Braving the Flames

Written by: Peter A. Micheels

Published By: Jove Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            Some time ago, I had been engrossed in a conversation about firefighting with a friend and co-worker who had once been a part of the New York City Fire Patrol, a unit funded by insurance underwriters who responded to fire calls and conducted salvage work, doing what they could to prevent valuable items from going up in flames.  I had mentioned how much I respected the job of a fireman and how fire fascinated me.  Noting my interest in the world of fighting fires, my friend decided to lend me a book which he felt perfectly described what the job was all about - Braving the Flames by Peter A. Micheels.

            Published in 1989, Braving the Flames contains fifteen chapters of stories told by fifteen respected firefighters, officers, battalion leaders and the like.  These firemen tell readers what it was like being a firefighter in their own words.  They describe their first years on the job, the worst fires they have been to, the changes in equipment over the years, the emotional anguish felt when they lost someone to a fire, the close-knit community of the firehouse and more.  The men featured in this book have fought some of the worst fires in recent New York City history, including a number of collapses, the riots of the late 1960s, the telephone company fire of 1975, the Grand Central Station fire and more.

            What I loved about this book is that you get to see firefighting from various perspectives.  Readers learn about firefighting from firemen, lieutenants, captains, battalion chiefs, a dispatcher and even a retired fire commissioner.  We learn about the various types of fires the NYFD encounters daily and the way firefighting varies due to the locations and structures in these areas.  We discover that tenement fires are vastly different than high-rise fires and that fires in sub-basements or subways can be even more dangerous than your average building fire.

            Each fireman relates the dangers of the job and how much they respect the damage fire can do to both structures and human flesh.  At the same time, it is very clear that these firemen love their job and wouldn’t trade their experiences for anything in the world.  These are men dedicated to their chosen profession who take pride in what they do on a daily basis and it shows in how they talk about the job.

            While reading this book I began to realize that some of the names sounded familiar to me.  I had forgotten that this book was published in 1989, just twelve years before one of the worst fires in New York City history - the World Trade Center collapse on September 11, 2001.  The reason these names sounded familiar to me was that I had read some of them in the paper - the fallen heroes who gave their lives to save others on that day. 

            Some of the firefighters featured in Braving the Flames are now dead thanks to the attacks of September 11th.  Others lost relatives or sons on that day.  Still others died of cancer or other issues associated with the fires they had fought years ago.  Either way, each fireman in this book is a hero and I felt honored just in being able to read their stories and share in their adventures as a New York City Fireman.  Thank you, Peter A. Micheels, for such an in-depth look at such a heroic and dangerous profession.


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