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This is an unvarnished family memoir of three generations of Boston firemen. The men in Charles Kenney's family have been drawn to fire-fighting since his grandfather Charles "Pops" Kenney joined the Boston Fire Department in 1932. In his working class, Irish-Catholic neighbourhood, there were other jobs that offered a decent wage, but none had the sense of belonging that comes with being a fireman, or the purity of purpose that comes with saving lives. Pops was on the scene of the notorious Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942; the author's father, "Sonny", served with distinction until an explosion blew him from a third-storey window; and two of the author's brothers were "sparks" as children, amateur fire-fighters whose career goals were thwarted by a court order integrating the Boston fire department and changing the rules for employment forever. One became a cop, the other a paramedic and rescue man with an elite squad sent to Ground Zero in the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center. Spanning sixty years of fire-fighting history, "Rescue Men" captures what it's really like to be a fireman.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781586483104
ISBN-10: 1586483102
Format: Hardback
(236mm x 156mm x 27mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: PublicAffairs,U.S.
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2007
Country of Publication: United States

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » The evolving fortunes of a large Boston firefighting family, the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942, the changing racial politics of Bean Town, the redemptive powers of work and writing-all intermixed with accounts of the derring-do of fire-and-rescue teams.Kenney-whose grandfather was among the first on the scene at the Cocoanut Grove and whose father and other relatives have worked in fire-related professions-takes a holiday from the writing of fiction thrillers (The Last Man, 2001, etc.) to construct his own family saga. He seems to have epic aspirations-a multigenerational story with weighty themes of life and death and sacrifice and sin and redemption (all seared by flames)-but the writing is so conventional, so unrelievedly ordinary, that the balloon of his narrative never inflates. The family's involvement with the Cocoanut Grove fire is of signal importance. The author's grandfather sustained injuries there that forced his early retirement. And years later, the author's father (Sonny) became obsessed with the story of the fire, particularly with its origin (still uncertain at the time), and spent more than a dozen years researching the tragedy-interviewing survivors, reading all relevant documents and even promoting the theory that methyl chloride was the principal villain. Sonny, who'd never had any literary aspirations, even published a few articles on the subject. (He, too, had retired early from the Boston Fire Department for injury-related reasons.) Kenney deals with the ugly racial issues prominent in Boston during the 1970s and '80s (forced busing, hiring quotas). A couple of his brothers failed to gain BFD positions because a judge had determined that the virtually all-white department must integrate, even if it meant employing less-qualified members of minority groups. The Kenneys, one and all, were outraged. The author deals, as well, with Sonny's long-running (and often losing) battle with alcoholism. Late in life, he joined AA, which seems to be helping.Some poignant stories, lots of ambition, but the result is but a flicker of a flame. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Charles Kenney

Charles Kenney is an author and former journalist at The Boston Globe. He is the co-author of the non-fiction books Keep the Faith, Change the Church and John F Kennedy: The Presidential Portfolio as well as the novels The Last Man, Code of Vengeance and The Son of John Devlin. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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