||October 1, 2007
The story of Providence Fire Department advanced life support vehicle Rescue 1.
In Rescuing Providence, Lieutenant Michael Morse of the Providence, Rhode Island, Fire Department takes you along for 34 nonstop hours in the life of a big-city firefighter/emergency medical technician. Ride through the tough streets of South Providence, the historic mansions of the East Side and the tattered but emerging West End as Morse and his EMS team respond to drug overdoses, heart attacks, car accidents, gunshot wounds, suicides, alcoholics, premature births, broken bones, and other medical emergencies that are all in a day's work for them.
The brave men and women who make up our EMS system willingly risk their lives every day to save people they don't know and often cannot communicate with. See for yourself how difficult, frustrating, and at times, heartbreaking this job can be, as lives are lost, scarce medical resources squandered, futures altered, and hope abandoned and then reborn. Despite this, most rescue workers cannot imagine doing anything else. For them, every day is different, every patient is unique, and they know with certainty that they make a difference in peoples lives. And, as Lieutenant Morse so eloquently states, sometimes it is the rescuers whose lives are saved by the job they do.
This touching, humerous, life-affirming memoir offers intriguing insight into the human condition and the best and worst of our 911 and health-care systems.
The City, With Feeling, Bob Kerr, Providence Journal
Bob Kerr: The story of the city with feeling
01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, September 16, 2007
I don’t like lying to people who I know will be dead in minutes because it doesn’t seem fair. It’s hypnotic in the back of a rescue when the fight for life is lost and resignation appears in the victims’ faces. I tell them to hang on, to keep fighting, but they know the truth. I can see it in their eyes. I am the last thing they see before leaving this earth forever.
— Lt. Michael Morse in Rescuing Providence
Many of us try to peel back the cover on the city now and then — look into those seldom-seen places where people do crazy, mean, loving, funny, desperate things. But Michael Morse does it again and again and again. There are times when he might want a break from it, maybe a whole hour to put his head back and not deal with all that injury and pain and assorted madness.
But then comes the call:
“Rescue 3 and Engine 12, respond to Hawkins and Admiral for a reported shooting.”
And he is off again, into the rescue wagon and off to another human pileup in Providence — and another chance to see the city with a writer’s eyes.
Morse has been an emergency medical technician (EMT) and firefighter in Providence for 16 years. He is one of those people, like most who work at firehouses, who are hooked on the job. Despite the falling-down fatigue that comes with call after call, he would have it no other way.
He has been a writer for a lot of years too. It is tough to say just when that part of him kicked in. He remembers his days at Bishop Hendricken High School, where he did not light up the honor roll. But he got that B in English once. There were some early indications that he could do things with the language.
And he has. He’s written a book, and it’s so damn good that I can’t stand this guy. I mean, just where does he get off climbing out of a rescue wagon and writing with this kind of feeling and pace and vivid recollection?
It’s called Rescuing Providence, and it covers one 34-hour shift around Easter weekend of 2004.
“I was driving to work one day and just decided to write a book about this,” he told me.
He started taking notes. He would finish a call and write down the most memorable details. When he got home, he typed up the notes.
“I would live it, then relive it.”
Sometimes, he says, he would remember something a couple of days later and think, “that was interesting.” And he would write it down.
He has been published before, in Rhode Island Monthly and on the editorial pages of The Providence Journal. He wrote a wonderful piece about the challenges EMTs face when removing drunks from city streets.
When he finished his book, he says, he sat back and waited for the publishers to knock down his door. Instead, they sent rejection slips. Morse’s wife, Cheryl, says there really were enough rejection slips to paper a good part of a room in their house in Warwick.
Then came the day when Morse was mowing the lawn and Cheryl came out to tell him that the call had come from his agent: A publisher had picked up Rescuing Providence.
It will be officially released in a few weeks by Paladin Press. Morse isn’t sure how much promotion he’ll do. This is all very new to him.
But buy this book, and not just because it is drawn from the streets of Providence. Buy it because it gives us all the chance to go to the places and meet the people that we too quickly pass by. Buy it for the opportunity to know the incredible things that happen when a stranger from the Fire Department shows up to sew people up and calm people down and sometimes deal with the mean and dangerous side of the city.
There was the time Morse was called to the scene of a stabbing after a street brawl. As he approached the injured man, he was told by another man, “If he dies, you die.”
“You stupid bastard,” I told him, focused on the patient and annoyed at the interruption. “Your friend is bleeding to death and you have to bust my balls. Get out of the way, or your friend will die on those steps.”
What makes Morse’s book such a pleasure to read is not just the accounts of the rescue calls but the way he blends in the memories of the way the city used to be and his life with Cheryl and their two daughters and the special connection that develops with the people who work alongside him. He tells of going food shopping with his grandmother on Federal Hill. And he tells of dealing with the changes that had to be made when Cheryl discovered she had multiple sclerosis.
Then, late in the book, is the reminder that on any call, an EMT can face the worst kind of human tragedy. Morse was working out of the Branch Avenue station when a fire call came in. A mother had left two babies with a babysitter and gone out for a drink. The babysitter left the babies because she wanted to have some fun and assumed the babies were asleep. Both babies were burned to death.
Morse recalls he was in the station the next day, blaming himself for the disaster and saying, “I’ll never wish for another fire.” Chief Ronny Moura, whom he describes as a “grizzled veteran firefighter and all-around tough guy,” overheard him.
“Kid,” says Moura, “any firefighter worth half a sh— wants fires. Quit crying and get off the cross. We need the wood.”
And so it goes for those who do the work that EMTs and firefighters do. No one on the outside can possibly understand.
But we can read Rescuing Providence and get a rich and varied taste of it.
“I hope people feel what I feel,” says Morse. “I hope they come away with a better understanding of our profession.”
A reader of this truly fine book will surely do that.
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