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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.
1 carton, 3 oversize flat boxes
All requests for permission to publish from photograph collections must be submitted in writing to the Photo Curator. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items.
The collection is available for use during San Francisco History Center's Photo Desk hours.