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Book excerpt: A quarter-century of a responder’s emergency calls inspire ‘Rescue 911'

A retired rescue captain looks back on a career of helping others and tells the stories of doing his best to make a difference


Rescue 911 is Michael Morse’s fifth published book, distributed by Simon and Schuster.

Courtesy photo

Rescue 911 is Michael Morse’s fifth published book, distributed by Simon and Schuster. Rescue 911 is about the people from all walks of life who call 911 when things go badly. These are their stories, told by the people who respond and make things better.

Sometimes I think about the lives that I have been a part of and realize just how incredible my EMS journey was. In this patient story I mention the possibility of a tree growing in a spot where I nonchalantly threw an apple core out my window.

During my twenty-five year career as a firefighter and EMT in Providence I responded to well over 25,000 calls for help from people in some kind of distress. It is humbling, to say the least, to know that 25,000 people benefited from my presence in their lives, not to mention the thousands of friends and family members whose path also intersected with mine.

Maybe a tree will grow where the seed was planted, maybe not, but a lot of people will definitely grow, have children, create things, help others and continue living because I responded. I’m glad I never thought my part in the bigger scheme of things could be so important. In the moment I might have been overwhelmed by the responsibility, but I wasn’t. I managed to do a lot of good, and tell the story, and so does every one of us who puts on the uniform and answers the call.

It’s all a bit overwhelming, but kind of incredible too.

“Stable” – an excerpt from Rescue 911

I took the last bite from my apple and threw the core out the window. Maybe there will be an apple tree on the spot long after I’m gone. The police had found a woman unconscious in her car near the Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park and called for a medical assist. Engine 11 arrived first, Rescue 1 right behind them.

“Watch out,” said Renato, now a member of Engine 11, “she’s covered with vomit.”

Rob and Seth got the stretcher from the back of the ambulance; Renato did a quick assessment of the girl while I picked up pill bottles and a suicide note from the floor of the car. The stretcher arrived, we got the girl onto it and into the truck and went to work.

“You guys know what to do,” I said, trying to make sense out of the mess of belongings I had gathered from her car. I got her name from one of the pill bottles; it matched with the registration. No other ID. I glanced at the suicide notes, there were a few, the first neatly written on an envelope, the others scratched on whatever was available: court summonses, unpaid parking tickets, and pieces of scrap paper. I gave the notes to the cops.

“18 gauge in her left hand, EKG rolling,” said Renato.

“Pulsox 78 percent, I’ve got her on 10 liters,” said Rob.

I noticed her respirations were down to 12, her heart rate 180.

“Get some Narcan going.”

Rob drew 2 mg and pushed it through the IV.

“Miles, I need a driver and a guy in back, we have to go.”

Seth drove the ambulance, Miles followed in the engine, and Renato, Rob, and I stayed in back trying to revive our patient.

“Bag her.”

Rob got the bag-valve device ready, placed the oral airway, and started bagging. A lightning bolt lit the sky as we passed the Temple, thunder close behind. The brilliant light was gone before the thunder roared, plunging the park back into darkness. I picked up the cell phone and watched Rob and Renato work on the girl. Rob assisted ventilations while Renato reassessed vitals and checked the girl’s pupils.

“Rhode Island ER,” came the voice on the other end of the phone.

“Providence Rescue 1, I’ve got a twenty-five-year-old female, unconscious, suicide attempt, multiple pills and a note nearby, assisting ventilations, BP 124/68, pulsox 78 percent on room air, glucose 253, two minutes out.”

“Thank you, Rescue 1, see you in two.”

Seth backed the rescue into the bay, we brought her in. The trauma team took over, me and Renato stayed for a while, assisting ventilations and telling the story again. I was certain she would die. The trauma team wasn’t as certain. A few hours later I looked into the room, surprised to see her alive with stable vital signs. She was still unconscious and intubated, but it looks like she will survive. The Providence police deserve credit; she had minutes to live before they found her.

I wonder went through her mind in those last desperate minutes as she sat alone in her car in the deserted park during a thunderstorm, writing goodbye notes and swallowing pills. If she ever reads her words, will they make sense? Will her situation seem as desperate? Will she try again?”


Reprinted from Rescue 911

Simon & Schuster

© 2017 by Michael Morse

Captain Michael Morse (ret.),, is the bestselling author of Rescuing Providence, Rescue 1 Responding, City Life and Mr. Wilson Makes it Home. Michael has been active in EMS since 1991 and offers his views on a variety of EMS and firefighting topics, focusing mainly on the interaction between patient and provider as a well respected columnist and speaker. Captain Morse is a Johnson/Macoll fellow in literature from the Rhode Island Foundation.