Firefighting Book Review: One Foot in the Black by Kurt Kamm

One Foot in the Black
Author: Kurt Kamm
Published 2007
ISBN- 978-1-4357-0626-2
(250 pages)

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One Foot in the Black

One Foot in the Black is a coming of age tale that crosses many aspects of how, what, when, and why people become firefighters. Firefighting is not a job fit for everyone. Greg Kowalski happened into it…or did he?

One Foot in the Black (definition): A position on the fireline which is next to an area already burned (“the black”). it is at once the most dangerous place, usually close to the flames, and the safest place, a zone into which escape is possible. (page iii).

One Foot in the Black is the story about Greg Kowalski. Greg is a 19 year old who has no idea what he is going to do with his life. His abusive father is no help in molding Greg into the man he would become.

Greg’s father is a Saginaw, Michigan firefighter. His father’s Captain ends up being his saving grace when he suggests Greg to head to California to become a seasonal firefighter. Greg leaves everything behind to begin a journey that ends up being the beginning of his new life.

This story really hit home with me. While I am not a wildland firefighter, nor do I live on the west coast, I left home at the same time I was getting all my life together to become a paid firefighter.

The family that Greg leaves behind in Michigan is quickly replaced with the firefighting family he meets in California. That family would be torn when they experience a fatal firestorm.

I recommend this book to anyone involved in wildland firefighting or firefighting in general. The ones of us who are firefighters have experienced much of what Greg experiences in his journey. Learning to co-exist with other firefighters on the job, the dangers of the job, and even death of other firefighters meld Greg into a respectable young man.

I reviewed another book by Kurt Kamm recently: Red Flag Warning.

Kurt Kamm

Just as I said about that book, it holds true with this one…

Kamm doesn’t just throw a book together from the comfort of his living room. In the acknowledgments of the book, you can plainly see he did his homework on this book. Kamm spent considerable time with members of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, State of California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (CalFire), the Culver City Fire Department, and many other firefighters.

His ability to entrench himself in the life of the characters he is writing about is outstanding. He spares no detail in building up each character making them seem real to life and does a great job of helping the reader develop the characters in their imagination.

Kamm has lived through several wildfires in his home in Malibu, California.

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