Firefighters in Kenwood prepare a special spot in the station for the display of an extraordinary, well-traveled gift they received from a current Army Ranger and a former one.
Once the priceless keepsake is in place, we’re welcome to drop by the Kenwood station, when the crew’s not out on a call, and see it. At the least, the firefighters want us to know how proud they are of it.
It’s an American flag, one with a story that can be only so simply told.
THE FLAG CAME to Kenwood’s firefighters as a post-October inferno tribute from Matt Hutchinson, an Army veteran and a lieutenant with the San Francisco Fire Department, and his friend, Rangers 1st Sgt. Keith Bach.
The two became like brothers while serving in the Rangers 20 years ago. They’ve remained close since Hutchinson left the Army to become a firefighter and Bach stayed on to make a career of the military.
Late in 2016, the Ranger told Hutchinson he was being deployed to Afghanistan. Hutchinson sent Bach a U.S. flag and asked a favor:
Would Bach carry the flag with him and then return it? Bach complied.
He took his buddy’s flag along wherever he went, including on a special-operations mission in eastern Afghanistan.
Hutchinson remembers Bach phoning early last year to say he could ship him back the flag — or he could take it along on a special assignment. On June 6 of 2017, Bach and the 2nd Ranger Battalion would jump into Normandy to honor the Rangers who fought in the D-Day invasion in 1944.
Hutchinson told his friend, take the flag!
IT MADE THE JUMP, and at last came to Hutchinson last fall.
Not long after that, the North Bay firestorms struck. Hutchinson, who works at San Francisco’s Engine Co. 7 in the Mission District, came to Santa Rosa with a strike team.
Their crew joined the fight. Hutchinson chokes up upon recalling the devastation he witnessed, and also the courage of neighbors and first responders.
“It’s different than when you see a tragedy on TV,” he said. “It’s sometimes overwhelming.”
It was Hutchinson’s strike team that raised an American flag — not the one carried around the world by 1st Sgt. Bach — over the ruins of fire station No. 5 at Fountaingrove.
When ordered to rest, the team drove to the Kenwood station because a SFFD colleague of Hutchinson, Jack Ayers, is also a Kenwood volunteer.
IN KENWOOD, Hutchinson got a taste of the valor and selflessness displayed by Ayers and his Kenwood FD comrades in defense of their town and valley.
An idea came to Hutchinson: to give the flag Bach had carried to Afghanistan and France to Kenwood’s firefighters.
“I loved what my friend had done for me,” Hutchinson said. “And I respected what the flag symbolized and meant.
“But I felt it was better served in the Kenwood firehouse.”
He contacted Bach to float his idea. Bach cheered it.
Then, just a week ago, the Ranger trekked to Sonoma Valley from his home in Washington state so that he and Hutchinson could together present the framed flag to Kenwood Fire Chief Daren Bellach and his firefighters and their community.