Frederick Kohler was born in Holland in 1818. At 14 he emigrated to Philadelphia with his family aboard the brig Isabella and became a fireman before emigrating to San Francisco during the gold rush.
In December of 1849, fire destroyed most of the city. Fifty buildings were destroyed, and the fire caused $1,500,000 damage. The fire was dubbed the first "Great Fire." As there was no organized fire companies, the mayor-elect of San Francisco led the crowds, which pulled down buildings with ropes to stop the spread of the fire. The next day, Christmas Day, Frederick Kohler and David C. Broderick called a meeting of citizens who had been firemen in the East, and organized a fire department for San Francisco.
In January, 1850, the newly formed council appointed Kohler the first chief engineer of the San Francisco volunteer fire department. His instructions were to permanently organize a suitable fire department. Three companies were soon formed, the San Francisco, Empire and Protection companies, and they were brought into active service during the fires of May and June of 1850. The three companies were insufficient for the great threat of fire in San Francisco, however, and a fire department was officially organized by ordinance of councils on July 1, 1850.
The first election under this ordinance was held in September, and Kohler chosen chief engineer. The companies enrolled were the Empire, Protection, Eureka, Howard, Monumental and California engine companies and the Saint Francis, Howard and Sansome hook and ladder companies.
When the Firemans Fund was formed in 1863, it was stipulated in the constitution of the company that "one-fourth of the directors shall be active or exempt members of the San Francisco Fire Department." Of this group Kohler and David Scannell were but two. As the first chief engineer, Kohler had a great interest in Firemans Fund, because the idea behind Firemans Fund was that the companies it insured would pay a percentage into the charitable funds of the volunteer fire departments in exchange for a metal plate stating it was insured by Firemans Fund. It was assumed that the firemen would exert extra effort in trying to salvage a building owned by someone insured by Firemans Fund. In this manner, fire companies, local businesses and Firemans Fund shared an interest in preventing and fighting fires, thereby keeping the loss ratio of the insured to a minimum.
From Firemans Fund Archives, [01-03-00-001-0004-0127] and
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