Things You Save in a Fire

Image of Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel
Release Date: 
August 12, 2019
St. Martin's Press
Reviewed by: 

Cassie Hanwell once wanted to be a physician, but now finds her niche working as an EMT/firefighter. She loves her job, and at age 26, she is the youngest person and the first female to receive the Austin (TX) Fire Department's Valor Reward. The night of the banquet, she expects to be awarded her commendation from the mayor, yet Congressman Heath Thompson, a man with whom Cassie has a disturbing past, is the presenter instead. When he gropes Cassie while on the podium, she hauls off and belts him, landing him in the hospital.

The next day, fearing her livelihood is over, Cassie learns she passed the lieutenant's test with a high score and, she was to have been made a fabulous poster girl for the city. But because of her actions the previous night, any chance of a promotion is over—that is unless she apologizes to Heath—something she refuses to do.

What are Cassie's options? Her semi-estranged mother calls asking her to come to Massachusetts to take care of her due to a recent illness. Cassie does not want to go, still feeling anger at her mom for leaving her and her father on the night of Cassie's 16th birthday. How can a mother do that to a daughter? But this is a way out for her and a chance to keep working at her beloved profession. Strong, both physically and mentally, she’s worked too hard to throw it all away.

Her captain arranges for a position for Cassie at the Lillian, MA, fire department not far from her mother's residence. She does not want to be with her mother, but her career comes before anything. Before Cassie leaves the state, Captain Harris gives her suggestions on how to deal with the male chauvinism she is about to face, something that was never a problem for Cassie before:

"'Do not wear makeup, perfume, or lady-scented deodorant . . . Don't paint your nails. Don't wear any jewelry . . . And cut your hair off—or keep it up.'”

"'Whenever possible,' she went on. 'Don't giggle. And don't laugh too loud. Don't touch anybody for any reason. Don't carry a purse. Don't use the upper registers of your voice, but don't allow too much vocal fry, either. Don't sing, ever. And if you make eye contact, make it straight on, like a predator.' . . .

. . . "'Follow your orders,' she went on. 'Don't ask questions. Know the rules. Go above and beyond at every chance. If your captain says to run a mile, run two. If they want you to deadlift one-fifty, do one seventy-five.' . . .

"'Don't ever act afraid. Don't ever hesitate. Don't ever admit it when you don't understand.' . . .

"'Don't back down from a challenge,' she went on, 'and if you go up against somebody, make damn sure to win. No fear! If your hands start shaking, sit on them. If you get an injury, ignore it.' . . .

. . . "'Never admit to being hurt. Pain is for the weak.'. . .

"'They will ignore you. They will exclude you. They will resent you. Being nice won't help. Working hard won't matter. Just by your very presence there, you are attacking them, trying to steal something that's rightfully theirs, trying to infiltrate and dismantle their brotherhood. You'll be a hen in a wolf-house, and they will eat you like a snack the first chance they get.'"

These are only a few of her captain's tips, and these facts are true, for she's lived them.

Dismayed upon arriving at her new position, Cassie is not only not wanted ("firefighting is not for ladies”), but she is shocked at how antiquated the station is and lacking the many necessary items to assist in their duties.

At first, things are overbearing with the men on her shift, but she remembers her old captain's recommendations and follows them through like a champ. She also lets her colleagues know she is well trained and willing and able to work hard.

When summoned to a huge fire, a senior firefighter orders Cassie to go against orders. She refuses, but when two of her team members go ahead anyway, she joins them rather than face the possibility they could be hurt. Things go badly and she soon faces the possibility of being fired.

Having become a strong and independent woman, after her mom abandoned her and experiencing a horrific trauma that same night, Cassie is resilient, and she won't let anyone change her. Though tough, she also displays a warm side making her vulnerable to feelings and pain.

Things You Save in a Fire is a profound tale of how a woman makes it in a man's world without letting her past or those trying to deter her from doing her job. The novel depicts how difficult women must work to prove their capabilities to perform in a male-oriented environment, to surpass expectations, and to be judged by their actions and not their gender.