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Monday, December 27, 2004

On Fire by Larry Brown

Aside from the fact that I love reading about firefighters, Larry Brown, who served as an Oxford, Mississippi fireman for seventeen years, has a real flare for memorable description. This book is a series of essays, some just fragments, that vividly portray his life and many of the events, some mundane, many others traumatic, that he faced.

For example, as captain of the pumper unit, they are called to the scene of a car accident, a young boy trapped in a car that has been wrapped around an electric pole. The nurse on the scene is screaming at them to do something, but they know that with the tools they have -- the city not having sprung for a $7500 Hurst tool that would pull the car apart like Turkish Taffy -- they will be unable to pry the car apart. He climbs all over the vehicle, tryting to see a way before discovering the only solution is to pull the boy straight up through the windshield. He and Dwight, a massive black firefighter whose funeral in a black church after his death from a stroke is movingly described, smash out the windshield and then pry the shift lever away from the victim. Only then are they able to slide in a backboard and lift the boy out into the waiting ambulance that goes screaming off to the hospital.

"Most of a firefighter's 24-hour day is spent killing time: cooking, watching dirty movies, doing routine equipment maintenance, and sleeping; Brown catches the lazy, good-old-boy camaraderie of the firehouse perfectly." (Booklist)
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