Copyright 2006 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
All Rights Reserved
By CARL NOLTE
The San Francisco Chronicle (California)
In the prime of his life, Andrew C. Casper liked to be the center of attention.
As San Francisco's fire chief for six years, he was a fixture at all the big fires — standing out in his white helmet and white turnout coat.
"I thrive on action," he liked to say.
Chief Casper, who retired as chief in 1982, died Friday of complications of cancer at the California Pacific Medical Center. He was 82.
He was a fireman of the old school — hurrying to all fires that were more than two alarms in his red chief's car and taking charge. He often appeared on television and in the newspapers as the public face of the Fire Department. "I am not an armchair general," he once said.
Chief Casper was one of those old-time San Franciscans, who were born and raised and died in the city. He lived in the Parkside district when it was still largely sand dunes and was so quiet at night that he said his family could hear the lions roar in the zoo.
He graduated from Lincoln High School when it was brand new and served in the Marine Corps as a sergeant in the South Pacific during World War II. He attended the University of San Francisco on a football scholarship but dropped out and then went downtown and took the exam for the Fire Department.
Those were the days when the Fire Department was pretty much a family business — Andy Casper's father, Henry, was a fire lieutenant and two of Andy's brothers were firefighters. Another of his relatives had been at different times San Francisco's sheriff, a supervisor and an assemblyman.
Andy Casper joined the department in 1947 and rose through the ranks. He won two department awards for heroism and in 1966 got the annual award for heroism from the San Francisco Council of Lions Clubs for rescuing a child from a burning building.
In 1976, Mayor George Moscone picked Mr. Casper from among 17 candidates to be fire chief. He was at that time head of the department's administrative bureau, a job he disliked. "It was a desk job," he said. "It was driving me crazy."
Chief Casper liked to run things himself; he showed up for work early and stayed late. Some of his subordinates claimed he did not delegate authority well, and when any big fire broke out he was there in person, running the show. "He was both the administrative and operational head of the department," his son, Donald Casper, said.
He also was a figure on the banquet circuit, an amiable, hearty man who, it was rumored, had political ambitions.
However, the Fire Department was embroiled in an unprecedented scandal in the fall of 1980 when the officers and crew of a fire station in the Sunset District left their station to attend a four-hour abalone dinner at another firehouse on the other side of Golden Gate Park. While they were gone, a fire broke out in an apartment house half a block away and firefighters from other companies arrived too late to save a 66-year-old widow who died of smoke inhalation.
Chief Casper found himself in the uncomfortable position of disciplining some of his firefighters while defending the rest of the department. "It was a very difficult thing," said his son.
The chief retired in 1982 to take a position with the Foundation for Fire Safety near Washington, D.C. He also held other executive positions in the Washington area but returned to San Francisco after a couple of years. He and Edward Phipps, who was one of his successors as chief of the San Francisco Fire Department, had a consulting firm on fire safety.
Chief Casper was always an exponent of physical fitness: He developed fitness standards for firefighters, loved to row small boats in San Francisco Bay and, even into his 80s, could walk from his home to his old high school eight blocks away in under 20 minutes.
Chief Casper was a role model, who left "a legacy of dedication and service to our city," said Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
Chief Casper and his wife, Dorothy, were divorced for many years. He is survived by his son, Donald Casper; a brother, Henry Casper Jr.; and by Dian Kudelka, Chief Casper's fiancee.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. today at SS Peter and Paul's Church on Washington Square in San Francisco.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Janet Pomeroy Center, 207 Skyline Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94132.