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Book excerpt: ‘Wreck and return: One EMT’s journey into and out of darkness’

Can one devastating mistake erase 20 years of good?


Editor’s Note: This excerpt is reprinted with permission from “Wreck and return: One EMT’s journey into and out of darkness,” by Tom Kranz.

Can one devastating mistake erase 20 years of good? The road to redemption for volunteer EMT Griffin Ambrose is dark, indeed – a crashed ambulance, a dead patient, an injured partner, then testing legally drunk After going to jail, losing his EMT card and getting fired from his paid job, he contemplates a new life in exile. But some of his former patients haven’t forgotten the good he did, the lives he saved. Will their support be enough to allow him to rise from oblivion?

By Tom Kranz

The meeting finally ended, and the members adjourned to the large table in the back of the room that held boxes of pizza. Griffin stood trying to eat a slice of veggie with grace when Mira gave him a nudge. She was eating a slice of plain.

“You were quiet,” he said.

She nodded with a mouthful of pizza, a smile trying to break through.

“Diesel? Gas? No opinion?”

She shook her head with that same half-grin, then took another bite.

“I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Lefcourt goes to the Council begging for money,” said Griffin. “From what I’ve read, this year’s capital budget barely has room for a new police car let alone an ambulance to replace one that’s still in good working order.”

Mira swallowed and wiped her mouth with the single napkin she clutched in her left hand. “Those boys need a purpose,” she said.

“I come for the food,” Griffin offered. “These meetings are tedious.”

“You’ve sat through a few.”

“You know, the president of the Riegelsville Rescue Squad tells members not to come to meetings. He and his officers do business, then send a group email. If someone has a problem, they deal with it, but usually no one cares. He’d rather they spend their volunteer time responding to calls.”

“I wish,” Mira said, putting away the last bite of pizza. “We can’t seem to eclipse the 20-80 rule, can we?”

“Twenty percent of the members do 80-percent of the work? I wish it were that high.”

At that moment, a dozen radios blared the familiar dispatch tone, and everyone froze in position to listen.

Dispatch to Forston Rescue Squad, respond to 101 Chalmers Street. 101 Chalmers Street. Possible CVA.

Griffin and Mira looked around. To their relief, Lucy and a fresh young EMT named Lee snapped to. They were followed into the ambulance bay by provisional member Andrea, a high school senior looking for something to put on her resume.

Mira motioned for Griffin to follow her into the captain’s office. He followed, carrying the remains of his pizza on a floppy paper plate in one hand, a cup of diet Coke in the other. Mira sat at the desk. Griffin sat in the surprisingly comfy chair next to the desk. They both finished their plates.

“I want you to know I think you’re a real asset to the squad,” she said without ceremony. “And I like riding with you.”

He was surprised at the unsolicited praise.

“But I have concerns.”

He dropped his crust, wiped his hands on his jeans and swallowed.

“I’m not sure the best way to say it, so I’ll just say it.” She paused and looked him in the eyes. “I’m worried about your drinking.”

Griffin froze, first staring into her eyes, then averting his.

“I notice it on the overnight calls,” she continued. “There’s fogginess that’s beyond sleepiness. A couple times I smelled alcohol.”

Griffin turned back to look at her and said, “What are you talking about?”

She didn’t stop eating, but casually met his gaze. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“No, I don’t. You are way off base, and I resent--"

“Stop. Just stop.” She stopped chewing and glared at him. “Don’t insult my intelligence.”

Caught off guard, he snapped into defense. “Then, don’t insult mine. There’s no problem, Mira.”

“I beg to differ.”

Griffin was at a loss.

“I grew up with two alcoholics, my father and my brother. Both denied it. My brother still denies it. Even after his third DUI, he denies it. I’m waiting for that phone call that they’ve scraped him off a bridge abutment on I-78.” Her head sank.

“Listen to me,” Griffin said. “I do not have a drinking problem. I have a couple in the evening after work, but I always stop way before my on-call shift begins.”

A lie delivered with conviction. He reloaded. “Do you think I would actually respond to a call drunk?”

“You have.”

He shook his head.

“You can deny it all you want, Griff. I trust my eyes, ears and nose.”

“This is nuts,” he spat. “I don’t owe you an accounting of my private life.”

“Well,” she began.

“Well, what?”

“You do if it affects your ability to drive an ambulance and care for patients. That’s not only on you. It’s on me.”

Griffin took a deep breath to lower his heart rate. Then another. He closed his eyes, then snapped them open. “This conversation is over. I am not a drunk and I am not responding to calls drunk.” He dropped his plate into the trash can, wiped his hands on his pants again, popped out of the chair and left the office.


Excerpted with permission from “Wreck and return: One EMT’s journey into and out of darkness,” by Tom Kranz.

Published by TK Books LLC (2024)

Available on Amazon

Tom is a Philadelphia native whose 40-years in journalism include radio, television, print and online platforms. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Temple University. He was a New Jersey certified EMT from 1999 to 2021 serving as a volunteer EMT on his local rescue squad in New Jersey answering more than 3,000 calls. He is still a certified CPR instructor and a life member of the squad. He resides in New Jersey where he writes, hosts a podcast on creativity and does freelance communications work.