back to article SF fire dept lost computer password during massive blaze

San Francisco authorities appear to be having network problems again, after the Fire Department lost the password for its backup network in the middle of a major shout. The revelation came into an inquest into a major blaze in the North Beach area of the city on New Year's Eve which left 48 people homeless, the San Francisco …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    The pencil and paper...

    ...could maybe be well used sorting out some documentation!


  2. Mark York 3 Silver badge

    I wonder.....

    if the person that knew it was Terry Childs.

    Fire well oxidising symbol obviously.

    1. Spartacus

      Damn I'm too slow.

      "We couldn't find the password, and the only person who knew it wasn't there"

      Because they locked Terry Childs up?

  3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Sounds good

    So instead of standing around doing nothing because they couldn't get on the computer they fought the fire.

    Wait till the NHS computer system finally gets running - you wont be able to stop somebody bleeding to death without first filling in your key objective target achievement status

  4. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    I must sue these people..

    .. my jaw just got damaged when it hit the ground..

    Awesome. I bet their main form of record keeping is on parchment scrolls, using feathers and ink.

    Having said that, it's clearly not mission critical kit and you must commend them for not having it on a sticky note near the screen. Applaus..

  5. Graham Marsden

    That's what we have pencils and paper for.

    And now they'll no doubt be used to write down the password...!

  6. Timo
    Thumb Up

    actually a good exercise of the backup/fallback system

    We've all been to too many places where the computer system has failed and everyone is just completely, utterly helpless.

    At least these guys can remember how to do things the "old way"!!! You'd much rather them do that than stand around with a house on fire waiting for the damn box to reboot, or wait on hold for technical support.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Pencils and paper....

    ...yup that's what they would need if the person that knows it died.

  8. M Gale

    If I remember right..

    ...and without reading the original article, Terry Childs refused to give up the password because in his opinion, he couldn't trust anybody at the workplace with it.

    Perhaps now he can be released early and compensated for unjustified time served?

  9. Anonymous Coward

    San Francisco was under a consent decree...

    for many years to hire more minorities and women. As a result, they had to lower the requirements for entrance exams. The same was done for promotions. The SFFD is now one of the most diverse in the country. Is using race as the basis for hiring and promotion at least partly a reason for the seemingly lackadaisical attitude of the department?

    1. jukejoint


      No one has bothered to ask, WHICH computer system was down. The 911 system was not down.

      The most critical system was NOT down. This little IT issue was a big deal? Really, City Gov't?

      A bigger deal than the fact that people waited way too long for ambulances?

      Did the SFFD tell you response times were met? And you fell for it?

  10. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Fire fighting computer?

    OK, I've been in the biz for a number of years, and I still fail to see WTF the relevance of a computer or network is for firefighting activities. Apparently the division chief doesn't either.

    1. Figgus

      Relevance for firefighting?

      Being in the Emergency Services IT biz myself, I can tell you the Battalion Chiefs use the GPS to track rig locations in the larger fires (think high-rise buildings or sprawling factories), and the people in 911 dispatch do a much better job when the locations show up on their computers. Plus, electronic dispatch to 20 units is a lot better than all the radio traffic it replaces while having the added bonus of timestamping for insurance and investigation purposes.

      Do they need a computer to put out a fire? Of course not. But, like any other tool, it can make the job a LOT easier.

    2. jake Silver badge

      @Gene Cash

      Speaking as an ex-volunteer (6+ years, Fort Bragg, CA VFD), computers are only used for record keeping, and not required for day to day operations. We found using paper & pencil to keep equipment maintenance records "on the fly" to be much faster than typing them into the computer ... although we did copy the paper into computer forms, which were backed up daily to Ukiah (the county seat), just in case.

      San Francisco's city departments, on the other hand, are more about politics than they are about actually running the city. I suspect that some appointed, but otherwise useless, middle management or union rep was unable to kick back at her desk and follow the action, and got miffed. It's a tempest in a tea cup.

      Try to remember that as big as it seems to be on the world stage, TheCity (and county of San Francisco) is really a tiny little place ... only 7 miles square, roughly. Why they have a need for computers in real time is beyond me ... in fact, I suspect that the SFFD could get away with POTS communications and do away with radios more powerful than walkie-talkies.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Actually, the City of San Francisco is about 46.7 square miles, surrounded on three sides with water and butts up against Daly City and South San Francisco on the south side... It has no room to grow, except UP...

        1. jake Silver badge

          @AC 07:29

          I said "7 miles square" ... 7miles x 7miles is, roughly, about, nearly, close enough, 46.7 SqMiles, +/-, ish, kinda, if you squint. Maybe. Or not. Suit yourself.

  11. Eddie Johnson
    IT Angle

    No Problem

    Just remember how unimportant they consider it next time they come asking for money for upgrades.

  12. Yes Me Silver badge

    Big Ones

    <<But as division chief Rob Dudgeon added, "We still had radios and cellphones. And it's not like we are going to have internet connection if we get hit with the Big One.">>

    Er, excuse me, but after 9/11, the Christchurch earthquakes, and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, the Internet actually worked when telephones didn't. It was designed to route around damage, and it does.

    1. JimC

      Reading Comprehension Icon required?

      He said "its not like WE are going to have internet CONNECTION" which if the power is out, the lines are severed and goodness knows what else seems highly likely. Perfectly functional internet connectivity 100 miles away will be of little value to them...

      Grief, isn't the lesson of Fukushima that if the really big events happen then *no* technology will be available in the local area. Sounds like the SF Fire department will be able to cope...

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