Kurt L. Kamm’s debut novel One Foot In The Black: A Wildland Firefighter’s Story is adroitly written with enough narrative to keep your interest until the last page.
The narrative comprises the interplay of two themes that are woven together as it criss-crosses back and forth between the life of nineteen year old Greg Kowalski's desire to become a firefighter and his heart-rending life growing up in Saginaw Michigan where he had to endure the physical and verbal abuse handed out by his appalling father.
Kamm had done considerable research prior to crafting this very timely and informative novel and as he mentions in his acknowledgements, he met firefighters of all ranks, heavy equipment operators, helicopter pilots, paramedics, arson investigators, and retardant experts. All of this is quite in evidence as we follow Greg’s journey to pursuing his dreams.
The opening chapter introduces us to Greg in Malibu California where he informs us that he had joined the L.A, County Fire Department eighteen months ago and where he met Luis Zambrano. Like his other colleagues, Luis would risk his live to save others. Luis has a family and he is quite content to get along with $3500 a month salary even though the life of a firefighter is fraught with constant danger. Greg recounts to readers something that was passed unto him by one of his commanders, “When you think you have an area under control, don’t forget to tell the fire. A fire is never controlled until it’s controlled, contained, and cold-trailed.” And as we read the story, this is something Greg will eventually learn and experience.
No less compelling is the novel’s second theme as we learn that Greg grew up in Saginaw Michigan where his father was a firefighter. Greg was proud of his father, however, the only peace the family ever experienced was when his father was away. His father’s unpredictable and explosive anger was always just below the surface.It was not uncommon for Greg to be beaten with a belt and moreover his father’s fury was also extended to Greg’s mother and sister. It is little wonder that all Greg dreamed of was escaping from his horrendous environment and connecting with others.
Fortunately, Greg is given an opportunity to change his life when one of his father’s co-firefighters, Mike Bentak pulls him aside at a Christmas party and asks him what he intends to do after high school and would he think about becoming a firefighter. Greg’s immediate response is that he was thinking about it and although he did ask his father a couple of times about being a firefighter, he was never encouraged to pursue this occupation.
It is here where Mike passes onto Greg an application for the wildlife training program at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the rest is history, as Kamm narrates in the ensuing chapters how Greg makes a new life for himself as a firefighter continually testing himself with all of its riveting and dangerous excitement.
One Foot In The Black: A Wildland Firefighter’s Story is not exactly high art and is not without its shortcomings, particularly the uneven manner Kamm moves back and forth between Greg’s life as a firefighter and the home he left. Nonetheless, readers will definitely appreciate how a gutsy young man remains steadfast in his quest to pursue his dreams and face up to all of the obstacles thrown in his path. In addition, after reading One Foot In The Black: A Wildland Firefighter’s Story readers will have a better understanding just how selfless and brave these firefighters are in putting themselves on the line on behalf of the communities they protect.
Kamm is an intelligent writer who writes with honesty and integrity evidencing someone who has done a great deal of research and who has a deep desire to share his knowledge with others.
The story has many strong moments with its detailed and vivid descriptions, whether of Greg’s family life or the forest fires he experiences, and should conquer readers in the hope that Kamm will write a sequel to this fascinating yarn.
As a passing note, I should like to mention that Kamm will be donating the initial sales of the book to the Wildland Firefighter Fund. Kamm lives in Malibu and is very thankful that his home had been spared from the devastating fires that engulfed the area in 2007.
The above review was contributed by:The Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com, Norm Goldman, B.A. LL.L, Retired Title Attorney: Norm is also a travel writer and together with his artist wife, Lily, the couple meld Norm's words with Lily's art. To check out their travel site click on Sketchandtravel.comClick here to view Norm’s Reviews & Interviews.
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