Dennis Smith, RIP

Jun 15, 2012
Sad News. God Bless Those Who Serve, and Those Who Mourn.
Rest In Peace Dennis Smith; Work Well Done. 😔

'Engine Co. 82' One of The Best Books I've Ever Read. 'Ground Zero' well-written, a Tough but Necessary Read.
Jul 17, 2011
I'm sure Dennis is at the great hereafter firehouse kitchen table having a cup of his favorite tea, thank you for all you have done!
Jan 2, 2012
R.I.P. He brought so much to so many in the fire service and his incredible service to youth through the Boys and Girls Clubs
Jun 27, 2017
Some of us first found Dennis Smith in 1970, in True Magazine, sitting in a drug store magazine rack. Then, Stanley Scarbeck introduced me to him at three o'clock in the morning on 181st Street.


Aug 8, 2009
13,431 News​

Fire Service Remembers Firefighter, Author Dennis Smith​

Jan. 22, 2022
Members of the fire service shared their memories and stories about Firehouse Magazine's Dennis Smith, an FDNY icon and author of "Report from Engine Co. 82."


Following the passing of Dennis Smith, the author of the "Report from Engine Co. 82 and the creator of Firehouse Magazine, the fire service shared their memories and stories about Dennis and reflected on the impact of a South Bronx firefighters on the fire service.

Proud to Help Firefighters

I got to become friends with Dennis fairly early on and there are many great stories. He even tried to get me to fly to the Philippines (THE PHILIPPINES!) just a few years ago (where he lived for a time) to work on his latest project-internet services for firefighters. He never ever stopped wanting to help.

We actually met Dennis in the early days when he was still working in The Bronx-and we would go up there from Long Island, “buffing" in the late 70's. He was a living legend to us and as friendly then as he remained decades later.

There are many, many Dennis Smith stories-but one really embodies who he was-and how he loved firefighters.

Many people don't know that he was the first chair of the IAFC's Near Miss Task Force-focused on preventing firefighter injury and death. Dennis devoted many years focused on near miss and close call events so that firefighters could learn from one another. So while Dennis is known for his writing, artwork, roles and responsibilities, he told us many times how he was most proud when he could “help firefighters stay firefighters” as long as possible.
Years later, Dennis was in the audience when I was doing a presentation for the IAFC-and what he did and gave me (see picture) after was something I really treasure. But the best gift was that Dennis was a friend and someone who was fun and unique to be around. Teri and I remained friends with Dennis until his passing …and will remember that every chat, call or email with Dennis was always a joy and often an adventure!
Thanks for all you’ve done for everyone who is, was and will be a firefighter.
Rest In peace Brother Dennis
- Billy Goldfeder, Deputy Chief, Loveland Symmes, OH, Fire Department and Firehouse's Close Calls columnist

The Innovator

"It is with heavy heart that I heard of the passing of Dennis Smith. He was an innovator in the American Fire Service. After publishing his book “Report from Engine 82” he created Firehouse Magazine and Firehouse Expo. These venues opened doors for many of us to the National Fire Service

Rest In Peace Dennis!
- James P. Smith, Deputy Chief (ret.), Philadelphia Fire Department and Firehouse's Fire Studies columnist. Jim was inducted in the 2016 Firehouse Hall of Fame with Dennis.

A Benchmark

I did not start as an enthusiastic reader or writer as a kid. Truth be known, I wouldn't say I liked the idea of taking time to focus on anything unless it involved the firehouse while I was growing up.

In the early 70s, though, I met Dennis Smith. Of course, I am not implying that I met him personally, but I encountered his love and respect for the fire service through storytelling in his book Report from Engine Co. 82. My book was bent, torn, and lived in my pockets through every midwest season for a long time (it still is on my shelf). I read, re-read, and referred to it for many years while growing up. The vivid details he shared about the neighborhoods and deprivation resonated with me as a kid growing up outside of East St. Louis, where the societal challenges were genuine and relatable. So were the fires. I paid attention to the ever-so-slight details in his writing. I listened to the noises, the cries, feeling the excitement and fears, all while absorbing the emotions in preparation for my future career. Smith shined a light on the gap between the glory and reality that most of us don't figure out until we're on the job for a few years. Some people never recover from their realization of reality; Smith helped prepare us.
In 1976, Dennis founded our magazine, Firehouse Magazine. He was our first editor and established the primary literary foundation for what we are today. In the inaugural issue's As Firehouse Sees It column, he told us to communicate "freely and regularly." The promise he made in 1976 was a lofty goal considering the politics of the time and the highly emotional topics firefighters were facing. But, even with controversies we met in the 1970s like women in the fire service, EMS, downsizing budgets, and the fight for safer building codes - he assured us that our Firehouse will "tell it like it is." Firehouse was the contemporary forum for discussion, sharing ideas and science, learning other perspectives, and discovering the truth of a brother and sisterhood that connects us so tightly today.
Firehouse appears much different today than it did in that first September-October Edition in 1976. Then, the cost for an issue was only $1.50 and amidst the corporations supplying the fire service were also advertisers that made whiskey, cigarettes, and oil. Today, we have, conferences, and a truly global reach. So much has changed around us in 45 years, but everything is still the same.

I have that first edition in front of me as I write this note. I can't help but take notice of the youth in Dennis' glare in his first column shot. I imagine the feeling of uncertainty, pride, vulnerability, and a massive fear of failing. All of those emotions are what we face in this profession daily. When failures occur in the streets, though, we can die as quickly as the people we are sworn to serve. That's the gap. It's reality.
Editors of our magazine have come and gone over the years. Every leader in the position has contributed something that has improved the magazine, and in turn, they moved the needle just a little more for the fire service. Dennis' contribution, however, is a benchmark. He took the risk. He set the standard for the literature product and boldly put challenging topics on the forefront of society (and disappointingly, we are still struggling with many of those same subjects). He was the origin of the legacy that is our Magazine, Firehouse.
In sum, we must all realize we are mortal. We have less than 100 years (if we're lucky) on this planet. It is a finite amount of time. So, reflect on Dennis' contribution and ask yourself--what will your legacy be to the fire service that gave you so much? Honor Dennis by taking a risk.

- Brian Schaeffer, Fire Chief, Spokane, WA, FD and Firehouse Editorial Advisory Board Member

A Firefighter's Firefighter

I am not sure if just a coincidence or there was a shift in the force but this morning, I was about to write an email to Dennis Smith to check and see how he was doing and share my new experiences with drones when I heard the sad news from BillyG over Firefighter Close Calls that Dennis had passed.

I had read his first book, “Report from Engine Co. 82” and was captivated of his experiences in the Bronx.

I first met Dennis as a firefighter in 1979 (I think) when he spoke at Local 2363’s Annual Awards Banquet. He was kind, supportive and humorous. He was a Firefighter’s Firefighter for sure! He shared some chilling and heartwarming stories. I still have his autograph from that event. See attached.

Later in my career as I became involved with Firehouse Magazine, Dennis and I corresponded often and shared ideas. Then in 2011, a team from Charlottesville traveled to NYC to pickup the 9/11 Memorial Steel that is now suspended from the Atrium at Charlottesville Fire Station 10 to ensure that we, “NEVER FORGET!” During this trip I had a wonderful dinner with our team and FDNY Firefighter (ret.) Lee Ielpi and Dennis Smith. At dinner, Dennis had a new idea to create a new online magazine Homeland Voice. I started collecting articles from fire chiefs for a section within Homeland Voice called “Chief to Chief” with the idea of sharing experiences between fire chiefs. Many fire chiefs were from all across the country were glad to support Dennis and submitted their stories. Unfortunately, this endeavor didn’t catch on.
Prior to dinner on 1/25/2011, I had reached out to BillyG to invite him to join us. Billy’s reply was, “Sorry I can’t make it but tell Dennis I said hello and by the way he jested, 'Dennis loves my wife.'
Dennis then also wrote and asked me to write an article about the need for fire codes in third world countries as there had just been a terrible fire in the Philippines where Dennis was living at the time. I did as Dennis asked and he was very appreciative
We talked fairly regularly while working on Homeland Voice and he was always upbeat and funny. It was an honor and true pleasure to have Dennis as a friend. He will be missed but his legacy lives on through his works and causes that he supported. RIP dear friend, you made this world a better place and we will miss you!!!
- Charles Werner, Fire Chief (ret.), Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department and Firehouse's Fire Technology columnist

Undeniable Love for the Job

Some of my earliest childhood memories were waiting for my older brother Bobby’s subscription of Firehouse Magazine to arrive.
At the time - not having any idea who created this important publication or the impact this person would have in the fire service.
Later on of course - myself like so many others knew about Dennis, largely through his first hand accounts in articles and books.
Dennis had an undeniable love of and for the job. He served the FDNY during some of the busiest days of the department in the busiest area of the city. His impact on the FDNY and the larger national fire service is immeasurable - just in the impact of recruiting others to become firefighters and love the job.
Although no longer an active firefighter, Dennis, along with many others responded on 9/11. Like so many of his generation he epitomized and cemented what it means to be a member of the FDNY family.
A job well done - may he rest in eternal peace
- Frank Leeb, Chief of Training, FDNY

My First Editor

I had read "Report from Engine Company 82" prior to Dennis founding Firehouse Magazine. It was a very inspirational book to me and I enjoyed reading it very much.
When a friend had showed me a copy of Firehouse I was very interested in the magazine and particularly the Expo in Baltimore.
Dennis was the editor when I submitted my first article in 1987. He published it and encouraged me to write additional articles. I had submitted and had articles published in Fire Chief and Fire Engineering. Following the encouragement from Dennis I decided to commit to writing just for Firehouse.
- Robert Burke, Firehouse Contributing Editor

The Renaissance Firefighter

If ever there was a "Renaissance Firefighter," Dennis Smith was it. I was a young firefighter in Phoenix, AZ when he published "Report From Engine Co. 82" and was inspired by the stories he told and his writing style. He shared the realities of firefighting like no other person I had known.
Dennis and I became friends in the 1970's and remained pals through the years. He was a multi-talented entrepreneur who was always engaged and excited when we had opportunities to talk about Firehouse and discuss our latest thoughts and ideas. Dennis encouraged me to write, instruct, and appreciate the fire service through a lens of traditional and non-traditional views.
He was one-of-a-kind and I will miss him - Rest Easy My Friend!
- Dennis Compton, Fire Chief (ret.), Mesa, AZ, Fire Department

The First Article

In 1980, Harvey Eisner walked into the office of Bronx Division 7 one night and introduced himself. I knew who he was — Harvey was a well-known fire photographer in the Bronx. He gave me a photo of me he had taken at a fire and told me that Dennis Smith, publisher and editor-in-chief of Firehouse Magazine, would like me to write the Fire Studies column in the magazine. I’d be paid $200 for an article every other month. I told him I would, and my first article in Firehouse was published in September 1981. The title was “Predicting Building Collapse,” which I said you cannot do. My last article in Firehouse was published 38 years later, in 2019.

The 1980s were the golden age of magazines; the Internet had not yet arrived. Dennis Smith used the proceeds and movie rights from his best-selling book, “Report From Engine Co. 82” to build a business empire called Firehouse Inc. The magazine, which was founded in 1976, had its headquarters in an elegant office off 53rd Street and Madison Avenue. Elevators trimmed with polished brass, wood panels and mirrors brought you up to a large five-room office with "Firehouse Magazine" written in gold on the door. There was a receptionist who would announce you, executive editor John D. Peige, associate editor Elena Serocki, and a personal secretary for Dennis.
The Wall Street Journal said the mission of Dennis Smith’s Firehouse Inc. was to educate, entertain and equip the firefighters of America. He was doing just that. Firehouse Inc. had the largest fire magazine circulation in America, greater than Fire Engineering; it produced firefighting training videos; had a Firehouse Expo seminar in Baltimore, even had a joint venture with designer Calvin Klein to sell look-alike turnout coats at Bloomingdale’s that included a warning label: “Caution: Not approved for firefighting.”

It was bewildering to leave my gritty South Bronx firehouse after a night tour and meet Dennis in the fashionable Madison Avenue neighborhood and be taken to lunch in a four-star restaurant. I enjoyed the lunches and Dennis enjoyed hearing about fires in the South Bronx, where he had worked years before.
- Vincent Dunn, Deputy Chief (ret.), FDNY, and longtime Firehouse contributing editor

The Talented Writer

I recall being a young firefighter in North Providence, finding a well-worn copy of "Report from Engine Co. 82" sitting on a firehouse table. Perhaps 18 at the time when I should have been studying organic chemistry and physiology, Dennis’s writing drew me in. I could not put the book down. He had the ability to capture in words what drew me, and perhaps all of us, to be firefighters. Dennis understood the very essence of the job, and was able to convey that to the masses.

Two of the highlights of my life involved first getting to meet Dennis, and later having the opportunity to represent him. He was indeed as brilliant, energetic, insightful, and at times cantankerous as anyone I have ever met. He could have done many things with his life. He chose to be a firefighter.
- J. Curtis Varone, Deputy Assistant Chief (ret.), North Providence, RI, Fire Department and Firehouse's Fire Law columnist

His Work Shaped a Career

As a firefighter, the skills and services we offer today have been improved or developed by past generations that we may have never met.
As a young man growing up in the fire service, my exposure to the fire service was through my father at the volunteer fire station and reading Firehouse Magazine. I would often imagine what it would be like those firefighters I viewed through the pages and stories of Firehouse Magazine.
I never dreamed that I would one day become a firefighter.
As a firefighter approaching my 31st year of service and 24 years as a career firefighter, I can truly say that my future was shaped by the tremendous work of Dennis Smith and all those who contributed to Firehouse Magazine. The fire service owes a tremendous debt that it can never repay to individuals such as Dennis Smith.
However, I would like to think that our daily acts of service, training, and investing in the future of the fire service would cause him to look down and smile upon us all from heaven.
- Andrew Starnes, Battalion Chief, Charlotte, NC, Fire Department and Firehouse author/speaker
May 6, 2010


“Report From Engine Co. 82” was the first of his 16 books. He also started Firehouse magazine and was the founding chairman of the New York City Fire Museum.

Dennis Smith, a teenage hellion and high school dropout who transformed himself into a famed New York City firefighter, a gritty best-selling author and a leading guardian for the safety of his colleagues and the public, died on Friday in Venice, Fla. He was 81.

His death in a hospital in the Gulf Coast city was caused by complications of Covid-19, his son Sean Smith said.

He was headed for jail as a juvenile delinquent when a sympathetic judge offered him an alternative: Join the military. He enlisted in the Air Force, returned to New York three years later and joined the Fire Department.

While earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at night, his literary career began when a magazine editor read an erudite letter by Mr. Smith published in The New York Times Book Review disputing the author Joyce Carol Oates’s characterization of William Butler Yeats as a universal — rather than primarily an Irish — poet. The editor was stunned to discover the letter was signed by a Dennis E. Smith, who identified himself not as a literary critic or public intellectual but as a Bronx fireman.

The editor’s intervention helped lead to a contract for the first of 16 books, “Report From Engine Co. 82” (1972), a chronicle of the city’s busiest firehouse. The book sold some three million copies, ennobled Mr. Smith as a champion of his profession and inspired countless men and women to become firefighters.

“The author’s pride clearly derives not from his writing, but from his job as a firefighter — the most hazardous job of all, according to the National Safety Council,” Anatole Broyard wrote in his Times book review. “The risk one takes in, writing a book — and there are those who will tell you that this is the most hazardous occupation — must seem comparatively small to him. One hopes he will go on taking it.”

He did. His “Report From Ground Zero: The Story of the Rescue Efforts at the World Trade Center” (2002) was No. 2 on The Times’s best-seller list.

Mr. Smith was a Renaissance firefighter.

He played eight musical instruments; founded Firehouse magazine in 1976 (and sold it in 1991 and made $7 million); was the founding chairman of the New York City Fire Museum and was instrumental in converting the Engine Company 30 firehouse in SoHo as its site; was president and chairman of the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club, which moved from Manhattan to the South Bronx; and was a chairman of the New York Academy of Art.

He was the first chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Near Miss task force, focused on preventing firefighter injuries and deaths, and won awards from the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the National Fire Academy, and the New York Fire Department.

Dennis Edward Smith was born on Sept. 9, 1940, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He was raised in the East 50s of Manhattan when it was an Irish and Italian neighborhood that inspired Sidney Kingsley’s play “Dead End.”

His father, John, a Scottish immigrant, was committed to an asylum when Dennis was 2. His mother, Mary (Hogan) Smith, was a telephone operator and took in laundry and cleaned apartments on nearby Sutton Place to support her two sons when the family went on welfare.

His mother was a strict disciplinarian who instilled a love of books. He attended parochial schools where, as a profile in The Times put it, “when you were poor and Irish and growing up on the East Side in the 1950s, the nuns never told you to become a doctor or a lawyer — President of the United States perhaps, but if not that, then a policeman or a fireman.”

He wrote about his childhood in “A Song for Mary: An Irish-American Memory” (1999).

He quit Cardinal Hays High School in the Bronx at 15 during his first year; he delivered flowers but also went joy riding in stolen cars and bought heroin in Harlem. After being arrested during a brawl in Queens, he was saved from himself by the sentencing judge and an earnest boys’ club counselor.

He served as an Air Force radar operator in Nevada, returned and joined the Fire Department in 1963. He was assigned to a Queens firehouse and in 1966 transferred to the Engine Company 82 in Morrisania when the Bronx was burning. He later moved with his family to suburban Orange County, N.Y.

Figuring he might eventually teach at a community college, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English from New York University in 1970 and a master’s in communications from N.Y.U. two years later. While he was still a part-time student, working full-time as a firefighter, he wrote the letter to The Times Book Review challenging Ms. Oates’s definition of Yeats as a universal poet.

“Please remember,” Mr. Smith wrote, “that the poet, as evidenced by his writings, was Irish first.”

Through circuitous routes, he was contacted by an editor at McCall’s magazine, was featured in a New Yorker interview, was commissioned to write an article for True magazine for $1,500 and received a $30,000 advance for his proposed book on Engine Company 82.

His marriage to Patricia Kearney in 1962 ended in divorce in 1985. In addition to their son Sean, he is survived by two other sons, Brendan and Dennis; two daughters, Deirdre Smith-Wisniewski and Aislinn Falzarano; and 11 grandchildren.

He remained with the department until 1981, returning as a volunteer after the World Trade Center attack in 2001 where he worked for months on the cleanup. He helped retrieve the body of the son of a fellow firefighter, Lee Ielpi, that December. He later developed cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which his family attributed to dust inhaled at the site.

In a Times opinion essay in 1971, Mr. Smith recalled his ebullience at the prospect of becoming a firefighter: “I would play to the cheers of excited hordes — climbing ladders, pulling hose, and saving children from the waltz of the hot masked devil. I paused and fed the fires of my ego — tearful mothers would kiss me, editorial writers would extol me in lofty phrases, and mayors would pin ribbons to my breast.”

After eight years, he wrote, the romantic visions had faded.

“I have climbed a thousand ladders, and crawled Indian fashion down as many halls into a deadly nightshade of smoke, a whirling darkness of black poison, knowing all the while that the ceiling may fall, or the floor collapse, or a hidden explosive ignite,” Mr. Smith added. “I have watched friends die, and I have carried death in my hands. With good reason have Christians chosen fire as the metaphor of hell.”

“There is no excitement, no romance, in being this close to death,” he wrote, later adding: “Yet, I know that I could not do anything else with such a great sense of accomplishment.”

He recalled a tenement fire in which an 18-month-old girl died. The teary would-be rescuer, a fellow firefighter, sat by him on the stoop, holding the body and saying over and over, “Poor little thing, she never had a chance.”

To which Mr. Smith wrote: “I wish now that each man who intends to file for the coming fireman’s test could have seen the humanity, the sympathy, and the sadness of those eyes, for they explained why we fight fires.”

(Source: 01/23/22 Sam Roberts/New York Times)