Flames and Smoke Visible by D.S. Lliteras

After D. S. Lliteras graduated from the U. S. Naval Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Illinois, he was ordered to the First Marine Division in Vietnam, and arrived in country in July 1968. Lliteras volunteered to serve with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in the First Marine Division where he was a combat corpsman and a diver (who went under bridges to check for booby traps) until July 1970. Lliteras went on twenty long range reconnaissance patrols into enemy territory during his Vietnam War tour.

Why do I give so much information about Lliteras’ military service in a review of a book about firefighting?  Partly because it answers the question: Why would a man choose to spend a career going into burning buildings?  This man who chose to fight fires is the same man who chose to spend his tour of duty in Vietnam reconning in enemy territory. Often the enemy in Vietnam was unseen, and the dangers of a burning building are also often not seen. In both cases, though, you know that danger is there.

Good books that deal powerfully with men and their work are rare. Fewer still are books written by these men. When the occasional book is written about a man doing a dangerous job, and doing it well year after dangerous year, it’s usually written by an outsider who does a few hours of interviews, some research, and observations. That author is unlikely to accompany a fire fighter into a burning building to stand side by side with a man such as D. S. Lliteras.

Lliteras received a Bronze Star with a V device (for valor) for his recon work in Vietnam. He received the Medal of Honor from the Norfolk, Virginia, Fire and Paramedical Services for “exceptional action in the line of duty in the saving of life.”

His book, Flames and Smoke Visible: A Fire Fighter’s Tale (Rainbow Ridge, 224 pp., $17.95, paper), is exciting and well written. In it, Lliteras takes the reader inside the dangerous job of firefighting with an intensity no other writer/firefighter I have read has done, including the late Larry Brown, author of On Fire. Flames and Smoke Visible is the firefighting book that Brown’s fans had hoped for but did not get.

D.S. Lliteras

This memoir is organized into thirty-seven chapters. The chapters have honest, descriptive headings, such as: First in Engine, Rescue Thirteen, Car Fire, Delivering a Baby, Kitchen Fire, and Third Alarm Fire.  These chapter headings give a good sense of the material that Lliteras covers in his fine book, but you must read the book for the full sense of the drama inherent in fire-fighting.

I read Flames and Smoke Visible non-stop, in a space of a few hours. I got totally caught up in the drama of firefighting. With the authority of experience as a firefighter, and the talent and the skill honed as the author of many brilliant novels, Lliteras has produced a beautifully written, riveting account about this profession that is entertaining and also informs, instructs, and allows the reader access to the human heart.

I highly recommend this book, which is also is available on Kindle. The paperback—which will be published in March, but may be pre-ordered—features a beautiful cover showing firefighters silhouetted against flames and smoke.

I also recommend that you purchase and read D.S. Lliteras’s other fine books. You will be happy you did.

—David Willson