Rescue Men

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The men in Charles Kenney's family have been drawn to firefighting since his grandfather Charles "Pops" Kenney joined the Boston Fire Department in 1932. In his working class, Irish-Catholic neighborhood, there were other jobs that offered a decent wage, but none had the sense of belonging that comes with being a fireman, or the purity of purpose that comes with saving lives. Pops was on the scene of the notorious Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942; the author's father, "Sonny" served with distinction until an ...
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Rescue Men

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The men in Charles Kenney's family have been drawn to firefighting since his grandfather Charles "Pops" Kenney joined the Boston Fire Department in 1932. In his working class, Irish-Catholic neighborhood, there were other jobs that offered a decent wage, but none had the sense of belonging that comes with being a fireman, or the purity of purpose that comes with saving lives. Pops was on the scene of the notorious Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942; the author's father, "Sonny" served with distinction until an explosion blew him from a third-story window; and two of the author's brothers were "sparks" as children, amateur firefighters, whose career goals were thwarted by a court order integrating the Boston fire department and changing the rules for employment forever. One became a cop, the other a paramedic and rescue man with an elite squad sent to Ground Zero in the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center. Spanning sixty years of firefighting history in America, Rescue Men captures what it's really like to be a fireman.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This family memoir presents the history of Boston firefighting through three generations of Irish-Catholic "rescue men." The author's grandfather Charles "Pops" Kennedy started the tradition when he joined Beantown's Bravest in 1932 and ten years later answered the call at the Cocoanut Grove fire, the notorious nightclub blaze that took 492 lives. Charles Kenney documents this 60-year family history with obvious pride and winning candor. A gripping companion read to books such as John C. Esposito's Fire in the Grove and Stephanie Schorow's Boston On Fire.
Brilliant. It's a MUST read, a perfect gift for anyone interested in firefighters, firefighting, or Boston Fire Department history!
Boston Globe
A profoundly moving, multi dimensional story. It's a sweeping, impressively researched history . . . .It is ferociously beautiful book about families.
Quincy Patriot-Ledger
A compelling family memoir about what it's really like to be a firefighter.
Publishers Weekly
Author (The Last Man; Keep Faith, Change the Church) and former Boston Globe journalist Kenney uses the events of Boston's 1942 Cocoanut Grove Fire ("the greatest fire in the city's history"), to which his grandfather responded as a rescuer, to frame his account of the role firefighting played in the lives of the Kenneys over three generations ("the arc of a story that began and ended with the Grove but contained within it a story of our family"). Because Kenney himself never was part of the "amazing brotherhood" of firefighters, much of his narrative stays at arm's length, relying on documentary-style narrative techniques that maintain an air of authority but mitigate the pathos of the personal. However, the technical descriptions of firefighting, the gripping accounts of fire-related rescues and the sketches of men in love with sacrifice are well handled and moving. In addition, Kenney's ability to weave the story of six brothers growing up in blue-collar Boston, raised by a firefighting veteran father and a bootstrapping granddad, into a tapestry of great social change (WWII, civil rights, integration of schools and the fire department, 9/11) makes for an engaging tale. By the time a Kenney brother is sent as a rescuer to the World Trade Center, the family story and the social one are concluded with fulfilling thematic unity. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Novelist and former Boston Globejournalist Kenney (The Last Man) tells the story of his family's lifelong involvement with the Boston Fire Department (BFD) and other emergency services. The narrative begins and ends with the tragic 1942 Boston fire at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub that claimed nearly 500 lives, for which Kenney relies heavily on the recollections of his firefighter grandfather, "Pops," who said "it was a job with a rare purity, a beautiful simple mission, to save lives." Pops was a member of the elite Rescue 1 Company, and he details the Cocoanut Grove fire, including graphic descriptions and details of the investigations into the fire, its long-term effects on firefighting techniques, and its other influences. Kenney also relates the firefighting career of his father, "Sonny," who also served with distinction in the BFD. The author's brothers would serve in the police department and emergency medical services. The story becomes a part of the story of 1960s and 1970s Boston, with court orders on fire department hiring practices and forced school busing, with racial discrimination and tensions. Kenney's brothers tried numerous times to join the BFD but were rejected owing to the new hiring practices that ensured better minority representation in Boston city agencies. The author provides readers with a vivid, readable account of the dangers and bravery inherent in emergency services and inherent in his family. Recommended for all general collections.
—David Alperstein
Kirkus Reviews
The evolving fortunes of a large Boston firefighting family, the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942, the changing racial politics of Bean Town, the redemptive powers of work and writing-all intermixed with accounts of the derring-do of fire-and-rescue teams. Kenney-whose grandfather was among the first on the scene at the Cocoanut Grove and whose father and other relatives have worked in fire-related professions-takes a holiday from the writing of fiction thrillers (The Last Man, 2001, etc.) to construct his own family saga. He seems to have epic aspirations-a multigenerational story with weighty themes of life and death and sacrifice and sin and redemption (all seared by flames)-but the writing is so conventional, so unrelievedly ordinary, that the balloon of his narrative never inflates. The family's involvement with the Cocoanut Grove fire is of signal importance. The author's grandfather sustained injuries there that forced his early retirement. And years later, the author's father (Sonny) became obsessed with the story of the fire, particularly with its origin (still uncertain at the time), and spent more than a dozen years researching the tragedy-interviewing survivors, reading all relevant documents and even promoting the theory that methyl chloride was the principal villain. Sonny, who'd never had any literary aspirations, even published a few articles on the subject. (He, too, had retired early from the Boston Fire Department for injury-related reasons.) Kenney deals with the ugly racial issues prominent in Boston during the 1970s and '80s (forced busing, hiring quotas). A couple of his brothers failed to gain BFD positions because a judge had determined that the virtually all-whitedepartment must integrate, even if it meant employing less-qualified members of minority groups. The Kenneys, one and all, were outraged. The author deals, as well, with Sonny's long-running (and often losing) battle with alcoholism. Late in life, he joined AA, which seems to be helping. Some poignant stories, lots of ambition, but the result is but a flicker of a flame.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586483104
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 1/28/2007
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Kenney is an author and former journalist at The Boston Globe. He is the co-author of the nonfiction books Keep the Faith, Change the Church and the author of John F. Kennedy: The Presidential Portfolio as well as the novels The Last Man, Code of Vengeance, and The Son of John Devlin. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2007

    Wicked page turner

    A book you are not soon to put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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