David Halberstam’s Firehouse: A 9/11 Story of Heroism
If you live or have visited an apartment in Manhattan, you know that when the fire engines scream by, all conversation stops. After reading Firehouse by David Halberstam, the sound of those engines will never be the same for me. This is a truly heroic story of the men of Engine 40, Ladder 35, from New York City, and their response to the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. Just as striking a tale of the men themselves is the strength and dignity that their family, friends, and fellow firefighters showed in handling this tragedy. These were ordinary people who were asked to make the supreme and ultimate sacrifice of their own lives and the lives of those they left behind. They are unforgettable.
Hard as I try, it is difficult for me to get my arms and heart around those who perished; the wave of humanity is overwhelming. Yet it is through Firehouse that we begin to know and feel the real people who gave everything to do their duty, and those who loved them. Halberstam has a personal attachment to this particular firehouse from boyhood. He identifies the firemen who were in that house in his characteristically colorful detail. We experience their personal stories. It is clear that they loved being firemen and shared a special bond with their buddies. Just as soldiers on the battlefield, these men knew they needed to support one another in the life-and-death contest of fire fighting. Read about each man and get to know him -- tough and soft, serious but fun loving, veterans and probies, mostly from generations of firemen, concerned about family, people, and each other. They are not so different from the firemen and women who live down the street or across town from where you live -- sadly, thirteen rode out that day and only one injured fireman returned. I'm really glad I got to know them.
I am reminded of the famous scene from Moby Dick when the women and children stand on the dock and watch their husbands and sons sail off to an uncertain future. They are stoic realizing the men they love are doing what they have to do. So, too, are the women and families portrayed in this story in the hours during 9/11 and the days that followed. Theirs is also a heroic struggle that continues.
There is a snippet of video that shows most of these men descending the steps to enter the South Tower just a short time before the world literally collapses around them. These are the faces of men who knew the risks but were determined to do their duty. Halberstam has captured the men and the moment in his book. There were many stories of "uncommon courage on the part of ordinary people" on September 11, but the stories of the men in Firehouse portray so much that was good on a day that was so terribly bad. Today the sirens continue to remind me of their dedication, courage, and sacrifice.
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