My Favorite Inspirational Fire Books

So this is a little separate from our normal topics, and you may ask – why the hell do I care what you read?  

  1. If you’re reading blogs like this, you’re a “fire nerd” – or at least care a good deal about the job.
  2. Everyone needs a little inspiration or pick-me-up, especially in these times when the “modern” fire service can get you down.

As such, here are a few of my all-time favorite texts (did you know I can read?)….

1)  The Last Men Out,  Tom DowneyWritten by the nephew of the legendary “founder” of FDNY Rescue Companies, Ray Downey, this is a more modern text about Rescue Co. 2 in Brooklyn.  Though it doesn’t say it, and he’d have never told you about it, one of the first stories in the book is about Pete Lund & his crew, at a tragic fire which claimed the last Rescue 2 Fireman before 9/11.


2)  Report From Engine Co. 82, Dennis Smith – I think I was probably about 8 years old the first time I read this.  This was the first time I realized I was born about 20-30 years too late.




3)  The Rescue Company,  Ray DowneyMuch more of a learning book then a story book, this tells the story of the beginnings of the FDNY’s Special Operations Command by it’s founder, Ray Downey.  Also included are many thought provoking ideas, concepts, and skills for anyone riding around on a rescue or ladder company.


4) Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics, John Norman – One of the most authoritative and recognized manuals on modern firefighting, if you didn’t already know that.  While I don’t regard everything in this book as “gospel”, I do reference it frequently and use it’s ideas as a jumping-off point or thought-provoker.


8 Responses

  1. Good stuff. I agree with you on your choices. I had to chuckle when I read your comment on Report From Engine Co. 82. That’s exactly how I felt! I’ll add another book… Random Thoughts by the late Tommy “Truck” Brennan. A good mix of useful information and humor. I always started reading Fire Engineering from the back page!

  2. Wow, I am not the only one who as my co-workers put it, “has no life” Here are a few more from the good ole days

    The Usual – by John Finucane (FDNY) True tales from a retired FDNY lieutenant who worked the South Bronx during the “War Years”

    Glitter & Ash – Dennis Smith (FDNY)

    It Takes a Man to Cry – Steve Whalen (FDNY)

    First In Last Out – Battalion Chief John Salka (FDNY)

  3. Nick,

    A nice deviation from our normal topics but important nonetheless. I would add, what I believe Ricky and I will agree on, the Bible of why we do what we do.

    “20,000 Alarms” by Lt. Richard Hamilton.

    This book will regale you with tales that wished you were part of a fire service when it was not uncommon to drop hose in the street 20 times in one night! While it is out of print, you can still grab paperbook copies on Amazon for fairly cheap. Gotta love a book that ends with a comment by the author in which he talks highly of a probie he worked with on a job. The probie was Ray Downey…..

  4. Having read 3 of the 4 books listed above, I will attest to the fact that everything we learn isn’t taught in fire school. Norman’s book has been and probably always will be somewhat of “The Bible” for not just officers, but Firefighters as well.
    I got The Last Men Out last year at the Firehouse Expo in Baltimore and couldn’t put it down. So much history with “Da Rescue” and it’s members. This book is good reading for anyone. Having visited R2 in April of 2001, I can tell you these guys are some real characters. And as some of you that read this that have ridden with Lt. Pete (RIP) and his son, some of the bravest, most knowledgeable dudes around.

  5. Nice change of topic that makes you stop and recall the feelings you felt as you read these classics. I will always admire any and all men who love this profession and regard it as a calling rather than a paycheck.

    Pass these books on to your up and coming successors so they will understand what true courage and sacrafice is about. We are a fading breed now labeled as ‘Hyper-Aggressive Firefighters’. Pullezzz…


  6. Whew, I thought I was the only that realized I was born 25 years too late! I think this topic is a great change of pace but really isn’t at the same time, this topic and these books really bring everything together. These books really stand out in my mind as the way to describe why we are the way we are.

    I agree with Dan Shaw, 20,000 alarms is another great book. it’s just unbelievable the amount of work back then! I didn’t know Pete very well but I knew about him, what he stood for, his teachings, etc. And they seem to have gone along with anyone else I knew from that period of men. Andy Fredericks, I believe, was another one of those men. He has a quote that I use often and try to explain to the younger guys in my firehouse as to why we operate the way we do, “If you put the fire out, you don’t have to jump out te windows”.

    Not to down play firefighter survival techniques or the RIT Group at fires but it seems more often then not the younger generation of firefighters worry about RIT Tactics instead of firefighting tactics.

    It’s a great feeling to able to come here and find other firemen that have the same thought process and feelings.Thanks for a great place to come and share your thoughts.

    Stay Safe


  7. Quite a bit of what I read via work is either related to engine company operations, LODD and near-miss reports and other “after action” reports. With exception to the engine company material, it can be rather depressing and lead a guy to wonder if perhaps the nation should go back to exterior attack until the whole mess gets sorted out. Too many figures out there are trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to basic fireground operations.

    To have that “pick me up” you ask about, I recommend the following, and especially so if you were born in the 80’s:

    “The District of Columbia Firefighter’s Project” Robert McCarl
    Probably the most sought after DCFD book (I’ve been offered old leather helmets and coats for the copy I have), but you can find a PDF version online. This is a Smithsonian Institute folklife study about how the workplace shares information, on the job training, focusing on DCFD in the late ’60’s early 70’s.It isn’t filled with tales of fires and I know some have seen it as a bit boring, but it gives any firefighter and officer a great deal of material to learn from about how it is we pass things down and teach the new guys. I refer to it quite a bit at work.

    “Braving the Flames” Peter Micheels
    I believe it is in its second printing, this book is a brief look at the careers of some notable and unknown FDNY members. Particularly Vincent Dunn, Lee Ielpi and John Vigiano (I’ll read anything that talks about Capt. Vigiano – a great officer). Written by a FDNY staff psychologist, don’t let that throw you. Micheels simply relates his interviews; how the guys got started, probie experiences and at the time, their current work. It gives a great insight into how it was Vincent Dunn became so knowledgeable about collapse and safety. I’d rank this as good as “Report From Engine Co.82”. You’ll finish it before your tour is over, if you’re in a slow house.

    “Collapse of Burning Buildings – A Guide to Fireground Safety” Vincent Dunn
    Nowadays some of the younger generation can’t tell the working end of a hammer. Dunn teaches building construction terms and features in a style of writing that is similar to some of the well known firefighting novels of the past, already mentioned above. This style makes it easy to teach building construction and keep up the interest.

    “Thirty Years On The Line” Leo Stapleton
    Same as Vigiano, I’ll read most anything about Boston. A very, very good read about “old school” firefighting. Not to mention this classic is the catalyst of all his other well known works. Likewise, even after retirement, it is hard to find a chief that is still liked by his department these days. A definite pick me up.

    “Black Hawk Down – A Story of Modern War” Mark Bowden
    “In the Company of Heroes” Michael Durrant

    Each book is about the tragic events in Mogadishu, Somalia on 3, 4 October 1993. Durrant’s is especially well written, as he was the pilot taken prisoner, the one that Shugart and Gordon were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (posthumously) for trying to protect Durrant against an increasingly overwhelming force. In each, especially Bowden’s you can learn how complacency invades and corrupts even an elite fighting force. Likewise, you’ll read about certain individuals who stayed on top of their game, didn’t cut corners or take short cuts. Valuable insight that you won’t find if you only watch the movie.

    “Little Drops of Water: 50 Years Later, Part 1″
    Andrew Fredericks, Fire Engineering, February 2000
    Little Drops of Water: 50 Years Later, Part 2”
    Andrew Fredericks, Fire Engineering, March 2000
    Andrew Fredericks. It’s rare to find a firefighter who would study a certain part of the job with as much detail as he did.

    “The World’s Busiest Firehouse” Harry Davis, Fire Nuggets, May June 2007
    Retired from the FDNY (SQ.18) I meet him at the Fredericks Memorial ceremony. I have great deal of respect for Mr. Davis and I wish he’d share more; a very smart guy. In this he talks about whenn he came on in ’73 and the things his and other companies did. Some of what is thought of as new, today, was done years and years ago.

    “Triumph and Tradition – Firefighting in Prince George’s County, Maryland, 1887-1990” Ed Bosanko
    Last time I saw, I think that Fire Service Publications was selling this. A good look at the history of a famous – or infamous -county. A pick me up sometimes, a depressant at other times. Still a good read for history sake.

  8. Odd smiley face; typed Squad “eighteen”

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