Rescuing Providence, Rescuing Everywhere

Throughout his book Rescuing Providence chronicling an emergency medical services shift in the city of Providence, Lt. Michael Morse never shies away from offering social commentary relevant to the calls that he and his partners Mike and Renato answer. Here’s an example, from page 69…

The Charlesgate apartments are another high-rise. Elderly residents are still the majority here, but younger, disabled people are quickly filling the apartments. When drug and alcohol addiction became an official disability, a lot of younger people flocked to these places…This program designed to help has gone horribly wrong.
After finishing the book, I was left with some questions about the overall state of firefighting and rescues and society-in-general that I thought Lt. Morse might like to comment on…
Anchor Rising: A constant theme throughout Rescuing Providence is how rescues are overworked and more difficult to staff than the regular fire crews, yet large fire crews have to be maintained to respond to the big emergencies that will arise a few times every year. Is there anything that can be done to utilize the department’s resources more effectively?
Lieutenant Michael Morse: Tough question. The knee jerk response would be to take people from the fire trucks to staff the rescues. There would be fewer firefighters, more ambulances, but further thought makes you think how wrong it would be to take away from an effective fire fighting force to fill the needs of another division and hope that nothing happens.
A fire company (the people on the truck at any given time) is a well-trained force. Fires don’t just go out, people don’t just get extricated from crashed cars, and poisonous chemicals don’t just go away when leaked, CPR doesn’t just happen. We train on how to respond as a unit. Taking one of more people from that unit to man another vehicle because of need reduces the effectiveness of the entire fire department, not to mention safety issues for the firefighters.
In a perfect world we would have all the resources we need, and be able to pay for them. In reality, we make due with what we have and hope for a better day. Been doing a lot of hoping, don’t see much help over the horizon. The administration wants to take firefighters off of the fire trucks to man the rescues. They know there is a severe shortage. The firefighters, the ones actually doing the training and work don’t want to give that manpower up.
AR: Related questions: fire departments (along with police departments and nursing staffs) reflect the best American tradition of willingness to drop everything rush to the aid of people in need. Yet in recent times, the system set up to handle the emergencies that occur in a big, impersonal city gets regularly abused by people who think it’s “free” (I believe you call it the red-and-white taxi service) and who don’t understand their role in keeping it effective, e.g. not making stupid calls, driving a friend to the hospital when it’s a non-emergency, etc.) Is this problem becoming worse, and, again, how can things be made better?
MM: I could go all day. People have no idea that there are limited resources. They think, call 911 and the government has to come. We do the best we can, but it is getting ridiculous. Nobody stops people from calling 911 for rides. There should be some punishment for abusing the system, but society has denigrated to a point where nobody cares about much of anything-except themselves. It’s awful to see, but worse to see them get away with it. I’ve seen the blank stares on people’s faces who have called 911 so they would get in faster for their sore throat when I turn up the portable radio and tell them to listen as somebody else in their neighborhood suffering from chest pains, or a possible stroke or whatever waits for a rescue to come from Lincoln, Warwick, Cranston etc. They just don’t care.
AR: You see a broader swath of Providence than most. In Rescuing Providence, you write about calls involving street people, college students, long-time residents in their homes, elderly residents in high-rises, bad drivers on route 95, and many others. Seeing all these different in the course of a day, do you feel like you’re dealing with one society with many faces that has the power to pull itself together if it could figure out how, or are there different, isolated societies all trying to occupy the same space?
MM: I love this question. A few years ago I thought we might be able to pull together and work it out, now I’m not so sure. There are different worlds out there, and nobody makes an attempt to understand the world other than their own. Racism is rampant, not just in white who people pretend to like everybody but hold on the prejudices as well as anybody, but in Black people and Hispanic people and Asian people too. I sometimes wonder how we are holding it all together. The things I see I truly can’t believe are happening five minutes down the road from my home. There is an attitude of corruption that can be felt in the inner neighborhoods. “What can we get from “the man?” seems to be sport. There is no shame in getting handouts; rather it is considered bounty, and something to be proud of. You are a chump if you aren’t getting yours. Terrible.
This whole new marriage initiative by Carcieri is so out of touch I can’t believe it. The people he is aiming at want nothing to do with what we consider marriage. A lot of them are already married in their home countries, or are married in their own eyes and the eyes of their family and friends. There is no way they will give up what they believe is theirs for the taking by getting married. No way. Babies aren’t always “mistakes,” but too-often are planned events to further income and solidify a position here.
AR: Finally, I have to ask you a inside-the-writer’s-studio question: When you decide to write about a call, does the narrative pop into your head all at once, or do one or two details stand out, with the rest getting filled in later? And where do you find the time?
MM: I usually dwell on things for a day or two, then start to write about it, sometimes in outline form sometimes just the way I think. The things I finish I put in my blog, the outline stuff kind of hangs around until I lose it. That’s the truth, if I didn’t write a little bit of my book every day for a year I would have lost the entire thing. I learned a lot while writing that book. Organization is everything. I can and do forget and lose things that were excellent, in my opinion anyway. I usually write in fifteen-minute increments, sometimes once, sometimes several times a day. Every now and then something tales over and I go for a couple of hours. I wish that happened more often.

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16 years ago

Bravo for Michael for acknowledging the attitude too many people have towards getting their due from the state.
Let me go one step further, and point out that, like it or not, what he describes is an attitude far more prevalent in countries with Latin cultural roots than in others. Some will try to blame it on Catholic roots, but Ireland and Poland contradict that theory.
I see the same culture in certain RI ethnic communities today that I do in Latin America, and, indeed, in the South of Italy, Spain and Portugal.
But that’s clearly a no-go area for any political discussion in RI, Jack Nicholson’s views in A Few Good Men aside. So I’ll just sit back and absorb the inevitable denials and insults.

16 years ago

” … it is getting ridiculous. Nobody stops people from calling 911 for rides. There should be some punishment for abusing the system, but society has denigrated to a point where nobody cares about much of anything-except themselves.”
And this can be extrapolated to many of our social programs. Need has become secondary in too many instances. Quite simply, if it’s there, people will take advantage of it, regardless of need or ability. That’s the problem with an overly broad “safety net”: human nature.
By the way, thank you to Michael for his first hand “testimony”. These abuses wouldn’t come to broader attention without it.

16 years ago

What I find to be the most disturbing is the lack of gratitude from those on the receiving end of these “government programs.”. I’m not looking for a thank you or pat on the back, never was, just some honest humility from those in need of help and receiving it. There is nothing degrading about accepting a helping hand if needed. The generosity of the people in this country is staggering. I think we have the right to expect a little gratitude from those we help.
The current attitude of political correctness has made a mess of what could be a simple case of people helping people. There is no stigma attatched, just the knowledge that somebody else cared enough to help somebody who needed it. That alone is spiritually uplifting, maybe just what we need.

16 years ago

Yeah right John. the Irish took the corruption in this state under the Aldrich type Republicans and turned it into a growth industry. From the Day, Glancy, Patterson and White clans who got VERY fat on a half-century of “only Irish need apply” rules in the Prov. fire and police to the extended Lynch clans of both Pawtucket and Warwick, to the long line of sometimes indicted but never convicted House Speakers and Senate Leaders (Manning, Fay, Smith, Burns, Harwood, Irons) and our current tandem of Murphy, Williamson and Montalbano (half-Irish) to our own beloved NEA duo of Walsh and Crowley, the “incorruptability” of the Irish in RI is, to put it very mildly, laughable.
As to Polish, I suggest you read a few books on corruption in Chicago and look at some of the last names! A close look at that city’s Daley clan and its members would disabuse you of the notion that Irish corruption exists only within RI borders.
In short, every ethinc group is corrupt, if they can get away with it. Protestants? Look at Boss Tweed and the pureblood WASPS who founded Tammany. Jews? Look at the shady history of Las Vegas, 90% of whom were Jews. Look at Murder Incorporated.
Perhaps your own hate is more revealing of your insecurities.

16 years ago

I should have added that after the Irish took over Tammany Hall in 1872, and made it “bigger and better”, the bosses of Tammany were, as follows:
John Kelly and John Morrissey
1872–1886 John Kelly
1886–1902 Richard Croker
1902 Lewis Nixon
1902 Charles F. Murphy, Daniel F. McMahon, and Louis F. Haffen
1902–1924 Charles F. Murphy
1924–1929 George W. Olvany
1929–1934 John F. Curry
1934–1937 James J. Dooling
1937–1942 Christopher D. Sullivan
1942 Charles H. Hussey
1942–1944 Michael J. Kennedy
1944–1947 Edward V. Loughlin
1948–1949 Hugo E. Rogers

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