The San Francisco Fire Department Bureau of Equipment produced snow for the 2021 holiday fire station decoration contest.
Snowfall hasn’t covered San Francisco in more than 45 years — unless you happen to live near the fire department station at 2501 25th Street.
The San Francisco Fire Department Bureau of Equipment has been covering its front sidewalk (and a couple of nearby cars) in snow for the last week, delighting surprised neighbors and winning a firehouse decoration contest that returned to the city last year after a 70-year hiatus.
“I got off work late, got home around 7 (p.m.) and it was snowing,” said Mona Marks, who has lived across the street from the station for 15 years. “Now all the kids are coming out. It’s been a hard year. It’s good to hear laughter out here.”
The contest originally ran from 1948 to 1950, and was extremely popular, with creative touches including one station that borrowed live animals from a nearby slaughterhouse. But the tradition ended bitterly, after San Franciscans in 1951 voted down a firefighter cost-of-living raise.
The contest was reborn in 2020, after SFFD officials saw a San Francisco Chronicle history column about the earlier contest. Judges declared the three winners Thursday afternoon, with $6,000 in prize money going to their favorite charities.
Station 38 in Pacific Heights won second place. The station won last year’s contest with its own snow day, and for 2021 added lights in the trees up and down the block. Station 19 near Stonestown Galleria came in third, filled with giant toy soldiers and a throne for Santa visits — recycled from the nearby mall. Stations 8, 18 and 39 were runners up.
Santa makes a visit to the San Francisco Fire Department's Bureau of Equipment, which participated in a fire station decoration contest, making fake snow for neighbors.
Fire Station 19: 390 Buckingham Way in San Francisco.
(Visit The Chronicle’s interactive guide of participating stations, which include photos of each station and a map. Lights will remain up through the next week.)
The Bureau of Equipment (B.O.E.), which provides emergency repairs for the department, is in an old brick building that predates the first contest, with a classic 1930s fire engine inside that was already a neighborhood favorite.
The “snow” was mostly foam upon closer look, generated from a machine above the garage and a large fan. But during a Wednesday night block party, children romped through foot-high banks, making snow angels and chasing each other with handfuls of the powder.
“This kind of thing really brings some joy to everyone. And if you go around the city and look at these stations you’ll see how much effort was put into it,” said SFFD chief Jeanine Nicholson, who was touring the stations on Wednesday. “Fun for the public, fun for the department. We can all use a little fun right now.”
San Francisco Fire Department Station 19 near Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco borrowed toy soldiers and other unused decorations from the mall to brighten up the station for neighbors.
The winning stations split the $6,000 from contest sponsor San Francisco Fire Credit Union between San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and La Casa de las Madres.
Decorating ended on Friday, Dec. 17, with finalists chosen by judges including Nicholson, representatives from Mission High School Fire & EMS, the San Francisco Fire Credit Union, National First Responder Fund, employee group Los Bomberos and Chronicle arts and culture columnist Tony Bravo. A celebrity judge — comedian and “Rescue Me” actor Adam Ferrara — chose the winners.
Peter Hartlaub is The San Francisco Chronicle’s culture critic. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @PeterHartlaub
Peter Hartlaub is The San Francisco Chronicle's culture critic and co-host of Total SF. The Bay Area native, a former Chronicle paperboy, has worked at The Chronicle since 2000. He covers Bay Area culture, hosts the Total SF podcast and writes the archive-based Our San Francisco local history column. Hartlaub and columnist Heather Knight co-created the Total SF project and event series, engaging with locals to explore and find new ways to celebrate San Francisco.