Russell Wangersky


Burning Down the House

“Russell Wangersky’s Burning Down the House deals with horror and it’s aftermath, the nature of suffering and coming through. Here is a haunting, shockingly honest and harrowing memoir about firefighting, unflinching and gorgeously written. Profoundly brave.”

—Lisa Moore, author of Alligator

Winner of the B.C. National Non-Fiction Book Award, the 2009 Edna Staebler Award, the Drummer-General Award and a Globe and Mail Top 100

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.


“Keen-eyed and unaffected, Wangersky delivers an astonishingly precise memoir of firefighting, and the fires that boil in men.” —Michael Winter, author of The Architects Are Here


“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.” —Roy Macgregor 


“A dramatic and emotionally honest look at the perilous trade of firefighting. Engrossing and highly entertaining.” —Kenneth J. Harvey, author of Inside


“Russell Wangersky is an exceptional writer. Painfully observant, compassionate, and exacting, Burning Down The House is a powerful account of the damage done to Canada’s most trusted citizens, our volunteer firefighters. . . .” —Elizabeth Bachinsky, nominee for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 2006 for Home of Sudden Service