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On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters
     

On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters

4.4 5
by Matthew Desmond
 

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In this rugged account of a rugged profession, Matthew Desmond explores the heart and soul of the wildland firefighter. Having joined a firecrew in Northern Arizona as a young man, Desmond relates his experiences with intimate knowledge and native ease, adroitly balancing emotion with analysis and action with insight. On the Fireline shows that these firefighters

Overview

In this rugged account of a rugged profession, Matthew Desmond explores the heart and soul of the wildland firefighter. Having joined a firecrew in Northern Arizona as a young man, Desmond relates his experiences with intimate knowledge and native ease, adroitly balancing emotion with analysis and action with insight. On the Fireline shows that these firefighters aren't the adrenaline junkies or romantic heroes that they're so often portrayed to be.

An immersion into a dangerous world, On the Fireline is also a sophisticated analysis of a high-risk profession-and a captivating read.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Desmond, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, served on a wild land firefighting crew from 1999 to 2003, an experience that forms the basis for this examination of why people risk their lives fighting fires. Desmond uses sociological theories on risk taking, male bonding, and bureaucracy to understand why individuals select this job, how they interact with team members, and how the culture of the U.S. Forest Service shapes their training and views on the environment. He also draws on two experiences to show how firefighters react in dangerous situations. One was a serious flair-up in a blaze at Beaver Creek, AZ, that forced Desmond's crew to drop their equipment and run for their lives. The other was the death of a comrade owing to a burnover in 2003. Along with the risks and sorrow, Desmond also presents the humor and comradery of ordinary men performing extraordinary tasks. The book's sociological approach makes it a good complement to Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire. Recommended for all libraries.
—Stephen L. Hupp

Teaching Sociology
The book is beautifully written and theoretically sophisticated with truly surprising findings. . . . On the Fireline illustrates the unique questions, methods, and findings made possible by the sociological imagination and is, thus, an excellent text with which to solidify a semester's worth of sociological training. Further, because Desmond interweaves compelling narratives, complex theory, and a discussion of methodological rigor, it solidifies students' understanding of exactly how useful, and fascinating, the sociological lens can be.

— Lisa Wade

Administrative Science Quarterly
This is an important book because it illustrates a set of practices that are sufficient to maintain social order in a dangerous world. . . . Desmond deploys this complex argument with persuasive grounding and enviable control. We are in a stronger position to think about risk because of his efforts.

— Karl E. Wieck

Canadian Journal of Sociology
[The book is] a highly readable, at times funny, very insightful, Bourdieu-inspired ethnography of country masculinity, and as such very useful for courses on masculinity. It is a fine example of how to apply structuration theory and, therefore, a good resource for classes in social theory. It also offers a penetrating examination of the logic of bureaucratic organization and the way it creates a common sense world in which blame is always individualized. . . . A thick and rich take on a particular version of rural, masculine, working-class culture in the United States and how it fits with an institutional setting that requires young men to do dangerous work.

— Thomas Dunk

John N. Maclean
“Rich in gritty detail, Matthew Desmond’s sociological study of a firecrew is a welcome addition to the literature of wildfire. His four years on a backcountry Forest Service crew provide authentic material—sometimes startlingly so—for his observations. If you want a look behind the flames to see what drives these people to come back year after blistering year then read this book.”
Paul Willis
On the Fireline is a riveting account of firemen of the U.S. Forest Service tackling wildland fires, as well as a detailed chronicle of the training, preparation, and bonhomie of depot life. By exploring how joining a firecrew matches, confirms, and extends the values of the rural culture within which the recruits grew up, Desmond offers a unique perspective on the social and psychological motivations for firefighting. The richness of the data he uncovers and his arresting style of presentation make this a distinctive and evocative work.”
Mitchell Duneier
“In recent years, ethnographers have tried to face up to the Bourdieuian challenge of showing how aspects of culture are rooted in daily practices and bodies. In this beautifully written work of participant observation, Matthew Desmond takes us into the world of wildland firefighters to help us better understand the dynamics of dangerous organizations and the workers who hold the line. At the same time, he moves ethnography forward: rather than following the all too common procedure of asserting the existence of knowledges that ‘go without saying’ for his subjects, Desmond shows in detail how habitus actually operates in everyday life.”
Teaching Sociology - Lisa Wade
"The book is beautifully written and theoretically sophisticated with truly surprising findings. . . . On the Fireline illustrates the unique questions, methods, and findings made possible by the sociological imagination and is, thus, an excellent text with which to solidify a semester's worth of sociological training. Further, because Desmond interweaves compelling narratives, complex theory, and a discussion of methodological rigor, it solidifies students' understanding of exactly how useful, and fascinating, the sociological lens can be."
Administrative Science Quarterly - Karl E. Wieck
"This is an important book because it illustrates a set of practices that are sufficient to maintain social order in a dangerous world. . . . Desmond deploys this complex argument with persuasive grounding and enviable control. We are in a stronger position to think about risk because of his efforts."
Canadian Journal of Sociology - Thomas Dunk
"[The book is] a highly readable, at times funny, very insightful, Bourdieu-inspired ethnography of country masculinity, and as such very useful for courses on masculinity. It is a fine example of how to apply structuration theory and, therefore, a good resource for classes in social theory. It also offers a penetrating examination of the logic of bureaucratic organization and the way it creates a common sense world in which blame is always individualized. . . . A thick and rich take on a particular version of rural, masculine, working-class culture in the United States and how it fits with an institutional setting that requires young men to do dangerous work."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226144085
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
10/28/2007
Series:
Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries Series
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
728,077
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Desmond is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

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On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
I_like_clean_reads More than 1 year ago
Turned off by language... Being a former dispatcher and cultural resources employee, I loved the fact that Desmond wrote this book and delved into what makes individuals go into this line of duty, etc. What I did NOT like, however, was the foul, foul language throughout. Yes, I know that's how a lot of wildland firefighters and others speak, but that doesn't mean I like it any better.  As a former dispatcher, I've dealt with fire crews and know that they can be rough and tumble, and I also know that they make minimal wages for the job they do. In fact, if it weren't for the hazard and overtime pay, they would not make much at all. I do believe that Desmond made a serious mistake as a Sociologist and Ethnographer by not interviewing a variety of crews. While he did spend more time with this crew than one season as one review (on another site, probably, stated), nonetheless it provides some false impressions about the Forest Service. While Desmond does point out that most permanent Forest Service supervisors (for firefighters) are strict, I think his book falls short in leaving the impression that crews are poorly supervised. I've never been on a crew, but I have dealt with many over the years. While I think that some are rowdier than others, again, I believe his research fell short by not including crews from a variety of areas. Desmond does draw a fairly good correlation, I believe, between the social types or statuses of the men who join firefighter crews. I live in the south, and I can see his ideas fitting country boys in our areas because they, too, enjoy being outdoors, etc. While I do encourage others to read this book, I warn those like myself who abhor vulgar language that it is laced with it throughout.. Because of the language and because I felt Desmond fell short in not interviewing or studying firefighter crews from other areas, I rated his book Three Stars.
magdalene12 More than 1 year ago
If you have ever been a fire fighter this book will remind you of your crew and the job most of us love. Everything he talks abouts happens with every crew, from digging line to the jokes and how the crew you meet in May soom become your family by June. I loved this book and I think it gives a really good insight to what life is really like being a Wildland fire fighter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Matthew Desmond's first-hand account of the people, places and fires that he encountered over four fire seasons in Northern Arizona is a compelling account of fires in the forest and those who fight them. This is an in-depth study of the sociology of wildland fire firefighters: why they choose that field, how they live and die, and their interaction with the U.S. Forest Service. Very readable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On The Fire line is told for Matthew Desmond's first hand point of view about everything that goes into being a firefighter; from why people are drawn to firefighting, how did they get started in it, to the family bonds that he makes with everyone on the crew in just a few months. This book explains why firefights would chose to do this job despite how dangerous it can be to themselves and how it affects the people around them. The story he tells gets the reader to relate to what it is like to be a firefighter and captures the sense of family every firefighter feels with his crew. Also, through the whole book he keeps the spirit that every fire fighting crew has by the jokes they tell to each other. It makes the reader make feel that they are apart of the crew. Matthew Desmond tells about working on a fire department for four seasons in northern Arizona and includes every small detail about fighting and controlling wild land fires. from digging trenches to being inches away from a roaring fire. Every moment keeps the reader captivated about how they can relate to what it is like to be a wild land firefighter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago