Black Flies

I just finished reading a new EMS novel called Black Fliesby Shannon Burke, who also wrote Safelight.

The novel is about a young paramedic in Harlem who, trying to fit in, falls under the influence of some seriously burned out medics.

Black Fliesis a much better read than Burke’s first book, which while well-written, seemed to rely more on craft than emotion, and was a slow go for me. This new book is a page turner, and at times, is quite moving.

Burke does an excellent job in describing EMS scenes. His character portrayals are also well done. He really shows how easy it is for an impressionable young person to be molded in all the wrong ways by poor role-models. His portrayal of the gradual unraveling of an older medic is unsettling.

I think most medics and EMTs will enjoy the book although some may be turned off by some of the actions of certain medics in the book. Burnout unfortunately seems to be the universal theme of EMS fiction, i.e. Joe Connelly’s Bringing Out the Dead as well as the movie Broken Vessels.

I’ve worked inner city EMS and I’ve seen burned out medics, but the characters in this book are well beyond my experience. Nevertheless, the book itself while diving into EMS’s darkest corners, is ultimately redeeming. There is a particularly good scene when the young medic, on his own, visits the family of a patient who was left to die by the medic and his partner.

It is my understanding the novel is being made into a movie to be released by Paramount in January 2009.

Here’s an old New York Times profile of the author who worked as an EMT/paramedic in Harlem in the 1990s.

On the Way to the Hospital, A Novel is Born


  • Rogue Medic says:

    A good not-cheerful read is Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk: A Caseworker’s Story by Marc ParentIt gives one perspective on how child protective services works. It’s not EMS, but it isrelevant to what we do.

  • Gary says:

    It seems to be one of the two ways that EMS is portrayed in movies. Either as comedic stooges “Mother, Jugs, and Speed” or as burnt out head cases. Maybe it’s hard to portray the real world of EMS in movies. Or maybe Hollywood, per usual, takes the easy way out. Either way, I don’t expect to read the book or see the movie. Gary

  • kvegas911 says:

    Maybe they actually won’t portray us drinking on the job, popping pills or gallivanting with women on the clock. Some intellegence lent would be nice. Oh yeah, and not flipping ambulances while drinking gin out of a saline bottle.

  • NJ EMS says:

    I worked in Harlem and the Bronx…and it was a caustic environment.Im so happy I work in NJ.Your books should be made into a moive!

  • Chris in SE TX says:

    My wife has worked for 3 different (private) ambulance companies down here in TX. She (obviously) knows people who work for others. One of those companies was really bad as far as discrimination and embarrassment was concerned. One, during the interview, she was asked (by a female supervisor) if she minded having her ass pinched, because they didn’t hire “uptight” people (she did not take the job, but met several EMTs that worked there). The other two companies were not bad. However, little things were/are common like: an EMT wrecking the supervisor’s car DRUNK, getting high with his partner (different EMTs), trying to do donuts during company Xmas party with an ambulance,an offer of being a driver so she and I could join “The Woo Woo Club”This leads me to believe that crazy stuff happens enough that it is not exaggerated too much in books or movies.just my $ 0.02