The Greatest Fire Alarm In American History

After 100 years, Dennis Smith finds the answer to the question of who saved San Francisco: The firefighters.


Earthquakes are often described as thunderous and frightening, like the sound of an approaching locomotive if you are standing in the middle of the tracks. The ground not only moves from east to west, but also from north to south and in heaving circles. The earthquake of April 18, 1906, began to...


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There is much to learn from the great loss suffered by the citizens of San Francisco. There is not much difference in emergencies when good men make bad decisions, for inevitably people will get hurt or killed and property gets destroyed. There are no second chances in emergencies, and in emergencies we must have people in charge who have spent a lifetime in the mitigation of chaos. These leaders do not appear magically out of clubhouse politics or the old-school-chum network. They rise from the experience of first responders – our fire and police chiefs, our emergency room and trauma intervention nurses, our field EMTs; men and women who have internalized respect for life by their participation in life-and-death situations.

Original stereo views courtesy of David Burkhart, author of Earthquake Days: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire in 3-D (www.1906quake.com).


Dennis Smith, founding editor of Firehouse®, is the chairman of First Responders Financial. He is the author of San Francisco Is Burning, published by Viking. Smith can be reached at dennissmith@firstresponders.com.