I grew up in Corte Madera, on the side of a hill and a street where the trains still passed. From the train tracks across the street and our front porch we could see across the bay to San Quentin State Prison, a huge complex painted in a shade of yellow. As children we of course did not know much about the place, even though Grandpa Nelson was the local Police and Fire Chief. He did not talk about it at all.
My ‘eyes were opened’ when I was a teenager - my father and Corte Madera VFD Fire Captain Jack Forster took me on a tour of the prison that was offered to his Rotary Club. My strongest memory is when the tour group approached one end of a giant multi-story cellblock. We were told that once through the entry door we would need to move very quickly to get to another exit door to continue the tour.
They said the prisoners would yell at us once they saw a tour group. Words cannot describe the primal screams that came next, echoing through the open courtyard that went up several stories. The prisoners stood against their cell doors, shaking the bars in a thundering roar. It was stunning, and our group ran through to the other side, exiting safely.
This week we are posting the start of the stories on San Quentin that include the formation of a fire department for the prison, several major fires, and the very sad discovery of what is now the earliest known line-of-duty death of someone (name tbd) fighting a fire in Marin County in 1910. Read the stories in several places – under Current Fire Departments, San Quentin; under Line of Duty Deaths, 1910; under Major Fires, structural, 1876, 1910, and 1951.
Our Blog announces new site content, and gives the context of the topic and it's relationship to fire service history. Written by Bill Lellis & Paul Smith