Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Review: Firehouse by David Halberstam


I picked this book up at the Friends of the Library sale. I'd seen it a few months ago on Audible and thought a nonfiction work by a famous author about a firehouse would be cool. Didn't realize until I started reading it that it's about September 11th. (Here's my Sept. 11th post.) Hm. Still wanted to read it, but knew it would be hard. Wanted to read it during the day, not at night. Some days really felt like I was in too good of a mood to read it, so even though it's very short, it took me a little while.
It's about Firehouse 40/35 (Engine 40, Ladder 35) in midtown Manhattan. On Sept. 11, 2001, the engine and the ladder both went down to the World Trade Center at 9:30 AM, with 13 men aboard the two trucks. One man survived. Mr. Halberstam had lovingly portrayed detailed portraits of every man on those rigs. Several were within a year of retirement. Two were probies. One was engaged to be married in November. One firefighter was filling in from another firehouse and this was his first day at 40/35. Several of the men weren't supposed to be on the rigs that day but changed shifts with other guys for one reason or another. Some wanted more overtime, some guys needed the day off. All were hardworking, caring, honest men who put others' lives before their own. It turns out they only entered WTC2 10 minutes before it collapsed. The one survivor had a broken neck (3 vertebra), a concussion, lost most of his testicles, and had been thrown half a block by the force of the collapse. Later he talked to a reporter about how difficult it was to be the sole survivor, the guilt and doubt he was feeling, only to be branded a coward in the newspaper, for his honesty and feelings.
There isn't much detail about the run itself. After all, very little is known. The survivor, Shea, doesn't remember much thanks to the concussion, and there aren't any records. The FDNY's communication system was so bad as to be practically worthless. This isn't a book about Sept. 11th, but a book about 13 men who gave their lives, the families who loved them, and by extension it's written in honor of all the New York City firefighters who lost their lives that day.
May we never forget them:
Engine 40
Lt. John Ginley
Bruce Gary
Michael Lynch
Mike D'Auria
Vincent Morello
Steve Mercado
Ladder 35
Capt. Frank Callahan
Jimmy Giberson
Michael Otten
Michael Roberts
Dan Marshall
Kevin Bracken
Kevin Shea*
It is a touching, loving, thoughtful, compelling, heartbreaking, and necessary book. I wish a book could be written that would go into such detail about all the NYFD lost that day, but that would be impractical. Instead, we have this brief, beautiful homage. Thank you.
*survived

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