Rescuing Providence: Q&A with Lt. Michael Morse

An intriguing look at 34 nonstop hours with a big-city firefighter/EMT


Ed's Note: Author Michael Morse released a new book at the end of 2011. Responding follows Morse for 38 hours as he and his co-workers respond to emergencies in Rhode Island's capitol city. The book's pace is as relentless as the 9-1-1 calls that keep the characters moving in this provocative look at the nation's 9-1-1 responders, and the people who need them.

In Rescuing Providence, you'll ride through the tough streets of South Providence, RI, past historic mansions on the city's East Side and the tattered but emerging West End with Lt. Michael Morse of the Providence Fire Department as he and his EMS team respond to drug overdoses, heart attacks, car accidents, gunshot wounds, suicides, alcoholics, premature births, broken bones and other medical emergencies that are all in a day's work. This humorous memoir was published by Paladin Press and is available from Paladin or Amazon.com through links on Lt. Morse's blog at www.rescuingprovidence.com.

Why did you write this book?

I'd had in my mind for a few years that what I do for a living would make a good book--not only a memoir of a career in EMS and the fire service, but just one shift could make a book because we do so much. Providence is very busy. I think the average is 17 calls per truck in a 24-hour period, and there are six rescues. That's a lot of stories. I also wanted the focus to be more on the people of Providence than on myself, because I find the people we respond to are an interesting lot.

Did you keep a journal? How did you remember so many details?

One day on my way to work, I decided this was the day I was going to start a journal. It was Easter weekend in 2004, and I just started taking notes. As soon as I got to work, I wrote about my ride in and my morning routine, and before I went back into service after each call, I wrote down all the things I remembered: colors, people, conversations. I did that for four days and ended up with a long list of notes that took me almost two years to put together in book form. The original manuscript was about 400 pages covering 42 calls in a 38-hour period. What I thought was interesting was the exhaustion and my battling fatigue and trying to maintain some professionalism as the hours and calls dragged on. The struggle of getting through the calls and being away from my family all came together. In my mind, it was probably a lot more elaborate than it turned out to be. The book turned out to be pretty simple, but writing and thinking are two different things completely.

You're both a firefighter and an EMT. What was it about the medical aspect that appealed to you more than fighting fires?

I was a firefighter for 10 years, and I still love doing it. But as firefighter/first responders, we'd get to a patient's house, do CPR if necessary, give oxygen and take vital signs and then wait for the EMS guys, and I got tired of waiting for them. I wanted to be one of the rescue guys, so that's what I became.

So many books today are self-published, but you went with Paladin Press, which is a publishing company. Was that a deliberate choice?

It was. I have this hope of getting a career as an author or some sort of writing career when I leave the fire service. Since I published my book, self-publishing has come a long way, but at the time I published in 2007 there was a stigma attached to self-publishing. Everyone told me if I self-published I wouldn't get reviewed and wouldn't get the respect I needed from a national audience, so I went through the process. I have a stack of rejections from agents and publishers, who all loved the book, but they were afraid it wasn't marketable and not enough people would buy it. So it was tempting to go the self-publishing route, but I didn't want to be a bookseller, I wanted to be a book writer.

The book was published 4 years ago. What response have you had, and does it appeal to both people in the industry and laypeople?

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