Watch CBS News

Christmas Present: San Francisco Firefighters Compete for Best-Decorated Fire House

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- The San Francisco Fire Department is reviving a tradition that began and ended seven decades ago: a competition to determine the best-decorated fire station.

The year was 1948 when San Francisco firehouses began a fierce competition to be named the best-decorated fire station. The grand prize was $1,000.

They went all out, often covering the entire station with ornaments. The competition lasted three Christmases before a labor dispute ended it.

Fast forward to 2020, and the fire department has decided to bring the tradition back, with a little help from a sponsor.

"The San Francisco firefighters union -- I mean, hats off to them! I could not finish my sentence on my idea before they were, 'we are in!'" said Lt. Jonathan Baxter, spokesman for the San Francisco Fire Department.

Now the grand prize is $3,000. The best-decorated firehouse will donate their winnings to the charity of their choice. The public is invited to check out the decorations from a safe social distance.

"This is already putting smiles on everybody's faces," Baxter said. "This will be something really cool to bring our firefighters a little bit closer to the community, especially in a time where we need to increase our spirits and bring back cheer to the holidays, which, based off of what we've seen in 2020, is definitely needed."

A series of photos of the original competition shows firehouses decked out in decorations. In some cases, the entire station was wrapped in ornaments.

The photos were collected by Alfred Stettler, a longtime city employee who never forgot how much he enjoyed the decoration competition. His family handed the photos off to Robert and Marilyn Katzman who are now retired tour guides. They once ran the very popular San Francisco Fire Engine Tours.

"We are so excited that they are doing it again," said Marillyn Katzman via Zoom from Hawaii.

"It brought so much joy ... especially at this time with everybody having to be in quarantine, to be able to drive by and see the firehouses it's going to give everybody such a good feeling. It's incredible."

The winners of the competition will be announced on Dec. 22, said Lt. Baxter. Among the judges will be members of the credit union, the Los Bomberos employee group and Mission High School students who are enrolled in the Fire and EMS training class.

Adam Ferrara, an actor and comedian, will be the final judge who declares the top three winners.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.