New York City firemen have always had an insular culture. There are signs posted in most firehouses that state: “What you see here stays here, what you hear here stays here, and what you do here stays here.” Since 9/11, the brothers of the FDNY have been slightly more open to the public, but when Dennis Smith first wrote his book, the view that he gave us into FDNY life was unheard of.
Likewise, we don’t often hear much about day to day life in the ghetto. Sure, it’s a frequent topic of rap artists and featured in gangster movies, but a first hand account of the hopelessness of being poor in a country where wealth is so abundant is a rare thing. Smith gives us a no holds barred look at the people of the South Bronx, and humanizes a class that are all too often overlooked.
Smith’s book tells the story of the men of Engine Company 82, who were, at the time of the books publication, the busiest engine company in the world. Smith and his brother firemen served during the infamous “War Years” of the New York City Fire Department, a time when the Bronx seemed to be burning down around them. His book reminds us that the men who fought these fires weren’t the invincible superheros that the media has portrayed them as, but regular men put into an extraordinary situation.