From the back cover:
“In the firehouse the men not only live and eat with each other, they play sports together, go off to drink together, help repair one another’s houses and, most importantly, share terrifying risks; their loyalties to each other must, by the demands of the dangers they face, be instinctive and absolute.” So writes David Halberstam in this stunning book about Engine 40, Ladder 35—one of the firehouses hardest hit in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers. On the morning of September 11, 2001, two rigs carrying thirteen men set out from this firehouse, located on the west side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center; twelve of the men would never return.
Firehouse, by David Halberstam, is nothing if not a tribute to the men who gave their lives on September 11, 2001. In this short but effective book he attempts to depict the special camaraderie between firefighters, evoke the fraternal atmosphere of the firehouse, and paint a portrait of each of the men from Engine 40, Ladder 35 who lost their lives that day.
Though many of the men have things in common—working class backgrounds, coming from a family of firemen, or pride in their culinary abilities—Halberstam provides enough anecdotes about each to render them as a distinct person. Instead of mere names in a list, they become people: Steve Mercado the mimic, Jimmy Giberson with the enormous feet, or Vincent Morello who so wanted to be a firefighter that he took nearly a 50% pay cut to achieve his dream. We learn about their families and the reactions of their loved ones to their eventual fates. Some of the stories are quite moving, and I’d be lying if I said I never got sniffly.
Halberstam paints a rosy picture of life as a fireman, as befits a book with the chief purpose of commemorating the actions of heroic men. Having grown up as the daughter of a fireman, however, I’ve heard many complaints about the job, too, especially regarding the interference of bureaucracy, which is touched on in Firehouse but not elaborated upon. I’m not saying Halberstam ought to have dwelled on the negatives, but his relentlessly positive depiction of the job as one loved by all was a sour note in an otherwise moving tribute.