Oakland Paramedic and author Zac Unger Interview; WOTS 038

Welcome everyone. Today I am interviewing Oakland Fire Department firefighter, paramedic and author Zac Unger.

About the author

I have been with the Oakland Fire Department as a firefighter and a paramedic since 1998. Prior to that, I had a number of short (but brutally cold and lonely) jobs working as a peregrine falcon watcher, an elephant seal tagger, a municipal dump laborer, and a muffin delivery driver. In addition, I continue to work summers as a whitewater river guide for ARTA river trips.

After high school I attended Deep Springs College in California, a strange and tiny two-year school in the California desert which revolves around the three pillars of literature, testosterone, and cattle. Following that, I finished my Bachelor’s degree at Brown University and went on to earn a Master’s in Range Management at UC Berkeley. I have yet to manage a range.

I’m currently living in Oakland with my wife Shona, our daughter Perseverance, and our sons Maccabee and Zeke.

About the books and works

Working Fire

The Making of a Fireman

A remarkable memoir, by turns funny and deeply moving, of one man’s coming into his calling and his transformation from ambivalent Ivy League grad to skilled and dedicated firefighter.

Zac Unger didn’t feel like much of a firefighter at first. Most of his fellow recruits seemed to have planned for the job all their lives; he was an Ivy League grad responding to a help-wanted ad at an Oakland bus stop. He couldn’t keep his boots shined, and he looked horrible in his uniform. Working Fire is the story of how, from this unlikely beginning, Zac Unger came to feel at home among this close-knit tribe, came to master his work’s demands, and came to know what it is to see the city of Oakland through a firefighter’s eyes.

From the materials of his day’s work – the harrowing calls and the hilarious, the moments of triumph and of grief – Zac Unger has forged a timeless story of finding one’s path. He never takes himself too seriously, but he comes to take his job very seriously. Because he tells his story with such extraordinary empathy and wit, his fierce passion for his work, his comrades, and the city he protects becomes our own.

Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye

A Family Field Trip to the Arctic’s Edge in Search of Adventure, Truth, and Mini-Marshmallows

Unlike some small towns that gradually peter out into the wilderness, this one just ends. On the west edge of town sits the Iceberg Tavern; behind it there’s a steel-mesh garbage cage, rusted by the salt air and battered by encounters with something even more inhospitable and frightening than the Arctic elements. Beyond that…there’s nothing. Standing on the roof of the bar you can throw a rock that would land in Hudson Bay. Nearby, a signpost is planted in the ground, with a picture of a polar bear and an admonition not to go any further. Take one step backwards and you can be inside enjoying caribou steaks and Canadian whiskey. One step forward and you’re in bear country–over a million square kilometers of frozen sea ice, dotted with blood stains where the largest land predators on earth have dragged their prey from the water. Welcome to Churchill, Manitoba, “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Human population: 943. In Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye, Zac Unger takes us to an utterly unique and remote place like no other–a realm once reserved exclusively for one of the most majestic predators on earth, and where now the line between man’s territory and mother nature’s has become perilously blurred. It is one man’s journey to develop a deeper understanding of an animal that has become a lightning rod for environmental debate, as well as the uneasy relationship between polar bears and the people whose presence is both at odds with and dependent on the bears’ survival.



This episode was also brought to you by Xiphos Books & Training. Xiphos Books is responsible for books such as ‘Welcome to New Orleans… How many shots did you hear? Volume 1 and 2 as well as the fiction novel A Salty Life & A Traitor’s Death. Be sure to stop by their website and look at their books, training and public speaking dates.

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GUEST Zac Unger