By Michael Morse
I first felt it nearly 25 years ago…
a glow in the distance, cold wind snapping through the tiller cab, the promise of fire in the distance getting my heart pumping … eyes blurry but everything is in focus, the rear of the ladder truck my only responsibility … three triple-deckers burning, high-tension wires falling to the ground … the first fire building lets go, the front collapsing in front of Engine 12, cutting off its water supply … a fourth home ready to ignite, the vinyl siding already melting to the ground, the family who lived there running out the front door … me and Danny taking a 2½-inch attack line from the rear of Engine 7 … Carl at the panel, squeezing a little more water out of the overburdened pump so we could save the exposure … Lieutenant Healy, standing in the loft of the third fire building before the smoke had cleared, looking toward the east, simply stating, “God help me, I do love it so.”
As far as I was concerned, the tillerman on Ladder Co. 7 in Providence, Rhode Island, heading toward a two-alarm fire in the middle of a cold winter night was the King of the World … until the truck stopped at the fire scene, and The King becomes another grunt.
The same feeling, years later …
in the loft of an abandoned home on Bowen Street; me and Peter, heavy fire, a window and a charged 1¾-inch line … two other houses burning on either side of us … third SCBA bottle just about spent, as was everybody else on this Memorial Day afternoon … the battle rages on, lots of fire, not a lot of firefighters … back in, more fire to fight.
It was us or the fire. The fire lost.
me and Chris on the third floor of a filthy tenement on Smith Hill … a woman waiting with her sick husband … he takes his last breaths as we walk into their apartment … strapped to a stair chair and hauled out … calling for backup, Engine 7 in the distance, sirens wailing … onto the stretcher, starting CPR … in the captain’s chair watching the guys work … IV, 02, EKG, epi, atropine, check pulse, epi, atropine all the way to the ER … pulse when we left … breathing.
When things quieted down, I looked into the back of the rescue, saw past the debris, and recalled the effort just put forth and knew I was exactly where I belonged.
And again …
A guy with two bullets in his head, still breathing, fighting, dying … we do our thing, get him to the trauma room … he’s still alive … barely … days later, the patient’s sister thanking us for a job well done … and tells me her brother was still alive, still fighting.
And it never goes away.
I am not a religious man. I don’t believe in fate, or destiny. I’m not sure of the existence of God. All that I am sure of is what I can see and feel. Most of my time is spent merely existing. When crisis hits and the outcome is in question, I truly feel alive. I will always be grateful for the opportunity that the fire service has provided me to feel it.
Michael Morse recently retired from his position as captain, Rescue Co. 5, with the Providence (RI) Fire Department after 23 years. He lives a few miles from his old station with his wife, Cheryl, a couple of Maine Coon cats and their dog, Mr. Wilson. He writes about his experiences as a firefighter/EMT in his books, Rescuing Providence and Responding, and contributes ar