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“Flames and Smoke Visible: A Fire Fighter’s Tale” by D.S. Lliteras (Rainbow Ridge Books, 2013), $17.95, 196 pages.


The air conditioning is on.

It’s been on a lot this summer because, without it, you’d probably melt. Yes, you’re hot, and we’re not talking Wow-You’re-Looking-Good-Tonight hot. We’re talking about Sitting-In-Front-of-the-A/C-Vents-Just-to-Survive hot. Whew!

And you know, there’s one group of people who willingly spend hours, if needed, in a place that’s even hotter. In the new book “Flames and Smoke Visible” by D.S. Lliteras, you’ll read about one of them.

While many people complain about work stress, D.S. Lliteras has a job that almost killed him: he’s a firefighter and, while on a fight, he was stricken by a heart attack. An EMS team — including some men he worked with — took him to a nearby hospital, where Lliteras spent a weekend recalling his job.

For most workers, an 8- or 10-hour day is usual, but a firefighter may pull a “half-trick” (12 hours) or a “full-trick” (24 hours).

He might spend that time at his home station, or he might report as fill-in, which could mean assignment to a different job than he’d be used to doing.

He might fight fires. She might perform CPR.

Lliteras remembers a time when his shift included midwifery.

No matter what a firefighter’s position, the “brass” could hit at any time, signaling an emergency. When that happens, everything in the firehouse is put on hold: hot meals go uneaten, showers untaken, bladders unemptied.

A crew usually knows the nature of the emergency they’re facing when they leave the “apparatus floor” — but they rarely know its full extent.

It may be a burning car, a fight made more urgent when someone is trapped in the front seat. It could be a house fire that needs “knocking down,” requiring teamwork, special equipment, and a deep trust in those who are fighting fire behind you. It could be a medical emergency, a domestic violence call, or a three-alarm conflagration. It could result in an extinguished fire, or “unwarranted guilt.”

As Lliteras remembers all this, and as he gets some bad news from his doctor, he also recalls one thing about his job: “I loved it. God help me, I loved it.”

At first, “Flames and Smoke Visible” starts out a little odd. Author D.S. Lliteras begins this skinny memoir with a major fire and an even more major heart attack. I wondered if his story could possibly continue with that level of excitement.

I’m happy to say that it could, mostly. Like any job, firefighting has its down-time but Lliteras nicely mixes the quiet with the heart-pounding.

He also includes a bit of comic relief (which is needed!) and some wonderfully warm moments that came as a welcome surprise in a story that otherwise seemed more thriller-like.

If you’re a firefighter, want to be one, or are proud of one you know, then “Flames and Smoke Visible” will light you up.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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