By Michael Morse
I first felt it nearly 25 years agoâ€¦
a glow in the distance, cold wind snapping through the tiller cab, the promise of fire in the distance getting my heart pumping â€¦ eyes blurry but everything is in focus, the rear of the ladder truck my only responsibility â€¦ three triple-deckers burning, high-tension wires falling to the ground â€¦ the first fire building lets go, the front collapsing in front of Engine 12, cutting off its water supply â€¦ a fourth home ready to ignite, the vinyl siding already melting to the ground, the family who lived there running out the front door â€¦ me and Danny taking a 2Â½-inch attack line from the rear of Engine 7 â€¦ Carl at the panel, squeezing a little more water out of the overburdened pump so we could save the exposure â€¦ Lieutenant Healy, standing in the loft of the third fire building before the smoke had cleared, looking toward the east, simply stating, â€œGod help me, I do love it so.â€
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 â€¦ until the truck stopped at the fire scene, and The King becomes another grunt.
The same feeling, years later â€¦
in the loft of an abandoned home on Bowen Street; me and Peter, heavy fire, a window and a charged 1Â¾-inch line â€¦ two other houses burning on either side of us â€¦ third SCBA bottle just about spent, as was everybody else on this Memorial Day afternoon â€¦ the battle rages on, lots of fire, not a lot of firefighters â€¦ 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 â€¦ a woman waiting with her sick husband â€¦ he takes his last breaths as we walk into their apartment … strapped to a stair chair and hauled out â€¦ calling for backup, Engine 7 in the distance, sirens wailing â€¦ onto the stretcher, starting CPR â€¦ in the captainâ€™s chair watching the guys work â€¦ IV, 02, EKG, epi, atropine, check pulse, epi, atropine all the way to the ER â€¦ pulse when we left â€¦ 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 â€¦ we do our thing, get him to the trauma room â€¦ heâ€™s still alive â€¦ barely â€¦ days later, the patientâ€™s sister thanking us for a job well done â€¦ and tells me her brother was still alive, still fighting.
And it never goes away.
I am not a religious man. I donâ€™t believe in fate, or destiny. Iâ€™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.