenant Leal's crew also led three additional supply lines to the engine from two hydrants, and set up the Multiversal to further protect the hotel because of alarming reports on the Department radio about deteriorating fire conditions along Alvarado Rd.

Thirty minutes later, Lt. George S. Artemoff and his crew of three firefighters from San Francisco Fire Engine 21 arrived at the Claremont Hotel staging area in a Department van.

Engine 21's crew, along with two firefighters from the San Mateo Fire Department, were detailed to staff Attack Hose Tender 7. Firefighter Larry R. "Biff" O'Brien, the driver of Engine 21, found Oakland Engine 19 with no staff, and he put that apparatus to work at a hydrant.

Lieutenant Artemoff set up the hose tender in the upper parking lot of the Claremont Hotel and took leads from a hydrant 2,000 feet away. These leads supplied the attack hose tender and the Oakland aerial water tower. A lead was also taken from the hydrant by the San Francisco crew of Oakland Engine 19 to supply San Francisco Engine 6.

This defensive position was held until 1 a.m. when the imminent conflagration threat to the Claremont Hotel had passed.

Eduardo B. Gonzalez – Chief Musante's aide – was assigned the function of transportation officer and was responsible for shuttling relief crews to San Francisco operations in Division A.

Other personnel operating within the command post were Capt. Mabutas, self-recalled Lt. George Garcia, self-recalled Chief's Aides Leonard DeStefano and Eileen McCrystle, and Temporary Chief's Aide Gerald J. Coghlan.

Alvarado Road Operations - Part 1
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