May 20, 2005

Book Review: Report from Engine Co. 82

Report from Engine Co. 82
Report from Engine Co. 82
by Dennis Smith
215 pages

The gist:
Most authors come up with an idea and have to track down a publisher who will agree to print and distribute the book. But for firefighter Dennis Smith, publishers came seeking him after he wrote a letter to the New York Times Book Review about William Butler Yeats. One thing led to another and Smith wrote Report from Engine Co. 82, which went on to become a classic work on firefighting. The book's new introduction says that Report has been translated into a dozen languages in five editions. My copy is copy No. 2,000,000+ (approximately).

Smith was a firefighter in the Bronx in the 1960s and '70s when the borough was burning. In one typical day, he saw more action than many firefighters see in months. His book is a riveting read that captures the essence of that era in New York and the essence of the firefighting.

One of Smith's themes in Report is whether or not the dangers of the job are too high. But special men (and now women) have a calling to save others' lives. The last, tear-jerking page of the book captures why Smith and his colleagues faced the dangers.

My take:
Even though Smith wrote Report before I was born, firefighting in New York City has changed little since then. Sure, the so-called fire load is not as high. Safety gear has improved significantly. More units respond to fires now. And firefighters don't ride on the steps of engines or ladder trucks anymore.

But the men are still cut from the same cloth. They love to "catch a job" (a real fire). They love to bust each other's chops (tease each other unmercifully). They love to initiate probies. The engine men still love to be on the nob (run the nozzle). The truck men still like to vent buildings. And the engine men and truckies still have a good-natured rivalry.

This was a book that I could harldy put down, having followed the Fire Department of New York closely for two years in Brooklyn. That background made the book all the more interesting to me. I've been in firehouses and seen these men work. Nonetheless, Smith doesn't leave out those who lack the FDNY background. His well-written, fast-paced narrative includes interludes where he explains many of the nuances of the FDNY.

Report from Engine Co. 82 was the start of a career in publishing for Smith, who's written nine other books and published one of the foremost firefighting magazines in America. Too bad that Firehouse Magazine isn't of the same high-caliber as the writing in Report from Engine Co. 82. Earlier I'd read Smith's most recent book, Report from Ground Zero, and decided I needed to read the book which started it all. Report from Ground Zero is on my informal list of books to re-read. When I do that, I'll be sure to review it here.

Caveat reader: (Let the reader beware.)
Similar to the life of a soldier, the life of a firefighter is peppered with four-letter words. Part of Smith's punch comes from the occasional gritty language of the firehouse or on the streets of the Bronx. The rough talk, which can be heard just about anywhere these days, is never Smith's focus and can be overlooked fairly easily.

Previous book reviews:

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May 16, 2005

Into the wild blue yonder


For the second year in a row, we traveled to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia for the Airpower over Hampton Roads airshow at Langley Air Force Base. Langley is not on the BRAC list.

This year's weather was great--not too hot, not too cold, no rain, light breeze--as we walked among planes on display and watched aerial demonstrations of everything from private aircraft to the latest military planes. Among the planes we saw flying were World War II planes such as the B-25 Mitchell bomber and the F4U Corsair, Korean War-era planes such as the US F-86 and a similar-age MIG owned by Red Bull, Pitt Special byplanes flown by the Red Baron aerobatic team flying four, the brand-new F/A-22 Raptor, and the B-2 bomber.

We also saw the US Army's Golden Knights precision parachuting team give a demonstration.

The day ended with a top-notch show by the USAF Thunderbirds. A good time was had by all.

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May 13, 2005

Don't get me started ...

"Don't get me started."

That's a response that my father and I often have when the topic of closing military bases comes up. In short, we're against closing bases.

That said, we've been waiting to see what the Defense Department' Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process suggests for the next round of base closures.

The list came out today, and thankfully it was not as severe as speculated. The major SC bases survive as well as those in VA.

One key closure is Ellsworth AFB in SD, where a local security forces member is assigned. I interviewed him for the newspaper. Half of the country's B-1B bombers make their home at Ellsworth, which is also the second largest employer in the state.

Now communities such as Rapid City, SD near Ellsworth begin the process of fighting to keep their bases, which provide scores of jobs for local civilians and often feed a surprising number of support businesses.

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May 09, 2005

They're famous

My mother and my uncle (Mom: center; uncle: bottom right-center)

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May 05, 2005

Cinco de Mayo '05

Not motivated enough to bother, but I thought this was cool promo giveaway idea by Hershey's Take5 candy bars.

That's a good way to celebrate the Mexicans repelling the French. I'd eat a candy bar to that!

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Congrats to my younger bro-in-law Scott, a sophomore, who won the BJU Commencement String contest this year. He played in today's Honors Recital with, I'm told, fire and precision. Scott, the string-playing sophomore, played Stravinsky's Concerto in D (the toccata).

He called us as soon as he found out he'd won, but now is the time for him to bask in his accomplishment. (Well, once the orchestra's Commencement Concert is done.)

Way to go, Scott. Don't lose the medalion; it'll look good with your graduation gown in a few years.

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