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Report of the Surgeon-General of the Army to the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1906

Books and Documents > The U.S. Army Medical Department in the Aftermatch of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 18 April 1906

REPORT

OF THE

SURGEON-GENERAL OF THE ARMY

TO THE

SECRETARY OF WAR

FOR THE

FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 1906

WASHINGTON:

GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, 1906


131

RELIEF WORK IN SAN FRANCISCO, CAL.

Following the great earthquake and fire which nearly destroyed the city of San Francisco on April 18, 1906, and the days following, most admirable sanitary and emergency work was done by the officers and men of the medical department under the able direction of Lieut. Col. G. H. Torney, who was at the time acting chief surgeon of the


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Department of California, and his successor in that office, Col. C. L. Heizmann.

Capt. James M. Kennedy, assistant surgeon, was placed in command of the hospital and Lieutenant-Colonel Torney, upon request of the mayor and the president of the health commission of San Francisco, was placed at the head of a joint committee of the city, State, and Federal authorities to control the sanitation of the city in addition to his duties as chief surgeon of the department.

General Funston's order placing Colonel Torney in charge was as follows:

SPECIAL ORDERS                                                                                                                                                                                HEADQUARTERS PACIFIC DIVISION
No. 37                                                                                                                                                                                                            San Francisco, Cal., April 20, 1906

2. Lieut. Col. George H. Torney, Medical Department, U. S. Army, is hereby placed in charge of the sanitary arrangements for the city of San Francisco. All his orders must he strictly obeyed by all parties whomsoever.

By command of Brigadier-General Funston:

S. W. DUNNING,
Military Secretary

The unrestricted power granted by this order enabled the medical department of the Army to act promptly and effectively in meeting the emergency problems of sanitation which presented themselves.

All possible assistance was rendered to the sick and injured in the city as well as for the refugee camps. Company B, Hospital Corps, was sent from the Presidio with the troops and, under the command of Capt. Albert E. Truby, assistant surgeon, rendered valuable assistance during the days of the fire. All supplies from the medical supply depot were issued on the approval of the chief surgeon, including those sent to relief societies and to the city authorities.

Every effort was made to reduce the issue of supplies to a minimum consistent with the needs of the situation and the limited personnel available.

The medical-supply depot, which had been destroyed with all its supplies, was at first located under the general hospital, the space under the wards being used for this purpose; hut, owing to the danger from fire and the limited amount of space, the location was changed to the plain just to the left of the hospital grounds, where tents were erected as storage and issue rooms. A large circus tent was afterwards secured by Lieut. Col. Louis Brechemin, deputy surgeon-general, in charge of the depot, which was used as an issue tent. All requisitions from camps and hospitals in the city were, after approval by the chief surgeon or the chief sanitary officer, sent to the supply depot and immediately issued, most of the persons needing the supplies bringing transportation with them and returning with the articles without delay. Where no transportation was brought it was furnished from the depot.

On April 19 orders were given the medical supply officer, St. Louis, to pack and prepare for shipment medical supplies equivalent to the supply table allowance for a population of 60,000 for four months, and on the 21st the first shipment of 5 carloads went forward by express under charge of a medical officer and detachment of the Hospital Corps, who had instructions not to leave the supplies until they were delivered to the medical supply officer in San Francisco. By


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April 26 the entire shipment of 19 carloads had been forwarded by special trains. These shipments made the schedule time of passenger trains and were delivered without serious delay. The amount of the heavier nonexpendable articles was somewhat reduced from the allowance above mentioned and a complete field hospital and three regimental hospitals added. A medical officer and detachment of the Hospital Corps accompanied the second shipment.

Medical officers and members of the Hospital Corps, casually in the city en route to or from the Philippines Division were, by authority of the War Department, held for duty under the emergency.

Food, bedding, and clothing were issued from the general hospital to such persons as were in need prior to the establishment of regular relief stations, and the division headquarters, medical supply depot, and the chief surgeon's office were furnished with office furniture and stationery. Until the establishment of the various city hospitals all civilian patients were admitted without charge. May 3, 1906, the laundry at the general hospital was burned, greatly hampering the efficiency of that institution.

Company A, Hospital Corps, was sent from Washington Barracks, D. C., and established a field hospital at Golden Gate Park, which was of the greatest assistance in caring for the sick. One ward was devoted to maternity cases and one to contagious diseases. A contagious disease hospital was also established at Harbor View Park and placed under the charge of Doctor McKenzie, from Portland, Oreg. Valuable assistance was rendered to the general hospital and refugee camps by the physicians of the city whose offices were destroyed in the fire.

During the gradual withdrawal of the troops from the refugee camps and the substitution of civilian control, the sanitation of the camps remained under the supervision of members of the Medical Corps of the Army. These officers and the enlisted men serving with them conducted their work with the utmost skill in the trying position of dealing with a semimilitary command, being hampered by lack of knowledge of sanitation and discipline on the part of the majority of the people in the camps as well as lack of authority to carry out such measures as they considered proper.