BY HOOK & LADDER by John Loeper


Email this review


Loeper's skimming survey of American fires and fire-fighting starts with Peter Stuyvesant's fire-prevention laws and ends with the San Francisco fire of 1906, just before the advent of motor-driven fire engines. We learn that Benjamin Franklin organized our first volunteer fire company, in Philadelphia, and that volunteers and professionals fought each other at fires when paid fire departments were introduced later. Cincinnati saw the first fire-fighting steam engines, and they too were resisted by fire-fighters who feared being replaced by a ""squirt machine."" As in Loeper's other collections of historical tidbits, a sort of nominal child interest is injected by putting a little boy in a bucket brigade line, having a schoolboy help the firemen pump ""Big Washy"" to save his grandmother's barn, or taking a ten-year-old boy to visit a ""horse college"" for future fire truck horses. Elsewhere a young girl sounds the town alarm, which leads to a list of ""fire ladies,"" and there is even a short chapter on ""Fred the Firehouse Dog."" Loeper quotes an 1831 foreign visitor's letter reporting that ""The American fireman on parade dresses more beautifully than any prince,"" and he includes some first-person memories: ""Why did I do it? Well, the love of excitement and knowing that your work is important,"" says one old fireman who recalls jumping from his sickbed to ""do my duty,"" tunneling through snow and ice to the site of a blaze. In what amounts to no more than 50 pages of text, this is no four-alarm response to a hook-and-ladder buff's curiosity; but like The Shop on High Street, Going to School in 1776, and others, its easy browsability could hook the less ambitious.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum