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4.0 out of 5 stars Very high in historical value, Excellent,Pioneering research, 25 May 1999
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Amy S. Greenberg, Cause for Alarm. (University of Princeton Press 1998). Amy S. Greenberg is an Assistant Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University. She is tackling a largely male-dominated subject, but also one that is for the most part unexplored by historians. Her introduction is jam-packed with information. The introduction is set like that of a Greek drama, bringing the reader up to speed before the meat of the book is consumed. She does an excellent job of placing the volunteer fire fighter on a pedestal and then glorifying him as a demagogue. Later on we see the institution of volunteer firemen corrupted by several factors, and the firemen, like actors, take a great fall from grace due to their tragic flaws.
Greenberg covers several aspects of her work in the cities of Baltimore, St. Louis, and San Francisco. Social, political, and cultural aspects seem to be the main issue here. This book also marks the transition from volunteer fire companies to paid full-time departments as well as the change in the American way of thinking of how and who should fight these fires. It is demonstrated in this book how the volunteers appeared Superman-like on paper as well in the public eye.
The "power trip" some of these men experienced would contribute to their downfall. Always wanting to be the first company on scene, drinking and swearing, and other daralous behavior that the personnel engaged in helped put them out of business.
In an age with any out television, firefighting was a form of entertainment for these men. Simply put, modernization helped to rid the large cities of competitive volunteer fire companies, only to see them replaced by paid personnel. (Don't worry most firefighters of today are every bit as competitive as the ones portrayed in this book) "Firemen provided the stability and order that allowed for the growth of professionalism. And with that transformation, the volunteer fireman fell from grace." Here we see how volunteers started to be seen as a burden, rather than a help to society. Why would a shop owner want to lose his employees for several hours to fight a fire that did not endanger his livelihood? Or better yet why would he close the shop to go to the rescue of some one he had no vested interest in. These are the issues that are struggled with inside the book.
Several documents are used in this book as well as primary and secondary sources. R. N. Seiel gave a favorable review in Choice (January 1999). This book would contribute to anyone's understanding of this subject matter. Today most people would not understand the act of fighting fire and receiving no compensation for it. This book is, as advertised, a cause for alarm.
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Cause for Alarm: The Volunteer Fire Department in the Nineteenth-Century City (Princeton Legacy Library)
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