Fighting Fire! a review of Michael L. Cooper’s book

Cooper, Michael L. 2014. Fighting Fire! Ten of the deadliest fires in American history and how we fought them.  New York: Henry Holt.

From the “Great Fire of 1760,” which destroyed 349 homes in Boston, to San Diego’s “Witch Fire” of 2007, which destroyed 3,069 homes and buildings, burned half a million acres and killed 17 people, Fighting Fire! details ten of America’s worst fires.  Presented chronologically in individual chapters, Fighting Fire! combines an account of each fire with the evolution of fire fighting practices, and the public’s evolving view of fires, fire safety, and firefighters.

With plenty of photographs, quotes, and illustrations, Fighting Fire! is an engrossing read. Consider this passage from “Fire on the Water, New York, 1904,” which is accompanied by several photographs.

     Some passengers saved themselves in grisly ways.  “I didn’t have no life preserver at all,” said ten-year-old Henry Ferneissen.  “I went down twice and I swallowed a whole lot of water, but pretty soon I caught hold of a dead woman and then somebody grabbed me with a hook.  If it hadn’t been for that dead woman I’d been drowned sure.”
One hour after embarking, the General Slocum was a smoldering ruin and most of its thirteen hundred passengers were dead.  One survivor said, “To my dying day I’ll never forget the scene. Around me were scores of bodies, most of them charred and burned.”

     The General Slocum tragedy is the worse peacetime maritime accident in American history.  It was New York’s deadliest disaster until the twenty-first century.

Each tragic fire brought about some change or warning, albeit often small or initially unheeded, that informed future generations.  Following the fire in Boston, 1760, building codes and street design were re-examined.  Fire Prevention Week, recognized each year in October, is in remembrance of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which began on October 8. The San Francisco fire of 1906, highlighted the importance of reliable water supplies. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, prompted new workplace safety regulations.  Out of each tragedy came knowledge that benefits us today.

Well-researched and documented, this is a perfect choice for school assignments or for anyone interested in becoming a firefighter.  I’m even suggesting it to my husband, a career firefighter.

Also included:

  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Fire Engines in American History
  • Fire Museums to Visit
  • Recommended Reading
  • Websites to Visit
  • Source Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

See a slide show of images from Fighting Fire! at the publisher’s website.

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Copyright © 2014 L Taylor All Rights Reserved.
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