A Real Emergency

By Michael Morse

“Rescue 1, Respond to 1835 Broad Street for an intoxicated male at the payphone.”

Duty calls. Duty waits. I refastened my belt loosely and hit the pole.

“Rescue 1, responding.”

We rolled out of the station and into the city. Some folks would have taken care of business first; others may have gone out of service until the job was done. Not me. Nope, a call for help needs to be answered. I cleared my mind and focused on the emergency. Not my emergency. That would have to wait.

It wasn’t long before the cause of my discomfort was on my stretcher and I sat behind him, squirming. Now and then my pressure relief valve opened, biding me time and some unintended revenge as the intoxicated homeless man wrinkled his bulbous nose and slurred, “What stinks?”

As we rolled our patient through the ER doors I realized I had reached the crossroads. A pivotal decision waited. The staff restroom was occupied, the public one simply out of the question.

“We have to get back to the station,” I said to my partner, Mark. “I’ve got to go.”

A good partner knows instinctively when things are critical.

“Let’s roll.”

It’s a three-mile trip from the Emergency Room to the fire station–ETA six minutes. I could probably make it. Everything was going great, light traffic, perfect weather conditions, no road construction in sight. I could see the Promised Land in the distance, a little more than a minute away. I relaxed, briefly.

“A train!” said Mark, hitting the brakes as my intestines churned.

“You have got to be kidding.”

“It’s the Harbor Chemical Train, slowest moving locomotive on the Eastern Seaboard!”

 “Oh. My. God.”

I was now diaphoretic and rapidly cramping. Respirations increased as my heart raced. The railway gates closed, blocking our approach. Lights flashed, the shuffling monster crept toward the intersection.  Just when I thought all was lost, a slight reprieve. Mark rolled the window down.

“Turn around, we’ll backtrack to the one way, circle around the bookstore, go back up the one way down and double back over the railroad tracks.”


He flicked on the warning lights and turned around.  We approached the one-way, ready to make our move, when a battalion chief appeared in the distance, heading our way.

“BOGEY AT 12 O’CLOCK!” said Mark, turning off the emergency lights. I curled my toes, smiled, and waved politely to the chief as we passed his vehicle. We were now headed in the exact opposite direction of the Promised Land. Suddenly, inspiration.

“Stop at the burger place!”

“You must be desperate.”

“I am.” I flashed back to my last visit to this particular facility: an overdose in one of the stalls. Hygiene was not a priority. Thirty seconds later, the pain in my abdomen subsided.

“I think I can make it; keep going.”

“Are you sure?”

“I can do this. I can.”

We left the burger joint in the dust. The station was around the next bend, salvation moments away. I saw it in the distance, a beacon, a ray of light, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. We roared onto the ramp, I rolled under the slowly opening overhead door and duck walked to the restroom, just in the nick of time. The radio came to life.  

“Rescue 1, are you available?”   I smiled and keyed the mic.  

“Roger that, what have you got?”


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.

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