'Trauma Sponges': How a Minneapolis firefighter responds to suffering

A man poses next to separate photo of book cover
Minneapolis fire captain Jeremy Norton's new book "Trauma Sponges" describes his more than 20 years working emergency response.
Courtesy photos

When people think of firefighters, they might picture an image from a child’s book — a big man, wearing lots of equipment, maybe pulling a hose from a red fire engine or rushing to rescue people from a burning building.  

But firefighters are responding to far fewer fires these days and more and more medical emergencies. Many 911 calls for chest pains, falls and drug overdoses are routed to the local fire department.

In his new book, “Trauma Sponges: Dispatches from the Scarred Heart of Emergency Response,” Minneapolis fire captain Jeremy Norton describes emergency medical response as being the heart of the job.

Norton writes about the harrowing and heartbreaking scenes he witnessed over 22 years serving the city, and what he’s learned about the broken systems and racial injustice that leave many with nowhere else to turn for help.  

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MPR News host Angela Davis talks with Norton about responding to the sick and hurting, including a call to the scene of George Floyd’s murder, and the toll that witnessing trauma takes on emergency responders.

firefighter talks to MPR host
MPR News host Angela Davis (left) talks with Minneapolis fire captain Jeremy Norton in an MPR News studio in the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Matt Alvarez | MPR News


  • Jeremy Norton is a captain with the Minneapolis Fire Department and author of “Trauma Sponges: Dispatches from the Scarred Heart of Emergency Response.” A native of Washington, DC, he has a bachelor’s degree in literature from Tufts University and a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University. He taught high school English in Chattanooga, Tenn., before moving to Minneapolis and joining the fire department in 2000.   

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Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.