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Excellent memoir and compelling account of London firefighting in the 70s,
This review is from: Call the Fire Brigade!: Fighting London's Fires in the '70s (Paperback)
Although not having had the honour of having worked as a firefighter myself, as someone who has avidly consumed a large portion of the small but growing genre of fire service memoirs that are currently in print (from Dennis Smith's 'Report from Engine Co. 82' to 'Fireman!' by Neil Wallington and 'Underfire' by Ray Chilton) and working in a related field, I cannot recommend more strongly that you read 'Call the Fire Brigade!' and Allan Grice's previous book 'Fighting Fires and Eating Smoke' (and, if you have the professional need, his book 'Fire Risk - Fire Safety Law and its Practical Application').
In fact, I would go as far as to say that your reading of fire service history and memoir in Britain (and beyond) is severely lacking if you haven't picked up Allan's latest book and read it from cover to cover. He has brought to life the experience of fighting London's fires (and responding to all of the other myriad emergencies that are the lot of a firefighter) in all of its gritty, stark and sometimes comedic reality. In my opinion, Allan does for the London Fire Brigade what Dennis Smith did for the FDNY with 'Report from Engine Co. 82' and I don't think that's an overstatement. This is also a crucial book to read for anyone who wants to read widely on the recent history of London and its diverse occupants, even if the fire service isn't of particular interest to you.
If you initially find yourself put off by the part of the blurb noting Allan's views on the current 'health and safety' culture (although you probably won't be if you've worked in the fire service for a significant period of time) then rest assured that he isn't another tabloid whiner who likes to rant about the most absurd examples of health and safety policies and peddle stories of cotton wool padding and whatnot whilst disregarding the real importance of appropriate safety measures to those at the sharp end. Allan knows and understands from first hand experience as a 'smoke eater' the benefits that an improved health and safety culture has brought to the world of firefighting. He knows the difference it makes that every firefighter now has the benefit of wearing breathing apparatus. But he also lays bare, as only someone with such experience can, what it means when the same health and safety regulations that apply to everyone else are blindly applied to a profession that is necessarily risky and also the real harm that a risk averse society can cause to those it professes to protect.
I won't write anything more detailed about the content of the book - Allan's work speaks for itself. Buy a copy and enjoy.
One small note of caution, although by no means a criticism of this book: if you have already read 'Fighting Fires and Eating Smoke' then you will recognise quite a few of the accounts in 'Call the Fire Brigade!'. Some of the episodes have been refined and others remain mostly the same, whilst a significant amount of material has been added, including earlier autobiographical background and a chapter on Allan's visit to Harlem and the South Bronx which fans of Dennis Smith's work will find particularly interesting. This certainly isn't just the paperback version of the previous work. But I would suggest that you don't read 'Fighting Fires...' and 'Call the Fire Brigade!' in immediate succession.
Last but not least, in the unlikely event that your name is Boris Johnson (or another politician or decision maker with similar motives) and you are currently advocating the closure of 12 London fire stations and making over 500 London firefighters redundant: besides hurling a range of expletives in your general direction, I would suggest that you read this book and learn something about those who are so crucial to keeping the people of London (including you) safe and whose services you would dispense with so readily.