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Firehouse Hardcover – May 29, 2002
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Thirteen men from Engine 40, Ladder 35 firehouse initially responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; only one survived. Located near Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the firehouse was known for its rich tradition and strong leadership. This gripping book details the actions of the 13 men on that horrific day and the heartbreaking aftermath--the search for the bodies, the efforts of their families to deal with overwhelming grief, and the guilt and conflicting emotions of the surviving members of the firehouse. The book is also about the men themselves and the tight bond and sense of duty and honor that held them together. David Halberstam does a masterful job of illustrating the inner workings of a firehouse, with its traditions, routines, and complex social structure that in many ways resembles a "vast extended second family--rich, warm, joyous, and supportive, but on occasion quite edgy as well, with all the inevitable tensions brought on by so many forceful men living so closely together over so long a period of time." He also explains why so many men choose this life despite the high risk, relatively low pay, and physical and emotional demands of the job.
Halberstam and his family live three and a half blocks from Engine 40, Ladder 35, and he writes of these 13 men in such a loving and precise way that he could be describing members of his own clan. Deeply felt and emotional, Firehouse is a tribute to these decent, honorable, and heroic men and a celebration of their selflessness not only as firefighters but also as husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and friends. --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
Halberstam's gripping chronicle of a company of Manhattan firemen on September 11 is moving without ever becoming grossly sentimental an impressive achievement, though readers have come to expect as much from the veteran historian and journalist (author, most recently, of War in a Time of Peace). Engine 40, Ladder 35, a firehouse near Lincoln Center, sent 13 men to the World Trade Center, 12 of whom died. Through interviews with surviving colleagues and family members, Halberstam pieces together the day's events and offers portraits of the men who perished from rookie Mike D'Auria, a former chef who liked to read about Native American culture, to Captain Frank Callahan, greatly respected by the men for his dedication and exacting standards, even if he was rather distant and laconic (when someone performed badly at a fire he would call them into his office and simply give him "The Look," a long, excruciating stare: "Nothing needed to be said the offender was supposed to know exactly how he had transgressed, and he always did"). The book also reveals much about firehouse culture the staunch code of ethics, the good-natured teasing, the men's loyalty to each other in matters large and small (one widow recalls that when she and her husband were planning home renovations, his colleagues somehow found out and showed up unasked to help, finishing the job in record time). Though he doesn't go into much detail about the technical challenges facing the fire department that day, Halberstam does convey the sheer chaos at the site and, above all, the immensity of the loss for fellow firefighters.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
I seem to be on a 9/11 drive, having read The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland earlier this year and just finishing Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero prior to this book. ALthough both of those books moved me, this moved me to ugly tears while riding the Staten Island Ferry.
I liked how the early pages of the book set the tone for the neighborhood's demographic shift. In some ways it's a biography of the building and company as well as the house. The chalkboards with the names are poignant as cover flaps and now I almost feel as if I need to make a pilgrimage.
I liked the way Halberstam worked with the surviving men from the other tours -all but one who went out that morning died- as well as the dead men's spouses to construct profiles that truly brought each of the men to life. No matter how much time I spend on the Upper West Side, I don't think I've ever seen this firehouse. I do feel as if I know all of these men though. Men who no doubt knew they were taking their last ride when they left the firehouse and headed down to Ground Zero within an hour of the first plane hitting.
I see Jack Lynch at what is now the Memorial & Museum but what was then The Hole watching and waiting for them to be able to excavate the area where he knew his son was. I see all those memorials, all those kids who will now grow up without their fathers. I feel as if I know Callahan, Giberson and his boots, Otten, Roberts, Bracken and the Bracken Bounce, Morello and his love of cars, Shea, Ginley, GAry. Buddha, Lynch, Marshall, Mercado and D'Auria. I hope that this book and their memories in their families' hearts and mind keep them alive. Like the Arizona and oil.
You meet all the men and learn about their lives. Most of them had firefighters in thier family. Most were married although one was seperated and one had a fiancee. It is important to learn about their lives outside the firehouse because it gives greater substance to thier lives inside the firehouse. You learn of one man's decision to remodel the firehouse after it had officially been remodeled but left living space restricted and unpopular. His officer was told to stay away because "you don't want to know what is happening" as the man knocked down the walls with a sledge hammer. Their captain is new to the fire house and the men and they aren't sure about him. At one fire he is given an unpopular order by superiors to go through a decontamination process. He tells the superior that you and your men went through the same place we did so you need to do this and we'll be watching to make sure you do. With that he told his men to get on the rig and go back to the firehouse. His men decided that "they had a captain!".
Thirteen men went out to the WTC. Twelve died and one survived but with lasting medical problems. What I found to be particularly tragic was that one man was a replacement from another fire house. He didn't even have time to unpack his bag before he went out with the others. Did anyone have a chance to meet him? Did he die not knowing the men around him? I find that troubling - to die with men you know is one thing - to die not knowing them or them not knowing you is worse.
Most of the men weren't found right away - it was months later that they were found when an access road was cleared away from the site. Under the road were the men. The vigil by families as they visited the site to mourn and in their own way participate in the search was moving and quite understandable.
There are many moving moments in this book. How could there not be. It is something most men knew might happen but were incredibly confident that it wouldn't happen to them. It is also moving to read as the families cope with this disaster in thier many ways and on many levels.
The only regret I had about the book was that it was published too soon. One man was still missing so we don't know if his body was ever found. Maybe it would have been useful for a followup volume to provide closure for the readers as they have all become intimitely involved with the men and families of the firehouse.
It is a small book and a relatively quick read but it is well worth it. I think this is one of Halberstam's best efforts and probably one that was the most intimate for him.
I highly recommend this book.