Chester (Chet) O. Born's papers document his professional and public life from the 1940s until his death in 1973, tracing
the trajectory of his career as a San Francisco Fire Department photographer; as well as his public life as a public speaker.
The collection consists of photographs and color slides; scrapbooks; correspondence; certificates and awards; newspaper clippings
and publications, the bulk of which feature or include photographs of and by Born. Most of the photographs document fires
fought and rescues by the San Francisco Fire Department between 1959 and 1973. A small number of photos are of Chet Born and
other San Francisco Fire Department members.
Chester (Chet) O. Born was born on May 28, 1923 in San Francisco and grew up in the Sunset District on Twenty-first Avenue.
Born’s interest in fire-fighting began with his neighborhood firehouse 40 Engine by getting to know the firemen and going
to fire scenes to take photos. Born attended Polytechnic High School with the career ambition of “Fire Chief” noted in the
Fall 1940 yearbook.
Born was appointed to the Underwriters Fire Patrol on March 8, 1942 and entered the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) on
July 1, 1943 as the Fire Patrol was merged into the SFFD by a City Charter amendment. On December 19, 1942 Born took military
leave to the join the United States Marine Corps. As a Marine in World War II, Born took part in the capture of Iwo Jima in
1945. After active duty in the Pacific Theater, he returned to the department on May 8, 1946. As a young firefighter, Born
took photos during his off-duty hours. His photos were first published in the San Francisco Firefighters’ Local 798 newspaper,
"The Inside Box." On August 30, 1951 he was granted military leave for the Korean police action, and returned to duty on September
12, 1952. He was a full-time firefighter until an injury prompted Chief William F. Murray to appoint Born as the department’s
first full-time photographer in 1955. Born was formally designated as Photo One on November 7, 1960. He was appointed Inspector
on September 19, 1965.
As Photo No. 1 – and the inception of SFFD's photographic unit – Born was responsible for photographing and filming Department
activities. Born received numerous national and international awards of excellence for his photography and films which made
him a premiere and noted fire photographer. Born was active in presenting many public relations presentations with his color
slides throughout the community. During his career he was injured more than 50 times in fires and explosions.
In addition to recording fires, “Photo No. 1” had other duties: Born’s photos of potentially hazardous conditions aided the
Fire Prevention Bureau in their efforts to enforce fire codes; photos of rescues and accidents aided the Division of Training
in their instruction of new firefighters; his work assisted Arson Inspectors in determining causes of fires. In the 1960s
he responded to more than 700 incidents a year.
In addition to local press, Chet provided national newspapers and magazines with many spectacular photos of SFFD at work.
Along with his still cameras, he also used a 16mm film camera at major alarm fires – which was used for training.
Born retired from the SFFD on October 3, 1973. Chester O. (Chet) Born died on June 1, 1987. His Photo No. 1 helmet was donated
in his memory in 1993 to the SFFD Pioneer Fire Museum.