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'A FIREMAN'S FIREMAN': CHIEF PETER J. GANCIA HERO'S SON WRITES ABOUT HIS DAD

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by Joe Lugara

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The cover photo for Chief: The Life of Peter J. Ganci, A New York City Firefighter (Orchard Books/Scholastic, $16.95) could very well have been an individual portrait of the city's late fire chief; instead it's an image of an entire New York City fire company. The group portrait illustrates Ganci's famed willingness to leave his desk and the safety of a chief's administrative duties to join his men whenever danger threatened most. Danger threatened most, of course, on September 11. Ganci could have kept a safe distance monitoring operations that day, but he took an active role at the center of the chaos and it cost him. He would be the highest-ranking official to lose his life on 9/11. Chief's author, Chris Ganci, is the youngest son of the late official. Written for young people ages 9 and up, Chief is a book about a father, a family man, a leader, and ultimately, one of the true brave men in the city's history, who would be laid to rest only one day after what would have been his 33rd anniversary in the department. The chief was, as his son says, "a fireman's fireman." "My father worked 80 to 100 hours a week, and used to say he had 10,000 kids," Chris Ganci recalls. His dedication to his "10,000 kids" was such that it kept the chief at his post beyond his February 2002 retirement date. "He was waiting for the changeover in the administration so he could make sure the department would be heading in the right direction when he left," his son reports. The decision to stay on would prove fateful, but no one who knew the chief would have expected anything less of him. Ganci took up the job of writing about his dad for various reasons. For one, as he admits in his forward, it helped him find some solace in the tragedy. He was also determined to produce a tribute to an undeniably stout and respected individual, and to the people who work in the fire service in general — in whose number are included Ganci's older brother, Pete, and their future brother-in-law. For the young people to whom the book is tailored, Ganci says he would like them to discover a sense of hope and a feeling for how good people can be. As he writes: "The very worst part of all is that nearly 3,000 civilians lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center. The very best part for me is that with the help of firefighters like my father, 25,000 civilians survived." The chief's fortitude was such that, on 9/11, he was nearly buried in the rubble from the collapse of the first tower, only to dig his way out with his men to continue rescue operations when the second tower came down. "My dad was so dynamic. . .when the opportunity rose to make a difference, to save even one life, he did it," Ganci says. "For the amount of money they get paid, these people risk their lives not only for family and friends but for strangers. When you think about it, it's unbelievable." (To assist those with family members who work in the fire service, and to further honor his father's memory, in 2002 young Ganci helped found the Peter J. Ganci Memorial Foundation to provide financial support to families via donations to smaller, lesser-known firefighter-related charities. These include the Thomas R. Elsasser Memorial Fund, whose dollars go to the loved ones of firefighters who lost their lives from natural causes, accidents or injury, when not on duty). If a fire department is something like a family-away-from-home, then Chief is a family album on every count. We see the chief as a young soldier; we see him posing with his immediate family. And above all, we see him at work with his fire department family. The firefighting pictures will prove more meaningful to the reader than those in the average firefighting book since Ganci, as a result of his high-profile position, appears in several of them; they are, in plain fact, often moving. The images of 9/11, while expressive, are not graphic, and do not include any images of Ganci, nor is the chief's funeral illustrated in any disturbing way. The photos sketch an elucidating picture of the chief all on their own, but when taken with Ganci's straightforward and affectionate text, they bring into sharp focus the man whose son remembers him as "coming home covered in soot. It wasn't a bad smell but it was a distinct smell — actually, just like fire. But he loved it. He'd say, 'I got to play.'"

Capturing FDNY History, Through Illustrations No one in the world could have produced a book about New York's Fire Department as perfectly as the New York City Fire Museum, and for aficionados of this dangerous and honorable profession, the museum has produced a 136-page work of unquestioned achievement, FDNY: An Illustrated History of the Fire Department of the City of New York (Odyssey Books, $17.95 hardcover; $11.95 paperback). This book — superb in both text and illustrations — is not exclusively for young people, although it may be enjoyed by those ages 10 and up. The text is uncomplicated and rich with facts and anecdotes; but the book does much, much more than simply detail the evolution of uniforms and equipment. The story of the NYFD is the story of the city itself — how it grew as the city grew, and how it changed as the world changed, both technologically and socially. The illustrations, which include everything from an early 19th-century print by Nathaniel Currier to a photo of the "Towers of Light" memorial, are dazzling, and support the text beautifully. A fascinating book for everyone, even if they look only at the pictures.

Four-Legged Heroes to the Rescue Two years after the fact, the cottage industry known as 9/11 is still churning out merchandise. Publishing is the busiest field; good books, mediocre books, awful books — even a few excellent ones here and there — for adults and children are making it onto the shelves every day, on the publisher's belief that we want them. If they're basing their belief on robust sales figures (and they probably are), then they're right. Hero Dogs: Courageous Canines in Action (Little, Brown, $16.95) by Donna M. Jackson is one of the excellent books. But its publishers make one mistake about it: They claim it's for readers of all ages. It's not. Although Jackson's text is excellent — enlightening, well researched, and relying on an interesting variety of subjects, both human and canine — it's also lengthy. Hero Dogs is not a picture book; the photos, some of which are less than business card size, support the text better than those of any such previous book and are fitted with splendidly informative captions. But the book must be read, not merely looked at; it contains a heap of inside information as to how rescue workers, and even the handicapped, function with these amazing animals, from their training and care to their work on disaster sites such as the World Trade Center. Fascinating, but only for ages 10 and up.


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