Actor/director/writer Mel Foster gives an appropriately subdued and reverential reading of the story of Engine 40, Ladder 35 and the firemen who lost their lives on a day America will never forget - September 11, 2001.
As Frank McCourt commented, "If you have tears, prepare to shed them." I would add you may have difficulty stopping those tears.
In this particular firehouse, which was dealt the most severe blows following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers, as in other firehouses the men live, work and eat together. Halberstam writes: "....they play sports together, go off to drink together, help repair one another's houses andmost importantly, share terrifying risks; their loyalties to each other must, by the demands of the dangers they face, be instinctive and absolute."
Few could have dreamed of the danger in store. On that terrible morning two rigs carrying a total of 26 men left the firehouse; only 14 men would return.
We are with the families as they wait for news of their loved ones and, in part, come to understand why men undertake such a perilous profession.
"Firehouse" is history, a moving narrative of an earth shattering day.
- Gail Cooke
On 9/11 343 members of the NY fire department were killed. Among them, and one of the hardest hit, were Engine Company 40, Ladder Company 35. That morning thirteen men set out and only one was found alive after the collapse of the towers. The author does a wonderful job of celebrating the lives of those brave men - telling us who they were and what their job meant to them. So much, on that day, was chance. Bob Menig, for example, left the firehouse at 8:30am to make a doctor's appointment and was driving on the freeway when he heard that a plane had hit the tower. Some others were on a golfing trip. Sadly, some members were nearing retirement and eager to make up as many hours as possible in their last year of work, in a job that was generally poorly paid and meant many of the men had second jobs. Still, it is clear that these men did not do this job for the monetary rewards. They were part of the fire service because they thought it was a job worth doing. Some enjoyed the camaradarie, some the feeling of family, others the support of the community or the simple satisfaction of helping others.
This book describes what happened on that day and how their families waited for news. At first the news was confusing - it was believed the trucks had left after the collapse of the towers, so it was thought the men were not in danger. Only as it transpired that the men had left earlier than first believed, did the hope die. These men walked into a situation where they knew they might lose their lives; they knew the risks they face and were selfless and overwhelmingly brave. We should all be proud of our emergency services and the outstanding job they do every day and this book is one I am glad I read. Many people died that day, but others lived because of the bravery of the fire department and this is a testament to some of those men.
on 12 February 2003
Mr. Halberstam, known well for his books about history, has written a little book about 9/11 that will hopefully remain long after most of the other 9/11 novels are ancient history. This novel tells the story of Engine 40, Ladder 35 in Midtown Manhattan, a firehouse that lost 12 of 13 men who went to the World Trade Center.
Each fireman is described - what role he had in the firehouse and how he came to be a fireman. The story of the 13th fireman, Kevin Shea, the one who lived, is also told. Some have criticized this story because it leaves out any negatives, character flaws, etc. that these men had. I dispute this as one in particular is characterized as a "human cactus". And why, I ask, should we want to learn the things people disliked about the men who died? They did die as heroes, even though this book illustrates that heroes is probably the last thing that any of these men would have wanted to be called. They were just doing their jobs.
The book also goes into some detail about the families of these men and how they reacted after the tragedy when they came to realize that their husband/son/father would not be coming home.
Out of all the books written about September 11th, this is one that deserves to stand the test of time. It wasn't written in a hurry so that it would sell tons of copies and make lots of money - instead it was published in May 2002, long after many books had been out and the publishing craze seemed to be over. It also serves as a reminder of what happened that day. Eventually, 9/11/01 will be just another date, hard as it seems to believe right now. Eventually it will be like 12/7/41 and children will learn of it, but not fully understand and appreciate the tragedy that occurred that day. If this book is still around, I will recommend it be read by everyone who doesn't remember that day, so they can understand that lives were lost that day - lives of real people.
on 10 May 2002
This beautiful little volume of less than 200 pages paints a moving portrait of one firehouse on one fateful day last year: September 11, 2001. David Halberstam, one of America's finest non-fiction writers, draws the reader into a very special culture populated by very special, yet ordinary, "guys" - 12 of whom gave their lives trying to save others. You learn a great deal about the individual men, about the firehouse culture - in many instances, a culture passed on from generation to generation of firefighter - and you learn a great deal about yourself. Halberstam's poignant book brings back all the horror of September 11th, but it leaves you feeling not drained, but uplifted. You will want to give this book as a gift so buy several copies!