Dennis Smith, best selling author of Report From Engine Company 82, a Bronx tale, died coincidentally age 82 and the fire-o-sphere is awash in paeans for our most famous firefighter, Ben Franklin notwithstanding.
For many Smith is a Homeric figure, teller of an epic saga of Fire Wars in New York in the 70’s and 80’s when thanks to Robert Moses, buildings there were worth more as insurance write-offs than any revenue they could otherwise produce.
Block after block of the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn burned week after week as companies saw more fire duty in a year than most will now see in a lifetime.
Smith’s gift was to describe the life of a firefighter in such a circumstance, blending the domesticity of the firehouse with the terror of the tenement ablaze.
Think The Right Stuff for firefighters though the comparison to Wolfe ends there.
Smith wrote other books and transitioned into a variety of business endeavors of various stripes and value.
He described himself as, “the best-known advocate for firefighters in the United States.”
September 11th provided opportunities for various authors, some more noted than others, to weigh in.
“The Senior Counsel to The United States Commission on September 11th has written, “I have read much of the writing about the emergency response that day, and have found “Report from Ground Zero” to be the closest to a definitive account.”
That’s a testament to Smith applying his writing style and life experience.
As evidenced by Twitter posts, that segment of the fire service which is prone to self-promotion is giving Smith the “Mother Teresa” treatment hoping to simultaneously bask in his glory, a circumstance which he might appreciate.
Smith’s literary legacy will likely be his ability to deftly capture a moment in time with spare prose and clarity.
But Smith’s era of firefighting is long gone and his present day devotees should limit their imitation to leather helmets jauntily worn and the occassional “K” on the radio.