Review: ‘Notes from the Firehouse’ by D.E. McCourt

by Kim on March 15, 2012 · 4 comments

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Title: Notes from the Firehouse
Author: D.E. McCourt
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2011
Acquired: From the author for review consideration
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Review: I’ve always liked reading books written by people who have experiences that I will never get to have. Most of the time, those stories are something extraordinary — crashing in the jungle in New Guinea or writing restaurant reviews for the New York Times. But there’s also something fun to read about more common but just as foreign experiences, like those of a firefighter.

In Notes from the Firehouse, former firefighter Doug McCourt shares stories from his 18 years on the force in Melrose, Mass. The stories in the memoir range from comic to tragic, and shift scope as quickly as a quiet afternoon at the firehouse can turn into a serious emergency.

What I liked about the book was the way McCourt was able to show the range of emergencies that can happen to a firefighter. On a given day, an engine can be called to anything from a bat trapped in a family home to a young boy who lit himself on fire. And all of these situations, no matter how mundane or strange, require patience and compassion during the response.

It’s also clear how much affection McCourt has for the other firefighters he writes about. Life in a firehouse isn’t always fun — there’s quite a bit of hazing and just as much male machismo that goes around — but it’s clear the people responding to calls in Melrose are good guys asked to take on difficult situations.

There are some places where the writing is a little awkward, a lack of polish perhaps. Those moments stuck out to me, I think, because of my own day job; as an editor, I spend almost as much of my day editing and rewriting other stories as I do writing my own. It’s hard for things like misplaced commas or bulky sentences not to stick out, but I don’t think the writing will be a deterrent to readers without my picky eyes, you know? A few examples might help:

“Only luck separated this incident from a house fire, in which the city’s only ladder truck would be tied up trying to capture a wayward parrot.”

“Perplexed at what seemed to be such a severe injury at the hands of such a benign piece of apparatus, we asked the father what happened.”

“The old man just stood their quietly after his explanation, he looked like someone who needed a good place to hide.”

But aside from that criticism, Notes from the Firehouse is a collection of pretty enjoyable stories, the kind you’d probably hear if you sat down at the bar with a local firefighter and asked him to tell you about the job. They’re not fancy or embellished (in fact, McCourt uses a lot of sly allusions and asides to make his points, which are quite funny), just life the way it was. For those stories, I thought the book was a fun read.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

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