HEAT by Peter A. Micheels


The Fire Investigators and Their War on Arson and Murder
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 A compelling oral report based on interviews with New York City Bureau of Fire Investigation (BFI) marshals. Micheels's Braving the Flames (1989 paperback) offered a parallel report on firefighters. The ``largest and busiest'' bureau of its kind, Micheels says, the BFI conducted 10,140 arson investigations in 1989, with a force of only 239 marshals. Recruited primarily from the city's regular fire department, the marshals are trained as investigators, have police powers and authority to take sworn statements from witnesses and suspects. With little evident editing, Micheels allows these men to talk about their work and its attendant dangers--from both fire and suspects--as well as challenges, tragedies, and occasional triumphs. Most discuss a fire investigation from its setting through the arrest and (sometimes) trial. According to James McSwigin, a 25-year veteran, the number-one fire-setters in New York are children and teen-agers, followed by ``revenge'' arsonists (usually a lovers' or domestic quarrel), ``landlord fires,'' and ``vanity-fire setters''--those who start a fire, then ``heroically'' discover, report, and extinguish the blaze. Obviously, fire marshals deal with as rich a variety of criminal and character as regular policemen. They arrive on the scene during or immediately after a fire and begin a physical investigation: Were the doors and windows open or closed? What color was the smoke? Do a victim's nasal and throat passages indicate breathing during the fire? While many investigations are coordinated with the police force, fire marshals ``are always the guys with the dirty shoes.'' A bit loose, with some repetition, but still a solid and diverting account. (Sixteen pages of photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 24th, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-04848-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991


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