Saturday, February 21, 2009
REPORT FROM ENGINE CO. 82
Dennis Smith's classic and landmark firefighting memoir, Report from Engine Co. 82, is as fresh today, as when I first read it as a rookie firefighter in the mid 1970's. I pulled the worn copy off the shelf this evening, after working on a number of training programs throughout the day. After skimming through a number of passages, I skipped around and having read throught some various chapters; you can literally feel the gripping and brutally honest reality of firefighting during the war years of the fire service in FDNY. Smith's story telling, prose and his wonderful ability to tell the story of a house unlike any other firehouse around the country, but one set apart by a time and place in the South Bronx and with it, the brothers on the job, the officers, the fires, the Bronx, and the sheer call volume that made FDNY Engine Co. 82 one of the busiest companies in terms of fires and runs in the late 1960's and through the early 1970's.
The words and verse allows you to feel as though your riding right along on the back step, (that's right, we used to do that, back in the day...)or dragging a hoseline up a flight of stairs into a heavily involved room. One engine company, along with Ladder 31, housed in the South Bronx during one of the most turbulent of times in no other city but New York City. The chapters resonance with bravery, heroism, camaraderie, and unflinching courage of New York's bravest, describing a time and place that we as brother firefighters can relate to and understand.
If you've never read the book, I would highly recommend picking up a copy, it will give you a true perspective on firefighting that is a part of the fire service's rich tradition. If you haven't read it in a while, do so; it feels like running into so many brothers who have left the job, a long time ago, are back again, sharing their stories and thier love of the job and one another....
An excerpt from the Dennis Smith's book....
The Late, Late Show is on the television and most of us are sitting in the kitchen when the bells start to ring. I take a last sip of tea as I count onetwo onetwothreefourfive one onetwothreefourfive. The kitchen chairs empty as the last number comes in. Box 2515. Intervale Avenue and Kelly Street.
We can smell the smoke as the pumper turns down Intervale, and hands automatically start pulling boot-tops to thighs, clipping coat-rings closed, and putting on gloves. The pumper stops in front of a building just before we reach Kelly Street. We're about to stretch the hose when there is an anguished scream from inside the building. A boy is running out of the doorway, his shirt and hair aflame.
Ladder 31 and Chief Solwin are right behind us, and one of the ladder men goes rapidly to the boy's assistance. Willy Knipps takes the first folds of the hose and heads into the building. Carroll and I follow, dragging the rest of the hose with us. Royce and Boyle are still on the sidewalk donning masks.
Lieutenant Welch is waiting for us on the second floor, crouched low by a smoking door. There are four apartments on the floor, and three of the doors are open, their occupants fleeing. Chief Solwin arrives, stops for a moment at the top of the stairs, and then rushes into the apartment adjoining the rooms on fire. He starts kicking through the wall with all his strength. The smoke rushes through the hole, darkening the apartment and the hall. Knipps and I are coughing and have to lie on our bellies as we wait for the water to surge through the hose. Carroll has gone down for another mask. He can tell it's going to be a tough, snotty job.
Billy-o and Artie Merritt start to work on the locked door. It's hard for me to breathe with my nose to the marble floor of the hall, and I think of the beating Artie and Billy-o must be taking as they stand where the smoke is densest, swinging on the ax, hitting the door with the point of the halligan tool. The door is tight and does not give easily.
Captain Frimes arrives with Charlie McCartty behind him. "Give me a man with a halligan," Chief Solwin yells, and Captain Frimes and McCartty hustle into the adjoining apartment.