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Beyond an adrenaline ride or a chronicle of bravura heroics, this unflinching view of a Minneapolis firefighter reveals the significant toll of emergency response
In this remarkable memoir, Jeremy Norton marshals twenty-two years of professional experience to offer, with compassion and critique, an extraordinary portrayal of emergency responders. Trauma Sponges captures in arresting detail the personal and social toll the job exacts, as well as the unique perspective afforded by sustained direct encounters with the sick, the dying, and the dead.
From his first days as a rookie firefighter and emergency medical technician to his command of a company as a twenty-year veteran, Norton documents the life of an emergency responder in Minneapolis: the harrowing, heartbreaking calls, from helping the sick and hurt, to reassuring the scared and nervous, to attempting desperate measures and providing final words. In the midst of the uncertainty, fear, and loss caused by the Covid pandemic, Norton and his crew responded to the scene of George Floyd’s murder. The social unrest and racial injustice Norton had observed for years exploded on the streets of Minneapolis, and he and his fellow firefighters faced the fires, the injured, and the anguish in the days and months that followed.
Norton brings brutally honest insight and grave social conscience to his account, presenting a rare insider’s perspective on the insidious role of sexism and machismo in his profession, as well as an intimate observer’s view of individuals trapped in dire circumstances and a society ill equipped to confront trauma and death. His thought-provoking, behind-the-scenes depiction of the work of first response and last resort starkly reveals the realities of humanity at its finest and its worst.
About the Author
Jeremy Norton has been a firefighter/EMT with the Minneapolis Fire Department since 2000; he was promoted to captain in 2007 and heads Station 17 in south Minneapolis. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., he received a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University. After teaching high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Norton moved to Minneapolis, where he taught creative writing at the Loft Literary Center before joining the MFD.
"With clarity and sensitivity, Jeremy Norton has written an eye-opening book that shows us what firefighting is often about: encountering medical emergencies more often than fires, helping strangers through the trauma of death and loss, and witnessing the ways that racism, poverty, and violence singe our society. Theirs is a particular courage that we must all celebrate."—Dr. Sunita Puri, author of That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour
"While many bear witness to injustice and decide that silence best serves their privilege, some use their privilege to dismantle the inequities that created the disparities in the first place. Jeremy Norton is the latter."—Dr. Michele Harper, author of The Beauty in Breaking
"Trauma Sponges is a powerful book, by turns tender, brutal, and incisive, full of wisdom and wonder. Jeremy Norton’s compassionate vision and vivid, well-crafted prose make this much more than a collection of shock stories. Here we have it all: brilliantly rendered scenes of crisis and grief, a close-up view of the physical (and spiritual) grind firefighters embrace, a celebration of the communities they serve, existential reflections earned on the margins of life and death, and piercing critiques of some of the outmoded, frankly misogynist and racist attitudes that have plagued the station house. Norton is a thoughtful, courageous guide, our Virgil taking us through infernos both actual and metaphorical."—Sam Lipsyte, author No One Left to Come Looking for You and The Ask
"If you’re looking for a hero with all the answers, that is not Jeremy Norton. Norton is the Poet Laureate of Emergency Services, a writer whose talent and heart spark and crackle on every page, devastating and dazzling with equal measure. He sorts through the wreckage of the lives he's saved and those that were lost, presenting us with what remains: our raw humanity and, somehow, hope."—Nora McInerny, founder of the Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast and best-selling author of Bad Vibes Only