The Book of the Week is “Report From Engine Co. 82” by Dennis Smith, published in 1972. This is the personal account of a firefighter in the South Bronx at the busiest firehouse in New York City in the 1960’s.
The author elected to work in that high-crime neighborhood because he experienced fulfillment from saving lives, and minimizing injuries to the downtrodden and damage to their homes.
During the author’s several-years’ tenure there, he witnessed many traumatic scenes including the death of a coworker– who fell off the truck as it was rushing to what turned out to be a false alarm. At that time, there were call-boxes on the street where anyone could report an emergency.
More than half of the calls were false alarms and there were emergencies both medical and crime-inspired that would be significantly less frequent, such as drug overdoses and injuries from fights– had Smith worked in a nicer place. Four or five calls every shift were cars set afire; those having been previously stolen for a joyride, then stripped of parts and tires.
Sometimes the firefighters had rocks or bricks thrown at them while they were trying to do their jobs, or heard racist chants from area residents. To add injury to injury (and there were many kinds a firefighter could get) cinders could fly into a firefighter’s glove, causing third degree burns. The author related a few of the unpleasant conditions he experienced when he entered burning buildings, including throat irritation from inhalation of poisonous smoke and a serious burn on the back of his neck.
In the three months he was keeping track, Smith never had a meal uninterrupted by a fire alarm. During firefighting on a freezing cold night, workers had to lift 71-lb hose sections over the exhaust pipe of the fire engine to warm the connections.
Read the book to learn more about what happened to firefighters of the author’s generation, and what he had to go through to start his career, which unsurprisingly, was the most dangerous job in the United States at the book’s writing.