Quotes in this article by: Janet Larke Mobley, daughter, and Janet Dyer, granddaughter
Thomas Larke was a prominent insurance broker who was active in community and civic affairs. It was his custom to respond to all greater alarms of fire in San Francisco. Over the years attending fires, he met and came to know others who held like interests that encouraged them to show up at major alarms day or night. This gave him the idea of organizing the group to promote their common interest in the San Francisco Fire Department. On May 13, 1932, Mr. Larke brought these gentlemen together in his office and the Phoenix Society was formally organized. The name "PHOENIX SOCIETY OF SAN FRANCISCO" was selected as being most appropriate because the name "Phoenix" is so closely associated with the City of San Francisco, the City having risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of destructive conflagrations which destroyed it no less than seven times. The membership was limited to 30 and each had to be approved by the Chief of Department. The Phoenix Society was one of the earliest fire buff clubs in the United States.
At the striking of a greater alarm of fire, the president of the Society was notified, and he then set in motion a phone tree to call the other Phoenix Society members. When the calls went out, they were brief and to the point: second alarm, box 4441. Each member carried a pocket size alarm box book, which was published by the Society. The member looked up the box number, 4441, to find the street location, and off they went. This book became valuable to the department, and was carried in the glove box of each apparatus.
“Although I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and knew all of the stories of volunteerism and being on the scene when fires happened, I never knew until recently that my grandfather started the Phoenix Society.”
“In the late 1930’s, my dad was a volunteer in the Red Cross and started the Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Department, which was to prepare for an earthquake. When WWII started it became an organization for Civil Defense. He set up disaster/aide stations in all of the (then) eight high schools in The City.”
In 1952, Mr. Larke was presented the prestigious Freedom’s Foundation Award for being a “Volunteer – Civil Defense”.
From 1940 to 1975 the Phoenix Society, working as an adjunct of the Red Cross, could be seen working inside the fire lines at greater alarms, they were identified by their blue helmets. They worked closely with the Chief of Department and his operator to comfort displaced residents, and to help them find temporary housing. In 1975, this work was taken over by the Red Cross.
“More than anything I remember the stories of Chinatown restaurant fires during the 1940's and how the Chinese were refused insurance until my grandfather sold it to them and how the grateful Chinese community was, showering my parents with beautiful fruit baskets and flower arrangements. The financial community turned on my grandfather for a few years but eventually followed his moral lead.”
In later years after he retired, Thomas taught Advanced First Aide to the firemen in Marin County, where he then lived. He died in his Fairfax home, December 8, 1976.
Thomas’s great-grandson Eric has signed up for the EMT course, and wants to join the fire service.
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