Michael Morse - Rescuing Providence

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I’m with you…

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 09:52

I miss getting to work an hour early, picking up the paper from the ramp, the apparatus floor ghostly quiet, entering

Morning after a multi-alarm Thanksgiving Day fire in Salem, Massachusetts

the boot room, smoke mixed with sweat and leather, gear lined up, squared away, waiting for bodies to fill it.

I miss signing the accountability sheet, seeing who was already there, climbing the stairs and entering the day room, hot coffee ready, quiet now, before the banter begins.

I miss telling the person I relieved they’re “all set,” telling my officer, “I’m with you,” then catching up on the night’s events as the sun breaks the horizon and a new day begins.

It’s the mundane things I miss, almost as much as the fires and rescues. The routine, familiar things that made up my days on duty; the 0800 time signal, housework, washing the truck, checking the equipment, starting the generators and saws, fuelling up, district inspections and yes, even drilling.

There is an ebb and flow in the fire service; routine interrupted by chaos. The chaos gets the glory, but the routine keeps us sane. There is something timeless about that, the firefighters come and go, vehicles get replaced, but the spirit of the station never changes.

Yeah, I miss it, but every day I am grateful that I am aware it exists, and I was once a part of it.

Image Courtesy of Andrew Sievert

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

The Routine

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 08:16

I miss getting to work an hour early, the apparatus floor ghostly quiet, the boot room waiting, smoke mixed with sweat and leather, gear lined up, squared away, waiting for bodies to fill it.

Brook Street E-9 and L-8

I miss signing the accountability sheet, seeing who was already there, climbing the stairs and entering the day room, hot coffee ready, quiet now, before the banter begins.

I miss telling the person I relieved they’re “all set,” telling my officer, “I’m with you,” then catching up on the night’s events as the sun breaks the horizon and a new day begins.

It’s the mundane things I miss, almost as much as the fires and rescues. The routine, familiar things that made up my days on duty; the 0800 time signal, housework, washing the truck, checking the equipment, starting the generators and saws, fuelling up, district inspections and yes, even drilling.

There is an ebb and flow in the fire service; routine interrupted by chaos. The chaos gets the glory, but the routine keeps us sane. There is something timeless about that, the firefighters come and go, vehicles get replaced, but the spirit of the station never changes.

Yeah, I miss it, but every day I am grateful that I am aware it exists, and I was once a part of it.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

It’s what we give

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 08:32

Life is short. When we are kids our days seem endless, and days and weeks crawl by.

As we age, and count our time on earth in years, then decades, we begin to see just how quickly it all passes.

In our youth, we are fascinated with

Lilyana in the officer’s seat.

possibilities; anything is possible, and the world is ours for the taking.

As life progresses, we learn that it is not about what we take; rather, it is what we give that matters.

As parents, we learn that taking everything we can to achieve happiness is a fool’s game. We know that it is in the giving where true satisfaction derives.

The fire service provides the perfect opportunity to find purpose, contentment, and the elusive happiness that every person craves.

To give our children every opportunity we can imagine, including but certainly not limited to the opportunity to pursue the life we have led, is the greatest gift we can give them.

Denying them the chance to experience it because of the inherent risk is simply not an option.

Sometimes we have to risk everything or live with the regret that not taking a chance breeds.

Some people can live with that and leave the risk taking to others.

Theirs is a sheltered life, a safe life, a life often lived without passion. It is not the life that we have chosen; and, make no mistake, we are the ones who choose to live the firefighter’s life.

Our children, should they choose to follow our path, make that choice as well.

Nobody can do the job without wanting it, and nobody can make another person want it.

If the people we brought into this world have decided that they wish to follow in our footsteps and live the life we have chosen, they do so because they have seen with their own eyes, felt with their own hearts, and know with their intellect that firefighting is worth the risk.

We do not “let our kids follow in our footsteps.” They have seen for themselves what a firefighter is and have chosen to follow our path into the fire service and create their own footsteps along the way.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Heart of a Firefighter

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 13:11

There’s something about Fire Chaplains. . .

 

‘He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the Cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.’

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6927345/Fire-chaplain-helped-Bataclan-victims-entered-burning-Notre-Dame-save-Crown-Thorns-relic.html

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Friendship forged in fire

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 07:01

By Michael Morse

Before you know it, your career will be over. You may make it 10, 20, 30, or 40-plus years; it matters not, it goes by in a blink. I made it to 25, spent more time than I care to recall complaining about this or that, the shift coming in or the shift going out. As great as the job is, far too many of us wish it were better, or that the public appreciated us, or that the politicians would stop with their endless wants.

Image by Eric Norberg

One thing is certain: The job will outlast each and every one of us. Where there is uncontrolled fire, there are people needed to put it out. Who better than us? Nobody, that’s who. The people we work with are what make the job so great. It’s the people who make us laugh, have our back, give us an endless stream of material to exploit, and keep things interesting.

Enjoy those friendships, for they will not last forever. A fortunate few have the capacity to maintain numerous friendships throughout their lives; the rest of us settle for one or two close friends and rely on family as our years add up and people in our lives diminish.

We are fortunate. Our working years are spent with like-minded individuals whose bond is unbreakable during difficult times, tested under fire, and strengthened by our ability to work together to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Friendship forged in fire is forever, at least in our memories. It is difficult to keep a department full of people on speed dial. And, as the years continue, the calls slow down, nights out are more often spent with our spouses, and the thrill of camaraderie takes a back seat to the satisfaction of raising a family.

I think it has to be that way. I could wallow in misery, thinking that the phone never rings, my brothers have forsaken me, and that those friendships were just an illusion. Or, I can live secure in the knowledge that what we had was more real than anybody has the right to imagine. I can see those friendships for what they are: moments in time spent with people who were, and will always be, vitally important pieces of a life well lived.

We cannot live forever shadowed by what our lives used to be. We were giants once and donned the gear and did things that others call heroic. But that comes to an end, and living life without the possibility of the bell tipping or the tones going off need not be done wishing for something better, more vibrant, more life affirming and thrilling.

We few, we happy few, we can bask in the memory of battles waged, lives saved, and friendship like no other nurtured under fire.

I cannot and will not ask for or expect anything better than that.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Only Twenty

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 12:29

Image by Eric Norberg

Twenty years ago I thought I would do this job forever. I had a dream; work in Providence till I was sixty and they threw me out, then move to somewhere where they have a volunteer fire department and put my experience to good use. The department offered a 50% pension after twenty years, we contribute 9 1/2 % of our pay toward the fund, the city contributes the rest. “That’s nice,” I thought, never considering I would actually leave after twenty.

Time marches on, and twenty years passed in the blink of an eye. The person I was when I started is long gone, a different, more somber, at times cynical person has taken his place. People who walked in my shoes fought for the twenty year pension deal, knowing from experience that twenty years in firefighter time is a long, long time. They knew, as only one who lived the life will ever know, that for some, twenty years is enough. They knew that at forty-five or fifty, starting a new career is not that easy, or starting a business when everybody else had a twenty year head start challenging to say the least.

I remember sitting in at a critical incident debriefing a few hours after I held two dead infants in my arms. My latex gloves melted into their skin their bodies were so hot as I tried unsuccessfully to revive them with my new CPR skills. I bagged the one year old – Savannah was her name I found out later, while doing compressions on the other, John. It was rough, but it was what I had signed on for. The guy that brought the babies from the fire to me was a twenty year veteran firefighter, a tough guy by all accounts. When it was his turn to speak he filled with tears, and couldn’t. He hung his head and valiantly tried to express his feelings, but couldn’t. He left the room. A few months later he was gone. Retired. He told me much later that it wasn’t necessarily that call that did it, it was all the calls leading up to and including that one that finished him. He simply could not do it again.

I should have learned a lesson that day, but mired in the arrogance of youth I hadn’t lived enough to sense my own frailty. I was invincible. I thought of him the other day, as I drove home from what I thought was an unremarkable tour. As I neared my street, I thought of the little girl who claimed to have injured her knee and refused to move from the gymnasium floor. Her mother looked on from a distance, annoyed as I tried to figure out what was wrong. No bleeding or deformity, swelling or anything really. She showed me her other knee as a comparison, and I noticed bruises, weeks old on both legs, and both arms, and a haunted look on her face. I let it go, we can’t save everybody, and she probably is just an active kid who bruises easily.

Or not.

I turned onto my street, and had to stop the car. Where was the little girl now? Was she home, in her room, reading or watching TV, or was she being punished for being a crybaby, like the kid a few weeks ago whose mother called us because her son “fell” from his bed. Fell and had severe head trauma and curling iron burns on his legs.  It took ten minutes for me to pull myself together before I could walk in my door and not bring twenty years worth of memories with me.

I haven’t been sleeping. It’s been going on for months now, every night that I’m home I’ll go into a fitful slumber around midnight, only to be fully awake at around two. I toss and turn for hours, finally getting some relief from my spinning mind at sunrise, only to be back up an hour later. I grab an hour here and there as time permits but have no idea what a full nights sleep feels like, unless it is drug induced, but I try to avoid that.

What runs through my mind is probably similar to every other person my age; are the kids really okay, will the bills get paid, am I truly happy or is this just an illusion, is that spot on my back the cancer that will kill me or just a mole. Then I get the ghosts.

-the baby that was run over by the eighteen wheeler as it turned the corner on North Main and Doyle, dead in the middle of the street, the baby carriage twisted and crushed one hundred feet from the body

-the guy that was buried alive at sunset on Dorothy, and his lifeless arm that was the first thing we dug up

-the twenty year old guy and his twenty year old friend, dead in the front seat of their Mustang at the Atwells Ave off ramp

-the fifty-five year old guy who was new at motorcycle riding who tapped a rear view mirror, lost control on 195, flipped over the jersey barrier and was crushed by a Toyota Camry full of kids. We found his foot later, still in his boot

-the eighteen year old tattoo artist found hanging in his basement by his roomate

-my friends brother found hanging in his bedroom closet

-a RISD student found hanging from the wrought iron fence at Prospect Park

-the kid found hanging off the side of his house on New Years Eve

-the fifty-five year old who told his wife he was going golfing, started his car, didn’t open the garage door and died next to his clubs

-the forty year old who held up traffic while he considered jumping from the overpass, then did as the crowd that had formed cheered

-the college kid who fell eighty feet to his death the week before Christmas

-the baby who rolled himself into his blanket and suffocated, while his dad was napping on the couch

-my friend Kenny who had a heart attack at his third building fire of the day, and had to be defibrillated, and came back to life but not the job

-the seventeen year old girl who bled to death in the front seat of a car that had struck a tree while eluding police as her friends picked her pockets of the crack vials they were selling

-the baby born dead and put into a hefty bag

-the woman dead in her kitchen with a bullet hole in her forehead and her three children sitting on a couch in the next room

-the two babies that broke the veteran firefighter

-the eight year old deaf girl who broke my heart when I learned she had been prostituting for her foster parents

–the twenty-year old dancer dead in her car after taking all of her pills, and the vomit covered note on her lap

-the family dead behind the front door as the fire burned out of control behind them

-delivering a baby in the back of the rescue and having the mother yell get that thing away from me when I handed it to her

-watching blood gush from a hole in a man’s head while doing compressions

There are dozens, hundreds more, all waiting for that delicate twilight between sleep and consciousness to come uninvited into my mind. More join the parade every day that I come to work. Just this week a twenty three year old hit and killed while waking home from a nightclub, a thirty year old guy shot in the head, back and legs who walked to the rescue then collapsed.

I am not a machine. I am a simple person who signed on to do a job, and have done it well. If I choose to leave this year, I will do so with my head held high, regardless of what people say about how lucky I am to get to retire after only twenty years 

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Hey Firefighter; don’t you dare apologize for working!

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 12:05

I’m a lot like most firefighters I know; we work. We didn’t become firefighters because we were looking for the easy way.

The fire service has been very good to me. I put a lot into it, took every opportunity to advance, got the certifications and commensurate pay raises.

Overtime was abundant. That was a bonus I never saw coming, when I was hired in 1991 there was zero overtime, and that lasted for years. As the years progressed the city didn’t keep up with hiring and overtime was used to fill vacancies on our minimum manning roster. Some see that as a union money grab, but those same some would complain if we ran the department with volunteers.

Nonetheless, I’ve always had a job on the side. When I say always, I mean always. When I was old enough and would babysit, I got a paper route. When I stopped babysitting I did the paper route and cut lawns. Then cutting lawns and a job at the closest restaurant washing dishes. Then washing dishes at one place and bussing tables at another. That went from bussing tables to cooking at a third place, which metamorphosed into a cooks job while waiting tables, then tending bar by night and working construction by day. The construction thing led to some clean-ups, which led to my cleaning company by night and tending bar on weekends.

Eventually I was hired as a firefighter in Providence, and I tended bar on weekends and cleaned offices at night to subsidies the six months of minimum wage I earned while in the academy. Once on the job I dumped the bartending gig and kept the cleaning business, which I did up until a few years ago.

Some of us work second jobs to make ends meet. Some do it because they know no other way. Some are happy to do the demanding hours at the station and leave it at that. Whatever works is what I say, and kudos to everybody who finds contentment with what they do.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

Timeless

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 09:08

It’s 0600 hrs.,

the sun remains hidden,

waiting under the horizon

to swallow the darkness.

thirteen hours into an endless thirty eight hour shift

I’m not sure if my day has begun

or my night has ended

In a forth floor apartment contractions start

Five children, all under five years old

wake to screams

and another is about to join them

Her water breaks as the sun rises

her door is locked

the baby is born

we force the door,

and wrap the child,

cut the cord

and tell the world

over the air

“time of birth 0615 hours.”

Hours later a grieving widow sits in a limo, crying

Her husband lies in his casket a few miles away.

The funeral must wait, another problem has risen

As a car fleeing the police

crashes into the funeral procession

She is injured, but refuses to go with us

You only bury you husband once she explains

So we bend the rules

and help her to the funeral home

and wheel her in

past the casket,

the preacher never stops

She sits on our stretcher

the cervical collar digging into her skin

And listens

As her husband is laid to rest.

It’s a little past noon

one has joined us, one has left

A mother holds the miracle in her arms

And a wife lets her husband go.

And Rescue 1 returns to service,

with fifteen hours to go

In a long, remarkable shift.

Categories: Syndicated Columnists

A Silent Moment

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 16:56

I would often sit in the back of the ambulance when a job was done and simply let things settle. Tension takes time to leave a space where a life and death struggle has happened, and the confined space of an ALS vehicle doesn’t have a lot of room for the air to clear.

Much like the body and mind slowly relaxes after a stressful experience, so too does the air surrounding us need a chance to deflate.

With the smell of blood still thick in the air, not yet cleared out by the exhaust fans, and the floor littered with debris; catheters, plastic bags that moments before held oxygen masks and tubes, sweat, saline and empty medication vials I would close my eyes and let it all go.

Sometimes the house 02 that somebody forgot to turn off would fill the space with hissing, sometimes just silence surrounded me, and I would take time to think of the person who just left us.

At times a connection could be felt, and somewhere deep in my soul I would feel a thank you coming from somewhere other than my mind’s own manifestation.

These were private moments between me and the departed, and without taking the time to acknowledge life and loss, and to let things settle I could never have been able to key the mic and say, “Rescue 1, back in service.”

Categories: Syndicated Columnists