3 can’t-miss books published for public safety leaders in 2021
Daily reading will make you a better provider, stronger leader and a more gracious colleague
I spend most of my workday reading public safety-related non-fiction, so in my off hours, I prefer to read novels, from crime thrillers to science fiction to post-apocalyptic dystopia. But in 2021, I read three outstanding books written by public safety professionals, which were also among the best books I read all year.
Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City by Rosa Brooks
Brooks, a Georgetown University law school professor, applied to and joined the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department as a reserve police officer in 2016. Brooks explores her personal decision to become a police officer, the rigor and challenge of completing the academy, the intentional and unintentional lessons she learns during field training, and the unique challenges police officers face as warriors and guardians. After completing the academy and field training, Brooks volunteered as a fully sworn auxiliary officer until 2020.
Brooks was a full participant in the police academy, but her age and life experience also allowed her to explore the purpose and efficacy of the educational methodology and course content. For example, Brooks worries about the effect on recruits of watching hundreds of hours of body camera and dash-camera videos, often huddled around the phone of a classmate.
The book culminates with Brooks helping launch Georgetown's Innovative Policing Program, now known as the Center for Innovations in Community Safety. The collaboration between the Metro PD and Georgetown helps prepare aspiring police leaders to meet the current and future challenges of a community that asks its officers to be crimefighters, social workers, mental health counselors, crime prevention specialists, teachers, role models and more.
Killing Season: A Paramedic's Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic by Peter Canning
For years, paramedic and blogger Peter Canning has been personalizing the tragic toll of the opioid epidemic on the citizens of – and visitors to – his longtime home and response area, Hartford, Connecticut. In “Killing Season,” Canning takes readers into abandoned homes, restaurant bathrooms, hotel rooms and forgotten spaces as he and other first responders attempt to revive patients overdosing on narcotics. Too often, those patients are dead before help arrives, because they are using alone or unprepared for the increasing risk of fentanyl being mixed into the heroin, which, for many users, has become a drug of economic convenience because they can no longer support their addiction with expensive prescription pills.
Canning also explores how his own thinking about addiction has evolved through his career. Early on, like many paramedics, Canning took a tough-love approach with many of his patients, one that mixed blaming, shaming and fear-based threats to addicts.
In recent years, Canning, using the approach of an anthropologist, has investigated why his patients have started using opioids – many of them after a sports or work-related injury; why they continue to use as they lose everything that was once important to them; and how they obtain drugs, first legally and then illegally. He maps out the public places people use, photographs empty heroin bags and learns about the harm reduction community. He greets addicts by name, learns their habits and writes a timeline of their life experiences. One patient at a time, Canning eloquently and empathetically, advocates for easy access to naloxone, readily available treatment, decriminalization of drug possession and use, safe injection sites and other harm reduction efforts that will get users out of the shadows and help them stay alive until they are ready for treatment.
If you’ve enjoyed Canning’s other books about his EMS career, you are sure to enjoy “Killing Season.”
Wild Rescues: A Paramedic's Extreme Adventures in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton by Kevin Grange
"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."
— Wallace Stegner, 1983
Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Teton, three of the crown jewels of our National Park Service, are the scene for Grange’s auto-biographical journey of becoming an all-hazards responder. When park visitors are having their worst day ever, Grange and other firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement officers and search and rescue technicians are there to access ill and injured park visitors, initiate lifesaving care and transport them out of the wilderness to definitive care.
In “Wild Rescues,” Grange, now a firefighter/paramedic in Jackson, Wyoming, interweaves 911, fire and rescue anecdotes with his own journey of self-discovery. When Grange began his first assignment at Yellowstone, his intent was to gain experience while applying to Southern California fire departments. Instead, he fell in love with wild places, prolonged patient care and the other unique challenges of rural prehospital care.
Buy the “Wild Rescues” paperback because this is a book you’ll want to read on a trip to a National Park, give to your kid to read at summer camp, or loan to a friend before a hunting or fishing trip. This is a book about wild places that is best read outdoors.
Grange is also the author of “Lights & Sirens: the education of a paramedic,” which chronicles his paramedic training at UCLA’s Daniel Freeman Paramedic Program. “Lights & Sirens” is a must-read for any aspiring paramedic who wants to understand the challenges they are about to undertake and the potential for personal transformation by choosing a career as a caregiver.
Other 2021 public safety books
A few other books came across my desk or Kindle in 2021. Some I’ve read and others I hope to read in 2022.
EMT Jennifer Murphy tells the story of being an EMT in New York City in “First Responder: Life, Death, and Love on New York City's Frontlines: A Memoir.” You can also listen to her discuss the book on the Inside EMS podcast.
Katherine Schweit, who led the FBI’s active shooter program, wrote, “Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis.” Listen to Schweit discuss what we know about active shooters on the Policing Matters podcast.
John Hultgren, a paramedic for more than 40 years, wrote and self-published “The Photographer's Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains.”
Russ Myers, EMS Chaplain gives organizations another tool for the spiritual and emotional support of providers with, “Because We Care: A Handbook for Chaplaincy in Emergency Medical Services.”
After a series of traumatic calls, Fire Chief Steve Serbic began to see a therapist who was willing to respect Serbic’s wish to not discuss his childhood. Eventually he began to reflect on his past and write it all down, leading to “The Unbroken: A Firefighter's Memoir.”
Finally, three other books that I read and enjoyed in 2021:
“The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek. Sinek discussed this book at an IACP 2020 conference presentation and I think it is an excellent read for any public safety leader.
“When the White Pine Was King: A History of Lumberjacks, Log Drives, and Sawdust Cities in Wisconsin” by Jerry Apps is the natural history of my favorite spots in central and northern Wisconsin.
“Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir. If you get some downtime between calls, put down your smartphone and read this page-turning sci-fi thriller from the author of “The Martian.”
If you’re looking for more book recommendations, Jim Dudley and Christopher Littrell recommended 12 books for a cop’s book club on the Policing Matters podcast. Many of their recommendations would be a good read for anyone in public safety.
Reading in 2022 and beyond
When I was a graduate student at the University of Idaho, the dean told us that those who read 30 minutes a day in their field will be in the top 5% of their field. Whether it is reading articles on EMS1, Police1, FireRescue1 or Corrections1, other trade media, scholarly journals or the non-fiction written by your public safety colleagues, I encourage you to schedule time every day to read. Reading will make you a more empathetic service provider, a humbler leader and a more gracious friend, parent or spouse.