Through health issues, local first responder still loves his work

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby-Utica News | Published March 8, 2023

 Joel Morris, a retired firefighter/paramedic who served more than 20 years on the Shelby Township Fire Department and six years on the Utica Fire Department, is now a paramedic at Universal Macomb Ambulance Service.

Joel Morris, a retired firefighter/paramedic who served more than 20 years on the Shelby Township Fire Department and six years on the Utica Fire Department, is now a paramedic at Universal Macomb Ambulance Service.

Photo provided by Alecia Downey


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Joel Morris, a firefighter/paramedic who served more than 20 years in the Shelby Township Fire Department and six years in the Utica Fire Department, currently is a paramedic at Universal Macomb Ambulance Service.

With his fiancée, Alecia Downey, who also works for Universal Macomb Ambulance Service, Morris responds to emergencies in Detroit as Medic 43. Including his own challenging health conditions, Joel has shown an ability to always work through difficult times.

Morris, 57, has had seven cardiac catheterizations since his first one in 2006. He has had six stents placed in the arteries of his heart, including one last month on Feb. 16. The couple got a bigger scare after that procedure when they were told that it would be a temporary fix and Morris would require open heart surgery.

Downey set up a GoFundMe page to help with the projected expenses, but then the couple got good news from Morris’ cardiologist, who wanted to try one more procedure — before going the open-heart surgery route — involving a stent that they are hopeful will prevent scar tissue from forming and causing another blockage. Downey shut down the GoFundMe me and refunded the donations.

Morris said that, through the health challenges he is facing, he will continue to work as a paramedic at Universal Macomb Ambulance Service.

“I love the variety of the job, the interesting and wonderful patients we meet, and I get to do it all while working with my fiancée — I couldn’t ask for anything more. Universal has been very supportive and flexible with regards to my health. I am actually enjoying my new role as ‘The Old Guy.’ I plan on working as a paramedic for as long as my body will allow me to. I am getting married next year, and I am looking forward to many wonderful years with my beautiful bride to be,” he said in an email interview.

He said he will always be proud to have been able to work at the fire departments and doesn’t regret a single moment he spent doing what he loves.

“I have many very fond memories from both Shelby and Utica Fire Departments, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss the job,” he said.

A couple of high points from his time in Shelby Township came to mind.

“Probably being part of the team of paramedics that worked together to save a choking boy. Being part of the rescue and suppression teams at the Shelby (Manor) Senior Living Center Fire. We affected over 50 rescues that day, without a single life lost and no one was injured. It was truly remarkable, there were 10,000 things that could have gone wrong, but not a single one happened,” Morris said.

He also had a memorable rescue during his time in Utica.

“While on Utica, I saved a multiple stabbing victim who had been stabbed in the popliteal, lung and liver,” he said.

Downey said being a firefighter is something Morris wanted to do from a young age.

“He was told he would never make it onto a department due to his hearing, which only motivated him even more to achieve his goal and to prove those who doubted him wrong. Joel is the strongest, most intellectual person I know. We work together at Universal Macomb Ambulance Service now, and I see every day just how much he still loves the job. Joel was hesitant to even do this piece, he is a humble man and did not want to brag about his career path. This is just one of the many reasons I look up to Joel as a person, and as a firefighter/paramedic,” Downey said in an email interview.

Downey and Morris met while working at Star EMS in December 2021.

“I have heard his stories of happy endings and laughed and smiled with him, and I grieved with him during the stories that didn’t turn out as planned, not only from his past on the Fire Departments, but also some of the calls we have had together,” she said.

Duncan Walker, of Universal Macomb Ambulance Service, said Universal is proud to have a hardworking, dedicated and adaptable person like Morris on its team.

“Paramedic-Firefighter Joel Morris has been committed to serving his community for nearly 30 years, and we’re proud to have such a hardworking and dedicated professional on the Universal Ambulance team. Our whole organization is behind Joel and wishes him a speedy recovery,” Walker said in an email.