By Michael Morse
A friend died unexpectedly at home. He was a year younger than me. I hadn’t seen him for a while, and that was okay with both of us. We have a lot of people we call friends; people we meet along our journey, people who are friends for a while, friends of convenience, and friends of circumstance. The next-door neighbor, the kids on the playground, high school friends, college roommates, coworkers from our first job; all of them matter, all of them are important in of our life.
We don’t replace them, and we don’t take it personally when they move on; we simply make room for whatever comes next. Family commitments make it impossible to maintain daily friendships with all the people we connect with, so those people become those we used to be close with, and they very well could be again if circumstances allowed. Unless, of course, they die.
My friend was a firefighter. We worked in the same station for a few years before moving on. I have great memories of our times together—lots of laughs, some truly memorable events, and more hijinks than any grown man should participate in. I’m glad we were able to get to know each other and do the job together.
I learned about his death on Facebook, that dreadful place where we learn so much about our past. His face appeared as I scrolled through the drama of the day—the political commentary, the silly memes, and the great YouTube clips. I had to look twice and stare for a few minutes as the reality of what had happened hit home. My friend was gone; our relationship was truly over. There would be no later in life connection when our families were raised, our kids safe and successful, our jobs gone, and our time once again available.
I personally do not know the crew that answered the 911 call to my friend’s home the night he died. That doesn’t matter; I am absolutely positive they did all they could. One of the responders who is an acquaintance of mine was gracious enough to reach out and let me know they did their best. He didn’t have to; I live in the same city as my friend and have called the Warwick (RI) Fire Department three times for my own medical emergencies. They overexceeded my expectations every time. Still, it was great to know that the firefighters with the unfortunate job of treating one of our own still retain the decency that makes the fire service great. We take care of everybody. We never work harder because somebody is one of us, but when it is, we take it a little harder. Maybe that doesn’t mean much in the big scheme of things, but in my scheme of things, it does matter. It matters a lot.
Sometimes we get lost in the minutia of responding to other people’s emergencies. We forget to appreciate the profound effect our presence has on the people who we are called to help. We do our time and answer the call, never realizing just how important we actually are. Every time we do our job, somebody’s load is lifted to some degree. Sometimes, we seem like miracle workers, other times we simply provide survivors with the knowledge that everything that could be done was done. It may not seem like much, especially considering the frequency with which we are called, but our actions during other people’s worst moments are immense. People will not remember us personally; they will forget what we look like, sound like, or how we move. But they will remember that when they called for help, some damned good firefighters showed up.
One of the most surprising things my time in the fire service taught me is the timeless nature of the job. The further I get from doing the work, the closer the people still doing it become. It is truly comforting to know that those who come after me and the friends I made along the way remember us and continue to do their best. They continue to carry on the tradition of excellence that we learned from those who came before us. Rest in peace, Don. And to the firefighters, thanks for being there.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.