AutoMatters & More: First Responders at the San Diego Automotive Museum

1952 Seagrave Model 400B Class A Triple Combination Pumper
(Jan Wagner / (C) 2017 Jan R. Wagner, AutoMatt)

Now, but for a very short time, the “First Responders” exhibit is at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park with historically significant emergency vehicles spanning many decades. The museum tells us, via informational text placards and historical photographs located throughout the exhibit, that first responders are among the first persons to arrive at the scene of an emergency, and are responsible for the protection and preservation of life and property. These emergencies include natural disasters, accidents, medical emergencies, criminal incidents, rescues and terrorist attacks. First responder agencies include law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, lifeguards and the U.S. Coast Guard. They use specialized emergency vehicles including cars, SUVs, motorcycles, specialty trucks outfitted with unique mechanisms that provide rescue and protection capabilities, ATVs, armored vehicles, command vehicles, sea craft and aircraft. Ever more sophisticated technology has led to many improvements in the capabilities of modern day emergency vehicles.


1926 Buick Police “Paddy Wagon”
1926 Buick Police “Paddy Wagon” (Jan Wagner / C 2017 Jan R. Wagner, AutoMatt)

One of several law enforcement agencies represented here, the San Diego Police Department was established in 1889. In 1909 the first motorcycle officer joined the department, and in 1912 the first woman was hired. Lucille Jeardue became SDPD’s first policewoman in 1917. Her beat was La Jolla. Today, with over 1,800 police personnel, the San Diego Police Department handles an average of 1.4 million calls per year. This exhibit includes a 1926 Buick Police “Paddy Wagon,” complete with an incarcerated and very unhappy prisoner.

Dating back to 1850, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department handles calls for the County of San Diego, including the unincorporated parts of San Diego. It also provides support for other law enforcement and rescue operations. The department has over 4,100 employees, including more than 1,400 women. The museum’s exhibit includes a 1989 Sheriff’s Chevrolet Caprice cruiser.


Sherrif’s Department & SDPD cruisers
Sherrif’s Department & SDPD cruisers (Jan Wagner / C 2017 Jan R. Wagner, AutoMatt)

The California Highway Patrol, made familiar to people far beyond California by the long-running T.V. show “CHiPs,” is of course represented by a motorcycle (a 1999 Kawasaki KZ1000 P-18 “Police 1000”) and an accompanying uniformed officer, wearing a distinctive CHP motorcycle helmet. This agency was created in 1929 to enforce traffic laws on state and county highways. Some of its first police patrols were actually on bicycles. Today its vehicles also include SUVs, sedans, aircraft, boats and more.

The San Diego Fire Department (SDFD) had its origins way back in 1869 with the Pioneer Hook & Ladder Company. Its first fire engine company, Company 1, was acquired in 1872. The San Diego City Fire Department was established in 1889.


1999 Kawasaki KZ1000 P-18 “Police 1000” motorcycle
1999 Kawasaki KZ1000 P-18 “Police 1000” motorcycle (Jan Wagner / C 2017 Jan R. Wagner, AutoMatt)

In 2016 the SDFD answered 154,263 calls. The types of calls, from most to least, were emergency medical response (at 111,496, these were by far the most frequent), non-emergency medical, hazard, fire and rescue. Originally maintained by the police department, ambulance services are currently provided by independent ambulance companies.

In addition to fire engines, the fire department has firefighting boats with the ability to pump 1,000 gallons of seawater per minute on fires, and pump 300 gallons per minute out of sinking vessels.

Also serving the community in and on the water, the Lifeguard Services began in 1918 in response to the drowning deaths of 13 people one day in Ocean Beach. Originally three lifeguards were attached to the police department, first serving Wonderland Park and then Mission Beach and La Jolla. The Children’s Pool lifeguard station was established in 1926, followed by stations in Mission Beach (1927) and Pacific Beach (1929).


Recently retired fire engine on the road
Recently retired fire engine on the road (Jan Wagner / C 2017 Jan R. Wagner, AutoMatt)

They perform cliff rescues along the steep, rugged parts of the coastline. To facilitate this type of rescue, a specialized cliff rescue apparatus was developed in the 1940s. This rudimentary apparatus was essentially a crane with a powered winch that was attached to a rescue vehicle. Today Rescue 44 – a highly specialized, multi-purpose emergency response vehicle – performs cliff rescues.

Founded in 1790 and named by an Act of Congress in 1915, the United States Coast Guard is a branch of the military and serves the country as its premier maritime agency. Comprised of nearly 46,000 personnel, it includes the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation and the Lifesaving Service. It utilizes emergency response vehicles, boats, security cutters, communications trailers, helicopters and more.

Operators at communication dispatch centers take emergency calls concerning safety, health and property, processing over 2,000 calls each day for law enforcement.

“First Responders” runs through May 29th at the San Diego Automotive Museum ( in Balboa Park.

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Copyright © 2017 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #477r2