<B>A real-life firefighter's scorching tale</B> Earl Emerson, a 24-year veteran of the Seattle Fire Department, is best known as the author of two popular series featuring Thomas Black and Mac Fontana. In <B>Vertical Burn</B>, he introduces a new character, Seattle firefighter John Finney. Firefighting is a family tradition for the dedicated Finney, with grandfather, father and brother all in the profession.

"It was the most interesting job in the world. Getting up in the middle of the night to do who knows what. Anything could be out there waiting for him. Absolutely anything," Emerson writes. As it turns out, something very bad is waiting for Finney. One night, and one devastating warehouse fire, change his life forever.

Only Finney is convinced that the Leary Way fire on that fateful June evening is arson. Adding to the mystery, Finney's crew arrives first on the scene when at least five truck companies should have been dispatched ahead of them. Events spiral out of control. Finney escapes the burning building; his partner does not. Heat stress and carbon monoxide poisoning cloud his recollection of the events.

Firefighting, like all professions, has its cardinal rules. Foremost, it's bad to lose a partner in a fire, but unforgivable to be the cause of that loss. The worst thing a firefighter can do is panic, and Finney stands accused of just that. Burned, depressed and tormented by survivor's guilt, Finney becomes obsessed with the Leary Way fire. As a result, his credibility and career suffer. However, as Finney attempts to unravel a sequence of apparent coincidences, his life gets much worse. Is it a sinister conspiracy or a case of paranoia? The tension escalates as Finney tries to save not only his career, but possibly his life as well.

Emerson gives us a ringside seat to firefighter protocol and procedures intermingled with relentless suspense. The details are realistic, including techniques to clear smoke from buildings, engines versus ladder rigs and the Knox Box (which allows firemen to enter commercial buildings without breaking down the door). <B>Vertical Burn</B> sizzles with excitement, plenty of Pacific Northwest atmosphere and a harrowing finale. It's a convincing tale populated with the courageous individuals who fight fires and the scoundrels who set them. <I>C.

L. Ross reads, writes and reviews in Pismo Beach, California.</I>

comments powered by Disqus