Simon & Schuster Canada has recently published Damian Asher’s Inside the Inferno: A Firefighter's Story of the Brotherhood that Saved Fort McMurray in which he and his coauthors describe the tragedy of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire in Canada. Those of us who regularly follow the headlines may have heard of this wildfire. Shocked by its intensity, we may have noted the damage it caused, discussed it at length and then moved on with our own lives. Quite naturally, it may have shocked and terrified us. For those of us who only heard about the fire, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what the courageous firefighters experienced in the process. As we look at Asher’s book, however, we may eventually start redefining heroism for ourselves. What, we may ask, is the definition of a hero? While Asher’s memoir may not necessarily provide us with the answer to this question, it brings our attention to the Fort McMurray tragedy in all of its terrifying intensity.
If we focus specifically on the book’s title, we may become inevitably drawn to its message. Struck by its power, by the awe-inspiring courage of these people, we would begin to feel that we are not just an audience who are looking at people’s fearless, bleeding hearts on a page. Inevitably, we become silent participants in this tragedy. By commiserating with these people, we become part of their tragic experience, get a taste of the courage that burns inside them. As we read, we are forced to stand face to face with real tragedy. According to Simon and Schuster, the brave men and women of the fire department were tasked with a very difficult mission — “to defend the community and to save thousands of lives.” It is a mission that moves us to think about someone other than ourselves, helps us reflect on the bigger and higher purpose of our lives. These people were not afraid to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. They walked into the fray, knowing that they had already lost everything except for their lives. And yet, they were able to find the courage to ignore their own desires and to work together to defend their community.
As we look at the book, the concept of brotherhood stands out to us. In our modern world, it may often seem that we are pulling further and further away from this concept. Each of us lives in his or her own isolated space. We buy houses, computers, and numerous other gadgets, always eager to claim ownership over some new possession. Only when a natural disaster strikes do we suddenly realize that we cannot hold on to our possessions forever. According to Canada NewsWire, “Inside the Inferno details the courage, strength, and sacrifice of the firefighters and shows what it takes for a city to reunite and rebuild.” In the book’s pages, we rediscover the values of courage, strength, and a sense of bonding. These firefighters would not have been able to save Fort McMurray had it not been for their powerful sense of loyalty to one another. Thus, when reading the book, we inevitably open our eyes to the values that we may have forgotten about in our daily struggles.
The book may also motivate some of us to make connections to literature and films. In particular, I cannot help thinking about Dante’s Inferno. The title itself moves us to make this connection. After all, Dante descended into hell both to cleanse himself and to relieve the sufferers’ pain. He passed through every level of hell and witnessed the suffering of so many souls. In the end, he emerged strengthened and purified both by their suffering and his own. Analogously, the men and women who braved the fire together went through so many levels of hell in order to save their city. According to CBC News, “the story's universal themes could resonate with people whose lives were changed by the wildfire.” All of these people suffered. So many of them lost everything they had, including the homes they worked so hard to build and the possessions they took years to accumulate. Just like Dante, they descended into hell. Like him, they had to descend into an abyss in order to start rebuilding their lives, scarred by suffering but more resilient overall.
These courageous people sacrificed themselves in order to save their community. A spirit of camaraderie bonded them. It was this camaraderie that helped these firefighters eventually emerge from the fray as the heroic group of people who saved the fort and survived the fire. Ultimately, an allusion to the final lines of Tennyson’s “Ulysses” comes to mind precisely because it describes these people’s courage so aptly: “One equal temper of heroic hearts, / Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”