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Firefighter Books

Dennis Smith

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Dennis Smith a “former New York City firefighter, is the founding editor of Firehouse Magazine and the bestselling author.”  He remained a New York City Firefighter for 19 years after the success of his first book. Dennis Smith is “currently chairman of First Responders Financial Company and lives in New York City.” Dennis Smith is the author of Report from Engine Co.82; The Final Fire; Glitter & Ash; Steely Blue; History of Firefighting in America; FireHouse; Firefighters - Their Lives in Their Own Words; A Song for Mary; Report from Ground Zero; San Francisco Is Burning -- The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires; The Little Fire Engine That Saved The City; and, Brassy the Fire Engine Saves the City.

According to the book description of Report from Engine Co.82, “A former fireman in the world's busiest firehouse gives a vivid day-to-day account of the challenging events, including the raging fires and fighting a fire in the freezing cold, that he faced during his years of service.”

One reader of Report from Engine Co.82 said, “I was in seventh grade in 1978 when I first read Report From Engine Co. 82, and no book I've read since has ever had as profound an effect on me. Dennis Smith and his brother firefighters on Intervale Ave. inspired me and, I'm sure, many others to become firefighters. The book is gripping and "in-your-face", taking you into some of the most dangerous and frustrating working conditions imaginable.

I just re-read the book, and doing so rekindled the respect and admiration for the heroes of the FDNY that it originally instilled in me 22 years ago. Recently a friend and I visited "The Big House" in the South Bronx, talked with the firemen, took pictures of the neighborhood, and brought Smith's book to life. The pull box at Charlotte St. & East 170th St. made infamous by Smith's book has been replaced by an ERS box; the crumbling, burning tenaments replaced by suburban looking homes. All that remains of the horrors that took place there in the seventies is the memories of daily heroism performed by the men of Engines 82, 85, Ladder 31 and 712 perpetuated by Smith's book.

Now a teacher, I'll be sharing Report From Engine Co. 82 with my class this year. I hope that with the use of this book, I can inspire the same respect, compassion, and concern for human life in my students that Smith inspired in me so long ago. You don't have to be a firefighter or a "wanna-be" to love Report From Engine Co. 82. Treat yourself to it as soon as you can.”

Publisher’s Weekly said of San Francisco Is Burning -- The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires, “Firefighter turned author Smith (Report from Ground Zero) performs an exhausting autopsy on the temblor and subsequent fire that devastated San Francisco 100 years ago. With 92 chapters, the narrative effect is one of a nervous cameraman trying to take in everything (the chapter on Enrico Caruso jumping from his bed at the Palace Hotel is one paragraph long) and managing to make a distant event seem even more remote. The author takes aim at the procedures of the official response and the chain of command, considers whether the army did more than the navy and presents "what-if" scenarios that will appeal most to students of how to manage a natural disaster. An "especially cruel irony" was the fact that saloons were ordered closed on the day of the fire, yet there, in bottles, jugs and kegs, "was undoubtedly enough wine to extinguish the early fires." Smith too often pauses to backfill the careers and family histories of various personalities or discuss the tectonics of earthquakes.”

One reader of San Francisco Is Burning -- The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires said, “I love San Francisco and I am fascinated by historical accounts of great events. When I found this book, I grabbed it without doing any reviews on Amazon (happily, your reviews are dead on). I am not a "fire fighter junkie" but admit to an attraction to this life and death occupation. Also, one of my college professors did his Phd. thesis on the NYC fire department so I understand the author's passion for the subject.

I was fascinated to learn that the earthquake did much less damage than the fires. That's something that most people I know never knew (and I have a lot of San Francisco friends). The role the army played (to quote a famous mayor) in "preserving disorder" was a mixture of frustration and anger. I also was shocked that there were so many "mercy" killings (talk about an oxymoron) and killings of people accused of looting. I wasn't very surprised by the reports of political corruption but maybe that's due to having been raised in Hudson County, NJ?

But one of the most uplifting parts of the book was the way the average man and woman in the street pitched in and made a supreme effort to save lives and property in the face of adversity and out and out obstruction by the army. These folks displayed the best attributes of what makes America great.

Naturally, the fire fighters get a very favorable review and based on the facts, justifiably so. I admire their work but I know I am not brave enough to do their job - that's maybe the highest praise I can offer. In the final chapters Mr. Smith paints a dark picture of our current level of preparedness for the next big earthquake and fire. I fear he is understating the problem (the people in New Orleans know that being prepared is vital). This is a great read - not just for history buffs only.”

The Library Journal said of A Song for Mary, “Smith came of age in a poor, fatherless Irish Catholic family living in the New York tenements of East 56th Street. Readers will have a hard time putting down this tribute to his mother, Mary. We travel with young Dennis from his first experiences in Catholic school, cleaning erasers and feeling the unjust whacks of disciplinary rulers, to the frightening escapades of the teenage dropout who takes up with bad company. On the verge of felony, Smith joins the Air Force and then works as a cowboy before returning to New York. Unlike Malachy McCourt (A Monk Swimming, LJ 4/1/98), Smith doesn't revel in his misdeeds but always hears his mother's voice in the back of his mind. He finds his way into a profession to which he can give his all, serving as a New York fireman; he is the author of nine other works, many of them about firefighting, including Report from Engine Co. 82.”

One reader of A Song for Mary said, “Dennis Smith's "A Song for Mary" is a powerful, emotionally gripping memoir that is one of the finest published in recent years. Along with Pete Hamill's "A Drinking Life", and Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes", it belongs in the first rank of great memoirs written by Irish-American authors. Speaking of Hamill, it is a Manhattan version of "A Drinking Life", replete with the chaos and woe associated with growing up poor and Irish in New York City. Smith's vivid prose conjurs up the Irish-American neighobrhood that was once the East Side of Midtown Manhattan. We see a young, bright Dennis Smith almost drawn into a life of petty crime, yet saved by love and devotion from his mother and local Catholic priests. Eventually the book ends positively, with his arrival as the rookie fireman at Engine Company 82, setting the stage for the events he described two decades ago in his bestselling memoir "Report from Engine Company 82". I am surprised that this fine book hasn't earned the wide audience it deserves. Anyone who has fallen in love with Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes" should also fall in love with Dennis Smith's "A Song for Mary.”

Kirkus reviews said of Report from Ground Zero, “September 11 2001 was one of those terrible, defining moments in world history that imprints itself on to the subconscious in such a way that most people will always be able to recall exactly what they were doing when they heard or saw the first reports of the planes striking the World Trade Center. Furthermore, there are those people for whom their actions at the time they heard the news became the defining moments of their lives - the firefighters who were called - or volunteered - to go to the scene and become part of the rescue effort, many of them tragically losing their lives at the scene. For most of us, it is incomprehensible that a human being would be able to put aside their fear in the face of such a terrible disaster and walk towards the heart of the inferno instead of fleeing in an attempt to save their own life. For a firefighter in the New York City Fire Department, it was inconceivable that he would not do so.

Dennis Smith, dubbed 'the Poet Laureate of Firefighters' by the New York Post, is a former New York firefighter who published his classic bestseller, Report from Engine Company 82, in 1972. At the time of the terrorist attacks he was 60 and retired from active service, yet when he heard the news on September 11 he rushed to the scene and worked tirelessly alongside the rescue workers for several weeks. Among the dead were former colleagues and the sons of his friends. Perhaps because Smith is a friend and former comrade, the men who survived the tragedy were able to open up to him in a way that they would not to an outsider. The book is presented as a series of vignettes as the men - and a few women - recall their experiences on that day and during the desperate weeks that followed.

He has a gift for capturing the rhythms and cadences of normal speech, yet using the juxtaposition of the accounts to present a terrible, vivid picture of exactly what it was to be there on that day amid the falling bodies and the smothering dark dust and the heat of the flames, exposed to sights most of us could not imagine in our worst nightmares. He captures the fading hopes of the relatives, and their anger when the rescue efforts were scaled down; yet most of all, he captures the unique brotherhood of the New York City Fire Department, son following father into the service for generation after generation, and conveys the enormity of the loss of 343 of their comrades. It is not a comfortable read, yet it is strangely compelling, and the main theme that shines through the book is a positive one - the power of goodness in the human spirit. A proportion of the royalties will go to the relevant charities.”

Report from Engine Co. 82
Dennis Smith  More Info

Final Fire
Dennis Smith  More Info
Glitter and Ash
Dennis Smith  More Info

Firefighters: Their Lives in Their Own Words
Dennis Smith  More Info
Dennis Smith's History of Firefighting in America: 300 Years of Courage.
Dennis Smith  More Info

A Song for Mary: An Irish-American Memory
Dennis Smith  More Info
Dennis Smith  More Info

Report from Ground Zero
Dennis Smith  More Info

San Francisco Is Burning: The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires
Dennis Smith  More Info
Little Fire Engine That Saved the City,
Dennis Smith  More Info

Brassy the Fire Engine Saves the City
Dennis Smith  More Info

One reader of Report from Ground Zero said, “I commute into DC everyday and I like to spend my time listening to audios. I am one of those people that have not been able to hear or see anything about 9/11/01 that doesn't bring tears to my eyes or makes my heart ache. I work at a bookstore and happened to read the inside jacket of the hard-cover edition and I thought, "This sounds like something I can handle."  Dennis Smith, a retired FDNY firefighter, wrote the book with compassion, respect and love for not just the victims, but also their families, the rescue workers and for everyone who was affected in one way or another.

The audio contains personal accounts from people who were directly involved. Most of the stories are from firefighters and they are told so eloquently it's amazing. I believe there are approximately six different readers for the CD edition and the emotion they infuse into it is incredible. This story talks about the wonderful "brotherhood" amongst firefighters and the emotional and physical toll they went through as humans. The stories made me grin in parts and made me cry in others. It helped me to begin to deal with my feelings about that day and gave me, I don't know if hope is the right word, but a warm fuzzy feeling. I do believe that if you are personally familiar with the "brotherhood" of firefighters (my father is a volunteer firefighter in our community) this will strike a chord of understanding.”

According to the book description of Firefighters - Their Lives in Their Own Words, “An unforgettable journey through the daily lives of the brave men and women who have made saving lives their profession. Dennis Smith, author of Report from Engine Co. 82, traveled across the country talking to dozens of America’s firefighters to put together this powerful collection of their own descriptions of their most dramatic and intense experiences on the job. Their stories, compiled here, are timeless testimonies to the human capacity for heroism and nobility.

Focusing on the most courageous firefighters, from those who have been decorated for heroism to those who have been seriously injured, Firefighters presents the extraordinarily rich and rugged voices of men and women who fight urban building fires, who battle sweeping forest fires, who perform emergency rescues, and who face extreme danger and risk as part of their everyday lives. Sometimes brave, sometimes funny, sometimes bittersweet or filled with anger, these voices combine to make Firefighters both a riveting adventure drama and a moving chronicle of American heroism at its finest.

One reader of Firefighters - Their Lives in Their Own Words said, “I'm a 27 year-old professional firefighter in a suburb of Detroit. When I was 16 I picked up this book on a whim at the public library and it enveloped me. This book, along with Dennis Smith's classic Report From Engine Co. 82, was the inspiration for me to try to become a fireman. Mr. Smith takes the great anecdotes that every firefighter accumulates and puts them into print just the way they were told, in the fine oral tradition that lives today in every fire hall in the world. Some stories are funny, some sad, some make you wonder why any one anywhere would ever think to take the test.

Whether you're an old brown-shoed leather-lung, or some fresh-faced youngster eyeing this career field for the first time with a furrowed brow, or just someone looking for a book of hair-raising tales from the people who lived it, this book has something in it to give you pause. Thank you Dennis Smith, from the bottom of my heart. It was you that made all the difference in my life.”

According to the book description of Brassy the Fire Engine Saves the City, “Brassy the Fire Engine serves his town well, putting out fire after fire. But as the years pass and the town turns into a city, bigger and newer fire engines take over. But one day, an emergency arises and only Brassy is able to come to the rescue. Brassy is an appealing character in the tradition of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little Engine That Could. This is a charming and classic picture book about an underdog who saves the day.”

One reader of Brassy the Fire Engine Saves the City said, “Plenty of story to engage older pre-schoolers accompanied by wonderful illustrations. Dennis Smith is a veteran FDNY firefighter (retired) who has written extensively on firefighting in the non-fiction arena; he turns his storytelling skills back to a younger audience with success. Justin Miller's illustrations suggest that Brassy's triumph occurs on the curving and narrow streets of downtown NYC...the cover illustration more than suggests the Twin Towers and another illustration has an image that recalls the Chrysler building in NYC. Fun touches in the story include Capt. Bill (accurately depicted in white shirt, i.e., an officer) advocating on Brassy's behalf with the Chief and an unnamed Dalmatian as Brassy's loyal companion. And yes, in this story firemen (and women) do indeed wear red suspenders.”

About the New York City Fire DepartmentFollowing the Revolutionary War, the Department was reorganized and incorporated as the Fire Department of the City of New York. The volunteer Fire Department continued to protect the lives and property of the citizens of the city until after the close of the Civil War when, in 1865, they were superseded by the paid Metropolitan Fire Department. The change created resentment and bitter actions were taken by some who opposed the elimination of the volunteers. This resulted in rough and tumble battles fought on both personal and political levels.

The introduction of the steam engine spelled the final doom of the volunteer department in New York. The steam apparatus eliminated the need for men to pump the water, and the horses ended the problem of hauling engines by hand.

First Company of paid Fire Department to go "in service" was Engine Co. 1, located in lower Manhattan at 4 Centre Street. Apparatus was horse-drawn Amoskeag steam-powered pumper which was same type issued to later companies. Wheels were steel rimmed.  At the beginning, the paid fire service extended only to certain parts of New York City (Manhattan). The Act of 1865 united Brooklyn and New York (cities) to form a Metropolitan District. By the end of 1865 the department consisted of 13 Chief Officers and 552 Company Officers and firemen. They worked a continuous tour of duty, with 3 hours a day for meals and one day off a month. They were paid salaries according to their rank or grade. The first regulations were also formulated and they were fairly strict and straight laced.

The volunteers, despite their disappointment, accepted the decision and publicly declared that they would continue to function and serve until properly relieved by paid units. The Act provided that members of the volunteers were to be given preference over all others in filling the rolls of the paid department. Due to major fires, which resulted in excessive fire losses and a rise in insurance rates, the department was reorganized in 1866 under the command of General Alexander Schaler. Under military discipline, the department began to realize its full potential and fire losses began to generally reduce.


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