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A story taken from the headlines

beneath the flamesFor 28 years Gregory Renz was a firefighter and Captain with the Milwaukee Fire Department, and he called it, “The best job in the world. It was my passion,” he says.

On a cold night in December a few years ago two young boys were extremely fortunate that Renz was able to save them.

The building where they lived was on fire and thick with smoke when he made his way down a smoke-filled stairwell to the boys’ basement bedroom. “I couldn’t see a thing but I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I backed out,” he says. “You train your mind to slow down the rush of adrenaline and focus on the situation,” he says.

He found the little boys unconscious and not breathing.

“When I picked them up they were lifeless, like rag dolls,” he says. “I brought them up the stairs and outside but feared the worse. Miraculously, they were resuscitated on scene by paramedics and transported to the hospital where they recovered with no lasting effects.

For this rescue Renz received the American Legion Medal of Honor, the Fire Rescue Class “A” Award from the Milwaukee Fire Department (their highest award), the Heroism and Community Service Award from Friehouse magazine, the Red Cross Brave Hearts Award for Emergency Response Hero and many other accolades.

Since retiring from life as a firefighter, Renz has turned his experiences into his debut novel, “Beneath the Flames.” “The story is about a guilt-ridden firefighter and a courageous twelve-year-old girl who join forces in the fight for their lives,” says Renz.

It’s not often that a story vividly shows us what life as a firefighter is like and how it feels to face life and death situations on a regular basis, but readers will have an opportunity to hear Renz talk about life as a firefighter and an author on July 22 at the DeForest Public Library.

He will discuss what prompted him to write the book that has been creating a buzz since its release in late May.

It took eight years of creative writing courses, workshops, conferences, and countless drafts, before he finally typed, “The End” at the completion of his manuscript.

About the Book

On the cover of his novel, the photo depicts Renz holding his granddaughter. That dramatic scene (staged) epitomizes the vivid human interest themes inside the cover.

“Gregory Renz’s new novel is a triumph of poignancy, compassion, and restraint. In it, a man’s regret is transformed to triumph.” –Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean.

The author draws on the power of forgiveness, hope and redemption in telling a compelling narrative.

He adds that when people from diverse backgrounds work together in challenging situations, they come to realize that we all have the same hopes, dreams and fears. “The walls of ignorance and bias crumble. There is no longer us and them; there is only us.”

An overriding theme showcases the difference between growing up in rural Wisconsin and living in the inner city of Milwaukee. “One aspect of the story is that the lush rural setting of Wisconsin becomes the source of agonizing guilt for the protagonist while the decaying inner city of Milwaukee becomes a source of hope and redemption,” Renz explains.