Michael Morse - Rescuing Providence

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The things we say…

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 11:08

Things I’ve actually said out loud (some so often the response is automatic):

  • “Is that thing loaded?,” (dispatched for an emotional male only to find an intoxicated, suicidal male with a gun to his head).
  • “Make it snappy!,” (my new partner needed a little nudge getting to the truck for the fourteenth time in 12 hours).
  • “One more run won’t kill us,” (my follow-up response to my new partner who was dragging when he made it to the truck).



Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Am I Okay?

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 09:21

Shots fired into a crowd on Westminster Street in the West End, just past midnight. One person shot, hole in his hand and another in his thigh, near a femoral artery. The wounded leg grows as the seconds tick, blowing up to twice its normal size.
“It’s just a leg shot, I’ll be okay, right?” asks the diaphoretic patient, his heart rate skyrocketing and blood pressure crashing.
I look him in the eye, and tell him we’re doing everything we can, and open the ringers to full flow while my partner sinks a 16 in his other arm.

He went to the bathroom and didn’t come out. When we arrived at 0122 he was Code 99. CPR started, Iv’s going, one, two three defibrillations, tied to a trauma board, carried down two flights of stairs and out of a million dollar home on the East Side.
“He’ll be okay, won’t he?” asks the man’s wife as we rush into the night and the waiting rescue.
“We’re doing all we can,” I tell her. “Call somebody and meet us at the hospital. Please don’t drive.”
And we’re gone.

Their car crossed the line, sideswiped another car, crossed two lanes of traffic and crashed into a utility pole; the wooden ones-the ones that don’t give. The car was demolished, the three kids whose night came to a sudden end at 0314 critical. More rescues called for, the most critical of the group extracted first. She’s the driver, and she appeared intoxicated, and she is worried about her friends.
“Are they okay? Will they be okay?” she repeats herself over and over as we restrain and immobilize her, put her on the stretcher, then put the 02 mask over her face. Her questions are muffled now, but the same. “Will they be okay?”

She’s on the couch in her modest home in the North End, it’s a nice house, well kept, pictures of little girls on the mantle, schoolwork on the fridge. Her face is swollen, her arms bruised.
“Where is he?” I ask.
“Gone. He’s drunk. He hit me then left.”
She doesn’t want to go to the hospital. We bandage her up, wait for the police, offer our condolences and leave. Her boyfriend is under arrest. It’s 0430 when she asks, “Is he okay?”

The group home calls at 0600. It’s a respectable place in the South Side, usually no trouble there. One of the residents didn’t wake up. He’s sitting in a recliner, TV on, eyes open, syringe and spoon on a little table next to him, near the TV Guide.
“Is he okay?” asks the group home manager.
“No. He’s dead.”

I know she was up late, I try not to wake her. I slip under the covers, put my arm around her and close my eyes. It’s nearly 0800, home at last.
How was your night?” she asks.
“It was okay.”


Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Presumptive Respect

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 09:23

Rhode Island legislators saw the wisdom in passing the presumptive heart disease disability bill last night, not because they inherently understand exactly why firefighters who develop heart disease while on the job ( mandatory retirement at 60 in Providence) deserve it; rather the efforts of our union representatives lobbied them with facts backed by statistics that making it possible for them, in good conscience to approve the bill.

There will be those who oppose anything to do with a firefighter being granted a tax free disability pension for illness and injury as a result of doing our job, thankfully our system of representative democracy makes it possible for reason and fairness to prevail.

A firefighter is part of the vital infrastructure that taxpayers depend on during emergencies. We are not private sector employees beholden to market whims. Our part in public safety is essential.

Many thanks to the Rhode Island General Assembly for understanding the very real risk associated with providing the public the best protection money can buy.

Sept. 19–PROVIDENCE, RI– The Rhode Island House has approved a bill creating a presumption that any firefighter with a heart condition is entitled to the same tax-free, two-thirds-pay disability pension as a firefighter injured on duty.

The vote was 58-to-11.

The lead sponsor, Rep. Robert Craven, D-North Kingstown, said the legislation would place Rhode Island in line with 37 other states. “Our firefighters deserve proper care and respect,” he argued.

“If it wasn’t for them, where would we be?” asked House Majority Whip John Edwards, D-Tiverton.

But House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, a potential GOP candidate for governor, called the legislation “a gift that is unjustifiable,” and does not take into account any other possible health factors in a firefighter’s life that could contribute to a heart condition, such as smoking and drinking alcohol.

Citing cost estimates provided by the state treasurer’s office, she said the bill would penalize property owners with higher property taxes.

State Treasurer Seth Magaziner has already put state lawmakers on notice that he will ask Governor Raimondo to veto the bill, if they pass it.

Magaziner gave these reasons in an email to The Journal: “This legislation removes the checks and balances that are in place to ensure that accidental disability pensions only go to members who are actually disabled in the line of duty. This bill prevents the state Retirement Board from listening to independent doctors and — unlike many other states with similar provisions — does not allow the board to consider other factors that can cause heart disease, like tobacco use.

“Removing these safeguards from the process for awarding a lifetime tax-free benefit is irresponsible and unnecessary,” Magaziner said. (Raimondo has not said whether she will heed his call for a veto.)

The bill still needs the approval of the Senate before reaching the governor’s desk. The Senate was poised to vote during Tuesday’s one-day special session, on a matching bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Lombardi.

(c)2017 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Firefighters vs. Taxpayers…until we die

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 12:49

Exhibit A:

Contempt for firefighters…


Exhibit B:

Truth about firefighting…

By Michael Morse

We love this job and thank the good fortune that was bestowed upon us that we are firefighters.

And what‘s not to love? We eat like kings, occasionally get paid to sleep and watch TV, have a home away from home and form friendships like no other. It‘s as good a life as anybody could expect.

We proudly display our union stickers on our cars, and most of us have a few fire department T-shirts in our wardrobe. The public respects us, and we have earned it. We know this, and believe in ourselves for the most part, but nothing in our lives is absolutely perfect.

There is always the chance that something will happen that we have no control over. And it’s those fears that keep us up at night.

Every firefighter holds a few secrets that they typically keep to themselves.


Maintaining the illusion of an aloof but invincible know-it-all, can-do firefighter is work. Believe it or not, we do it not for ourselves, but for those who depend on us.

Firefighters are always on duty. There is no down time. The mind is never at rest. People depend on us to know what to do when they don‘t. There are a million things that could go wrong at any second, and firefighters are expected to perform. We keep this knowledge buried for the most part, but it is always there.

(Zach Frailey – Uprooted Photographer/Flickr)

We have the aptitude for the job, but that’s not enough. It needs to be nurtured and constantly challenged. There is a word for what needs to be done to ensure competence: training.

And training never ends. It is as constant as breathing. When a skill is learned, it needs to re-learned at every available moment. There is always something new to perfect, and perfection is elusive. The training is the foundation that everything else depends upon. Having the skills to perform embedded in you through repetition helps when the real deal comes your way.


We border on arrogance, saunter through town like we own the place, respond to emergencies with a can-do” confidence and bask in the glow of public confidence. But in the middle of the night, when there is nobody but you and the thoughts that run through your mind, things are not so clear.

A million scenarios play out before you, and you question whether or not you have what it takes to respond. The what-if game knows no end.

  • What if the train that usually rolls through town unnoticed derails, and a toxic cloud of chlorine gas and anhydrous ammonia escapes?
  • What if the baby that normally sleeps through the night is found not breathing at three in the morning?
  • What if a truck carrying scrap metal takes the Thurber‘s Avenue curve too quickly and rolls onto a car full of college kids, trapping them, cutting them to shreds, and all you can do is watch them bleed to death while the crane that will free them slowly creeps up Rt. 95?
  • What if the kid who decided to hang himself changed his mind at the last second, and you arrived a second too late?
  • What if the fire is too hot, and a family of five burns to death 3 feet from where you stand, charged hoseline in hand, unable to get even 1 inch closer, and the echo of their screams is all that is left of them when you finally force the door?

Failure is not an option. There is no “nice try” in firefighting. There is success and there is failure.

Success is what makes firefighting great. Failure is soul-crushing, confidence stealing, character-destroying misery — it’s the greatest unspoken fear that every firefighter carries with them.


Nobody wants to die. The myth that we will die so that others may live is just that, a myth. What we will do is take ridiculous chances at rescuing people — if, and only if, there is a chance we will come out alive. None of the firefighters who die in fires, collapses, accidents or explosions do so willingly. It is an insult to the integrity of life to think otherwise.

But die we do. Most often it isn‘t during a daring rescue, where images of a heroic firefighter are flashed across the screens of an adoring public. Most often we die alone, in bed, in agony, pain numbed by morphine, with a few people by our side, the ones that stayed with us during the struggle, when the lights are gone, and the cameras no longer roll.

We die from cancer. The things that burn emit toxins that we breathe in long after the fire is out.

  • The diesel fumes in the station that no system can capture.
  • The million and one chemicals that are created when a car catches fire.
  • The asbestos we breathe.
  • The dust that settles in our lungs and on our skin.
(Beacon Radio/Flickr)

Going to work knowing that there is a very good chance something will happen that will eat away at your soul becomes business as usual. Mentally preparing yourself to face death, disfigurement, madness and disease becomes the norm, while working or not.

It eats away at your humanity, your compassion, and your ability to love freely and without guile. The feeling of impending doom will always be with you, consciously or subconsciously, it matters not; what does matter is how you handle it.

The toughest among us are actually not that tough at all, they are simply the healthiest. Those who joke about the dead and make small talk of the mentally unstable are those of us who suffer the most and disguise their hurt with bravado. The rest of us just cope, and get through each day the best we can.

Firefighting is more than a way to make a living. It‘s a way of life. But nothing in life is free.

Even those who are fortunate enough to have the greatest job in the world know the price we pay, but for the benefit of those we love and those we protect and serve, we keep it to ourselves.

And it‘s killing us, slowly but surely.

…and they wonder why firefighters stick together.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Feeling Philosophical

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 17:59

As are all things, EMS is cyclical. New people come, learn through experience, get good at what they do, and pass their knowledge on to the people who come after them. The seasoned veteran is invaluable in any organization, having the advantage of being once new, and now, old.

New people are only new.

But they too get old, and they can do so graciously; taking with them lessons and experiences of the people who have done it before them, adding to that pool of knowledge their own wisdom, and sharing what they have learned. Or they can sit in a pool of stagnation and squander away the opportunity to be part of the cycle and find EMS immortality and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that they have made, and will continue to make a difference.

I like to think of “the pebble in the pond,” analogy, and how with each action a ripple effect is created, and how every

Old and wise!

action we make, no matter how insignificant we may think it may be, reverberates and has long lasting effects in the world around us. With all the advances I have seen, (more accurately read about, Providence EMS is still emerging) one thing remains constant; it is people who respond, and people who act, and react.

All the fancy gizmos and new medications and critical incident debriefings and Mobile Integrated Healthcare plans will not change one important fact; at the end of the day, we all go home alone. I like to go home satisfied that I have done my best, and by doing so have added my voice to the roar of the EMS universe.

It is imperative that experienced people show through their actions how best to navigate a long career that exists for the sole purpose of helping people who need it. Need is and always has meant different things to different people. One of the best and most important lessons I ever learned was how to stop being The Judge. It’s easy to respond to a call and instantly size things up, and then act according to your perception of what needs to be done. It’s not as easy to take yourself out of the picture and decide what is best for the patient who needs you. Falling into the trap of repetitive care with little thought of the person behind the symptoms makes for a dull, uninspiring career. You (or I) may think the person having a panic attack needs to “quit hyperventilating” and “calm down,” but the person having the panic attack has lost the ability to do so, and needs help.

After two plus decades of treating cardiac arrest, stroke, diabetic emergencies, trauma and the million other reasons people need us, some of the most satisfying calls I have had involve people who simply needed some time to regroup and a sympathetic ear, maybe a little oxygen, or better yet, the illusion of oxygen, (an empty bag valve mask works wonders.) These skills cannot be faked, you actually have to see the patient as a person to pull it off, and do what we are paid to do, make people feel better. And when you spend your days making people feel better, you will find that when the shift is through, you feel a lot better too.

Going home alone is much more satisfying when you take with you the memories of a job well done. You won’t find that little bit of sage advice in a textbook, but look around and you will see the people who survive in this crazy world are the ones who have learned to be part of the human race, and not the ones racing through their days waiting for the big one, never slowing down enough to see the person behind the patient.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Another Elephant

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 13:44

I remember going into the projects; a big white guy from the suburbs surrounded by big black guys from the city. I could sense the simmering resentment from the crowd, and saw contempt on their faces. Hearing the hate in their voices when they shouted “hurry up” was difficult to ignore.

I learned how to press on and part the hostile crowd with no more than a command presence and a uniform.

The patients, when I got to them, may have once carried the same hostility as the gang outside, but once a connection was made, they could relax, and surrender to their fate.

Learned prejudices would be replaced with acceptance of all living things, without judgment or cynicism, sarcasm or hate.

Sometimes they were shot, or stabbed, or clubbed to near death. Other times it was a diabetic emergency, or chest pains, or a kid with a fever. Every time, without fail, after all of the judging and posturing was over, and it became two people in the back of a bus, healing happened. The only thing that mattered at that moment was us: patient and provider.

The easy part was getting the gangs to accept me, and let me do my job. The bigger problem was me. I still see a crowd of people who are outwardly different from me as a threat. If human beings had the acute sensory system as animals, the people who I need to treat, and the ones I sometimes have to get through to get to the sick or injured would smell fear and contempt. I have become a master at masking my feelings and prejudices, and have survived a number of hostile situations simply by overruling my learned behavior and letting my inherent goodness defeat my impulse to judge.

I do not know what it is like to live in the inner city. I don’t know how it feels to be the only person like me in a room full of people who look different than me. I’ve never had to interact with people whose grandparents lived in a world where it was okay to put the “coloreds” in the back of the bus, or make them go to the rest room outside, or treat them like lesser human beings.

It is far too easy for me to see the surface without looking deeper; without understanding that my own thoughts on race relations spring from a clear well, one that is not clouded with the rage of generations of people who lived in a far different world, and who know firsthand how it feels to be treated differently.

Can’t say I disagree with the message conveyed in this banner unfurled last night at Fenway Park, reportedly by Antifa. All of us; black, white and brown need to get honest about our own racist tendancies if any peace is to be found. I was fortunate in a way, working in the inner city for a quarter century taught me that all of us are human beings who developed thoughts, ideas and prejudice. Caucasian people do not have the racist market all to themselves.

What is be learned can certainly be unlearned. We can all do better, blaming white people for racism barely scratches the surface of the simmering hatred that exists just out of sight. We are all in this together, it’s up to us to figure things out, for the good of humanity.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

All the world’s a stage

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 08:47

And now for something completely different . . .

    some days you feel like a rock star

There is an indescribable rhythm in what we do while attempting to resuscitate a patient, chest compressions, 1,2,3,4, aiway in, airway out, breathe, an IV established resembles a bridge to what is next; a shot of epinephrine (adreneline) and with any luck magic happens. . .


Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Routine, uneventful, extraordinary

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 08:21

I wrote down a lot of things during my time on the streets, glad I did, some things are worth remembering…


She’s ninety years old, a widow and bleeding uncontrollably from a surgical incision on the right side of her face. She had a “bit of skin cancer” removed earlier in the day.

“Are you my favorites?” she asked, squinting.

“Not yet,” I replied.

“I love your haircut,” she ×mentioned to John, my partner tonight. We were both working overtime at Rescue 5. To say that John is folliclly challenged is an understatement. He bent to help Marcia to our stretcher and she impulsively rubbed his smooth head.

“She is in her glory,” said Marcia’s granddaughter from a few feet away as the guys from Engine 5, myself and John helped her along. John was obviously her favorite.

“What is your name?” she asked him.


She nodded her head, storing the information in her mind with the other ninety years worth of names, faces and memories.

We controlled the bleeding and headed out. Marcia’s granddaughter was unfamiliar with Providence, we transported “Code C” so she could follow.

“Is Sarah still with us?” asked Marcia, concerned, looking out the rear windows as the city sped past, backwards.

“We’re trying but we can’t shake her,” I answered, conspiratorially.

“She’s good,” replied Marcia, laughing.

We arrived at Roger Williams Medical Center a little past midnight. We lifted her from our stretcher to theirs, seldom a gentle experience and this was no exception. Marcia grimaced for a second then settled in. She took my partner’s hand in her own and as we left said, “thank you, John.”

Routine, uneventful, extraordinary.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

The Foundation Matters Most

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:44

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Enjoy the mundane EMS interactions

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 09:09

“…Every patient contact has the potential to be one of the memories that you will cherish long after you hang up your neatly pressed uniform for the last time. People are the only reason you are here. Never lose sight of that simple fact. Every time you respond to a call, a person is the reason.

They are the threads that create the tapestry of your career, each one having a place in the intricate weave that you will not completely see until it all comes together. Believe that it is coming together, thread by thread, creating something breathtaking. You will see it when it is time, and the experience will be well worth the patience needed to keep it all together…”

~Michael Morse


Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Firefighters taking it too far? Never!

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 09:17

My first night in a fire station they set me on fire. I woke to smoke and flames, and twelve idiot firefighters surrounding my bunk, with idiot # 1 holding a pressurized water extinguisher, which he used to extinguish the “code red” in my bunk. It was just a few newspaper pages that were set ablaze on my chest as I dozed, but to a person waking from a fitful slumber it appeared the world was on fire.

Thanks to Paul Combs for the image.

It was a good prank, and I fell in with the guys after that, and we got down to business.I was the junior man, and had to answer the phone and doorbell, do most of the dirty work and such, but it was a rite of passage, not a burden.

Pranks are great, and putting somebody’s bunk on cans, or filling between the sheets with shaving cream. or setting an elaborate trap so that the next person through the door gets a bucket of water on their head, or whoever turns on the kitchen sink getting a shower from the rubber band modified spray atattchment is all in good fun, but sometimes things get a little out of hand.

A relentless barrage of ball-busting wears a person down, and the fun goes out the window, and good people become guarded, and afraid to, as we firefighters so often state, “fuck up.”

After a fire, when three civilians are heroically rescued, a home saved and a kitten taken from a tree, the banter at the firehouse should be comfortable and happy, with a lot of “atta boy’s” cast about, but all too often it becomes a “who fucked up fest.”

I think most people would rather share a good natured laugh with friends rather than a chuckle at somebody else’s expense. I know I would. I never did much hazing, but endured plenty. Complaining brought on more, reporting the hazing guaranteed a career of misery, and fighting back did little to stop it, it just got worse. Not wanting to show up to the best job in the world shows that something has gone dreadfully wrong, and often the ball-busting is the culprit.

But I guess real men don’t complain, and enjoy being tortured daily, or laughing at somebody else who is the target. Real men take it, and dish it out, or watch the shenanagins while trying to stay out of sight of the few who carry on the time-honored tradition of demeaning everything a co-worker does in the name of camradarie.

So, in the name of that kind of behavior, I say “fuck camradarie, I’d rather be left alone.”

And that is what happens when people take a little hazing too far.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Screaming Eagles

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 11:46

Flashback Friday; When is a firefighter no longer?

Is it the day he puts in his papers?

The last night in the station?

Driving away from the station after the final shift?

When he says, “I’m home,” and stays there?

Or is it when the fire in his heart diminishes and the thrill of responding to emergencies in the dead of winter is no longer there, but he does his job and leads by example and never lets “the kids” know that he knows the end is near?

Is it when the thought of working a holiday is no longer acceptable, and unused sick or vacation time begins getting used?

Or when “the tones” at 3:00 a.m. sound like the bells of hell rather than a subtle way to say get up, get dressed, and get on the truck?

Is a firefighter through when he makes rank?

Or if he chooses a different career path, like EMS or Fire Prevention?

Or arson investigator?

Is a firefighter no longer a firefighter when the years of injury finally make it impossible for him to do his job without putting himself, his crew, and the people he is sworn to protect in danger?

Does he become less of a firefighter if he retires on a disability?

It’s none of those things. A firefighter is no longer a firefighter when he stops breathing. Then he is a dead firefighter. Three days later, he will be a dead and buried firefighter. Then, he will live forever with the rest of the firefighters who came before him and lived the life and loved the job even when it became more and more difficult to feel it the way they once did.

A firefighter is no longer a firefighter only when he chooses to no longer be a firefighter. Nobody can make that choice but the firefighter. What makes a firefighter a firefighter resides deep inside, and nobody can change that unless the firefighter chooses it. Simply hanging up the turnout gear for the last time does not strip a firefighter of his status.

Nobody can take away the things that make us firefighters. Nobody can strip us of our memories, our heart and soul, or our willingness to put it all on the line when needed.

Nobody can take the friends we make during our journey away.
Nobody can make us forget those friends we have lost.

Being a firefighter is for life. There is no such thing as a retired firefighter. We can’t even die without being remembered as a firefighter. And after living the life, and feeling the heat, and knowing exactly how good it feels to do the job, who would want to?

Thanks to Eric Norberg for the great image.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Meaning and Purpose

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 07:41

I wrote this for the medics and EMT’s out there who find themselves in a rut. Trust me, it’s not all for nothing…

There comes a time when you have already done more than you are going to do, and when that time comes for you, I hope that you can look back and remember how good it was, and how it felt, and the difference that was made in countless lives because you were there.

There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when one person is responsible for the care of another, and the person hurting is comforted by the person healing, and the two bond as only people in those circustances can.

Of all the health care professionals that practice medicine, I think EMS personell do far more with their training and education than the rest. Nobody in the chain of treating sudden illness or accident victims does more with less. We do not have the luxury of support staff, or somebody watching over us who knows more; for the time spent on scene and during transport there is only us, the patient, and for me, a higher power who keeps me calm, and lets what I do know flow, and keep the poor soul dying on my stretcher breathing for a little while longer than he would have without me.

It’s heady stuff when I stop and think about it, and now that I have more time behind me than ahead, I have a lot of time to think about it. The best part of looking back is all the frustration, sadness, and pain dissipates like morning mist when the sun breaks through, and the memories, without fail remind me that because of what I did, my life had meaning, and purpose.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

The Kids are Alright

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 10:03

Give kids a chance and they will deliver; not all millenials and whatever the next generation is called are crippled by their parents and society’s new rules, most of them are just like everybody else, just living their lives as they unfold, and rising to the occasion when the opportunity presents itself.


Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Open Fire House

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 09:02




On Wednesday, September 27 at 6:30 PM, the City of Providence will hold an open house at the Rochambeau Fire Station, 280 Rochambeau Avenue, to receive input and discuss potential reuse options for the property.

The meeting is open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to take a tour of the building and offer their ideas, both verbally and in writing. Planning staff will be on hand to facilitate discussion and record input.

The firehouse, which opened in 1929 and housed its last shift this January, is a historic, 2-story, brick, landmarked structure, designed in a Tudoresque style. The property is zoned single-family residential (R 1), and is located just a block east of the Hope Street business district. A two-family residential zone (R 2) is located south of the station.

For more information about the open house please contact David Everett, Principal Planner at the Department of Planning and Development via email at deverett@providenceri.gov or via phone at (401) 680-8520.


The City of Providence closed two fire stations and three companies in January,  2017. There was no public outcry, no candlelight vigils, no “Save our Station” protests, just firefighters leaving their station for the last time and locking the door behind them. Those firefighters started their new assignments; different station, different truck, different life.


In a different time, and a different world closing one fire station was absolutely unacceptable. The union would rally the troops, pamphlets would be distributed, neighborhood groups would convene, city leaders would be lobbied and the station would be saved.

Now, crickets.

For seventeen months the firefighters in Providence have worked a schedule like no other, two 10 hour days, two fourteen hour nights, two days off then do it all over again, week after week, month after month. Mandatory overtime due to staff shortages resulted in one day off a week, after 70 plus hours on duty.

This is Providence, the capitol city of Rhode Island. The “slow” fire companies respond to thousands of calls annually, the busy ones approaching 5000. Fires are a daily occurrence, most don’t make the news because the firefighters are excellent at what they do and put them out before they become newsworthy. EMS crews run non-stop, many of the personnel working 80 plus hour weeks.

But all of that is over now. Mayor Jorge Elorza and Commissioner of Public Safety Stephen Pare orchestrated a campaign to destroy the morale of the firefighters, exhaust them, weaken the union, close companies and stations and save money. By utilizing their management rights in regard to scheduling they eliminated one of four working groups, drastically increased the hours worked by front line firefighters, refuse to fill vacant management positions with experienced fire officers and completely ignore the extremely busy EMS division.

The public remained silent.

There is no fire chief. There is no administration. There is no leadership. All qualified candidates have been silenced. Retired State Police administrators fill the offices once occupied by seasoned firefighters who climbed the ranks the old-fashioned way; one rung at a time. There is no firefighting experience in the front office. There is no vision, no pride, no tradition, nothing but empty shells playing with people as if they were nothing more than chess pieces being moved by people who do not understand the game.

Congratulations, Providence, your apathy has saved you some money.

Enjoy it.

We’ll be hearing from you soon enough.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

The media responds too

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 10:00


I thought of the reporters and camera people covering the daily tragedies we tune in, click on and listen to the other day. I hope they are OK. They cover the story we respond to, get in their vehicle and move on to the next one, never having a chance to process what they witness. Talking helps, but my guess is there will be other stories to cover before the horrific event of the day fades into the shadow of the next tragedy. But the memories never really go away. They linger, and wait for an opportunity to join the rest of the nightmarish sounds and images that have accumulated, taking space in our minds where other, better things belong.

The news was on when I got home after a long shift; a 3-year-old boy had drowned in a swimming pool. The efforts of the police, firefighters and EMTs were not enough to save him. A neighbor was interviewed, and she said all of the usual things. At the end of the short segment the reporter, a young guy whom I had seen a number of times over the last year, stood in front of the day care, alone, and summed it up.

I already knew a boy was dead. I did not want to know about his parents, his friends, what school he went to, if he had a brother or a sister at home. I did not want to see his parents when they learned what had happened. I had the luxury of focus: pinpoint on the problem, know as little about the life that was lost, and get up the next day and do it again with a clear head.

News people are trained to have a stone face while telling the world what happened, and to keep their emotions in check. He interviewed the neighbors, tried to talk with the parents, was talking with our chief, piecing together the story. And when all was said and done, it was just him and the camera on a lonely street where a little kid had just died.

What he learned showed on his face. His sadness may not have been visible to most, but I saw it, and once I did, I couldn’t see much else. He was at the hospital when the family of the boy learned the news, and he heard the scream of the boy’s mother. Those screams must be echoing in that reporter’s head still.

He did not have the luxury of knowing that he made a valiant attempt to save a life. He did not have the understanding and respect of the community, or a mandatory PTSD (post traumatic stress debriefing) waiting. He had another story to cover in a district that spanned three states. He is in the business of uncovering the truth, and the truths that reporters uncover are heartbreaking. Like responders, they are simply people doing their jobs, and while the police, fire and EMTs are seen as heroic, reporters are often forgotten, or worse.

Being on the outside looking in will never endear you to the group you are peering at, no matter how well you do your job. We are a voyeuristic society that oddly enough loves its privacy. When it is your job to pick away at that privacy, there is bound to be some irritation.

In telling the story, the reporters give a lot of themselves, and the pieces that they lose are difficult to get back. First responders know how disillusionment and cynicism can sneak up on us, and disappointment in society can permeate our consciousness if we allow it. We know that “the job” can take more than it gives, and that a little bit of our kindness, empathy and innocence is lost on every call. But we have something that the people who tell our story do not; each other.

An informal support group exists between people in the news industry. There is commiseration, camaraderie and an occasional after-work venting session, but nothing formal. By admitting vulnerability, the reporters and support staff expose themselves to the scrutiny of their peers. There isn’t a more competitive market than the news. Any chink in their armor can be perceived as weakness, and a weak reporter is a reporter who is going nowhere.

The people covering the news need to know that they are appreciated, and it is OK to get some help when the weight of the news they cover becomes too heavy. There is no shame in that: Sometimes the soul just needs a break.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Hurricane Harvey

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 08:34

I wrote this shortly after Hurricaine Sandy hit my area in 2012. It was the first time I had to ride out a major storm at home. Big difference being at the mercy of nature rather than defying it. I’d rather be fighting it, but learned how it is just as challenging simply weathering the storm at home.

Houston is underwater, lots of heroic deeds being done by police, firefighters and EMS…and everyday people as well.

It was weird watching Hurricane Sandy through my front window rather than through the windshield of Rescue 5. It seems as though every major storm that passed through New England over the last twenty some odd years waited for me to start my tour.

Sad truth is, I liked that just fine. It’s easy being alone during bad weather, even if the job you are doing is hard. This time, things were different; I had to ride it out at home.

Being home and helpless is difficult. As the winds picked up velocity and the branches of the trees, and the trees themselves shook, and shattered and fell to the ground I could do nothing but watch. My window was as close to the action as I would get, and I was not all that crazy about standing too close to that window! I found it difficult to sit still and watch things go flying by, but there was nothing I could do to change what was happening.

Nature’s fury is a little less intimidating thanks to advances in technology. By pressing a button we are able to track a storm, know when it’s coming, when it’s going, how much rain to expect, how strong the winds will be, and a whole bunch of other information like barometric pressure and things like that that mean absolutely nothing to me. What did matter was the fact that I knew that this too would pass, and the lights will come on, and hopefully stay on, and life will return to normal. This confidence in our ability to weather a storm is a luxury only afforded the most recent generation, prior to us people hunkered down when the wind blew, hopeful it would end, but not knowing if things would get worse before they got better.

Maybe things were better that way, and some fear was instilled in humanity. Humility and appreciation seem much more appetizing when not sure if at the next moment everything could end, or be forever changed. Alas, humility has never been my strength, and as I watched the chaos outside of my window I knew it would all be over soon. The TV told me so.

I’ve often said that it’s our families that deserve the credit when we are out doing our thing, but I never really believed it. I thought I believed it, and if questioned would vociferously defend that statement, but as the windows shook, and more branches fell, and another tree succumbed to the eighty mile an hour gusts, and my heart pounded a little harder than I thought possible, and I contemplated calling 911 to report trees in the wires, I realized just how much I had taken the family I left behind for granted. I was nervous, and worried, and it was not a feeling that I’m used to. My family was used to it, having been left alone during emergencies for years.

I enjoy nothing more that being called to action, and braving the elements while responding to some emergency or other. It’s an adrenaline rush like no other, fighting natures wrath on the way to save some poor soul from whatever predicament they find themselves in. Even the most wildly lived lives consist mostly of boring routine, and the chance to challenge the elements and make a difference and break the monotony  is one I live for. Losing myself in an emergency is easy, and life affirming, and an enormous ego boost.

It’s a wonder I can even fit my head through the doorway of our home, where I weathered this storm, miserable, knowing that I was missing all of the fun.

And my wife stood by, busy with her routine, comfortable in her place, batteries ready, candles where they needed to be, dinner for days prepared, ice in the cooler, crossword puzzle books and some games next to the battery operated radio.

She was prepared. I was not. Somewhere in my thick skull the notion that I was above commoners in terms of severe weather readiness resided. Let the hurricanes, blizzards, heat waves, tornadoes and earthquakes come; I am ready, willing and able to respond to those emergencies! But prepare for them? Not even close. Preparation is dull, part of that 90% monotony called life. Preparation for things that “might” happen is far different than responding to things that “did” happen.

In my arrogance I failed to allow myself to live a moment in my families shoes. It is frightening enough to be at the mercy of the elements, hoping that the walls keep the weather out, and the basement stays dry, and the roof remains in place. Hunkering down during a storm is highly underrated. It takes more courage than I ever imagined, and I cannot begin to imagine one of us being out during the worst of it. I honestly don’t think I have what it takes to keep the home together, and stocked, and prepared. Sure, I can put beer in the fridge, and get cans of tuna and a manual opener, but can I keep my emotions in check when the house is shaking and the person I love is not there?

Being prepared is harder than responding. True strength of character is necessary, as well as leadership, courage, and faith. Anybody can take care of things after they happen, waiting for and being ready for anything that might happen, and doing so when you are terrified and your other half is gone takes a special person.

Storms will come, and storms will go, and each one is different in its intensity and potential for inflicting damage. Hurricane Sandy was a doozy, blazing a path of death and destruction through the eastern states. Truly heroic acts were performed by our first responders, and I watched the events over and over on my TV, proud to be part of that world, all the while humbled and awed by the heroes under my own roof.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists