Firehouse

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Overview

A moving testament to the remarkable brotherhood of firemen, from the Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author.

"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 important, 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, one of America's most distinguished...

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Overview

A moving testament to the remarkable brotherhood of firemen, from the Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author.

"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 important, 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, one of America's most distinguished reporters, in this stunning book about Engine 40, Ladder 35 — one of the firehouses hardest hit in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers. On the morning of September 11, 2001, two rigs carrying 13 men set out from this firehouse; only one fireman survived.

Firehouse takes us to the very epicenter of the tragedy. Through the kind of intimate portraits of the men and their families that are Halberstam's trademark, we watch the day unfold. We come to understand the culture of the firehouse itself, what makes these gifted men want to be firemen, and why in so many instances they are eager to follow in their fathers' footsteps and serve in so dangerous a profession. And why more than anything else, it's not just a job, but a calling.

This is journalism-as-history at its best, the story of what happens when one small institution gets caught in an apocalyptic day. It is a book that will move readers as few others have in our time.

Forty years ago, at the age of 28, David Halberstam was reassigned from the Congo, where he was a war correspondent for the New York Times, to Vietnam. His pessimistic dispatches from Saigon won him the Pulitzer Prize at the age of 30. In 1972 he published the definitive book on the roots of the Vietnam War, The Best and the Brightest. It and his 12 subsequent books have all been national bestsellers.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Acclaimed historian David Halberstam takes a look at the brave firefighters who operate out of the Engine 40, Ladder 35 firehouse in his Manhattan neighborhood. How did the terrible -- and heroic -- events of September 11, 2001, affect those who answered the call for help? Halberstam brings the reader right into the action as only he can.
USA Today
"Richly detailed . . . in structure and tone, it resembles John Hersey's 1946 classic Hiroshima."
San Francisco Chronicle
"FIREHOUSE leaves one feeling . . . personally touched . . . and grateful that there are ordinary people who possess such uncommon courage."
People Magazine
"Poignant. . . Halberstam's achievement is remembering these men not just for how they died . . . for how they lived."
Onion
It re-forms and endures.
Bookpage
[Halberstam's] special contribution is to anatomize the culture that incubated and nourished these remarkable public servants.
Newsweek
Halberstam writes in this always clear-eyed but affecting group portrait.
James Traub
Graceful and moving.
New York Times Book Review
Bob Minzesheimer
Richly detailed . . . in structure and tone, it resembles John Hersey's 1946 classic Hiroshima.
USA Today
Malcolm Jones
A clear-eyed but affecting group portrait.
Newsweek
Joe Heim
A poignant remembrance . . . Halberstam's achievement is remembering these men not just for how they died . . . for how they lived.
People
Peter Lewis
Firehouse leaves one feeling . . . personally touched . . . and grateful that there are ordinary people who possess such uncommon courage.
San Francisco Chronicle
Publishers Weekly
Halberstam's gripping chronicle of a company of Manhattan firemen on September 11 is moving without ever becoming grossly sentimental an impressive achievement, though readers have come to expect as much from the veteran historian and journalist (author, most recently, of War in a Time of Peace). Engine 40, Ladder 35, a firehouse near Lincoln Center, sent 13 men to the World Trade Center, 12 of whom died. Through interviews with surviving colleagues and family members, Halberstam pieces together the day's events and offers portraits of the men who perished from rookie Mike D'Auria, a former chef who liked to read about Native American culture, to Captain Frank Callahan, greatly respected by the men for his dedication and exacting standards, even if he was rather distant and laconic (when someone performed badly at a fire he would call them into his office and simply give him "The Look," a long, excruciating stare: "Nothing needed to be said the offender was supposed to know exactly how he had transgressed, and he always did"). The book also reveals much about firehouse culture the staunch code of ethics, the good-natured teasing, the men's loyalty to each other in matters large and small (one widow recalls that when she and her husband were planning home renovations, his colleagues somehow found out and showed up unasked to help, finishing the job in record time). Though he doesn't go into much detail about the technical challenges facing the fire department that day, Halberstam does convey the sheer chaos at the site and, above all, the immensity of the loss for fellow firefighters. (May 29) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
In the developing bibliography of titles on 9/11, David Halberstam has crafted a poignant, journalistic tale about the experiences of Engine 40, Ladder 35, from the West Side of Manhattan. In a direct, concise style, the reader is intimately treated to the heart and soul of this unit, which lost 12 out of 13 firefighters. We meet the individuals, we understand their devotion to their work, and we contemplate the grave danger that they face each time their trucks race to a fire. The details of the morning of September 11th are familiar, but the personal stories humanize the trauma and loss. The aftermath of searching Ground Zero, the funeral services and the strength of the firefighters' families are a tribute to America. This slim, powerful volume should be required reading for incoming high school students. KLIATT Codes: JSA*; Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Hyperion, 201p.,
— Nancy Zachary
Library Journal
The phrase "read it and weep" carries a flip connotation, but those who pick up this book will literally read it and weep. Pulitzer Prize winner Halberstam spent over two and a half months, beginning last October, at the Engine 40, Ladder 35 firehouse, located on Manhattan's West Side. On the morning of September 11 two rigs from that house had responded to the World Trade Center attack; 13 men went out, and one came back alive. Here, the author offers us short, personal looks at these men, with details provided by brother firefighters, spouses, family, and friends, and we see how 9/11 made its awful mark on the dozen who perished, those they left behind, and the one who survived. Ex-firefighter Dennis Smith's recent Report from Ground Zero paints a much broader and, owing to his background, more personal picture of the disaster, but if he captures its mind-boggling enormity Halberstam succeeds as well at emphasizing the individual grief it caused by focusing narrowly on just his 13 men. Recommended for all libraries. Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Peeled emotional energy characterizes this portrait by Halberstam (War in a Time of Peace) of a firehouse that lost 12 of 13 men in the initial response to the World Trade Center attack. It's a difficult story to tell from almost every angle. The notoriously insular firefighting community doesn't accept strangers in its midst, let alone confide in an outsider, and most of the subjects are dead. Halberstam is striving to achieve sympathetic yet realistic characterizations of men he never met, most of whom were very young. So it's quite an achievement that the author manages to get into the soul of Engine 40, Ladder 35, to give a glimpse of what it meant for these men to be firefighters. He nails the pride and purposefulness with which firefighters view their work, and how that sense of mission and honor melded the house into a family-a word that is not a metaphor here, since more than once the author informs us that someone was "a fireman's son and a fireman's grandson," with brothers and cousins thrown into the act. The profession's unique requirements, norms, and traditions seem to have passed through the generations like some DNA-driven imperative to create firefighters' preternatural calm, their selflessness, and their simple, extraordinary willingness to troop straight into danger while others are streaming away from it. Although the firehouse is a raw, exposed environment ("everyone knows everything about everyone, and therefore nothing can be faked"), it's not easy to draw out these men to speak of their dead comrades. Understandably, some portraits are more rounded than others, but only a few are pastiches of impressions that fail to jell. More often, the descriptionsclick, Halberstam succeeds in bringing his subjects back to life, and we ache as we suddenly remember that this man is no more. Fine work that will leave most readers with even higher esteem for firefighters.
James Traub
"Graceful and moving."
From the Publisher
"Graceful and moving."—James Traub, The New York Times Book Review

"Resembles John Hersey's 1946 classic Hiroshima."—USA Today

"Poignant and immediate portrait of a New York firehouse. Halberstam delivers a jolting study in the impermanence of things, the swiftness with which the world can be transformed."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Always clear-eyed and affecting."—Newsweek

"Vividly sketched."—Time Out New York

"A very human face on the tragedy."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"An understated little gem of a book."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"A remarkable study of a tightly knit workplace world and the impact of September 11 upon it."—Washington Times

"His special contribution is to anatomize the culture that incubated and nourished these remarkable public servants."—BookPage

Newsweek
"Always clear-eyed and affecting."
Time Out New York
"Vividly sketched."
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A very human face on the tragedy."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"An understated little gem of a book."
Washington Times
"A remarkable study of a tightly knit workplace world and the impact of September 11 upon it."
BookPage
"His special contribution is to anatomize the culture that incubated and nourished these remarkable public servants."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786888511
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 5/21/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

David Halberstam was one of America's most distinguished journalists and historians. After graduating from Harvard in 1955, he covered the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, then was sent overseas by the New York Times to report on the war in Vietnam. The author of fifteen bestsellers, including The Best and the Brightest, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam reporting at the age of thirty. He was killed in a car accident on April 23, 2007, while on his way to an interview for what was to be his next book.

Biography

A journalist, historian, and biographer, David Halberstam brought his idiosyncratic and stylistic approach to heavy subjects: the Vietnam War (in 1972's The Best and the Brightest); the shaping of American politics (in 1979's The Powers That Be); the American economy's relationship with the automobile industry (in 1986's The Reckoning); and the civil rights movement (in 1998's Freedom Riders).

His books were loaded with anecdotes, metaphors, suspense, and a narrative tone most writers reserve for fiction. The resulting books -- many of them huge bestsellers -- gave Halberstam heavyweight status (he won the Pulitzer for international reporting in 1964) and established him as an important commentator on American politics and power.

Halberstam was also known for his sports books. In The Breaks of the Game, which a critic for The New York Times called "one of the best books I've ever read about American sports," he took on professional basketball.

In The Amateurs, he examined the world of sculling; in Summer of '49 and October 1964, he focused on two pivotal baseball events: the Boston Red Sox's exasperating near victory over the New York Yankees for the 1949 pennant, and the 1964 season, when the Yankees lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1999's Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made, Halberstam documented the making of a legend.

Always happy to extend his reach well beyond the subject at hand, Halberstam packed his books with social commentary as well as sports detail.

His writing routine was as strenuous and disciplined as that of any of the athletes he wrote about. To sustain his steady output of extensively researched, almost-always-massive books, he allows no unscheduled interruptions: "Most of us who have survived here [New York] after a number of years have ironclad work rules. Nothing interrupts us. Nothing," he once wrote in The New York Times. "We surface only at certain hours of the day."

Good To Know

David Halberstam's first job was as a reporter for a small-town Mississippi newspaper.
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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 10, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      April 23, 2007
    2. Place of Death:
      San Francisco, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Harvard, 1955

Read an Excerpt

FIREHOUSE


By David Halberstam

HYPERION

Copyright © 2002 David Halberstam.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1401300057



Chapter One


The Upper West Side of Manhattan, just above Columbus Circle, was until quite recently a relatively poor neighborhood, and some of the veteran firemen at Engine 40, Ladder 35, located at Sixty-sixth Street and Amsterdam Avenue, like to recall how Amsterdam was once the dividing line between an Irish neighborhood to the east and a black neighborhood, just to the west. The black neighborhood used to be known as San Juan Hill, some say in honor of the black soldiers who moved there after the Spanish-American War, or perhaps because of the frequent, bloody street fights that occurred between the Irish and black kids early in the century, or finally because some of the city's earliest Puerto Rican settlers lived there. But after World War II, as the city became ever more affluent, as every piece of real estate in Manhattan became more and more valuable, the neighborhood began to change. The tenements that had housed the poor, where bookies haunted the hallways and homing pigeons were sometimes still kept on the roofs, and the cheap single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels, in which rooms rented for five dollars a night, began to disappear, to be replaced by solidly middle-class apartment buildings. The process accelerated in 1959 with the groundbreaking for Lincoln Center, a vast new cultural complex that would house the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, the New York Philharmonic, and the Juilliard School.

    In the early 1960s skyscrapers began to sprout into the sky like giant steel-and-glass fingers. What had before been barely a blue-collar neighborhood became not merely middle class, but in time, upper-middle class. The firemen and cops who worked the area, many of whose families lived in the neighborhood and in other working-class sections of Manhattan, were caught in this relentless process of economic and social change, and they began to move, first to the boroughs—Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island—and then, in the last twenty years, to the satellite commuter communities surrounding New York City, on Long Island, and north of the city in Rockland County, New York, and in New Jersey.


The firehouse of Engine 40, Ladder 35, that stands guard over this ever more affluent neighborhood was originally built in 1961. It was a pleasant if not very fancy building, spacious with enough of a yard in back for the men to play basketball and for them to sit outside and barbecue food on hot summer nights. But in the 1980s the air rights above the firehouse were sold, and a sixty-story apartment house of the very kind that is a nightmare for any New York fireman was erected, ironically enough, right on top of the firehouse. The men were forced out during the construction of the towering building, and from 1988 to 1994 they were housed in the tunnels under Lincoln Center on Amsterdam, at Sixty-third Street. It was not the most pleasant of temporary bases, being windowless and dank, and there were in time numerous jokes about the fact that any children conceived by the men during this period might end up looking like moles. The men began to refer to themselves as the Cavemen, which eventually became the company's nickname, and since, much like military units, firehouses often have patches designating their units, the patch for 40/35 featured two Cavemen—a couple of firefighters looking as if they had recently escaped from a Flintstones cartoon.

    The renovated station house, when it was finally completed, turned out to be quite ordinary, gray and functional, easy to pass by without gaining a second look. It gave off none of the wonderful aura of a classic firehouse. When the men moved back, they also discovered that it had been reconfigured, regrettably, to significantly smaller specifications. Everything felt tighter and more constricted. The backyard that had given them such pleasure was gone. The kitchen, so important in any firehouse as the center of social life, was now unacceptably small; there was one good-sized room where the men were to eat, but it was hemmed in by two much smaller rooms, one in which food was to be stored and prepared and the dishes washed, the other simply a storage room. The architect, the men grumbled, had not known a damn thing about being a fireman or how firemen lived. Over time there was considerable talk about breaking down the walls and making all three rooms into one larger one. But doing that—changing the architect's plans—would have meant fighting through an immense amount of red tape, at the very least.

    Although there were many opinions about what to do, there was almost no opposition to the idea of one larger room. So one weekend Bruce Gary, a chauffeur on the engine (that is a driver of Engine 40, a crucial role in the firehouse), a man who by dint of his awesome physical strength and equally formidable personal integrity was an imposing figure within the station's political and social order, decided that the debate about whether or not to expand had gone on for long enough. Even though they were supposed to consult with the department on matters such as building alterations, the time had come to act unilaterally, he believed. So Gary simply took a sledgehammer and started knocking down the offending walls.

    That day Jim Gormley, who at the time was a lieutenant in the house, wandered into the building and was told by another lieutenant, Pete Gorman, just to go to his office because he did not want to know what was going on—which, of course, he did not. As Bruce Gary was finishing his demolition, he was approached by one of his younger colleagues who informed him that he could not do what he was doing. "Can't do it?" Gary repeated in disbelief. "What the hell do you mean I can't do it—I just did it." That ended the debate; not many people wanted to challenge Bruce Gary—on something like this anyway.


Firemen live in a world apart from other civilians. The rest of the world seems to change, but the firehouses do not. This is, in fact, as close to a hermetically sealed world as you are likely to find in contemporary America: It is driven by its unique needs, norms, and traditions, some of which are inviolable. The New York Fire Department is largely male—women have in recent years become firefighters, but that has happened slowly, and many houses have remained all-male, including 40/35—and largely white, and it is to an uncommon degree composed of men who come from firefighting families, men who, like their fathers before them, have wanted to be firemen since childhood.

    A great deal of the tradition and the coherence is family-driven, with generation after generation supplying men to the department. It is almost as if there is a certain DNA strand found in firefighting families, where the men are pulled toward the job because their fathers and uncles were firemen and had loved it, and because some of their happiest moments when they were boys had come when they visited the firehouse and these big, gruff men made a fuss over them. The job and the mission and the sense of purpose that go with it have always been quietly blended into the family fabric. "It's passed on father to son, and sometimes grandfather to father to son," says the Reverend Robert Scholz, who is the pastor of a Lutheran church located about three blocks from the 40/35 firehouse and who knows the men well. "You see your father doing it, and you're proud of him. His life seems honorable and purposeful, and you see the richness of his friendships and the loyalty of these men to each other, and how, when you're young, the other firemen seem like additional uncles. And it seems so honorable."

    All of this makes the department's hold on the men quite striking in an age when the lure of material and other ego rewards is so powerful. The hold the New York Fire Department has on the young men of the city and its environs is as strong as ever. The waiting list to get into the department is long, so long that many young men who want to be firemen start as cops and transfer to the fire department when their numbers finally come up. Yet the pay is marginal. According to one department veteran, a young married fireman with four children and a wife who doesn't work makes so little that he is technically eligible for food stamps. Almost all of the men at 40/35 could double their pay in other jobs.

    Terry Holden, who has been at 40/35 since 1964 and who has seen the personnel turn over more than once, says of the unusual sense of continuity: "It's completely different from when I first came here. There's not a single person left from back then. And the country and the city are very different, and yet the house in most important ways is exactly the same—even though it's a completely different generation from a very different era. It's as if we've been cloned. Part of it is that the talent pool is so similar—we come from the same places, the same kind of families, sometimes even the same parochial schools, and we have the same values. And we still have the same purpose, though we don't like to talk about it openly. But we like it when we get back to the firehouse after a fire and someone says you did a good job. Especially when you tell that to the junior men."

    A firehouse, most firemen believe, is like a vast extended second family—rich, warm, joyous, and supportive, but on occasion quite edgy as well, with all the inevitable tensions brought on by so many forceful men living so closely together over so long a period of time. What gradually emerges is surprisingly nuanced; the cumulative human texture has slowly evolved over time and is often delicate. It is created out of hundreds of unseen, unknown, and often unidentified tiny adjustments that these strong, willful men make to accommodate one another, sometimes agreeably and sometimes grudgingly. It incorporates how the men live with one another day in and day out, and surprisingly the degree to which, whether they realize it or not, they come to love one another (sometimes even as they dislike one another)—because love is a critical ingredient in the fireman's code, which demands that you are willing to risk your life for your firehouse brothers.

    The men not only live and eat with one another, they play sports together, go off to drink together, help repair one another's houses, and, most important, share terrifying risks; their loyalties to one another, by the demands of the dangers they face, must be instinctive and absolute. Thus are firehouse codes fashioned. When a probie—a probationary or apprentice fire fighter—joins a firehouse, he must adjust to the firehouse culture, rather than the firehouse adjusting to him. It is like the military in that respect: Idiosyncrasy can come later; adherence to the rules and traditions comes first.

    Reverend Scholz long ago decided that there was something special to firemen and their traditions, that they had chosen this profession because it expanded their lives and gave those lives additional meaning. Many of the men, he said, were not necessarily angels or saintly—far from it, in fact—and they were not, in the traditional sense, necessarily very religious. But there was also a certain spiritual redemption to what they did. They could be on occasion rowdy and combative and they had their allotted share of human flaws, of which they themselves were often all too aware. But whatever they had done wrong the night before, the next morning when they were at the firehouse, they were able to take extra meaning from their lives, and to find some form of redemption because of the nature of the job, because of the risks they take for complete strangers.

    Scholz believed that outsiders would never be able to understand who these men were and what they did unless they understood the job for what it is—nothing less than a calling. Jim Gormley, now captain of Engine 40, completely agreed. "We all have our daily conversation with God" Gormley once said. "Do we do what we do for God? No. But it's there, the religious part, just the same. We do it for people. We do it for the sense of rightness. And we like doing it, like the life because we're never ashamed of what we do."

    The men are loath to talk about the daily risks, even with their wives. "People think they know what we do, but they don't really know what we do," says 40/35 veteran Ray Pfeifer of the real danger, of being in a burning building when there is a collapse and the exits seem blocked. It is not unusual for a firehouse to lose a man to a fire periodically. And there are those awful times, graven in everyone's minds, when there is a truly devastating fire, when the Fates are more powerful than all the skills and resources of the firefighters. This happened in Astoria, Queens, on Father's Day 2001, when a fire broke out in a hardware store, cans of paint and chemicals exploded, and three men died.

    All firemen in all firehouses tend to think that theirs is the best of all firehouses, a chosen place, one with the highest sense of duty, with the toughest mission, and the greatest sense of élan, but it is true that the men of 40/35, located as they are in midtown Manhattan, feel this even more passionately than most. It is considered an unusually strong house, filled with veterans who do not want to transfer out. Content to remain firemen, they often do not want to take the exam to become officers. This is not just because they like being firemen and like passing on their unique traditions to the younger men, but also because they love this particular house; if they became officers, they would have to go elsewhere. As such, 40/35 has an unusually high sense of cohesion and loyalty. When a young fireman named Kevin Shea did so well during his three years of rotating among firehouses that he was allowed to choose his house, he did a good deal of checking around and was told by a number of senior people to try 40/35. "It's the hidden jewel in Manhattan," Captain Gary Ruiz, a battalion chief told him, recalling that his seven years there, before he had been promoted, were among his happiest as a fireman.

    About fifty men work at 40/35 in shifts, eleven at any given time. Eight of the men are officers—two captains and six lieutenants. The house contains both engine and ladder (or truck—when the firehouse terminology is written out, it is Engine 40 and Ladder 35; when it is spoken among the firemen, it is always 40 Engine and 35 Truck). By tradition and assigned role, it is the truck that finds the fire in a given building, and whose men search for any survivors and get them out of the building; the men on the engine pump the water, attack the fire, and finally put it out. The rivalry between truck and engine and the competition over whose role is more important and who are the real firemen are constant, and given the raucous nature of firehouse humor (if firefighting was easy, goes the joke, the cops would do it), sharply edged. The engine men like to refer to the truckees as firemen's helpers. Once a year the firehouse has Medal Day, and, the engine men say, most of the medals are inevitably bestowed upon truckees because they are the ones who do most of the rescuing. "Privately we call it Truck Appreciation Day," says Pfeifer, a 40 Engine guy. "We feel they really deserve the medals because we're so busy putting out the fires and having all the real fun, so they ought to get something to compensate."

    The truckees say that all engine men are terrible cooks, that the engines get lost all the time, and cannot find a fire without the help of the truck. Because of that, they can never go anywhere alone. Besides, the truckees note, since the engine men have to get down low to fight a fire, sometimes crawling once they're inside a building to get under the heat, all engine men are short and stubby. To which counters Pfeifer, firemen are selected for their different roles—engine or truck—when they're still at the academy. "The doctor comes in with a stethoscope and he checks out the young fireman's heartbeat, and if it's strong, a real thump-thump-thump, then you go to the engine. But if it's fainter, something of a pitter-patter, then it's to the truck."

(Continues...)


Excerpted from FIREHOUSE by David Halberstam. Copyright © 2002 by David Halberstam. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Interviews & Essays

An Exclusive Interview with David Halberstam

Barnes & Noble.com: Firehouse is about a single Manhattan firehouse and what befell its men on 9/11. You normally write on a much larger scale -- what prompted you to write this story?

David Halberstam: I think a writer should be able to write on any scale, large or small, adjusting the mood and texture of the writing to the events he or she is writing about. I've written on a small scale before -- in any number of my sports books and to some degree in a book I wrote on the civil rights kids I knew, The Children. I think the writing should fit the needs of the story. In this case, an apocalyptic event hit one intensely human institution located very near my home, and I wanted to tell the story of the men and the women who had their lives torn apart by that terrible day -- who they were and why they did what they did. And I suppose I wanted to do it because I'm a New Yorker and the assault on the World Trade Center was very personal, an assault on the city I live in.

B&N.com: From reading your book, it almost seems that the men who were off duty that day have suffered as much, if not more than, those who perished. Why do you think that is?

DH: It's because the firehouse is so much an extended family. The men live together and eat together and risk their lives together, and so in any real sense they are family. The relationships are very close. The very nature of the job brings out a rare dependency -- if you don't do your job well, the fireman next to you may lose his life. You can't say that about many peacetime jobs. And of course, the firemen always knew there were going to be bad days when sometimes you lose a man, or very bad days when you might lose two. But to lose 12 men from a house and 343 from a department -- so large a part of an immediate family -- that's something none of them could have imagined, not in their wildest, darkest nightmare.

So it's very hard to lose so many loved ones, and of course there's always survivor's guilt. That is, the other men who were off that day wondering why they lived and their closest friends died.

B&N.com: What kind of man walks into a burning building, when everyone else is running out?

DH: I think there's a nobility to the men I dealt with, a certain unstated religious calling to what they do. It's not something they talk about, but it's there. I think it has to be -- after all, there's a willingness to sacrifice your life for complete strangers. When I was a young reporter in Vietnam almost 40 years ago, I saw great acts of heroism, but when someone scrambled under fire to rescue another grunt, he was always saving a buddy. But the firemen do it for strangers. So it's part of a calling, and I feel it has serious religious overtones.

B&N.com: Many of the lost firefighters were following in their father's footsteps. Do you think the sons of those who died saving others will carry on that tradition?

DH: I think there is a code to the firemen that I've dealt with, and from the time they go into the department, they have made the decision to take a certain kind of risk. And the risk can be terrifying, even though it is not necessarily a daily thing. But it's always there -- the sense that the next fire might be the one that you don't come back from, that there are no immunities. And so I think the firehouse has codes that work toward sustaining that special unflinching quality of courage, toward making almost reflexive those traditional values and willingness to take risks. You have to do the right thing because you may endanger your fellow firemen if you don't.

B&N.com: What was it like spending so much time with the surviving firefighters, as they coped with the tragedy?

DH: I liked the men very much, and I liked all the families very much. I liked the sense of humor and how straightforward everyone was. I liked the high sense of civic virtue -- that these are men who feel they want to use their lives for something larger than themselves. If you work as a reporter for 47 years in a democratic society as I have, one of the things that keep you going, is, for lack of a better phrase, the nobility of ordinary people. It's what democracy is premised on -- that at difficult moments, ordinary people will stand up and do uncommon things. And I found that at the firehouse.

In addition, the fact that no one there does "spin" -- that is, try to con you -- is thrilling. So all in all it was very rewarding for me as a journalist; I felt very much like the young reporter that I had been in Vietnam a long time ago, that being a journalist really mattered. And I like the raucous, sardonic nature of firehouse humor. Just the other day, one of my pals who likes to drink a bit was undergoing blood tests. There was fear he had hepatitis C. And the joke at the firehouse was that they all hoped that the tests would show that it was only cancer because then he could keep on drinking.

B&N.com: What's the mood at the firehouse right now?

DH: I think it's a very hard time. I think for a time the men were all carried forward by how much they had to do -- looking for the bodies, dealing with the families of their dead colleagues, dealing with all the public rituals and ceremonies. And now that that's all done with the reality really starts sinking in -- that they lost 12 good friends and it's never going to change. Never. In the end the reality is unbearable. Their friends are never coming back. And that's very hard.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2008

    amazing!

    best book by far i have read in a very long time. as a volunteer firefigher on long island i live very close to new york city and very close to the fire department and many of the men who passed live right by me. this book is a great background on the people who risked their lives for the people of new york and the united states. not only were the heros but they were your negibors and your friends. i highly recommend this book to anyone is looking for an inside on the men who were heros that day and after. this book made me laugh and cry. very emontional. loved it! good bless the fire departments of the united stats and all other of it heros

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2006

    Fanastic

    Growing up, I had always imagined being a fireman just as a low salary, so-so job that i would never consider myself doing. After reading this book however, my entire veiw of Firemen has changed. This book really shows you what it really means to be a firmen and what each of the ladder 40 engine 35 men did everyday and how they risked their lives everyday for us. It brings a huge amount of respect with the book and it really lets you understand how a firemen lives his life. The book goes through each man and gives a one chapter biography of his life always ending with the 9/11 incident. It was a little slow reading, as i am used to fantasy books, but all in all, it was incredible.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2002

    Absorbing, Detailed, Intelligent Look At NYC Firemen!

    As a veteran reader of 20th century history books, I've long considered David Halberstam to be one of the best and brightest of the contemporary historians publishing today. He is also, not so coincidentally, one of the most prolific, as well, having produced a steady stream of works covering such myriad historical and cultural subjects as a study of how both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations stumbled and blundered their way into the quagmire of Vietnam to more whimsical studies of pop-cultural aspects of American life such as major league baseball and the effects of the seasons on residents of the island of Nantucket off the Massachusetts coast. In this book, "Firehouse", Halberstam focuses on a subject more timely and more local than ever before, describing the lives and death of the men and women of the local fire station a few blocks from his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, people who figured so fatefully in the events of last September eleventh. As Halberstam so powerfully describes, only one of the thirteen men answering the first response for assistance at the World trade center survived the events of the day. This book deals with the specific nature of that response, the natural history of that day as events unfolded, and the fate of the men as well as the aftermath of their deaths for their families, friends, fellow workers, and the community at large. One of the most admirable qualities of this superb book stems from the fact that Halberstam is a "local", someone involved and participating in the day to life of the community. Consequently, he can authoritatively describe the rich and momentous history of the firehouse itself, and the centuries of tradition and community support that made it and the community of firemen and women so important in the life of the local area. For Halberstam, the Firehouse represents a kind of large and amorphous type of informal second family both for the firefighters as well as for the more general population at large. He writes convincingly of the ways in which the inner workings of a firehouse, with its own unique and interesting traditions, routines, and complex social structure provides support and succor for the whole community, becoming a vibrant, inviting, and warm environment for all involved. At the same time, he details the ways in which all those tensions that the job itself makes unavoidable spills out and adds an edgy dynamic to the social atmosphere. He also helps us to understand just why it is that men and women with other choice and other opportunities prefer to opt for this kind of life, despite the obvious risks and dangers, despite the relatively low wages and the stress and physical demands associated with the profession. This book is somewhat of a departure for Halberstam in the sense that it one more fraught with emotional overtones than his usual subject matter. Yet when dealing with the provocatively intense subject of these thirteen souls who answered the call last September, in describing their immediate fate, the exhausting search for their bodies, and the efforts on the part of their families, both individually and collectively, to come to terms with their loss and their grief, it is hard to avoid such intensity. He also deals thoughtfully with the issue of survivor's guilty on the part of the surviving firefighters in the firehouse, and the complex ways in which their conflicting feelings of guilt and relief are being handled and discussed. Indeed, this is a riveting book, one that well deserves the wide reading it will certainly enjoy. Halberstam's treatment is so personal, so well documented, and so meticulously narrated that one finds himself swept along with the tide of events of that day last year when the world seemed to stand still, when all of us watched in horror as the massive evil manifested on that day came to full fruit. The book carries the signature trademark qualities of all of Halberstam's work, being meticulo

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2002

    Firehouse

    Firehouse by David Halberstam is about the experise of 9/11. It seems the book is all about 9/11 but what it really is about is what does on in the firehouse and how firemen live. The book is set in a firehouse downtown in Mattatan. "The firehouse, most firemen believe is like a second family warm, joyous, rich but at times can be a bit edgy." On 9/11 twelve of these men died when thirteen of them where on duty. This book tells how the men where and how they would do anything to risk there lives for someone else. Halberstam wrote is book from the people that knew the fallen firemen, they told great stories. They would tell what they remember the most from then. The Captain of the group had this stare about him that would scare any man, he was not a big person at all but could just send to people that he has power over them. Halberstam is a writer for the New York Times so the chapters are wrote as one big article. They skip around sometimes telling about the men and sometimes going to the day of 9/11. I would recommend this book because it is fascinating how these men live and how close they become to each other and have to trust each other with there lives.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2013

    Firehouse is a book about a firehouse in Manhattan, New York. T

    Firehouse is a book about a firehouse in Manhattan, New York. This is a story about 13 firefighters who would enter into the Twin Towers, and many would not return.  Most of the story is spent telling of the firehouse and how the crew bonded. Also a brief background of the fireman who lost their lives. The perspective of the parents, and wives of each fireman was also given. The author was trying to inform people about the sacrifices of the firefighters and the tragedy that occurred. The attended audience I think is teens and young adults. This is a easy read and is a heart touching story of 13 brave firefighters. 
    Background a reader needs to know is obviously about 9/11. I think anyone would understand this book. Even the younger generation who may not have been alive or remember it, but are learning of the great attack on the United States. The author doesn’t really have a main climax it’s back and forth through out the whole story. The author talks about all 13 fireman and how each loved each other as brothers. The majority of the story is about how brave each firefighter was and jobs and achievements they had done leading up to 9/11. 
    I think this was a good book, and I think it is important to read about the sacrifice people made to save complete strangers. I think the author achieved his goal of informing the people about the fireman who lost their lives on 9/11. This book shows the love the fireman had for each other and how many took huge pay cuts to stay together. If one fireman needed something done the rest would help out to get it done five times faster. This book has a sorrow approach to it when it talked about the widows and parents that had lost their loved ones. My favorite part was just the fact that this firehouse bonded so well and knew each others strengths and weaknesses. They knew their place at the firehouse, and no one thought they were better than the other. The most important thing was the love for each other the fact they knew the other guy had their back.
    I think everyone should read this book, or a book like it. Most people especially kids and teens don’t understand the sacrifices the firefighters made on 9/11. This is more of book that was written to inform instead of a book written for entertainment. Anyone who wants to learn about firefighters or 9/11 would like this book. The firefighters knew what they were getting themselves into, and they did it anyway. The ones who were going up the stairs, while everyone else was going down. They were the real heroes in 9/11 those who sacrifice their life for someone else’s. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2013

    What it takes to become a true live hero. Firehouse was a boo

    What it takes to become a true live hero.
    Firehouse was a book that told the story of firemen that lived together in a firehouse that was engine 40 ladder 35.But when the day 9/11 came 13 of them went to the help with the problem and only 1 came back alive. This book was not just about 9/11 and what happened to the 13 firemen of the house and what they did only that night. it was the stories of what the firemen had done and there family’s. How they got to the firehouse and how others saw them as people and what they do to become a fireman. This book was all the memories of being a firemen and what people and there family’s what others to remember about them before 9/11.You even got to hear some of the stories that changed some of the firemen’s lives of what happened. Having been a daughter of a firemen and hearing some stories about calls and them reading about others they still hit you hard. Two of the stories that where told where one the men was acting different then he normally dose and when his wife asked what was wrong that’s when he told her this story “he had been on a fire in the Bronx up around the grand concourse and 190th Street, And the engine had gotten to the fire a little slower than it should have, john believed. He was assigned to the back of an apartment house, and arrived just as a young woman of perhaps eighteen or twenty had panicked and jumped for an upper floor. What made it so painful was that her situation had not been that perilous; she had had more than enough time, if she had held steady .but she was young and scared,…..” a second firefight in the book that was his brother was “Sure enough, Bob Ginley had been on a fire in which he had had to carry out the burned body of a child, a child they had just missed saving” both of the stories had left images in my mind just like when my dad would tell me stories. These stories are what I call one minute earlier stories because most of the time they feel like if they were only one minute earlier they could have saved the people. This book tells more than just what firemen do it tells what happens in between the calls. What happens with the family before and after some of the hardest calls that they get called on. How should I end this it’s hard to writ because everyone can take thing form this book so read and find out what knowledge you can get for this book about firemen and the true emotions of what it takes to become a true live hero?



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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2012

    Excellent Inside Story

    Want to know the definition of heroism? Read this poignant book.

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  • Posted January 29, 2012

    Halberstam Gives a New Meaning to 9/11

    Firehouse by David Halberstam is a tearful yet inspiring take on the 9/11 tragedy. In this compelling book, the reader watches as thirteen brave men from Engine 40 Ladder 35 come to be known as heroes. Twelve out of the thirteen die, but leave behind a story to help us understand the terrorist attacks. This book started out by telling a little about each man at Engine 40 Ladder 35. The reader learned their personalities, their time at the firehouse, and how they impacted others around them. Later on, when the planes hit, the reader saw how each man was shocked at what had just taken place. Though each of them were shocked and a little frightened, they still did not expect this mission to be their last. The last part of the book describes how their families suffered and mourned over all their deaths. If you read this book (which I strongly recommend) do not read it with a plot summary already in mind. Read it as if you have never heard of what happened on that tragic day. Otherwise, you will have trouble connecting with the characters and understanding why Halberstam wrote this in the first place. He wants us, the readers, to see that the heroes were ordinary people. He wants us to see the tragedy on a very real level; not just something we hear and read about. Halberstam gives the reader an inside view of the thirteen firemen’s lives. The reader meets each of them on a much more personal level. By giving the reader names and faces to connect to, the numbers have a far greater impact. This book is written very well but it could have been more organized. Several times I caught myself flipping back pages because I was unsure of whom the author was referring to. Also, it seems as though most of a chapter is devoted to a single character and after that, you wouldn’t hear about him again. It seemed the author had forgotten about him. If the book was more organized, I don’t think it would have been an issue. After reading this book, the effects of 9/11 have certainly become more real to me. This deeper look on the day that changed America has left me to realize how fortunate everyone of us truly are. How many families could have lost a mother, father, brother, or sister that day but didn’t? This book has made me even more grateful for my family and friends.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2010

    Firehouse

    I enjoyed this book. It was well researched and a very interesting read. Although the theme of the book was about 911, the book centered on the lives of some of the fireman that died that day. Instead of dwelling on how they died, it talked about how they lived! Very inspirational.

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  • Posted March 19, 2009

    GREAT BOOK FOR FIREMEN

    THIS WRITER HAS A REAL FEEL FOR LIFE IN THE FIREHOUSE

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2008

    amazing

    im a 15 year old girl and i thought this book was amazing. i literaly read it and im now signing up for the volunteers. living so close it was weird hearing about this.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2003

    Firehouse, a hero's story

    I originally bought this book for my husband who is a firefighter in Plano, Texas. I had heard about it when the author was interviewed on our local news and it caught my attention. At the time, I thought it would be something that he would be interested in but I never realized the impact it would have on me. We all watched with horror on 9/ll or in my case listened for I was at work in a doctors office and we had no tv. My first thought that day was to go get my three children, my husband was also working and my mom was keeping my children. I called her when I heard about the first plane hitting the WTC. She was watching events unfold at the time and saw the second plane hit. We'll never forget the sheer awfulness of that day and the fear of what would happen next. That night when I got home I had to deal with my kids, especially my 11year old son, he had waited all day to talk to me and had felt real fear that something would happen in our city also. Later, I got the chance to actually see , over and over again the buildings fall and the knowledge of the of the people inside. As hard as that was, it was the loss of the firefighters and police, etc that was even more difficult to deal with. They were there by choice, even though I'm sure they were afraid and wanted to go the other way, the firefighters always do their job regardless of the risk to themselves. When I read this book I came to know these men and their families, I understood how awful it was for their families, friends and other firefighters who had to wait and wonder if they would be found and pray that they didn't suffer . I've never personally known a firefighter who has died in the line of service but after this book I feel like I've known and respected many. There are obviously many others who died that day and I know that even though their names aren't listed in Firehouse their souls and hearts are included. I passed this book on to my niece to read also, she was moving to Pa. and was planning to visit NYC. She was also very moved. I am planning a trip to visit her in 10 days and we will visit NYC, this will definitely include a visit to engine 40, ladder 35.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2002

    A Heroes Story

    Author¿s Name: David Halberstam Title: Firehouse Genre: Non-Fiction When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center Towers, all of us were shocked. Most of us just watched on T.V., but the real heroes, the firemen, went to the towers and risked their lives for others. This is the story of their lives in the Firehouse. When I read this book, I felt that I was part of the gang, the team, the station. The culture of the firehouse was like none other in New York City. Working in 40/35 was not only an honor for these men, but a privilege. Although when the horrid day came, the men were ready. ¿It¿s really bad down here, but we¿ve gotten the ticket and we¿re on our way.¿ They walked into a death trap, clueless, but fearless. The feelings that the men felt were described so well, I thought I was right with them in the danger. Many died from Engine 40, Ladder 35, and those who did, I felt as if I missed them. This book was very powerful for me; at first I grew relationships with the men, but then I lost them at the end. After September 11th, I felt as if I didn¿t know enough; I needed more answers. A friend of mine recommended this book to me explaining that when he read it, he learned so much. Therefore I read this book, and learned. If you want to know the heroes, you have to hear their story. Read Firehouse. While reading this book I made a very important and very interesting connection to my own life. When the firemen aren¿t putting out fires and saving lives, they are at the firehouse. When they are just hanging around, the firemen create close relationships and a culture for the firehouse. ¿When a new fireman joins a firehouse, he must adjust to the firehouse¿s culture, rather than the firehouse adjusting to him.¿ This reminds me of when I was younger and I stayed in one class for the whole day of school. Throughout the year in my class a culture would devolop. Relationships would be made in the class between all the classmates, similar to the special kind of relationship the firemen had. Firehouse is a historical book. I have already witnessed the events that took place in the book, so a strategy I used was visualizing. For example, when one of the firemen was on the highway driving to the station, he got a phone call explaining that the World Trade Center had been hit. I visualized his facial expression and that helped me understand how people close to the fire department really felt about 9/11. Also, by using a questioning strategy I asked many questions to myself in the beginning of the book, and as I read, I tried to answer them. This helped me understand the book much better

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2002

    Eye-opening and Heart-wrenching

    A dear friend of my family is one of the wonderful men spoken of in this book but due to the fact that the loss of him has been so hard to talk about this book has helped answer a lot of questions. This book shed light on aspects of that day I may never have learned about on the evening news. The author writes a real page-turner. At one point your laughing and the next you can't stop crying. Even the stories of men I had never known hit you in the gut. This book gives you a peek at the families and what they went through that terrible morning. You learn to love these guys as even more than just firemen, as husbands, fiances, dads, sons, brothers. I loved it and you will too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2002

    Understands the Bonds Between Firefighters

    The author understands the life of firefighters inside and outside the fire station. He details the amount of effort persons extend themselves to become a part of the fire fighting profession. Whether you are a volunteer or career firefighter, you will understand it takes a certain person to do what we do.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2002

    AN APPROPRIATELY REVERENTIAL READING

    Actor/director/writer Mel Foster gives an appropriately subdued and reverential reading of the story of Engine 40, Ladder 35 and the firemen who lost their lives on a day America will never forget - September 11, 2001. As Frank McCourt commented, 'If you have tears, prepare to shed them.' I would add you may have difficulty stopping those tears. In this particular firehouse, which was dealt the most severe blows following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers, as in other firehouses the men live, work and eat together. Halberstam writes: '....they play sports together, go off to drink together, help repair one another's houses andmost importantly, share terrifying risks; their loyalties to each other must, by the demands of the dangers they face, be instinctive and absolute.' Few could have dreamed of the danger in store. On that terrible morning two rigs carrying a total of 26 men left the firehouse; only 14 men would return. We are with the families as they wait for news of their loved ones and, in part, come to understand why men undertake such a perilous profession. 'Firehouse' is history, a moving narrative of an earth shattering day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2002

    A very moving tribute to the heroes lost on 9/11...

    I heard from my cousin that this book was fantastic and at first I hesitated to read it because I knew it was also extremely sad. I am so glad that I read it. The stories of each man and their families are stories that need to be told. They are truly heroes in every sense of the word.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2002

    Magnificent

    'Firehouse' is wonderful. It's as simple as that. A herioc story that depicts the life of a fireman, or firewoman, and the dangers that come with the job. A great book for any type or reader. It grabs the readers attention and doesn't want to let it go. Even if it doesn't seem like your type of book it is. But if you want to make sure, read part of hte first chapter here at BN.com

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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