Documentary made by firefighters chronicles deadly SF Gartland Fire

The San Francisco Fire Department is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Tuesday night at the New Mission Theater, there was a private screening of a documentary made by five firefighters, 'The Gartland Fire'.

It was made with support from their union, Local 798 and community members from the Mission.

It chronicles the deadly fire at the Gartland Apartments on Valencia at 16th Street, which broke out in the early morning hours of December 12, 1975.

The film makers say this film enables them to preserve an important chapter in the history of their department.
Attending the screening was a step back in time for the firefighters and their families. 

"It's the kind of fire you never forget. It's burned in my memory for the rest of my life," said Richard Bracco, a retired firefighter who worked the Gartland Fire.
Flames gutted the Gartland building, leaving more than 100 homeless, killing at least 12 residents and injured 11 firefighters, including Tom McGuire.
"Never saw a building, an occupied building, in all my years with the fire department with so much fire in it," said McGuire.

He suffered first and second-degree burns to his face and neck.

"It was an amazing spectacle," said McGuire.
The firefighters who made the film said this was the work of an arsonist who's never been caught. The 60-unit building that housed transients and low-income residents, turned into what has been described as a "five-story torch."
"There's a lot of things to remember; the body bags lined up outside on the street. That's not the kind of thing you forget," said Bracco.
One survivor, Carl Cullins, described memories of the fire that are as vivid as the glow of the flames that he and his family escaped.

"Grabbed my son and the mom and we went down the fire escape and [thanked] god that we were alive."

The filmmakers said the noted fire is an intersection of San Francisco's history and its fire department; a tribute to the valor of firefighters and their relationship with the Mission. 

"There were 40 rescues made by firefighters, so it was a heroic fire and it was really something we didn't want to let get forgotten," said Ron Lewin, a retired firefighter/ filmmaker.
After the fire, what was left of the Gartland building, was torn down. For years, it sat empty and was referred to as the Gartland Pit.

Today, another building, which houses low-income tenants, is located at the same site.

"My thoughts go back to 1975. Every time I drive by it, I thought of it as hollow ground. That's what i thought," said Lewin.

The film makers have entered the film for the Sundance Film Festival. They say the public will have a chance to see it sometime next year.