By Michael Morse
EMS was something that I had to learn if I wanted to be a firefighter.
I didn’t embrace it. I went through the motions, memorized rather than learned, and barely passed the exams that were needed to obtain my certification. I took the EMT Basic class with about seventy like-minded individuals, all of us recently hired as firefighters in Providence, Rhode Island.
Nobody told me that 10 years later my career would transform from firefighter most of the time – EMS when I had to TO EMS all of the time – firefighting when I had to.
Nobody told me that EMS was anything but a thorn in the side of the fire department’s day-to-day operations.
Nobody told me that 99 percent of the lives I would save as a firefighter were on EMS calls.
Nobody told me about the connections with people who called the fire department for medical help would stay with me for the rest of my life.
Nobody told me that I would find purpose, direction and satisfaction right there in ALS Providence Fire Department, in vehicle Rescue Co. 1.
The Providence Fire Department operates with 14 engine companies, 8 ladder companies, a special hazards unit and two battalion chiefs. Oh, I almost forgot; 7 ALS vehicles. For the majority of the time I spent on the streets there were five ALS vehicles. After much delay, hand wringing, budget manipulation and outrage from surrounding cities and towns who found themselves responding disproportionately to Providence on mutual aid calls, the other two were added.
The department responds to over 40,000 calls a year, which increases every year by thousands, and 32,000 of those calls are for EMS.
Nobody told me that I wouldn‘t feel as though I earned that badge until I transferred to Rescue Co. 1. Our truck responded to well over 5,000 of those calls annually.
Nobody told me that I would be challenged like never before on every single shift.
Nobody told me that the people who died in my care would take their last breaths in the company of somebody who used every bit of his mind, body and spirit to keep them alive.
Nobody told me that by doing so I would be able to move on to the next call with clarity.
Nobody told me that I would find my own concept of spirituality right there in the back of Rescue Co. 1, and it would keep me focused for the rest of my life.
The rest of the department lovingly refers to the people who choose EMS as “Rescue Blows.” It has been said that people who choose to respond to the bulk of business that comes our way are afraid of fire, can’t run with the pack, or are simply weird.
I used to refer to people in the EMS division as Rescue Blows, and thought they were different as well.
Nobody told me that I was right, that Rescue Blows ARE different.
Nobody told me that it takes a lot of courage to step away from the pack, face scorn and ridicule and do the job you know in your heart is the right job for you.
Nobody told me that by doing the job few firefighters wanted to do I would distinguish myself as a stand-up guy, and a valuable part of the fire service.
Nobody told me that people would notice that by treating the homeless, downtrodden and diseased the same way I treated the wealthy, privileged and powerful I could make each and every firefighter proud of who are, what we do and how we operate.
If somebody had told me these things, I wouldn’t have believed them. Some things you just have to find out for yourself.