From critically acclaimed author Russell Wangersky comes a heartfelt and bittersweet look inside one of the country’s most dangerous occupations.
Thousands of boys dream of becoming firefighters. Some get the chance, and for some of those, the dream becomes a nightmare.
Burning Down the House is the story of Wangersky’s eight-year career as a volunteer firefighter, an experience that wound up reaching into every facet of his life and changed the way he saw the world forever.
Written in vibrant, luminous prose, the book traces his years from rookie to veteran firefighter and the emotional and psychological toll it took on his personal life. Offering a rare glimpse into physical dangers and psychological costs of trying to save strangers’ lives, Wangersky paints a harrowing and sometimes heartbreakingly vivid portrait of the fires, medical calls and automobile accidents that are the standard fare of the profession.
Building a map of traumatic memories — from performing CPR on a colleague’s father to close calls in house fires and a fuel explosion — Wangersky explains secrets of firefighting that many emergency workers would never let themselves admit.
Visceral and affecting, Burning Down the House is an insightful account into the perilous world of firefighting and an unforgettable memoir of how, in chasing his passion, Wangersky almost lost himself.
“What Russell Wangersky has done with Burning Down the House is to show us where a child’s earliest dreams end up—too often, in this case, as recurring nightmares. The little boy’s ambition to become a firefighter becomes a man’s drive to dampen what simmers and chars inside after a lifetime of late-night alarms, breathtaking tragedy and, mercifully, dramatic rescue. It is a deeply personal tale powerfully told. You will never take life and luck for granted again.”
"The book is a record of what he saw and heard, smelled, felt and thought while responding to emergency calls... Out of that apparently shattering experience has come this astonishingly visceral piece of writing."
The Globe and Mail
"Nobody is supposed to remember things this well, the fires and accident scenes and injuries and deaths they've seen over the course of their years as a volunteer firefighter. But of course - and this is the first secret that Wangersky reveals - they do. At least Wangersky does, in searing, clear, torturous detail."