I think this book will be the last of my shorts series for the time being. It is not necessarily a series of short stories, but I found that each chapter stood nicely alone so I feel comfortable including it here. T. Lamar Baker is a retired veteran Firefighter/Engeineer with Dekalb County and Fire/Rescue in metro Atlanta with over 20 years in service. His book, The Heart of a Firefighter, is published by Yawn's Publishing out or Canton, Georgia, and reads very much like a journal, a personal memoir of experiences lived. It takes the glamour out of the firefighter trade and imbues it instead with a healthy dose of reality, brotherhood, and duty. Baker does not waste great detail on explaining the fires, it is hot and visibility is poor, his stories are of the people he encounters through his years of service, the ones saved and the ones lost. There are moments I found humor and moments when I had to set the book aside because my eyes had blurred. There are a couple of chapter that broke my heart and made me grieve alongside Baker. His emotion is so true and honest that I found myself gaining even more respect for the men and women who dedicate their lives to the service of others.
Things happen quickly in this book, much as they do at the firehouse, and often the simple normalcy of the firefighters having a meal was the saving grace for me, and helped me understand the "why" of what these people do. Very often Baker goes through an explanation of what was happening before the call, to give a full picture of th impact. There is no hint of sentimentality in this transcription, it is a retelling with both eyes open.
Baker begins his book with a tribute to the firefighter who have gone before, those who have given their lives in service, particularly those who responded to the terrorist attacks on 911. He comes back to that later in the book, and his explanation of what those firefighters did, how they continued up the towers, knowing that there was possibly not return, sent chills through me and brought the horror of that day back in vivid detail. Baker takes on the ideas of political correctness and explains how being "kind" can get people killed, he takes on Hollywood for it portrayal of firefighters, with their chiseled abs and golden hero looks. He explains that the reality of being a firefighter is a lifestyle that includes having more than one job, that includes a great deal of time away from home, that includes bonding with your coworkers as an extended family. The chilling reality that every time the bell rings a firefighter may be walking his last steps put the serice they offer in perspective. This isn't a career that looks like a good job, it's something you have as a calling or something you don't.
Throughout the book Baker places quotes that capture very nicely the themes of each given chapter, and I liked that I could pause and reflect upon what I had read. I appreciated those quotes because it gave me a moment to process. This book is chock full of moments, life and death encounters, and the pause helped me absorb. I don't know if Baker's intention was to give the reader that moment, but for me that was the effect. Over the two days that I read this book, I had a hard time setting it aside. I liked the frank honesty of Baker's writing. I appreciated the glimpse inside the life of a firefighter. This is a book that would be good reading for anybody considering a life in service to others. Perhaps the most poignant concept in the book, for me, was in a scene where a woman asked our narrator if he was paid enough to do this job and his response, and I paraphrase, "You couldn't pay me a million dollars to run into a burning building, but I'll do it for free." This book is aptly titled, and well worth the time spent reading. This book will make you better appreciate the men and women we take so much for granted. I dare say it will make you appreciate all the people of you life a little more, because between the front and the back of the book are moments, seconds really, that transform the world.