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Photo by: Peter Foley

9/11 Memorial - A history of New York’s Firefighters from 1700 to present

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Photo by: Peter Foley

Listen to Niall O'Dowd speak about "Threats of attacks on 9/11 anniversary" on RTE's "Morning Ireland"

Telling an as-yet-untold story about the heroic FDNY  mission of September 11, Terry Golway writes: "Lieutenant Bob Bohack faced the dilemma of his career. He had his orders: He was to help extinguish the fire on the 79th floor. But those orders were given before he heard rumors of missiles, of more airplanes heading for New York. Communications were horrendous. One of his firefighters was missing, and another was having chest pains. And he still had more than fifty floors to climb".

Lt. Bohack's astonishing story is told in "So Others Might Live: A History of New York's Bravest, The FDNY  from 1700 to the Present" by Terry Golway. "So Others Might Live," however, is not another gripping, heartbreaking account of that awful day.

Golway, the son of a New York firefighter, has written the first full history of the entire department in six decades. A columnist and editor of the New York Observer, Golway chronicles the history of the New York City Fire Department, from the volunteers of the early 1700s to the rebuilding efforts in the wake of September 11.

In between, Golway, also the author of "The Irish in America," "For the Cause of Liberty: A Thousand Years of Ireland's Heroes" and "Irish Rebel: John Devoy  and America's Fight for Ireland's Freedom," explains how the Irish played a key role in founding the FDNY, and the role the department has played in politics and culture. Furthermore, he explores how other ethnic groups, as well as women, have fought their way onto "the bravest".

All this is done with drama, when it's needed, and a dash of black humor when called for. ("Rarely is a fire chief asked for an opinion when master architects plan their great works of art", Golway writes, as he discusses the FDNY's long-chronicled concerns about safety in the World Trade Center.) "We cannot finally understand firemen; they have risen to some place among the inexplicable beauties of life", Murray Kempton once wrote.

With "So Others Might Live," Golway, whose father-in-law, godfather, and uncles were also firefighters, comes as close as possible. ($27.50 / 336 pages / Basic Books)

Originally published in March 10, 2009 

Listen to Niall O'Dowd speak about "Threats of attacks on 9/11 anniversary" on RTE's "Morning Ireland"

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