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The Last Men Out: Life on the Edge at Rescue 2 Firehouse

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New York's rescue companies are elite firefighters with a mission: to save fellow firefighters or civilians who are trapped in blazes or endangered by urban disasters. In this riveting narrative, Tom Downey goes inside Brooklyn's Rescue 2, where for thirty years an obsessed, obstreperous group of pros have built a reputation as one of the best and busiest rescue companies in the world. The Last Men Out captures five years of Rescue 2's adrenaline-charged adventures, along with the spirit, combativeness, and humor...
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New York's rescue companies are elite firefighters with a mission: to save fellow firefighters or civilians who are trapped in blazes or endangered by urban disasters. In this riveting narrative, Tom Downey goes inside Brooklyn's Rescue 2, where for thirty years an obsessed, obstreperous group of pros have built a reputation as one of the best and busiest rescue companies in the world. The Last Men Out captures five years of Rescue 2's adrenaline-charged adventures, along with the spirit, combativeness, and humor of a firehouse dubbed "the Cuisinart" for its way of slicing up new recruits.

We begin in the mid-nineties, when Rescue 2 loses its first man in a fire since the fifties. Not long after, a new captain, Phil Ruvolo, arrives at the firehouse and, from the moment he steps in the door, is faced with stubborn vets loyal to former leader Ray Downey, aka God. Yet gradually Ruvolo and his second, Bob Galione -- master storyteller at the kitchen table -- prove they won't lose what Downey and others have built. As a new generation joins the ranks, Ruvolo and his men take some hits, earn their stripes, and bond at jobs all over the city -- from the Atlantic Avenue Fire where they save a terrified probie to a Father's Day disaster that unites them.

Then, suddenly, comes the devastation of 9/11. Ruvolo must assume command as never before, uniting the survivors in the face of this crisis, which threatens the future of their firehouse and all New York rescue operations. In the face of unimaginable loss, Ruvolo and his men struggle to rebuild a company that will once again be able to protect its city.

Rescue 2 doesn't leave a fire until everybody's safe -- they're the last men out. Tom Downey shows us their world, from the smell of their coats after a fire to the hardened eyes of a veteran who has lost a friend. His firemen are an unforgettable group of gritty, larger-than-life personalities, and his book is destined to become a classic of its kind.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Deputy Chief Ray Downey, the most highly decorated firefighter in the history of the FDNY, died during the World Trade Center rescue operations, but months earlier, he had arranged for his nephew, filmmaker Tom Downey, to make a documentary on the emergency experts of Brooklyn's Rescue Company No. 2, the "most active firefighting unit in the city." After the completed film, Still Riding: Rescue Company New York City, aired on September 11, 2002, Tom Downey continued his research, writing about firefighters for the New York Times. For this book, he follows the efforts of the new captain, Phil Ruvolo, to take command and establish a rapport with his men. Interweaving the history and lore of landmark fires with daily chores and rituals, Downey recreates the firehouse's kitchen table banter and sardonic humor. He probes the physical toll and psychological problems firefighters experience, along with the job's dangers: "Crawling in for a job, a fireman would feel the linoleum, think it was safe to enter, and then fall through." Limning individual personalities and capturing the company's camaraderie with amusing anecdotes, Downey's descriptions burn into the pages with searing intensity. Writing with verve and energy in a gritty style, he explores all extremes of the firemen's world, from triumphant moments of heroism to bitter tragedies. The concluding chapters document 9/11 and its aftermath from the firemen's point of view: the "horrible losses" resulting in a massive shortage of qualified firefighters to fill the ranks of the rescue and squad companies. Agent, Heather Schroder. (June 1) Forecast: With national print ads, media appearances and an endorsement by Dennis Smith (Report from Engine Company 82), Downey's chronicle should find a welcome audience among firefighting buffs. A third of the author's royalties will go to the Chief Ray Downey Scholarship Fund and the Rescue 2 Memorial Fund. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The New York Fire Department is large enough to have specialist rescue units, groups of highly trained firefighters who are called in when a fire is particularly dangerous or people are trapped. They are physically indomitable and extremely competitive. Downey, a filmmaker and writer who grew up among firefighters, chronicles the building of the elite Rescue 2 company, which practices in Brooklyn and was recognized as one of the best in the country. On 9/11, Rescue 2 charged full force into the World Trade Center and was decimated. While much of the book is concerned with the camaraderie, bonding, humor, and training of the men, the last third or so is concerned with their reaction to the tragedy of losing dozens of friends, relatives, and comrades. Downey, nephew of one of the firefighters killed on 9/11, obviously loves and respects the FDNY and has ably expressed the emotional involvement of firefighters with their profession and their coworkers. The author spent more than a year at the firehouse before 9/11 and continued his research afterward. Recommended for public libraries and subject collections.-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Writer/filmmaker Downey looks inside one of New York's elite firehouses before and after 9/11. Brooklyn's Rescue 2 company is charged with saving endangered firefighters from other houses. Following the Rescue 2 crews on their missions, staying in the firehouse between calls, the author began in the summer of 2000 a documentary film about their work. The book opens in 1996 with a fatal accident, Rescue 2's first loss of one of its members since the 1950s. The stunned reaction of the victim's comrades, tough and competitive men with enormous pride in their mission, clearly defines the bond between these men who refer to themselves as brothers. Downey then moves back in time to paint the history of Rescue 2 under its various captains: Fred Gallagher, who pushed his crew to excel at firefighting during the '70s, when fires were an overt symptom of racial strife; his successor Ray Downey (the author's uncle), whose physical courage and ability to breathe even the thickest smoke were key components in his leadership; and Phil Ruvolo, who brought the company into the new era of firefighting after 9/11. The narrative is full of firefighters' war stories, of macho camaraderie, and of the gallows humor common to men who put their lives on the line every day. Downey also gives the reader insight into the bureaucratic jungle of New York City government, where political back-scratching intrudes even into the meritocracy of firefighting. The author has a keen eye for character, and the rugged individualists of Rescue 2 give him plenty of material to work with. The book builds inevitably to 9/11, when eight men from Rescue 2, as well as their former Captain Ray Downey, lost their lives. THis narrativedescribes the tragedy without histrionics, making its impact even stronger. A powerful tribute to men whose daily lives are the stuff of heroism. Agent: Heather Schroder/ICM
From the Publisher
"The rescue companies in our nation's fire departments are like special forces in the military, ready to go into the most dangerous and frightening situations at a moment's notice. They are equipped to handle anything from shoring up a collapsing building, to finding a trapped worker far beneath the earth's surface. Heroes among heroes, we follow these stalwart men in Tom Downey's fine account from fires, to funerals, to loving homes, and to the endless banter and hilarity of the firehouse kitchen. This is a book about good men in stories well told, from tragic neighborhood fires to the national tragedy of ground zero. Half of the rescue firefighters were lost on 9/11 and Downey recounts that story bravely and with the keen eye of an author who has the blood of firefighters pulsing through his veins. You can feel the drama on every page."—Dennis Smith, author of Report from Engine Company 82

"Tom Downey had arrived on the scene of the lives of firefighters long before the rest of the world caught up and he has written the inside story of this secret fraternity, this band of brothers. These working-men heros step off of these pages and into our lives. Downey has done a masterful job of storytelling." —Doug Stanton, author of In Harm's Way

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805078442
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 285,257
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Downey is a writer-filmmaker who grew up in a family of firefighters. He is also the nephew of the late, legendary Chief Ray Downey, former head of rescue operations for the FDNY, who arranged for Tom to live and work with Rescue 2¹s men in order to make a film (which aired on The Learning Channel). Tom spent a year in the house before 9/11, when his uncle died, and has also been on hand since that disaster.

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Read an Excerpt

From The Last Men Out:

Small pockets of fire tease the engine company men who spray the ceilings and walls trying to shake down the flames. Terry hears an engine guy ask Louis to hug the wall so they can bend the stiff hose around the corner.

Suddenly, Terry hears a snap, like a wooden plank being split with an ax, then a much louder cracking noise that makes him shudder. He dives to the ground as the roof and walls crumble around him. Firemen cry out and Maydays go out over the radio. But nobody can hear the calls. They’re all buried.

Terry’s first thought is to get air. As he hears the men around him burrowing to the surface, he claws his way toward the sunlight. He feels cold snow on his glove as he heaves his body up out of the rubble.

Most of the firemen around Terry have also been lucky. But when Terry starts to wade through the debris, a piece of shiny black rubber catches his eye. Two boots sticking out of the rubble. He gets on the radio.

“Rescue Chauffeur to Battalion. Mayday. We have a man trapped about ten feet from the rear door.”

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
1 The Job 9
2 The New Captain 36
3 The Seventies 67
4 Atlantic Avenue 98
5 The Eighties 127
6 Departures 166
7 Father's Day 198
8 The Towers 227
9 Recovery 252
10 Rebuilding 278
Epilogue 293
Acknowledgments 297
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    In the book The Last Men Out the courageous men of the New York

    In the book The Last Men Out the courageous men of the New York City Fire Department talk about their heroic stories leading up to the 9/11 attack. Brooklyn's Rescue 2 is monitored for 5 years with adrenaline-charged adventures and the spirit of a few brave men. The team hasn’t lost a man since the 50’s but not until 90’s in an inferno. The men earn there stripes and badges but then the 9/11 attacks hit and the chief has to be in charge of something he could never imagine. The message the author Tom Downey is trying to get across is NO one gets left behind no matter the consequences even in the toughest of situations. I agree with the inspiring motive of the author who was the nephew of the heroic fire chief who perished in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 with the many other brave souls. I disagree with all the stories and how the book changes gears and then leading up to the grand finale instead of keeping it one great and bold story. I highly recommend this book to someone who loves or inspires to be a firefighter or someone who lost a loved one in the 9/11 terrorist attack to learn about the heros trying to save everyone they could on a moments notice. I think this book would go along great with Firehouse.   Always remember we don’t leave back to the station until every last man is out.

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  • Posted October 2, 2010

    Enjoyed it!!

    Great read from the inside of the fire house. I got to know the characters completely. This book will take you inside some amazing fires and situations. There are fantastic saves and incredible losses. A great book for any fire fighter!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2007

    Best firefighting book since report from Engine Co.82

    Tom Downey has written, in my opinion, the best book on firefighting since Dennis Smith's classic 'Report From Engine Company 82'. The book reveals the inner world of firefighting and firehouse life. The men we meet in this book are not heroes- just ordinary men doing extraordinary things. Downey's in depth descriptions of the Rescue 2 members is right on. You will get to know them as if you are sitting in the firehouse kitchen or crawling down a smoky hallway beside them.The sad part of the book is that alot of the men featured perished on 9/11- men that can never be replaced. Downey has produced an honest and unvarnished look into Rescue 2. The book should be a must read for anyone interested in firefighting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2006

    The Last Men Out

    The Last Men Out The Last Men Out by Tom Downey is about The FDNY¿s Rescue 2 company and all the big alarm fires and rescues they made. After the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the FDNY started preparing for another attack and thought it would be chemical. When the World Trade Centers were hit again the FDNY was not fully prepared for the this type of large-scale event and lost most of the head chiefs were caught in the collapse. The main messages in this book are leadership because the officer was always taking the lead, teamwork because all the firefighters worked their hardest together to make sure everything went right. My likes in this book were that there were a lot of fires through out the entire book and each fire was different in there own ways. My dislikes about this book were that it did not have any medical calls or miscellaneous calls that every fire department responds to. Even though all fires are fun to here about it is still fun to here about different calls. Everyone should read this book because what happened on September 11, 2001 is a part of American History. Also, anyone who is considering a career as a firefighter or already a firefighter because this book is all firefighting. However anyone who does not like reading about trauma should not read this book because some of the things in this book were hard to read and imagine. One other recommended works would be 3000 Degrees by Sean Flynn. If I had to give this a rating between 1 - 10, 10 being the highest, I would give this book a 9 and 1/2 because it is a book all about firefighting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2006

    Awesome read!

    Unlike the first two reviewers, I have nothing to do with firefighting - therefore, maybe a caveat is in order. But I loved the book. I thought it brought you into the 'hermetically sealed' environment of a firehouse and gave me a new respect for what they do everyday. I'm going to read the other fellas' recommendations.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2005

    An Outstanding Work

    Tom Downey captures the life of Firefighters in his writing the way Steve Spak captures it in his photography and videography, and Dennis Smith does in his writing. As a 28 year veteran of the Fire/Rescue service I feel Tom has a great work here, and in his video tribute 'Still Riding:The Rescue Companies of New York'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2004

    Good Book, riddled with lies

    The Last Men Out by Tom Downey was a really good book none the less however it contained many lies and overlooks about Rescue Company 2. Rescue 2 had great respect from every firefighter and civilian that knew about them. This book takes that respect and humillity and totally destroys it. I really enjoyed reading it but was disapointed with some of the lies that it contained.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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