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Forged in Fire: The Men and Women of San Francisco’s Wildfire-Fighting Strike Team

Traveling north to battle the blazes with thousands of their fellow firefighters.


Sarah Skammel

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Kevin Tom

(2 of 9)

Dustin Rice

(3 of 9)

Keith Phillips

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Ken Smith

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Kristen Konefal

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Julie DeJarlais

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Ramon Barreto

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Gerald Mansur

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Ken Smith, an 18-year veteran of the San Francisco Fire Department, was at his home in the Bayview when he got the call at midnight on Monday, October 9. Within 45 minutes, he and 21 other members of the department’s Strike Team had gathered at the SFFD’s Division of Training on 19th and Folsom Streets.

The team, made up of a rotating crew of volunteers trained to fight wildfires, headed out into the night on five yellow “wildland” rigs specially equipped to do battle with blazes in wide-open areas. No one on the team would rest for the next 80 hours. Says Smith, “Yes, we were tired, but we were motivated to save as much as we could.”

These images were shot one week into their deployment as the team carried out a “mop-up” in Santa Rosa’s Oakmont neighborhood, where fires had already passed through. “It’s not just about San Francisco. We are dedicated to working as a team and as a unit,” Smith says.

“Every fire department—up from Southern California or down from Oregon—we all work together. If that team saves the block, we all saved the block. Nobody is a hero.”


Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco

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