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Towson native's tribute to her father recalls stories as city firefighter

For years, the routine never changed. Glenmont resident Bill Heneck would sign off from his "second family," his co-workers at the West Baltimore firehouse where he served as a paramedic and firefighter for 28 years, and come home to his wife, Eunice, and daughter, Rachel, full of stories about his colleagues and characters from the streets he served.

"When he was home, these were basically my bedtime stories growing up," Rachel Hennick, 41, said of growing up in the 1970s.

"We've had this shared dream — my father used to try to write them, and he did write a few stories — but it's been our dream to collaborate on this," she said. "It's been an incredible journey."

That journey comes to a culmination this week, when her book about her dad's exploits, "Ghetto Medic: A Father in the 'Hood," becomes available to the public.

Rachel Hennick, a Towson native who moved to Australia 10 years ago, is back in town for a month to promote the book that took a decade to write.

She said she undertook thousands of interviews for the book, complemented by ride-alongs with current West Baltimore paramedics and research at Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Maryland state archives.

Hennick began writing her father's story as part of her master's project at the University of Adelaide, in Australia, but the project proved too large of an undertaking for that assignment and was eventually completed as part of her doctorate.

"Then, I had to rewrite it after I graduated so that it was something people actually wanted to read," she joked.

The finished product — the first copies of which were sold in front of the Bykota Senior Center to a pair of her father's acquaintances — "reads like a novel," said Bill Hennick, and could serve as a means of teaching young paramedics and firefighters the value of fostering relationships and knowing the areas they serve.

Hennick's book is full of such stories. When asked about his favorite, Bill Hennick recalled a trio of friends from Linden Avenue named Lucille, Harry Lee, and Leroy, who kept him busy over the years.

At times, their friendship turned sour — and violent — and Hennick said he responded for one injury or another every week for almost a year.

On one particular call, Hennick found Harry Lee laying on the ground, victim of a head injury — applied by Lucille with a two-by-four. Lucille then threatened Hennick, but he eventually calmed her down and they drove to the hospital to save Harry Lee's life.

A few months later, Hennick found a moment to check in on them to find out that Harry Lee and Lucille had settled down — literally. Lucille had cleaned up the apartment and married Harry Lee, and Hennick never responded to a call there again.

There are also plenty of tales of Hennick's old partner, Larry Birch, described as an amateur boxer with a crooked Afro and dark, horn-rimmed glasses who doubled as a Pennsylvania Avenue pool shark and harmonica player.

Rachel Hennick said the book includes scenes from the 1968 race riots in Baltimore, as well as a first-hand report from the 1976 assassination attempt on former Mayor William Donald Schaefer, where Bill Hennick tended to an aide who was shot.

But just as important as the high-profile incidents in "Ghetto Medic" are the moments that Hennick spends with those who were forgotten even as they lived, he said.

"We were hoping it would make a difference in the communication between the ghettos of the nation and the outside world," he said. "I think it's a new approach, and it should be very effective.

"If people read the book, I think they'll understand where I'm coming from," he said.

On Wednesday, July 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Library, 400 Cathedral Street in Baltimore, Rachel Hennick will sign copies of "Ghetto Medic," and there will be an official launch party on Saturday, July 14, at 5 p.m. at the Minas Gallery in Hampden.

Book signings will also be held on Thursday, July 19 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. at the Firehouse Expo in the Baltimore Convention Center; Friday, July 20 at the Power Plant Barnes and Noble on Pratt Street from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fire Museum of Maryland in Lutherville; and Saturday, Aug. 11 at 4 p.m. at Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley.

"Ghetto Medic: A Father in the 'Hood" ($22) is published by BrickHouse Books and is available at Itasca Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Greetings and Readings and other book sellers.

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