public safety

City Agencies Respond to Story About Fire Suppression

By SF Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr.; SF Fire

Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White; and, SF Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru


Re: “Plan to protect neighborhoods abandoned,” Sunset Beacon, November, 2017.


The recent wildfires that devastated parts of Northern California this fall have caused

communities across the state to question what resources they have available to quickly

put out large fires. While it’s hard to compare the rural landscape of Santa Rosa to the

more urban and densely populated Bay Area in terms of fire risk, it is important for our

residents to know that San Francisco is committed to increasing fire protection

throughout the City.


The SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) owns the city’s fire suppression system,

commonly referred to as theAuxiliary Water Supply System, or AWSS. This underground

system is made up of more than 135 miles of high-pressure pipelines and hydrants that

are vital for protection against the loss of life, homes and businesses during

multiple-alarm fires.


The challenge is that the AWSS was built in the early 1900s based on the city’s

population at that time. San Francisco, and seismic technology, has grown significantly

in the past 100 years and the fire suppression system needs to grow with it. That’s why it

was so important that voters approved the Earthquake Safety and

Emergency Response Bonds in 2010 and again in 2014.


Since that funding was first approved in 2010, the SFPUC, in partnership with the SF Fire

Department (SFFD) and San Francisco Public Works, has been implementing projects to

improve and expand the system’s water supply. In fact, we have already completed

more than 40 projects that have improved the reliability and the performance of the

city’s fire suppression infrastructure.


For example, a total of 30 new cisterns, underground water storage only used for

firefighting, have been installed across the City. Half of those cisterns are located in the

Sunset and Richmond districts. All three of the system’s three primary water sources –

Twin Peaks Reservoir, Ashbury Heights Tank and Jones Street Tank – have received

seismic reliability upgrades. And we’ve replaced the engines and installed remote

control capabilities for seawater pump station #1 to allow for remote operation.


To expand the water sources feeding into the AWSS system, we also installed a larger

connection to the 11-million-gallon Summit Reservoir, and expect to be completed with a

connection to the 70-million-gallon South Basin of the University Mound Reservoir

in 2018.


In addition to these projects, the SFPUC  is 95 percent complete with the $4.8

billion Water System Improvement Program (WSIP), which includes more

than 80 projects, spread over seven counties from the Sierra foothills to San

Francisco. One of our last projects currently underway is the Calaveras Dam replacement

project, which will restore the Calaveras Reservoir to its 31-billion-gallon capacity,

significantly increasing the amount of local water available after an emergency.


These projects will significantly reduce the vulnerability of the SFPUC’s Hetch Hetchy

Water System to damage from seismic events, while increasing the system’s reliability to

deliver water quickly after earthquakes.  The SFPUC’s strengthened and reinforced Hetch

Hetchy Water System, internationally renowned for its engineering expertise, is

incomparable to the water system that failed during the 1906 earthquake.


Our work to improve the City’s ability to respond to large fires is not done. We

are currently analyzing more than a dozen options for improving fire suppression in

the Sunset and Richmond districts, including extending the existing AWSS to

the neighborhoods and a Potable AWSS, previously referred to as a Potable Co-Benefit

System. That system would meet the same rigorous standards required by

SFFD to fight large fires using the same earthquake-resistant pipes, seismically-reliable

valves, hydrants and components used by the AWSS.


Together, we are moving forward in a coordinated, thoughtful and thorough effort

to improve and expand the City’s fire suppression water system. Our collaborative

approach utilizes all of the city’s expertise in fire suppression and water delivery.


The SFFD workforce is internationally recognized for its expertise, experience

and bravery in fighting fires. Similarly, the SFPUC is recognized as one of the top water

agencies in the world and is staffed with engineers, construction managers and

plumbers who are experts in designing, constructing, operating and improving

water systems.


Furthermore, the top-tier project managers at San Francisco Public Works provide the

oversight and expertise, as well as more than 100 years of experience on AWSS

construction projects, required to implement successful capital projects.


Our three agencies will continue to implement projects utilizing new and proven

technologies that improve upon the original system design, including looking at

the modern technologies employed by Japan, a country that faces similar earthquakes.


We will also continue to keep residents informed on the status of AWSS projects as they

are completed. The safety and security of our residents and visitors is our highest

priority and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure San Francisco has the

best equipment and technology available to fight fires quickly and efficiently.



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