Firefighter Dennis Smith goes from one ""tough, snotty job"" to another, breathing the ""superheated air"" and spitting ""the black phlegm of my trade"" in the South Bronx where they yell ""peeg, peeg"" and much worse at firemen. What these ingrates need, says one of Smith's fellow workers, is ""a good kick in the ass"" but Smith wonders ""Who is the sinner? Who teaches?"" and concludes ""His ass is the one to be kicked."" Smith the fireman who reads Yeats and Playboy at the station and carries real concern for the ghetto in his ""Irish-Catholic-Democratic heart"" muses ""What would Wordsworth have said of the South Bronx?"" which is recently black and Puerto Rican, a place where Malicious False Alarms (MFAs) are commonplace and ""Poverty is manifested in fire statistics""; Smith remembers his own childhood on East 56th Street where theft had its own code: ""Bloomingdale's wasn't people. We never stole from people."" This is as much a report from Engine Co. 82 -- ""the busiest firehouse in the city -- and probably the world"" -- as it is the memoir of an Irish-American coming of age or a portrait of a young man as dedicated public servant. Smith worries about the dangers of smoking but then thinks ""why quit when each fire I fight is more deadly than a thousand cartons of Pall Mall's."" He is one of New York City's ""bravest,"" more reliable than the telephone, the subway, Con Ed.: ""The only real sure thing in this town is that the firemen come when you pull the handle on the red box."" Smith has been at Engine Co. 82 since 1966 and he's weary answering all those calls (including MFAs): ""I am thirty-one years old, and at time I feel fifty"" but he continues to be a firefighter because of ""the humanity, the sympathy, the sadness of these eyes"" which he confronts daily. The simply complexity of one man who slides down that brass pole.