Everybody and his cousin writes cop novels--but the firefighter genre pretty much belongs to Dennis Smith (The Final Fire, Glitter and Ash), who has written his best novel yet here, centering on the conflicting loyalties of boozy, wayward, yet essentially decent N.Y.C. fireman Steely Byrnes. When first met, Steely is heroically rescuing a woman in a department-store fire--a redhead who turns out to be a mannequin. Other disasters soon follow: a fight with a cop culminating in assault charges (Steely is saved by his old neighborhood-pal Jack Haggerty, now Chief of the Fire Dept.); a Sunday morning visit to estranged wife Maryanne and kids in Levittown--which turns to ghastly farce when Steely realizes that his deadend date from the previous night is asleep in his car's back-seat! But, while Smith is snazzily introducing Steely's funny/awful everyday life (loneliness, one-night stands, firehouse camaraderie), he's also following Chief Jack Haggerty's constant compromises: deals with power-brokers, including the Catholic Church; fudgings with ethics and safety procedures for the sake of ambition. (Haggerty, for half-idealistic reasons, wants to be the first uniformed Fire Commissioner in decades--and needs friends in all quarters.) And so, in the slightly contrived but very workable main plot here, old pals Steely and Jack are fated to be on a collision course--a crisis that's triggered by an accident during a big fire, a foul-up that kills Steely's best firehouse pal, spacey yet lovable Jesus freak Hadley. What caused the accident? Was it negligence by the brigade's new female firefighter, Kathy Agnelli? Or was it a defect in the new rescue-V-rigs which Steely and Hadley were Wearing? Steely knows that Kathy (despite his prejudice against women firefighters) was not at fault; he soon gets evidence that Irks old buddy Chief Jack approved the rescue-Vrigs (sold to the Department by a political crony) despite negative test results. Finally, then, Steely has to choose between his loyalty to the ""neighborhood"" and his loyalty to the Department and a dead pal. . . while still trying to win back his wife in Levittown. About half authentic/special in a Hill Street Blues mode, about half conventional manly-melodrama--but, if not the all-out winner it might have been (along the lines of Barry Reed's The Verdict), this is solid, unpretentious, and winning grit-entertainment.