In the wake of that major fire in Mission Bay on March 11, in which firefighters tapped into the city's not widely known, 100-year-old, high-pressure emergency water system, the Chron has done some sniffing around to figure out how well equipped that system is in the event of an earthquake tomorrow. Turns out, not that well equipped.
Built in 1913, the backup water system relies on gravity, rather than pressure, to deliver water to special hydrants via three large tank reservoirs built on hills around the city, including the 10.5 million-gallon Twin Peaks Reservoir. Firefighters were able to access one of these hydrants to help battle the blaze, though one of the reasons it was able to rage as large as it did was that 30 minutes of set-up time was required to drag a five-inch-diameter hose to the single hydrant, which was hundreds of feet away. In total, they sprayed 7 million gallons of water on that thing.
As we learn, there are also about 200 underground cisterns throughout the city capable of supplementing the regular hydrant water supply, however these only serve portions of the inner city, and not areas like the Richmond, Sunset, Excelsior, and Ingleside. Serving those areas, there is a system of portable hoses, pumps, and hydrants. However the big takeaway here, if there is one, is that the SFFD is only equipped to fight about three big blazes burning at one time, and that if more should spring up at once following an earthquake, a la 1906, the same problems they had in 1906 with broken water mains everywhere could repeat itself, despite the emergency water supply we now have.
It seems that Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White has been trying since 2010 to increase the number of rigs capable of dispensing high-pressure hoses, and to install a system of 18 storage containers throughout the city in order to store the portable equipment needed to tap into the system, but the $9 million in funding she needed never materialized, and that price tag just keeps going up.
The primary source for the Chron's report: Thomas Doudiet, a disgruntled, retired assistant deputy fire chief who pushed for all these upgrades for a number of years, but then left the department in 2011. And even though voters have approved multiple bonds to fund some of these projects, they haven't gotten done.
Perhaps this is the sort of infrastructure investment the Supervisors should try to find the money for. Because, yes, huge citywide fire. That would be nice to avoid.