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THE LAST MEN OUT by Tom Downey Kirkus Star


Life on the Edge at Rescue 2 Firehouse

by Tom Downey

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-8050-7169-5
Publisher: Henry Holt

Writer/filmmaker Downey looks inside one of New York's elite firehouses before and after 9/11.

Brooklyn’s Rescue 2 company is charged with saving endangered firefighters from other houses. Following the Rescue 2 crews on their missions, staying in the firehouse between calls, the author began in the summer of 2000 a documentary film about their work. The book opens in 1996 with a fatal accident, Rescue 2’s first loss of one of its members since the 1950s. The stunned reaction of the victim’s comrades, tough and competitive men with enormous pride in their mission, clearly defines the bond between these men who refer to themselves as brothers. Downey then moves back in time to paint the history of Rescue 2 under its various captains: Fred Gallagher, who pushed his crew to excel at firefighting during the ’70s, when fires were an overt symptom of racial strife; his successor Ray Downey (the author’s uncle), whose physical courage and ability to breathe even the thickest smoke were key components in his leadership; and Phil Ruvolo, who brought the company into the new era of firefighting after 9/11. The narrative is full of firefighters’ war stories, of macho camaraderie, and of the gallows humor common to men who put their lives on the line every day. Downey also gives the reader insight into the bureaucratic jungle of New York City government, where political back-scratching intrudes even into the meritocracy of firefighting. The author has a keen eye for character, and the rugged individualists of Rescue 2 give him plenty of material to work with. The book builds inevitably to 9/11, when eight men from Rescue 2, as well as their former Captain Ray Downey, lost their lives. THis narrative describes the tragedy without histrionics, making its impact even stronger.

A powerful tribute to men whose daily lives are the stuff of heroism.