"Here we were, heading into the fire, ascending to the hottest and most dangerous part of the tower. In the extreme heat and with poor visibility, we were walking into the unknown."
Into the Fire hinges on the Grenfell Tower incident, but it also explores the life of a firefighter, particularly that of its author Edric Kennedy-Macfoy, who has been both a police officer and a firefighter (as well as a bouncer, personal trainer, and a host of other interesting jobs). We see not only the events that have shaped his career, including the fatal Croydon tram derailment, a fire in the home of a hoarder and cannabis farm, and a woman who was persistent in having her toe stuck in her bathtub tap, but also how they affected his mental state.
The prologue gives a summary of what of the book is about, encapsulating the juxtaposition of bravery and vulnerability, both physical and emotional, that the firefighters bear. From there it's straight into Grenfell, and I appreciate that: Kennedy-Macfoy likely knew that this was the crux of the interest in the book, and he doesn't play games by drawing out the anticipation and teasing the reader into continuing. It also means that we're almost immediately into the action, and with the heightened emotions Kennedy-Macfoy elicits we have more of a bond with this narrator. He portrays an attractive character, someone who is dynamic, energetic, and passionate about trying new things. He provides interesting notes about the job, such as the breathing apparatus and types of fire trucks.
"The fact that I was on the seventeenth floor of a tower that was still burning, and fully aware of the immediate danger we were in, weighed on both my mind and nerves as I progressed through the tower."
Sometimes I felt that the prose wasn't as clean as it could have been, especially coming from Penguin, as if it could have benefited from another round of editing, such as the rather bald "It's obvious that I am in turmoil" or "It reminded me of my house as a child, it reminded me of poverty. The furniture was old and worn, the TV resembled a model from the nineties, the carpet was worn, and the design again reminded me of my childhood home". As a novel, perhaps Into the Fire isn't the most incredible, but the context around it adds an extra layer of intrigue. I discovered it when the author, Edric Kennedy-Macfoy, followed me on Instagram and, as a matter of course, I checked out his profile: I liked that he explored the intersection of being a writer and being vegan, both paths I'm interested in supporting, and I pre-ordered the book on Amazon even though I didn't think it was really my style. I read it on -- appropriately -- a burning hot summer's day, lying out in the garden.
After reading, I did an Ecosia search for the author -- and found that there was a bit of contention around him and the book. A Sun article has written that colleagues have "blasted" him for his account, when "his book is stitched together to make him look a hero. He was on a different watch and didn’t arrive till 10.30am when the fire was effectively out." However, the book never makes such a claim. Kennedy-Macfoy is very clear in saying that fire crews were already in attendance four hours before his shift even started, that he didn't expect to be needed, and that his mission in the tower was to describe the situation inside rather than a search and rescue. It's a strange drama to create in the press, as anyone reading the book would immediately see that Kennedy-Macfoy never makes any "heroic" claims; true, he describes the heat of the building even when the fire was predominantly extinguished, but we all know that burnt materials retain their heat for a long time after the fire has gone out -- and that the structure itself was in danger of collapsing around them. As for the claim that "a senior ex-colleague said Edric broke a code that firefighters don’t reveal what happens between them and victims," well, I couldn't comment on that: I suppose that any truthful account will reveal details that might not have been cleared for confidentiality, and what Kennedy-Macfoy has written doesn't seem exploitative or libellous.
"We were constantly hearing loud bangs, pops and creaks as bits of the building broke away and fell to the ground ... We were surrounded by smoke and fire, we were constantly coming across dead victims on the ground in front of us, and the only noises were these awful sounds of the tower falling apart."
If you're interested in hearing more about Edric Kennedy-Macfoy, there are YouTube videos including an interview with him, a new story about his case against the Metropolitan police, and his appreciation for a vegan diet. His next book, Fit Vegan, is due out in January and is available to pre-order.