Meaning and Purpose

By Michael Morse

There comes a time when we have already done more than we are going to do. When that time comes for you, I hope that you look back and remember how good it was, how it felt, and the difference that you made in countless lives because you were there. There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when one person is responsible for the care of another, and the person who needs help is comforted by the person helping, and the two bond as only people in those circumstances can.

Of all the health care professionals who practice medicine, EMS personnel do far more with their training and education. Nobody in the chain of treating sudden illness or accident victims does more with less. Medics do not have the luxury of support staff or somebody watching over them who knows more. For the time spent on scene and during transport, there is only them; the patient; and, for some, a higher power keeping them calm and letting what they do know flow, keeping the poor soul dying on their stretcher breathing for a little while longer than he would have without them.

A firefighter does far more than fight fire. All of the words in every training manual ever written can never cover what a firefighter does. There are no guidebooks or checklists, no time clock or breaks. When another person needs to be rescued, the firefighter keeps moving until the job is done. Every person alive is covered by what the firefighter provides: people trained, able and willing to risk it all whenever there is a glimmer of hope.

Time moves relentlessly forward, and what we do is ever changing. Who we are is shaped by what we do; we are the culmination of a lifetime of experience. Everything we do is a thread that creates the tapestry of our life. Those of us who spent much of our time responding to other people’s emergencies can rest assured that what our time on earth weaves will be remarkable.

It’s heady stuff when I stop and think about it, and now that I have more time behind me than ahead, I have a lot of time to think about it. The best part of looking back is all the frustration, sadness, and pain I encountered while responding to 911 calls dissipates like morning mist when the sun breaks through and the memories, without fail, remind me that because of what I did, my life had meaning, and purpose.


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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