Michael Morse - Rescuing Providence

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Sandy Hook

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 14:12

This is a repost of something I wrote a few years ago, I updated it here and there to make it current. 

Somebody from Sandy Hook read it and let me know that Christmas is alive and well in their town.

Human resiliency never fails to amaze me. Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to Men, and God bless the people of Newton Connecticut today, and every day.



A few years ago I talked with Bernie, the first Paramedic to respond to the massacre at Sandy Hook. We talked for an hour, and a friendship was started. He mentioned that nobody has ever asked him what he saw that day.

“We can imagine,” I said, immediately regretting it.

He snapped at me, and rightly so, and said, with festering rage barely concealed, “nobody will ever imagine that.”

He is right, and still working EMS in Newton.


It’s Christmastime again in New England, and with the season comes the chores. I don’t mind doing my share, running to the stores is my job while Mrs. Morse takes care of the home front. Six years ago I was doing what I always do the days leading up to the big day, driving through town, listening to the radio, making stop after stop, buying groceries, a few gifts and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the season.

When the first reports about a shooting at an elementary school came in I assumed it was a love triangle or something, and hoped no innocent people were killed or injured. As updates flooded my car, and the reality seeped in it was all I could do to get home. A fog descended in my mind, traffic signals became confusing, traffic difficult and overwhelming sorrow was all I felt.

The sorrow still lingers, I cannot imaging how Bernie and everybody in Newton Connecticut will get through the season. But I know they will.

I stood in line at the grocery store, patiently waiting for the people ahead of me to finish. A mom and her daughter; the girl filled with excitement and anticipation, her mom too busy to notice much more than the bottom line displayed on the register readout as it went incredibly higher, and higher: $68.35, then 97.32, a few more items, then 110.87. As the last item rolled down the treadmill a look of relief crossed her face, probably mentally subtracting the groceries from the balance sheet in her head.

She swiped her card, and the little girl stared at me, and I stared back. I tried to smile, but all I could think of was the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school this time just six years ago, and how this little girl could easily be just a memory.

She smiled anyway, oblivious to the thoughts in my head, and it brought me out of my reverie, and I managed to give her a lopsided grin, then she was gone, following her mom out of the store, mesmerized by the ornate holiday decorations as only a six year old at Christmastime can be.

I wondered then about the homes in Newtown, Connecticut, and the empty places where the Christmas trees would be. Try as I might to make sense of the tragedy and put it behind me, and think of it as some aberration; a blip in the serenity that I try so hard to convey every December, it was impossible. All I lost that day was a temporary suspension of my own manifestation of goodwill toward men, and peace on earth. I did not lose a child, or a mother, sister, daughter, or friend. My life moved on, what Christmas Spirit I had managed to create lost, but likely easily re-ignited. I would be able to fake it and get through the season, and make the next one better.

But what of the people directly affected? What happened in December, 2012 cannot be dismissed, or rationalized, or prayed away. For them, their lives will forever be scarred. Time won’t heal their wounds; time will allow the anger and disillusionment to fester, and the hopelessness of it all to seep in. We get old, and as we age the magic in life becomes harder and harder to capture. Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone, and the thrill of living ended abruptly for the victims and families of Shady Hook.

I’m just a guy in Rhode Island who had nothing to do with any of it, yet still I find it difficult to forget the events that happened that day, and move away from the thought that such madness can coincide with the joy that the Christmas season brings. It is unfathomable to me that so many people had their faith, innocence and optimism taken away from them, and must live with the harsh reality that life veered out of control with no warning, and nothing would ever be the same.

I hope that little girl in the grocery store never has to think about these things, and that her mother keeps her as safe as she can, and manages to somehow provide a magical Christmas for her.

Grant me that, and I’ll never ask for another thing for Christmas.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Privelege of being a firefighter

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 12:11

My column at Fire Engineering is live, thanks for reading!


“We are all part of the human race; some days we seem to be winners, only to find ourselves behind the pack the next. One day I was serving people, the next I was saving them. But the greatest lesson I learned was that even though I was in a different position, and a little closer to the head of the pack, I was still serving them, all of them—the homeless, the drunks, the bartenders, the executives, and the politicians.

And I liked it. And I treated them all the same way I liked to be treated—with dignity. And by doing so, I found self respect and job satisfaction that endured two-plus decades.”



Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Missing their Captains

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 07:43

She actually apologized for calling us.

“I didn’t want to bother you, but I can’t stand the pain any longer.”

Her home was meticulous, nestled on a quiet street in the Mount Pleasant section of the city, surrounded by beautiful yet modest homes that showed the pride of their owners. The city has a few neighborhoods like this, though they are becoming scarce. She handled her pain well, as a lot of people from her generation are prone to do. No theatrics, just a matter-of-fact explanation of her problem. She insisted on walking to the ambulance, turned out the lights and locked the door behind us.

She was remarkably independent, especially when considering her age; born in 1920 she had seen a lot of changes during her nine decades on this earth. She reluctantly agreed to ride on the stretcher, but only after I insisted, and looked uncomfortable with “all the fuss.”

“No fuss at all,” I said and assessed her vital signs, noted a-fib, hypotension, and a weak pulse on my report. She didn’t fuss about the IV, and I managed to get it on the first try, regardless of her paper-thin flaky skin, spider veins, and obvious dehydration. I watched the IV drip, slowed down the flow, and tried to put an 02 mask over her face in hopes of getting her oxygen level past 93%. She won that argument but only after explaining that I was the first person she had talked with in weeks, and I simply couldn’t deprive an old lady her dying wish.

We settled on a nasal canula, I disagreed with her assessment of her condition, and we got moving, leaving her peaceful sanctuary and traveling through a more desolate part of the city toward Rhode Island Hospital.

We looked out the dingy rear windows, watching the world go by backward, and settled in for the five-minute ride. There wasn’t much activity at four in the morning; the old houses that we passed look much the same in the dim moonlight as they did when she was a younger woman, and it was easy to forget what is so obvious in daylight. When the sun rises and the city wakes, the real changes become clear.

A few of the houses were still illuminated with Christmas lights.

“I don’t think you will have to stay in the hospital for Christmas,” I said, assuming her ailment could be treated without an extended stay.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, sadness filling her voice.


“My husband passed away last year, and I’m just waiting to join him. We were married 64 years; it’s hard to live without him.”

“You must miss him,” I said.


As we neared the hospital, she told me of the greatest gift he ever gave her. “As he neared the end he told me this: If I could live my life over again I wouldn’t change a thing. That kind of love is what keeps me going. We had a wonderful life together.”

The truck stopped at the ambulance bay. “He must have been a great man,” I said.

“He was. He was a captain onthe Providence Fire Department, Ladder 5 at Point Street.” She glanced at the captain’s bars that adorned my collar and gave me a knowing smile, which I gladly returned. We wheeled her in, and she was swallowed by the hospital, but her memory lingered.

I had been at work for nearly 38 hours, having worked an overtime shift between my nights, and never had I felt so lonely. I looked toward the east, where my home sat some eight miles away, and the first traces of dawn touched the sky. Below it, my wife slept, alone in our bed, again. If she could live her life over again, would she do things differently? Life is hard for a firefighter’s family. It was up to me to make sure that she wouldn’t want to change a thing.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

He is Us

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 08:28

See this guy? I see him, don’t recognize him, never met him, sadly never will but I know him. I worked with him for twenty five years. He is us.

I know he’s made of different stuff than most, that he shows up, and does the job, and takes care of his family and doesn’t ask for much, just the simple things; friends who will die for him, friends worth dying for, people who show up, do their damndest and don’t make excuses.

I know he had no intentions of dying this morning, but that he knew he might.

Worcester Firefighter Christopher Roy didn’t make it out. What matters most is that he went in. Firefighters worth a damn go in, It’s how we live, and tragically, sometimes how we die.

Rest in Peace sir, until we meet again.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Talking with teachers

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 10:18

I was asked to speak at The Retired Teachers of Rhode Island’s annual meeting this year. I was worried about what to say, didn’t  think teachers and firefighters had all that much in common. My worries were unfounded, turns out we have the most important thing of all in common; the desire to help others.

They wear nice clothes; we get dirty. They speak eloquently; we tend to swear. They do their best to reach the people in front of them, and so do we. Sometimes all they do is not enough, and the ones who need them the most slip through their grasp.

We know how that feels.

I thought it would be amusing to stand in front of a group of teachers, right after lunch no less, and bore them to sleep. Instead, each and every one listened with rapt attention as I talked about the kids we had in common; the ones that were forgotten, abused and neeglected. 

I told them about myself, the worlds worst student, 1.89 GPA, lack of college education and all, and my refusal to give any teacher the satisfaction of reaching me.

And I told them that even though it appeared I was lost, something clicked in my semi conscious young mind, and I managed to make something of my life in spite of myself.

I wonder sometimes about the people we save, but more often I think of the ones we lost. We are told we can’t save everybody, and I guess that is true, but it was kind of nice to let people who do their best to get through that sometimes they succeed, even though it seemed like a lost cause.


Categories: Syndicated Columnists

How to avoid bullying

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 08:47

I am busy developing new curriculum; rather than training and insisting firefighters become kind and sensitive to each other’s needs and emotions, I have devised a system that effectively alleviates bullying.

It’s called Bully Back. 99.9% of the the insults bandied about the fiirehouse are simple ways of communicating that male dominated organizations have effectively used since the first Saber Tooth Tiger hunt.

It isn’t perfect, but it gets the message across.

Learning how to not take the banter personally, use those feelings of inadequacy the insults produce and develop coping strategies such as;

-witty retorts
-clever retaliation
-self improvement
-learning moments

will be covereg in the course material.

The cost is free. To sign up, simply show up for your shift and do something ridiculous, say something offensive, let others do your work, refuse to learn your streets, spend all day on your device and do as little as possible to get through your shift.

Opportunity to Bully Back will be abundant. Better yet, do your job to the best of your ability and watch the alleged harrassment dissapear.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

The Greatest Gift

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 09:00

A beautiful woman struggled to breathe, sitting alone with only her memories in the middle of the night, waiting for help. At one time, she could do anything. Born in 1922, she had survived a lot of tough times: the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, marriage, family and all that goes with it. But not this time. A lifetime of accomplishment, sorrow and triumph came to an end in a nursing home in Providence.

Her family had been involved: her son, his wife, two daughters and their husbands, some grandchildren and a bunch of great grandchildren. They visited, sent cards, picked her up and took her to their homes on special occasions, but they couldn’t always be there. Her blood relatives were scattered all over, asleep in their homes, some nearby, some far. But none of them was there to offer comfort when she needed it most.

A few days later, when the services were through, they converged at her son’s house. They remembered their matriarch, and told stories about what a wonderful woman, wife and mother she was. They had a toast to her memory. Her children felt the greatest sorrow at her passing, her grandchildren a little less, her great-grandchildren little if any. But she will be remembered fondly by all.

We are often told that what matters most of all is the present. The present is all we have. Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow a dream, the present is a gift.


It is good advice, and helps keep things in perspective when the mind starts spinning. The what-ifs, should-have-beens and could-bes take up too much space in a mind that has earned peace.

Love, the greatest gift of all, was with her in her final moments. It came from Senegal, in the form of two lovely ladies who were both in the prime of their lives, with little ones at home and a grand future in America ahead of them. They were the caretakers of the little lady in Room 452 who could not breathe.

They comforted her, and rubbed her back, and reassured her with their beautiful voices, so melodic that they sounded as if they were singing a lullaby when they spoke. Their words could be considered broken English, but the little English they had mastered said more in their inflection and sincerity than all of the words stored in every database since the Internet was invented. While their gift of love might not have transcended the fear and sadness at that moment, it made the experience bearable.

The three were in tears when we rescue workers arrived. The spell was broken, but the love shared between two caretakers and the woman to whom they had grown close over the last two years lingered. The ladies reluctantly stood back, letting “the experts” take over. We administered more oxygen, and got the bag valve mask ready, and lifted her from her seat, and put her on the stretcher, stuck her with needles, and said words they did not understand, harsh words such as, “she’s going to code,” and “I need two for CPR.”


The rescue workers and their patient left quickly. The memory of their friend stayed with the women from Senegal. Eventually her things were taken, but her essence remained.

They still think of her often, and as each new shift begins, they say a prayer in her memory. When a new lady moved into the room, they greeted her warmly, and so began another love story.

The little old lady in Room 452 ended her days with people who loved her as much as her family, and maybe a little more.

The present truly is a gift.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists