The heart-and-guts career of a California firefighter whose good days saw children saved and bad days saw loved ones lost.
At the time, Ashby’s choice of profession seemed random. A self-described “non-directional male,” he went to the courthouse to pay some parking tickets and saw a recruitment flier for the Pasadena Fire Department. It was the late 1960s, and fighting fires while attending college seemed like a better choice than Vietnam. Little did Ashby know he would spend the next 30-plus years crawling through smoke-filled buildings, racing to accident scenes and saving lives. In this sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-rending memoir, Ashby rises from lowly recruit at Pasadena to battalion chief with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The author recounts with authentic detail the horrific incidents that firefighters encounter. In one instance, he and his crewmates responded to an apartment where a man had slashed his girlfriend with a machete and then buried the blade in his own neck, nearly decapitating himself. There are also harrowing accounts of river rescues, gang shootings and even a bomb threat at a sex-toy warehouse. More revealing is how Ashby coped psychologically during grueling 56-hour workweeks. He describes a mental “filing cabinet” where he stashed the “terrible things I’ve seen that would otherwise scar my soul.” The book’s stomach-turning tragedies are counterbalanced with more prosaic reminiscences about first loves, old chums and fatherhood. Yet Ashby doesn’t shy away from the darker corners of his life, including his problems with alcohol and the murder of his nephew. Given that he often witnessed the ugliest side of humanity, Ashby might be forgiven if his words carried a cynical edge; instead, he writes with a sanguine, sympathetic outlook that acknowledges bad things happen to everyone. His personal credo reflects the workmanlike attitude of emergency professionals who confront calamity every day: “We do all we can, and it has to be enough.”
Bloodcurdling recollections from a
regular guy who answered the call when the alarm bell rang.