Reviews of "The Last Men Out"|
New York Post
August 1, 2004
New York Daily News
June 13, 2004
June 1, 2004
June 1, 2004
June 1, 2004
April 15, 2004
(links to author radio appearances)
August 1, 2004
Why They Do It
By Terry Golway
The Last Men Out:Life on the Edge at Rescue 2 Firehouse
By Tom Downey
Henry Holt & Co., 320 Pages, Illustrated, $25
NEARLY three years have passed since 343 members of the Fire Department of New York perished on a single, horrible day. The bookstores remain filled with offerings from writers seeking to explain the heroism and sacrifice that were so evident on 9/11. The latest, and certainly one of the best, is Tom Downey's, "The Last Men Out."
Downey's book tells the story of the men of Rescue 2, the Brooklyn-based company made famous by Downey's legendary uncle, Ray Downey, who served as Rescue 2's captain for 14 years. The family connection came in handy when Tom Downey, a filmmaker, wanted to make a television documentary about Rescue 2 in early 2001. By then, Downey's famous uncle was a chief in charge of the FDNY's special operations. With a little help from the chief, Tom Downey was given extraordinary access to these elite firefighters on the eve of catastrophe.
Downey lived with the men of Rescue 2 in the months leading up to 9/11. The bonds the author formed with his subjects are evident, but Downey ultimately is a storyteller, not a firefighter. He keeps his distance, and that allows him to tell an insightful, dramatic and emotional tale that deserves a place alongside Dennis Smith's classic firefighting memoir, "Report From Engine Co. 82."
Downey's book doesn't have Smith's literary flair, but it does explain firefighting and firefighters.
Why do they do it? Here is Downey's unadorned answer: "The fire," he writes, "is a pure high, a rush that any self-respecting suburban dad should be ashamed of craving. But the high, the rush, the fun of it are the firemen's secret. It's what they love almost as much as their wives, their kids, their brothers on the job."
Downey's book, at its most-basic level, begins with the arrival of Rescue 2's new captain, Phil Ruvolo. The men of Rescue 2 — and they are all men — have reason to be suspicious of the new boss. When Ruvolo was a lieutenant in Rescue 5 on Staten Island, he somehow convinced the FDNY brass to let Rescue 5 respond to some alarms in Brooklyn — Rescue 2's home borough. Because he understands firefighters, Downey knows this is a strike against Ruvolo. New York's firefighters have been battling each other over territory since the days when Boss Tweed commanded Engine 6 in Manhattan. Downey writes: "Who was Ruvolo to mess with . . . tradition just because his company didn't see enough action in its own borough?"
Ruvolo's battle for acceptance provides the book with its narrative arc. Along the way, there is unspeakable tragedy. Three months before 9/11, three firefighters lost their lives on Father's Day. Two of them were from Rescue 4 in Queens, and their deaths haunted their brothers in Rescue 2.
The reader knows, of course, where all of this is heading. But that knowledge takes away none of the drama and power of Downey's story. When the towers collapse, killing Downey's uncle, seven members of Rescue 2 and hundreds of other firefighters, readers will gasp even though they knew it was coming.
In "The Last Men Out," Tom Downey explains why firefighters became a symbol of duty and sacrifice after 9/11. But he also explains that they are not action heroes, but flesh and blood. He does justice to the job, and to the men and women who love doing it.
Terry Golway, city editor of the New York Observer, is author of "So Others Might Live," a history of the FDNY.E-mail: TJGolway@aol.com
On 9/11, Brooklyn's elite firefighting company, Rescue 2, lost seven men,
along with their former captain, Ray Downey. Tom Downey, Ray's nephew,
describes life in this unit--its drama, sadness, humor and, above all, its
toughness. These guys would readily lay down their lives for their
"brothers," but when it comes to helping each other cope with tragedy, as
one firefighter puts it, "No, that isn't done. There's constant abuse, no
comforting each other."
June 13, 2004
After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, firefighters in general and those in New
York in particular were elevated to almost mythic status.
This book takes that notion and, all due respect, tosses it into the East
Author Tom Downey - the nephew of Deputy Chief Ray Downey, the most
decorated firefighter in the history of FDNY, who was killed at the World
Trade Center - spent several years before 9/11 living with Rescue Co. 2, an
elite unit that's a little like the Green Berets of the Fire Department.
Downey finds the courage of the men in the unit beyond question, their
skills superb, their role indispensable and many of their actions heroic.
But these firefighters didn't walk off the pages of inspirational
children's stories. They are often crude, and they are always insular,
protective of their world and suspicious of anyone who would presume even to
"understand" what they do.
The men of Rescue 2 live and work by a macho code where the toughest
assessment, and the only assessment that matters, is their own. They live
for "good" fires, the ones that are the biggest and most dangerous. Even
after Sept. 11, when Rescue 2 lost eight members, they refused to be
sentimentalized. Thank-you notes from schoolchildren were posted on the wall
with obscene insertions.
This isn't the first unvarnished portrayal of city firemen. It may be the
most stark and at times unsettling. But like the firemen, Downey sees no
need for apologies. If someone will walk through a wall of flame to see if
Grandma is inside your burning house, the rest is supposed to seem
June 1, 2004
The New York Fire Department is large enough to have specialist rescue
units, groups of highly trained firefighters who are called in when a fire
is particularly dangerous or people are trapped. They are physically
indomitable and extremely competitive. Downey, a filmmaker and writer who
grew up among firefighters, chronicles the building of the elite Rescue 2
company, which practices in Brooklyn and was recognized as one of the best
in the country. On 9/11, Rescue 2 charged full force into the World Trade
Center and was decimated.
While much of the book is concerned with the
camaraderie, bonding, humor, and training of the men, the last third or so
is concerned with their reaction to the tragedy of losing dozens of friends,
relatives, and comrades. Downey, nephew of one of the firefighters killed on
9/11, obviously loves and respects the FDNY and has ably expressed the
emotional involvement of firefighters with their profession and their
coworkers. The author spent more than a year at the firehouse before 9/11
and continued his research afterward. Recommended for public libraries and
subject collections. -- Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research
Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
June 1, 2004
Downey's father and uncles were firemen, and the late chief Ray Downey, an
uncle, was in command of Brooklyn's Rescue 2 for 14 years. Rescue 2
firefighters are experts in every kind of emergency; if you are trapped
under a train, pinned in a car wreck, or buried in a building collapse,
these are the people with the tools and the knowledge to save your life. The
author lived in the firehouse for months, spending night shifts cruising the
borough with them. He had just started to work on the book when the 9/11
disaster struck, but most of it deals with the years before that tragic
event. He profiles several of the firefighters and their families; he lets
us in on their taste for practical jokes and the merciless hazing that
recruits face, as well as the make-work chores they carry out between fires.
And he explains the procedures in fighting a fire and defines firehouse
jargon, all of which adds to an intimate look at the daily lives of veteran
firefighters. -- George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
June 1, 2004
Deputy Chief Ray Downey, the most highly decorated firefighter in the history of the FDNY, died during the World Trade Center rescue operations, but months earlier, he had arranged for his nephew, filmmaker Tom Downey, to make a documentary on the emergency experts of Brooklyn's Rescue Company No. 2, the "most active firefighting unit in the city." After the completed film, Still Riding: Rescue Company New York City, aired on September 11, 2002, Tom Downey continued his research, writing about firefighters for the New York Times. For this book, he follows the efforts of the new captain, Phil Ruvolo, to take command and establish a rapport with his men. Interweaving the history and lore of landmark fires with daily chores and rituals, Downey recreates the firehouse's kitchen table banter and sardonic humor. He probes the physical toll and psychological problems firefighters experience, along with the job's dangers: "Crawling in for a job, a fireman would feel the linoleum, think it was safe to enter, and then fall through." Limning individual personalities and capturing the company's camaraderie with amusing anecdotes, Downey's descriptions burn into the pages with searing intensity. Writing with verve and energy in a gritty style, he explores all extremes of the firemen's world, from triumphant moments of heroism to bitter tragedies. The concluding chapters document 9/11 and its aftermath from the firemen's point of view: the "horrible losses" resulting in a massive shortage of qualified firefighters to fill the ranks of the rescue and squad companies.
April 15, 2004
* Starred Review
(A star is assigned to books of unusual merit, determined by the editors of Kirkus Reviews.)
Brooklyn's Rescue 2 company is charged with saving endangered firefighters from other houses. Following the Rescue 2 crews on their missions, staying in the firehouse between calls, the author began in the summer of 2000 a documentary film about their work. The book opens in 1996 with a fatal accident, Rescue 2s first loss of one of its members since the 1950s. The stunned reaction of the victims comrades, tough and competitive men with enormous pride in their mission, clearly defines the bond between these men who refer to themselves as brothers. Downey then moves back in time to paint the history of Rescue 2 under its various captains: Fred Gallagher, who pushed his crew to excel at firefighting during the 70s, when fires were an overt symptom of racial strife; his successor Ray Downey (the authors uncle), whose physical courage and ability to breathe even the thickest smoke were key components in his leadership; and Phil Ruvolo, who brought the company into the new era of firefighting after 9/11. The narrative is full of firefighters war stories, of macho camaraderie, and of the gallows humor common to men who put their lives on the line every day. Downey also gives the reader insight into the bureaucratic jungle of New York City government, where political back-scratching intrudes even into the meritocracy of firefighting. The author has a keen eye for character, and the rugged individualists of Rescue 2 give him plenty of material to work with. The book builds inevitably to 9/11, when eight men from Rescue 2, as well as their former Captain Ray Downey, lost their lives. This narrative describes the tragedy without histrionics, making its impact even stronger.
A powerful tribute to men whose daily lives are the stuff of heroism.
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