My great-grand Uncle was a man called Robert Ceiley. Robert was born in 1889 in Newton, New South Wales, Australia. He and his father, Henry Ceiley, came to San Francisco from Australia in 1910. My great-grandmother Bea, her mother and one other sibling had already made there way here. Having become a naturalised citizen, Robert served in the the US army during 'The Great War'. A few years after his service, in 1921, Robert joined the San Francisco Fire Department. He held various positions during his 36 year career. He worked as tillerman, the man who guides the long hook and ladder trucks from the rear, as truckman, and as hoseman. I had always heard from my Uncle, also an SF fireman, that Robert had saved 'a few people' from a burning building way back when and was awarded a medal as a result of his efforts. Many years ago, one of Robert's daughters shared a newspaper article with my SFFD Uncle regarding her father's bravery. She must have been very proud of her Dad and rightly so.
|Bounty from the main branch library|
Having recently discovered the SF History branch of the SF Public Library, I have been able to learn some of the specifics of said event through reading various newspaper clippings of the time. In 1933, Robert Ceiley carried a 'crippled girl', 'her 200 lb brother' and 'younger man' from a burning building at 1377 Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. For this action, he was cited by the fire department for bravery. Both he and another fireman, a man called Dennis Magee, were given citations for heroism that year, but there was to be only one medal awarded by the then Mayor of San Francisco, Angelo Rossi. A coin toss was to determine who won the medal. My great-grand Uncle won the toss & received the Scannell medal for heroic action.
David Scannell, born in NYC, became a volunteer fireman at the tender age of 12. As an adult, Scannell volunteered to fight in the Mexican-American war from 1846 to 1848. Of the 850 men who fought in his regiment, only 150 survived. After the war, Scannell moved back to New York before again crossing country in 1851 to seek his fortune in San Francisco during the Gold Rush period. At some point thereafter, Scannell joined the San Francisco volunteer fire department. In 1855, he was elected sherriff of our then burgeoning & still somewhat lawless city. He was the third man to hold the post. He served for one year. When the fire department transitioned from volunteer to paid staff, Scannell became the first fire chief of that outfit. He served as fire chief three different times over his career, totalling 27 years in the role. He died in 1893 at the age of 73. In 1909, a fireboat was named in his honor.
What an honor (and stroke of luck!) it must have been for my great-grand Uncle to receive such a medal.
|RH Ceiley's modest home to the left of the tree in Ingleside, SF|