First Responder: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Love on New York City's Frontlines (Hardcover)
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One woman's incredible story of life on the front lines as an emergency medical worker in New York City.
On the streets of New York City, EMTs and paramedics do more than respond to emergencies; they eat and drink together, look out for each other’s safety, mercilessly make fun of one another, date one other, and, most crucially, share terrifying experiences and grave injustices suffered under the city’s long-broken EMS system.
Their loyalty to one another is fierce and absolute. As Jennifer Murphy shows in the gripping and moving First Responder, they are a family. A dysfunctional family, perhaps, but what family isn't?
Many in the field of pre-hospital emergency care have endured medical trauma and familial hardship themselves. Some are looking to give back. Some are desperate for family. Some were inspired by 9/11. Still others want to become doctors, nurses, firefighters, cops, and want to cut their teeth on the streets. As rescuers, they never want people to die or get hurt. But if they are going to die or get hurt, first responders want to be there.
Despite the vital role they play New York City, EMTs are paid less than trash collectors, and far less than any other first responder makes, even though the burden of medical emergencies fall on the backs of EMTs and medics. Yet for Jennifer and her brothers and sisters, it's a calling more than a job. First responders are constantly exposed to infectious diseases, violence, and death. The coronavirus pandemic did not change that math; the public is just more aware of it.
After 9/11, EMT training schools experienced a surge in applications from civilians wanting to become first responders, inspired by rescuers who responded to the terrorist attacks and rushed into the burning towers when everyone else ran out. The same will almost certainly be true post-coronavirus as people are moved by a desire to help in times of crisis in a more direct way.
Funny and heartwarming, inspiring and poignant, First Responder follows Jennifer's journey to becoming an EMT and working during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. She will bring readers inside an intense world filled with crisis, rescue, grief, uncertainty, and dark humor. First Responder will move readers to a greater understanding and appreciation of those fighting for them—wherever they live—in a world they hardly know or could imagine.
About the Author
Jennifer Murphy's writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Mississippi Review and Wrath-Bearing Tree as well as Forbes, and the New York Post. In addition to her EMT work, she maintains a parallel career as an investigator and crisis adviser. She graduated with a B.A. from Syracuse University and an M.A. from the University of Chicago and an M.F.A. from New York University. She is a volunteer EMT with the Park Slope Volunteer Ambulance Corps in Brooklyn that transports patients regardless of their ability, or inability, to pay.
“A love story and a war story that will cut the chords of your heart. It's gut-wrenching, honest, sassy, funny, honorable, brutal, ornery, defiant, and incendiary all at once. In spanning the years between 9/11 and Covid, Murphy accesses both the tiny and the epic truth. Her book is a tribute to first responders but also an indictment of the world they live in. The rescuers go out to rescue, but Murphy shows us that they need rescuing too. Reminiscent of Mary Karr, Richard Price, Sarah Vowell and other great voices of our times, Murphy has her finger on the pulse of who and where we are now. This is literary street medicine at its very best.”
— Colum McCann
“First Responder tracks Jennifer Murphy – both Everywoman and a singularly appealing, hugely big-hearted and fiercely ethical wiseass – on her path to becoming an EMT before COVID hits and she runs head-on into New York City’s tsunami of medical trauma. It’s a dazzling ride full of jaw-dropping sacrifice, outrage, and lunacy that allows us to glimpse the wild gratitude of being able to share such a burden with others equally as selfless and courageous in their service to the greater good.”
— Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron
“It is rare that a book is 100% necessary. Even rarer is the necessary book that’s also gripping. Jennifer Murphy’s First Responder is that book – it tells us what we need to know right now. The book’s a stunningly written journey into the lives of those we need to thank, and never can enough. I wish everyone in the country would read it.”
— Darin Strauss, NBCC-winning author of Half a Life and The Queen of Tuesday
“First Responder is a unique document: a warm-hearted, intimate, unflinching, often funny memoir of a novice EMT in NYC in the months up to & including the onslaught of the COVID19 virus. Jennifer Murphy is a wonderful writer, baring her soul to us in irresistibly readable prose even as she chronicles a sequence of harrowing emergencies. Think Bring Out The Dead from a female/feminist perspective.”
— Joyce Carol Oates
"Jennifer Murphy’s First Responder, the fast-paced memoir of an EMT, is primed to act—from beginning to end. The author renders a testimony to the most urgent moments of intervention in the big city. Through this first hand account, Murphy, who is also a keen-witted writer and reader, responds in a language that penetrates through the adrenaline of pain and witness. This speaker, who is always alert, also performs a true reflection, even while driven by the speed and force of a New York City siren."
— Yusef Komunyakaa, Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth
"First Responder is part memoir and part EMT tutorial, making for a timely and intriguing offering."
"Murphy offers a window into the world of EMTs, describing the grief and chaos that come with being a first responder (along with some unexpected, but necessary, moments of humor)."
"Touching on issues of race, gender, and related pay disparities among first responders in post-9/11 New York City, First Responder digs deep into Murphy’s experiences, as well as the lives of others in her profession."