How 20th Century Technology is Still Used For San Francisco’s Emergency Firefighting

The Emergency Firefighting Water System (also known at the Auxiliary Water Supply System or AWSS), is an independent high-pressure water supply system dedicated to fire protection.

Built in 1913 in response to the 1906 Great Earthquake, the system consists of a 135-mile pipeline network, a high elevation reservoir, two large capacity tanks, two pumping stations, fire boats, cisterns (underground water storage tanks), and Bay water intakes (suction connections). The system has unique capabilities, including the ability to deliver water at much higher pressures and the ability to use unlimited water from the Bay.

Emergency Firefighting Water System, Pump Station No. 2.

In order to provide for the use of saltwater from the Bay, two pumping stations were built on the bay shore. One is known as the Fort Mason Pumping Station or Pumping Station No. 2, and the other is located on the northwest corner of Second and Townsend streets, known as Pumping Station No. 1.

These stations contain electrically driven machinery which at a moment’s notice can begin pumping saltwater from the bay via seawater tunnels to provide an additional source of water for firefighting efforts in San Francisco.

Emergency Firefighting Water System, Pump Station No. 2. Photo of a valve.

If necessary this water can be forced from the Bay right up to the Twin Peaks reservoir, or by closing of valves, the water can be directed through the mains in any desired direction.

The building that houses Pumping Station No.1 also serves as the San Francisco Fire Department’s headquarters.

Pumping Station No. 1 was built in 1910 and was upgraded as part of the 2010 Earthquake Safety and Emergency Respond Bond. 

Emergency Firefighting Water System, Pump Station No. 2. Exterior of pump station.