FIGHTING FIRE by Caroline Paul


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This memoir of one of the first women to penetrate the all-male bastion of the San Francisco Fire Department offers the story of one woman’s education in political consciousness and personal discovery. It also provides valuable insights into the life and day-to-day dangers facing a metropolitan firefighter. Stanford University graduate and aspiring filmmaker Paul cannot account for her desire to become a firefighter. Her motivations are deeply seated in some primordial fascination with one of nature’s most mysterious elements as well as with a strong desire to prove that she could do something virtually everyone believed she couldn—t. Emerging from a genteel, upper-middle-class family, steeped in the ’80s lifestyle of healthy habits, committed to trendy social causes, and gorgeous (her identical twin lands a part as a Baywatch —Babe—), Paul is an unlikely candidate for one of the most physically and mentally demanding professions in the world. Nevertheless, she works her way through the training and probationary period, past male chauvinist resistance, and finally earns her stripes as a reliable member of an engine crew and then as an heroic part of a rescue squad. Along the way, she earns a graduate degree in film, has at least one or two serious relationships, and still finds time to campaign against the illegal imprisonment of her brother, who has been incarcerated for his militant animal rights activities. The narrative is repetitive and sometimes slowed by sophomoric sociological and psychological observations and a plethora of inexcusable grammatical errors. It is also marred by a herky-jerky sentence style that extends to an episodic, anecdotal structure. But the memoir eventually rises above such flaws to offer an outstanding account of one woman’s struggle to prove her personal worth and courage and to make her place in a world previously reserved exclusively for men. (First serial to Reader’s Digest; Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club featured alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: May 27th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18581-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998