They’re the first ones on the scene when there’s an accident or emergency. And very often they make split-second decisions that quite literally mean the difference between life and death. I’m talking of course of paramedics and EMTs. Today’s paramedics go through extensive training and are expected to update their skills regularly. Their work is critical and they have to do it under sometimes severe stress.
Since so much crime fiction involves emergencies, paramedics are an important part of the genre. In many crime novels (my own included), paramedics are mentioned, but not to any great extent. Quite often that’s because the focus of the novel is on other characters.
But there are plenty of novels where paramedics play a bit more of a role. For instance, in Tess Gerritsen’s Vanish, Weymouth (Massachusetts) Fire and Rescue is called to the scene when an unidentified young woman is pulled from Hingham Bay. They pronounce her dead and she’s taken to a local hospital. But later, when Medical Examiner Dr. Maura Isles prepares to end her work day, she’s startled to hear noises coming from the body bag containing the woman. She opens the bag and immediately alerts an emergency team when she sees that its occupant is alive. Later, the young woman leaves her hospital room and goes to the hospital’s Diagnostic Imagery Department, where she takes a group of people hostage. That group includes police officer Jane Rizzoli, who was there to have a pregnancy ultrasound test. One thread of this novel concerns the efforts to find out who this woman is and what she wants before anyone is hurt. And without spoiling the story, I can say that emergency rescue teams are part of that effort.
There are also, of course, novels and series that focus on paramedics. For example, in Jassy Mackenzie’s My Brother’s Keeper, we are introduced to paramedic Nick Kenyon. One night, he’s called to the scene of an automobile accident. There, he finds one critically injured passenger named Natasha, but no driver. On the way to the hospital, Natasha begs Nick to make a telephone call for her, and he agrees. What he doesn’t know is that the missing driver is part of a dangerous gang planning a major heist – and his brother Paul, recently released from prison, is the leader of that gang. What Nick does learn is that not long after she is rescued, Natasha is murdered in her hospital bed. As he gets more and more drawn into this case, he gets closer and closer to a deadly showdown with his brother.
Shawn Grady’s Tomorrow We Die features paramedic Jonathan Trestle. One day he and his partner are called to the scene when a man collapses on the street in downtown Reno. They’re working to give support when the man gives Trestle a note and begs him to
‘Give this to Martin.’
Unable to say anything else, he is rushed off in the ambulance. Later, Trestle goes to check on the victim, only to find that he pulled an IV tube out of his arm and left the hospital. There’s no clue to his whereabouts, and the only thing he’s left behind is a key. The note he gave to Trestle isn’t much help either, as it’s just a mishmash of scribbles and lines. But Trestle wants to do as he said he would do, find Martin – whoever that is – and deliver the note. That choice draws him into a strange mystery that turns deadly when he discovers that the key fits a local hotel room, and that his patient is in that room, murdered…
Annette Dashofy has created a series featuring paramedic Zoe Chambers. She lives and works in Vance Township, Pennsylvania. She’s also Deputy Coroner, so she gets involved in practically all of the untimely deaths in the area. Thus far, the series includes three books: Circle of Influence, Lost Legacy, and Bridges Burned.
Perhaps the best-known crime fiction series featuring paramedics is Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi series. Marconi herself is a police detective with the New South Wales Police. However, every novel in this series also features paramedics who, to one extent or another, are involved in the plot. In Web of Deceit, for instance, paramedics Jane Koutofides and Alex Churchill are called to the scene of a motor accident. The victim, Marko Meixner, is unhurt, but they insist he go with them for a medical examination. Along the way, he says that he’s in danger and that they will be, too, if they spend any time with him. Still, they get him to the hospital and try to recommend him for a psychiatric evaluation. Marko leaves without treatment though. Later that same day, Marconi and her team are alerted when Marko is hit by an oncoming commuter train. It might be suicide, but when Marconi learns what Meixner said to the paramedics, she comes to suspect murder. Both teams are drawn into the investigation, as is the case with all of Howell’s novels.
Interestingly enough, Howell and Grady both trained as paramedics and worked in that field for a number of years. So they draw on their experiences as they write. And if you’re interested in not-so-crime-fictional stories of paramedics, there’s also Peter Canning’s novels. He, too, is a paramedic who’s woven his experiences into his work.
It’s not easy to be a paramedic or EMT. Those people see some awful, awful things, and they are often under untenable pressure. But they save lives. And, speaking strictly for myself, I like it when novels present them in positive lights, even if they have faults and make mistakes.
NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Foreigner’s Urgent.