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Fire! Captures the Excitement and Dangers of Firefighting

Share Joy Masoff has written Fire!, a new book (Scholastic Press, 1998). Her lively writing combines with dramatic color photos and sidebars full of interesting fire facts. The result -- twenty jam-packed two-page spreads that together form a definitive work for middle graders about the gear, the rescues, the thrill, the bravery, and the future of firefighting.

Firefighter Book Cover

Fighting fires might be a firefighter's primary responsibility, but that doesn't mean that's all a firefighter does! Those brave civil servants and volunteers are there whenever called upon. They're the first to arrive at the scenes of many emergencies -- from burst pipes to strange smells, from car accidents to collapsed buildings, from forest fires to flash floods.

Author Joy Masoff captures the drama of a firefighter's daily life in a new volume from Scholastic Press titled, appropriately, Fire! Masoff picks up readers and deposits them in the boots of a firefighter. Part photo-essay, part docudrama, and part fire safety lesson, Masoff dedicates Fire! "to every man and woman who has ever answered the call of a fire siren or the cry of a person in need."

Fire! opens with "Know the Enemy," a lesson in the science of fire. Additional sections are focused on the "tools of the trade," the job, and a history of firefighting. The book closes with 12 safety tips that every family should know about.


Did you know that the firefighter's "turnout" -- the gear he or she wears when fighting a fire -- weighs about 68 pounds? And did you know that a pumper truck can pump up to 1,500 gallons of water in one minute? (That's like filling 50 bathtubs in just sixty seconds!) Those are just a couple of the fire facts Masoff shares with young readers.

She also introduces readers to some of firefighting's most unique tools. We see close-up the "jaws of life" (a 50-pound scissor-like tool used to cut through car doors and roofs to rescue people trapped inside), inflatables (rugged inflatable pillows that can be used to lift slabs of stone or cement from victims trapped under them), and thermal imaging cameras (cameras that can "see" through thick smoke to locate people trapped in a burning building.)

And have you ever seen a purple fire truck? Masoff has found one for you!


The next section of Fire! takes a look at life "on the job." Whitewater rescues, cave rescues, drain pipe rescues -- they're all part of the job. And Masoff offers exciting descriptions of firefighting heroics. She also takes readers behind the scenes in the firehouse to see how firefighters are able to make lightning-fast responses to a call for help. This section even includes a recipe for "Firefighter McNulty's Four-Alarm Chicken"!

Students will learn the vocabulary of firefighting as they read Fire! Did you know that a Pulaski is a combo ax-hoe used to dig a fireline? Did you know a fireline is a strip of land that has been cleared of all wood and brush with the hope of stopping a fire in its tracks? Do you know what sky-Jello is? (It's the pink fire-retardant chemical dropped from planes to smother difficult fires.) Those are just a few of the terms students will be exposed to in this excellent book! Here are a few more:

arsonbackdraftbucket brigade
controlled burn   flashpoint   flashover
haz-mathotshotsintake line
shake 'n' bakesilverstenders

In addition, a two-page spread about "fire detectives" introduces students to the problem of arson, and to some of the tools firefighters use to help them figure out who the perpetrator is. In addition, Masoff introduces readers to smokejumpers, firefighters who jump from planes to bring raging forest fires under control.

Have you ever considered being a firefighter? Today, more than 1-1/2 million firefighters belong to one of 35,000 fire departments. The tests -- both written and physical -- those firefighters must pass to earn their titles can be grueling. Here's an example from Masoff of a physical test that firefighters must pass:

  • "Drag a 50-foot, 80-pound hose for one block, then turn around and drag it back.
  • "Fold a 46-pound hose over your shoulder and run up three flights of stairs, then lug it 85 feet.
  • "Climb a 4-1/2 foot wall.
  • "Lift a 60-pound, 20-foot ladder, position it, and climb up, then down.
  • "Crawl through a 25-foot-long tunnel, then drag a 145-pound dummy 45 feet across a finish line."
And the firefighters have just six minutes to do all that!


Masoff takes a look back at firefighting history too. She introduces young readers to the stories of Nero, who reportedly fiddled while Rome burned, and of the Great London Fire of 1666, Mrs. O'Leary's cow, the fires associated with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and, more recently, the southern California wildfires. And do you know how Dalmations came to be the firehouse dog of choice? Read Fire to find out!

And how about these fire firsts? The first fire hydrant was installed in 1801 in Philadelphia. And the first woman firefighter was named Molly Williams. When do you think she became a firefighter? (If you guessed "in the 1700s," you're right!)

Masoff also includes in the back of Fire! a bibliography of firefighting resources that interested students might explore. Those resources include books and magazines; addresses for writing letters; films; and places to visit.

Fire, by Joy Masoff, and with principal photography by Jack Reznicki and Barry D, Smith, is available in bookstores nationwide. If you're unable to located a copy, ask your local bookseller to order it for you or contact Scholastic Press, 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World

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