When Lt. Hamilton retired from the New York Fire Department in 1974, after 24 years of service, his badge was retired with him. This had never happened before but Hamilton was New York's most decorated fireman, having acquired seven heavy gold medals and many lesser awards. He tells his story in a fairly modest way, although his company spirit is justifiably enormous. After his three years as a rookie, he was chosen to be a member of Bronx's Rescue 3 team (there are only 100 Rescue men among New York's 12,000 firemen). Rescue is a technically sophisticated unit that handles every kind of lifesaving operation from drowning to poison gas and of course fire. Hamilton can get more flames into one paragraph--paint-dripping-from-the-ceiling-in-burning-balls fire, and heat so hot his gloves melt to the rungs of the ladder--than the entire The Towering Inferno does in three hours of film. Victims die hard in his tales, smoldering in his arms. A few stories have a comic touch but mainly they are grim and graphic--whether he's diving 25 feet in freezing water (in shirt and pants) under the Verrazano Bridge to rescue a woman and child from a sunken car, or being pelted with rocks and garbage during a riot. Scorching stuff, packed with heroism, hysteria and hot pants.