San Bruno Fire started as a volunteer department in the early 1900s. In 1937 the San Bruno Fire Department was formed with paid firefighters. The volunteer firefighters played a huge role in the cities fire operations in conjunction with the formation of a paid full time fire department. Paid call volunteer firefighters served along with full time firefighters up until the early 21st century. The volunteer program was the beginning for many career firefighters throughout the Bay Area, many of which that have gone on to become chief officers and fire chiefs.
At one time, San Bruno Fire Department had three fire stations in the city. Then, the stations housed 2 engines, a snorkel truck, 2 rescue trucks and a battalion chief's buggy. When full time on duty firefighters were called to a scene, a whistle on top of Station 51 would sound to alert volunteers to report to the station to backfill reserve apparatuses. The San Bruno volunteer program ended in 2004.