Friday, December 31, 2010

White Boxes

The rumors had been flying through the organization for weeks. Ever since the election, a sense of unease had fed them, the uncertainty of new leadership along with budget woes and a hostile board of supervisors uniting to form the perfect storm of discord and speculation.

Although it was no surprise, the sight of the white storage boxes stacked outside the directors office did little to calm the fears of the supervisors and of the support staff. "Who's next?" and "Is this a budget issue or is it retribution?"  were the questions of the day.

Most of the likely targets had at least made an effort to look for other positions. Some had actually received offers elsewhere, but had balked at the lower salaries, ridiculous commutes and unknown situations at the potential new employers. They now doubted their decisions as they walked into the office and saw the white boxes tacked at the director's door.

A lucky few had found new positions and had already left, sparing them the trauma of the forced separation process. Everybody else stared at the boxes and pondered their fate.

When the people from supply showed up to load the packed white boxes onto dollies and truck them downstairs, even the protected ones - the members of the union, felt the unease rise in the pits of their stomach. They knew that even though they were protected, they were still at risk. Their protection was merely words on paper, requiring a process to be followed before being let go.

While returning from lunch, some of the staff couldn't help but notice a few investigators with armfuls of flattened white boxes stepping into the elevators. This further fueled speculation as no one could remember the investigators ever carrying anything upstairs unless it was directly related to the cases that they were working on. The white box symbolism didn't help matters either.

The afternoon was filled with conversation about how many, who and when. Someone with a contact on the fifth floor said that the rumors were flying up there as well. The most prevalent ones involved the procedures that were going to be followed for the unlucky ones.

The fourth hand scoop was that the affected employees would learn their fate when on Monday when they tried to use their access card and enter the building through the staff entrance. Their cards were to be inactivated over the holiday weekend. Should they enter the building through the public entrance, their now inactive card would not allow the elevator to go past the second floor. If they should somehow make it to their desk, their passwords would no longer work and they would not be able to log on to their computers. It was surmised that would be about the time an investigator would show up at the unlucky one's desk with the white boxes.

Needless to say, it is going to be an uncomfortable weekend for some employees of this unnamed law enforcement agency. Civilian employees, primarily management and supervision, are at risk. The new guy in charge has made it clear that blood will flow.

Some of the survivors will likely jockey for position and try to fill some of the vacated positions, especially ones that are a little higher in pay or authority. I would advise caution in this, there is a certain level of risk in being an "at will' employee. Just ask the people with white boxes sitting outside their cubicles.

I respect the new guy's authority to make changes, though I hope it is for budgetary and efficiency purposes rather than retribution for some people supporting the old guy. I suspect that the motivation for the purge is a little of both. Time will tell on that.

Although this little tale really isn't about a fire service organization, this and other law enforcement agencies occasionally work with us in various endeavors. Besides, we are all affected by what happens in the criminal justice system.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Secrets Revealed

You might recall the post last week where I described an UNUSUAL FLYING OBJECT and my promise to track down the operator of the unusual flying machine.

Well, as I was headed to the hardware store for the third time today, I saw the lights soaring above a neighborhood and decided to track the operator down. It took about two minutes.

I met Gary and his friend Fred. They were busy flying two radio controlled airplanes, both lit with up LEDs. When I spotted them, they were standing in the driveway of Gary's house on a quiet residential street.

After assuring them that I meant no harm and was merely curious about their models, they agreed to answer some questions and to let me shoot a few pictures. In the above photo, Gary is holding the model I saw the other night. You can see that it is modeled after a bird-of-prey. Gary hand cut the model out of Styrofoam and painted the plumage onto the foam. The engine and controls are off the shelf RC parts. The LEDS were wired into the bird by Gary.

Here it is with the LEDS on. The top are blue, the bottom are white. All of the LEDs are wired through a switch allowing Gary to shut them off from the ground.

As the bird is made of Styrofoam, it is very light weight and is launched by turning on the electric powered motor and throwing the model into the wind.

With relatively new batteries, the bird can fly for up to half an hour on a charge. The radios have a range of a couple of miles and the bird can climb to an altitude of 900 feet. It does all of this almost silently, the electric power plant is almost silent.

Gary landed the bird in a space about twelve feet long. As it requires very little space to operate from, Gary likes to fly it from his house. He has built several of them and is thinking of a way to make and sell them as a business. He is kind of secretive about flying it from his house he doesn't want to piss anyone off - or at least he doesn't want to get caught pissing anyone off. Apparently, he likes to fly over a nearby baseball field and get the spectators there wondering about his bird. Sometimes, they get a little fired up.

I am grateful Gary allowed me to take pictures and that he answered my questions. It made it worth it to track him down. I think his product is cool and I wish him well with it. At least now, when I see weird lights maneuvering in the hood, I will know what I am seeing.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


One Triple Combination Fire Engine - $400,000

One highly trained professional firefighting crew (three persons - 1 hour) $125

One well involved car, parked next to a fruit stand - value unknown

The sound of the stressed-out Fire Captain's voice over the radio as he calls for a full structure response when the engine won't go into pump - priceless!

All I can really say is that I'm glad it wasn't me and sometimes, shit happens. For a fire engine to go into pump, a series of things need to happen, and sometimes (rarely) they don't.

Sometimes something breaks and the pump won't engage. Sometimes, the engineer screws up and doesn't use the proper amount of finesse when shifting or doesn't have a valve in the proper position and can't get water. Sometimes the transfer case just farts, the gears don't align and the collar doesn't slide over the output shaft, causing the transfer case to stay in the road position.

I don't know what happened in this case, I never will.

I can guess that the firefighter was standing near the car, ready to attack the inferno with a limp hose in his hand. He probably was looking toward the rig and giving the signal for water - maybe repeatedly. He might have even been shouting for water while giving the hand signal. The Captain probably ran to the unit, hollering at the engineer, asking what the problem was. I am sure the Captain did his own trouble shooting session and may have even manipulated a few controls to make sure that they were in the right position. Regardless, the engineer had a few pairs of impatient eyes on him as he tried to get water.

At some point, the Captain realized that the likelihood of rapidly getting water was low and he requested the additional units. Meanwhile, the fire got bigger and the chances of it extending into the fruit stand grew. 

I  heard the tension in the Captain's voice and frankly I found it a little funny. I, as well as most firefighters, have had something similar occur on scene and though it it isn't funny when it happens to you, it does have a humorous component when it happens to someone else. I don't feel too guilty in this case, the fire didn't extend into the fruit stand. The first-in engine was able to resolve whatever issue that was causing the problem in the first place and got the wet stuff on the red stuff.

That is the sign of a properly trained engineer, the ability to trouble shoot the problem and come up with a solution. That is also the sign of an engineer that has a firm grasp of mechanical principles.Troubleshooting is an area which fails a lot of driver-operator candidates during test time, many don't have the background to make this area easy for them to master.

I was glad to hear this poor bastard Captain come back over the scanner and announce that they had resolved their issue and had extinguished the fire. I am sure the other responding units were laughing to themselves as they were canceled and returned to quarters. I am also sure that they were all secretly glad it didn't happen to them.


Sorry for being a little lax in posting over the last few days, I am in the middle of a cleaning/reorganizing project and have been on a roll. I am trying hard not to get distracted.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Imagine my surprise when I caught Santa coming out of my door a few minutes ago, after leaving lumps of coal in my stocking. Apparently, he was so tired after lugging all of that coal into the crib, he couldn't jump up the chimney and had to use the door. I let him use my ladder to get back on the roof, I hadn't yet discovered that my stocking contained hydrocarbons in rock form.

He left a note next to my stocking telling me he wanted to take my camera back because I had not been a very good boy this year. Good thing for me that my camera was locked up in the jeep and he couldn't get to it. He also said that this was the last year he was distributing presents before Christmas, based on promises to be good. I guess I blew that one.

He took good care of The Saint and the boys so I have no complaints. I'll find a use for the coal.

I hope this finds you all in good health, in body, mind and in spirit. For those of you who are believers in the birth of the Messiah, enjoy the day today as we celebrate his birth and our path to salvation.

For those of you who don't,  please enjoy the day with your family, friends and those you care about and those who care about you. It really is a holiday that is supposed to be about love.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, December 24, 2010

True Grit

This really isn't a movie review, at least not in the traditional sense. It's just a few impressions of the film, which I believe will be considered as one of the better of 2010.

I persuaded The Saint I Am Married To to skip out of work early yesterday and into catching the early showing of True Grit. We have been seeing the trailers for months and I had put this on the top of my "must see" list. Even though we went early, the screening was well attended. I'm glad we went early.

True Grit is adapted from a western novel written in 1968. It is set in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma in the late 1800s. It is about a young girl's mission to track down and bring to justice the murderer of her father. This novel had been previously adapted into a movie in 1969, one that starred John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. Although I have never seen the first film, I can assure you that this is not your father's True Grit.

This one was directed by the Coen brothers and though not perfect, it is brilliant. It lives up to the Coen brothers reputation for producing well executed movies, thorough in every aspect with a natural balance of drama, tragedy, irony and humor.

It is extremely well cast, with near perfect performances by Jeff Bridges as marshal for hire Rooster Cogburn and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, the affronted young girl. Matt Damon also did well portraying LaBoeuf, a somewhat fancy Texas Ranger. The relationship between these three characters is complex, with conflicting motivation, competition and dependency all factors that are explored and masterfully displayed by the cast.

This movie is also very well written, with remarkable dialogue highlighting the superbly developed plot. The Coen brothers wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. Their touch is evident throughout the film, Coen brothers fans will enjoy this latest effort.

My only snivel about this film involves a few minutes toward the end of the movie. It involves a few scenes which  which contrived to me and though they were used to show another side of Rooster Cogburn, they seemed added or unnatural to the rest of the movie.  The Saint didn't see it that way and blamed my unease in the matter as a manifestation of my snake hatred issue.

I thought it a great movie, one that lives up to it's pre-release hype. Catch it if you get the chance.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Night Oddities

I don't know which I noticed first, the crowd or the lights in the sky. Both were remarkable, as both were displaying odd behavior. I became aware of them as I pulled into the shopping center parking lot, a late night stop on my way home.

The crowd influenced where I parked my jeep, I did not want to park too close to them even though the twenty or so people seemed quite occupied with the lights in the sky. Having just exited the Sushi bar, the crowd's attention was focused on some bright white lights that were moving about the sky in a most unusual manner. The movement was erratic enough that many in the crowd had their phones out and were attempting to capture the event on them.

Even though I didn't park too close too the crowd, the late hour and low background noise enabled me to hear many of the comments that were being made. The term "UFO" was being thrown out as was "awesome" and "beautiful". A few of the young people commented about how the experience was freaking them out.

The lights WERE odd. Alternating between a bright white and a vivid blue, they were maneuvering in a quite erratic manner. Rapid ninety degree turns and dramatic gains and losses in elevation were atypical of normal air traffic. It was hard to tell exactly how far away they were, but they appeared to me to be closer as opposed to farther away.

The lights were also captivating. They would disappear for a few moments, only to appear again and resume their silent dance across a portion of the late night sky. I hoped that they would stay around long enough for me to retrieve my camera and configure it to somehow capture an image of them.

I pondered as to what the lights could be as I hopped out of the jeep, opened the tailgate and unlocked the security box.  They object did not appear overly large and the lights had a man made quality  about them. I am not a UFO type person, but the lights were unusual, unidentified and they were flying. I wanted a picture.

I kept glancing at the sky as I opened my camera case, swapped lenses and switched to manual mode. The lights were polite enough to remain in the area while I made the adjustments to allow shooting a lit, moving object in the dead of night.

A hundred and twenty seconds and twenty three images later, I came up with exactly two pictures that were semi-usable. That was all of the time the lights gave me to capture their image. After the lights instantly disappeared, I decided to show them to some of the people that were in the sushi-bar crowd. we all agreed that whatever we were looking at was man made, likely an electric powered, radio controlled model plane. I think that they were relieved that they were seeing something man made, rather than something extra-terrestrial. Both their concern and their relief were likely enhanced by Saki or Sapporo.

I don't know who gave us that late night airshow, but I am grateful for their efforts. It was beautiful in it's own way and it did promote some discussion among those of us who witnessed it. I am sure that the operator of the machine lives in the area and will likely launch it again. If they do launch it and I see it, I will try to track down where they are flying it from and examine it more closely. Until then, I will as always, keep my eyes to the sky. One just never knows what one might see.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tragedy in Chicago

As usual, I am really late with this, but at least two firefighters have been killed at a structure fire in Chicago. Reports from the scene indicate that a wall collapsed during suppression efforts killing at least two firefighters and injuring as many as twelve.

For full details visit The Fire Critic or  STATter911. They are on it and have the latest details.

Deepest condolences to the families, friends and teammates of my fallen brothers.

I hate this shit. It goes on and on.



Some time next spring, I will be receiving a letter from the state retirement system, telling me that I am eligible to retire. The triggering event for this letter was a birthday which occurred a few days ago. I have somehow reached the minimum age for public safety employees under my agency's plan to retire. For us, the magic age is fifty.

Fifty. Half way to one hundred, two times twenty five. An age I once considered ancient, now an age I just consider. Who freaking knew.

Although I have reached the magic age, I don't yet have enough time on the job to achieve the maximum compensation rate allowed under law. I still have a ways to go for that. Financial and other considerations may not allow me to go at that time, time will tell on that.

It's kind of funny how reaching the magic age changes one's perception of the job, ones life and one's future. It is kind of nice knowing that should I get in trouble I could pull the pin before the disciplinary process is complete. It's also nice knowing that should I become ill or injured off of the job, I would still be able to retire.

It's not nice thinking about how I don't work as fast as I did when I was twenty five. Nor is it nice having to think about my back/knees/neck as I go about my duties. I notice when the younger members of my crew jump in and take care of the more physical activities and I can't help but wonder inside when I will become more of a liability than an asset.

As I have been around the K.B.F.P.D. for a while, I have seen many of my friends and co-workers retire. Nearly all have made the statement "you will know when it's time". The question is who's time? The aging member's time or the district's and the public's time.

As of now, it's not time.  Just another milestone passing by as I look out the window of my life.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stop the Carnage

Winter has finally struck the Land Of The Dirt People and frankly, we desert dwellers are totally unprepared for it. It has been cloudy and rainy for the last few days, with a trail of moisture streaming in off of the ocean. Proactive agencies have activated their Emergency Operations Centers to deal with the looming crises as the gutters actually contain water and the auto body repair shops begin to become saturated with business.

We received almost 1/2 of an inch of rain yesterday, throwing the streets and highways into s state of chaos. Accident rates are triple of when the streets are dry. Many law enforcement agencies are advising victims of non-injury traffic accidents to exchange information then report the accident to the DMV rather than waiting at the scene for an officer.

Temperatures never rose above the low 60's and the sun never broke through the clouds. Umbrellas, usually sitting on store shelves gathering dust, are now prominently displayed on tables near the front door and are selling briskly.

The homeless are taking a hit. Many make gullies and washes their encampments, not a wise choice when several inches of water begin flowing through them.

Through it all, empty headed reporters bravely stand next to damp streets and flowing gutters while keeping us appraised of "STORM WATCH 2010!"

Personally, it hasn't affected me much. I'm on vacation and have not had to deal with the multitude of accident related sore necks and backs.  I know most of the secret routes to avoid the snarled traffic and am able to shop early to avoid crowds.

I do have to slow down a bit, the characteristics of my beloved jeep which make it ideal for sand and rock make it a little sqiurrelly on wet pavement. I definitely don't want to ding it up.

We will prevail through this climate induced crisis. Despite our inability to slow down and leave enough space between vehicles, our insistence on driving through flooded areas and the shortage of blue tarps - we will emerge victorious. Even though we are wussies and can't drive.

Thanks for reading,
a damp Schmoe 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Memo to the Big City Professional Firefighter's Association

Brothers and Sisters of the Big City Professional Firefighter's Association,

Thank you for allowing me access to your social functions, training exercises and community events. I enjoy working with your organization and have gained both professionally and personally from our relationship. I hope that your organization has realized a benefit as well.

As our relationship has grown over the years, I have developed a deep respect for your association and it's members. I care about the health of your association and of your department. My caring is not only due to our personal relationship, but also the realization that what happens in the Big City Fire Department also affects the Kind Big Fire Protection District and scores of other nearby agencies.

Out of this caring, arises some concern. I have noticed a trend while attending several holiday related events over the past few weeks, one that I believe will cause your organization problems in the future, thus for mine as well.

At several large community events, the participation by your association members appeared to be minimal, while that of others was significant. Ordinarily, this would not be an issue, however as these events were part of the "Firefighter's Toy Drive", I believe it was in bad form.

At one event involving the collection of toys, the booth was manned exclusively by members of a local community/business partnership, several younger fire explorers and a support staff member from your agency. No firefighters - uniformed or off duty - were present.

Another event, this one involving Santa and toy distribution, produced a similar result. Both were conducted under the banner of the "Firefighter's Toy Drive".

I am sure that this was noticed by both the business and community  leaders that were present at these events. These are the people that have influence over your city council and other influential organizations - the people that run your city. The last thing that you need is to alienate the unofficial power structure that controls your community.

The Big City Fire Dept. has made it through the last few years fairly unscathed. Your association's political involvement, community relations and charity work as enabled you to enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the area. Frankly, the Kinda Big Fire Protection District has shared in some of your organizations success and I hope that we can continue to do so.

My concern is that your association is beginning to become complacent and that the benefits of your efforts will evaporate into thin air, not unlike the equity in many of our homes. It is also my concern that the Kinda Big Firefighter's Association will suffer significant collateral damage as a result.

I hope that someone will bring this matter up for discussion at your next association meeting and that it will be discussed at all levels in your organization. I plan to reaffirm my organization's commitment to community involvement at our next general meeting in February. I don't want us to fall into the same trap.

Thanks again,
Joseph R. Schmoe


I'm just sayin'

Thanks for reading,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Schmoe Learns How Cows Eat Cabbage

Sometimes, Its better just to keep your mouth shut.

Actually, I didn't say any of that stuff because I knew what the result would be. You see, I am trainable.

I am a little pissed off about the project though. It's my issue, I really have no right to be.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In the Smoke

A little excitement for the Hometown FD last month. Proof that wildfire is a year round problem in many areas. Although I was in a good spot, I and my subjects were in the smoke, making a good shot very difficult.

Although the smoke lifted for a few moments after the flames passed, the heat and smoke really obscured the picture. Fighting fire, whether a wildfire like this or inside a structure, is not like the movies. There is always smoke, and it usually obscures some of what you need to see.

This crew had been assigned structure protection on these houses and were able to keep them undamaged. They ended up extending this hoseline over to where you see the flames. Although there was another crew over there (you can't see them through the smoke), this crew assisted with knocking down the remaining fire and with overhaul.

These homeowners did a lot to help Hometown FD do their job by good brush clearance practices. Had they
not, damage would have been likely.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hangin' with Santa

I was down in Hometown and dropped by to see a friend of mine who works for the Hometown F.D.  They were getting ready to take Santa through the hood, and offered to take me along. Of course, they wanted some good pics out of the deal - what the heck, pixels are cheap!

The evening started off kind of slow, there weren't a lot of kids in the first couple of neighborhoods we visited. Santa had a bag full of candy canes which were provided by the Firefighter's Association.

After a few stops, the kids figured it out and business picked up. I was amazed at the number of kids that came out to see Santa at this stop, word travels fast when it comes to Santa and candy canes.

This little girl was not impressed with Santa. Maybe she sensed that Santa should have had a few more wrinkles (in the Hometown FD, the rookies help out Santa) or maybe she could smell that radish and onion sandwich that Santa had for dinner. Either way, she wasn't picking up what Santa was laying down. She didn't even want the candy cane that was offered to her. Her brother got it as well as his own.

A fun evening hanging with Santa and the boys from Hometown FD. BTW, I thanked Santa for the cool camera he brought me back in the summer and then I hit him up for another lens. He told me to go screw myself, I haven't been that good.

No wonder that little girl was crying, Santa is a little harsh.

Thanks for reading,

The Highlands

The Highlands is is a series of large apartment complexes perched on a hill overlooking the community. As the city in which the Highlands is located has strict zoning laws, the Highlands is beautifully landscaped, master planned and a comfortable place to live.

It isn't cheap to live in these apartments, few young people live there. Most of the occupants are in their mid 30s to mid 40s, a lot of DINKs divorcees, professionals and even a few cops and firefighters call the Highlands home.

All of the complexes have wide driveways, some garages and wide, beautifully landscaped open spaces between the buildings. Some of the buildings are three story and, as aesthetically pleasings as they are, are not real conducive to firefighting. 

Few of the second floor units and none of the third floor units can be reached with a pre-connected hose line. The stairways require a dry stretch as they have many turns and are pretty narrow. The landings are large, which allow for the positioning of 100' of charged 1 1/2" before entry. A typical lay into these complexes would be stretch 150' of  2 1/2" with a wye up the stairs onto the landing, then a bundle of 100' of 1 1/2"  for attack.

Getting to the roof  would be tough in some cases, the truck company will be hard pressed to get close enough to use the main ladder. The 35 ft ground ladders will reach the roofs, however landscaping and grading issues don't make this a sure thing either.

My shift has had three fires in the Highlands over the past several years. All could have been serious fires involving injury and the displacement of numerous people. I wrote about two of the incidents, HERE and HERE.

The third incident occurred last week while I was cavorting in the desert. The call sounded good with a couple of telephone reports followed by a report of an activation from the alarm company. My replacement arrived on scene at the gate and found nothing visible. He had everyone stage at the street, drove into the complex and arrived at the reported building. He again reported nothing visible, though the alarm was sounding. A few moments later he found the right apartment, the one with water running out from under the door.

After entering the apartment, he found the fire extinguished and overhauled with the activation of three sprinkler heads. No ventilation was required, no exposures were threatened and no injuries were reported. The second engine and the truck company were kept and assigned to assist in water removal, the District Commander and the balance of the response were released.

The entire incident was resolved within an hour, only two units had water damage - the unit of origin and the one directly below it.

On the surface, it would appear that design features of the building that would be supportive of firefighting efforts were ignored and that they were sacrificed for an even more effective design feature - automatic fire sprinklers. Personally, I don't believe the architect made a conscious swap, aesthetics were likely the priority over fire protection.

However, the enactment of a strict fire sprinkler ordinance made the architect design them into the building, nothing else. For us, it seems like a fair trade, for the builders it seems like a nuisance and unnecessary expense and for the occupants, well they probably never even think about it.

All I can say for sure, is that in the Highlands, on the "B" shift, it's sprinklers 3, Fuego 0.

3 and 0 is a winning record in anyone's game.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Oddities in the Sonora

Today was our last full day here. We wanted to explore an area that we had not been to before, but as we had the left the jeep at home, we needed to stick near roads.

We found our first oddity while still in Borrego Springs.

While on the outskirts of town, we looked up and saw the giant sculpture of the eagle, feeding a snake to it's young. From there,about a hundred yards away, we could see the herd of wild horses and a half mile away, we could see the herd of elephants.All were out in the middle of huge vacant parcels of desert land. Of course we had to stop and photograph these amazing sculptures. We spotted another herd of animals on the horizon and we headed that way.

We later found out that a gentleman named Dennis Avery owns numerous large parcels of vacant land in and around Borrego Springs. Mr. Avery commissioned Ricardo Breceda, a southern California artist, to create and install about 100 sculptures on these parcels of land. This project was started in 2008 and is still in progress.

It is a truly impressive project. We only saw a few of these sculptures and were impressed by the beauty of the art. More information about the project can be found HERE.

After viewing the sculptures, we spent the next few hours exploring an off-road recreation area and several small towns. Toward the end of the day, we found ourselves on the shore of another Sonoran oddity, a huge inland lake called the Salton Sea.

This edition of the Salton sea was created in 1905, when floodwater breached an under-construction canal, causing the Colorado River to flow into the Salton sink. Water flowed into the sink for over two years, forming what is now known as the Salton Sea.

The Salton sea is about 35 miles long and about 15 miles wide at some points. It covers 376 square miles. That's a pretty big Boo Boo. It was once a recreational mecca, but increasing salinity, fish kills and other issues have caused the area to become somewhat of a has-been.

What was once an engineering failure is now an important habitat for migratory and permanent water birds. The Feds are fixing to spend bajillions to stabilize the sea and restore it to it's glory days. Thanks America,
the Salton Sea could sure use a break.

It was a great day, we saw a lot and learned a lot. Tomorrow it's back to reality and Christmas shopping.

My posts should start returning to more fire related stuff, I hope to catch Hometown FD, Local FD and the KBFPD in action. Sculptures and birds make nice photos, but nothing says photograph like flames!

Til then - thanks for reading,
A rested Schmoe

Friday, December 10, 2010

I do two kinds ...

... of camping. One is like this:

The other is more like this:

Both have advantages. I appreciate the comforts of the former and the solitude of the latter.

The Saint I am Married to doesn't do the latter, so it's the former if she and I are going to camp together. Like everything else in life, it's all about compromise.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's That Time Again

I can tell that it's that time of year again, christmas trees are seen strapped to the roofs of cars, houses have strings of lights affixed to them and my phone is starting to ring with fire fighters looking for a new home.

Yup, it's SILLY SEASON again and already I have had several inquiries as to the actions of my present crew and possibilities of openings at my station. I took one this morning as I sipped coffee from my Omni-mug while basking in the desert sunshine.

As soon as I saw who the caller was, I knew what the call was about. It was from a friend of mine who has had a few issues this year and would like a change of venue. I don't think that I was his first choice, but the station where he would really like to work has a specific mission which requires a high degree of flexibility from it's personnel. My friend can be rather inflexible and may have been told that perhaps he should seek another spot.

I ran into a firefighter and his wife at O'Malleys a few weeks ago. He mentioned that he might like to give the healing place a try for a year or so. As there were numerous members of the K.B.F.P.D. in attendance that evening, there was a lot of mingling going on and I found myself in conversation with the firefighters wife about how good it would be for the firefighter to come up to 226's and prepare for the engineer's exam. Not a typical conversation I can assure you.

I have had a few captain's call me and ask about the availability of members of my current crew. It's getting kind of old, I don't speak for my crew on these matters. What they want to do is up to them, though I will support them and represent them at the winter meeting.

Frankly, I am getting rather tired of the whole process. With any luck, I only have to go through this two, maybe three more times. It's not that it's difficult, it's just more petty B.S. to contend with. The older I get the more redundant crap like this becomes.  

As I am on vacation, perhaps I should have let this morning's call go to voice-mail. That's the problem with not being out far enough in the desert, though the internet access is nice.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Heat Wave

After reading Capt. Wines account of how the bad weather is affecting the east, I thought I would walk around the campground and see how winter has affected the area. Of course I took my camera to document the carnage.

The Ocatillos are greener than usual due to the early rain.

As winter approaches, the bees are no longer playing with the birds, but are concentrating on gathering food.

The winter temperatures have caused the State Park employees to switch to their winter uniforms - long pants! Of course this has caused increased perspiration as noted on the back of this States Parks A/C tech.

Ain't winter a bitch!

Thanks for reading,
A toasted toasty Schmoe

P.S. It was 78 degrees yesterday here in Borrego Springs, Wines. I even had the AC on in the truck for a while. But I'm not gloating.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I wasn't going to post about...

... it being the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack until I saw this:

A P.O.W. - M.I.A. flag and United States flags lining the main drag of Borrego Springs CA. My decision was confirmed when I ran into these guys:

Members of American Legion Post #853. They were kind enough to let me photograph them as they went about their business.

If I had been up at the crack of dawn like they were, I could have photographed them putting the flags up instead of taking them down.

If these men could take time out of their day to put up two miles of flags commemorating this solemn day, then I could take a few minutes and post about the sacrifices that our servicemen made on that harrowing day.

2403 people lost their lives on that fateful day in Hawaii, including 60 civilians. It exemplifies what happens when we let our guard down and assume the world's issues won't affect us. It's a lesson that is paid for in blood.

Tragic as the event was, it did focus our attention on the task at hand and got us started on the road to defeating our enemies.

Too bad it ever happened.

Thanks to those served at Pearl Harbor, thanks to those who have served elsewhere and thanks to American Legion post #853. All of your efforts are appreciated.

Thanks for reading,

Another Trip

If you are reading this, it means that I have left on another trip. This one is to our southern desert, the Sonoran.

This trip will be a little different than the last. I will be with my wife and we will be camping in a travel trailer. We will have full hook-ups so being cold will not be an issue. We are leaving the Jeep at home, the 4x4 pick-up will have to suffice.

I may have internet access. If I do, I hope to post a couple of times.

Although the Sonoran is right next to the Mojave desert, it is very different. There will be many photo opportunities and I look forward to exploiting them.

Thanks for your patience,

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wildfires in Israel

Some of you may have heard about the tragedy in Israel. Wildfires have killed dozens of people and damaged numerous structures. has assembled the best photos of the disaster and has posted them HERE.

There is one especially graphic image, they will warn you. Trust me, they are not being oversensitive.

RIP to those who lost their lives.

These images could easily be from an incident in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia - just about anywhere. Keep that in mind as you peruse them. 

I don't want you to think I'm in love with the Big Picture, but they always have the best assortment of images from catastrophic wildfires. Always.

Check it out.

Thanks for reading,

The El Pasos - Day 2

I woke up early. I was too cold to sleep well and the light was just beginning show through the tent. I dressed in the semi-darkness and stepped out into the faint light. I glanced over at my buddy's tent, no sound or sign of life was coming from it.

As I didn't want to wake him up, I decided to wait and make coffee after shooting the sunrise,

As desert sunrises tend to be, it was truly beautiful. As most photographs tend to do, this didn't do it justice.

A short drive from our campsite brought us to a place called Bickel Camp. Bickel Camp is an old mining camp that was run by a man named Walt Bickel.

He, like Burro Schmidt, lived and mined in the area for years. After Bickel passed, his son lived at the camp for a number of years before moving on. Some time later, a non-profit corporation was formed by some locals who obtained the mining claim. They hired a caretaker and, as a result, the camp is pretty much as Walt Bickel left it.

The current caretaker is a man named Mark. Mark greeted us as we pulled up and told us his story. He has been mining in the area on a part-time basis since he was a young boy.

Mark was a most gracious host. He knew Walt Bickel and has spent a lot of time maintaining and cleaning up Bickel Camp. Mark answered a ton of questions, Ben and I are inquisitive by nature. Mark also let me take pictures of him and of everything in the camp.

Mark also took the time to show Ben how to pan. Mark, like every other miner I've ever met, made it look easy. Ben struggled, but may someday get the hang of it.

The two larger flecks seen in the center of the picture are gold. This was panned from sand taken somewhere on the Bickel claim. When gold was $250 an ounce, there wasn't much interest in mining this area. Now that spot is right at $1300 an ounce, new claims are popping up throughout the El Pasos.

Most of the equipment Walt used to work this claim is still here. Some of it he made, some was bought. An early miner had to know a lot about many things. Geology and heavy equipment maintenance were just a few.

It would appear that miners liked canned food. It had a long shelf life and required no refrigeration. It could also be cooked and eaten from the can, cutting back on the number of dishes that needed to be washed. Water had to be brought in, the only well on the site was heavily laden with arsenic and was to alkali to even wash with.

Mark showed us this vial of gold as we left. As is the miner's norm, he wouldn't say where exactly it was mined from or how long it took to amass this amount. I have found that miners tend to be elusive about the details of their work.

After leaving Bickel Camp, we came across an abandoned talc mine. It was run by a cleanser company, one that I had never heard of.

There isn't much left, just some massive holes in the earth.

After leaving the Talc mine, we took a trail called the Bonanza and worked our way out to the highway. I had driven past the trail-head dozens of times over the years and had always wondered what was back in those mountains. Now I know.

The beautiful sunrise was surpassed only by the sunset. I snapped this as I was airing up.

What a great trip.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Desert

Either you get the desert or you don't. Many view the desert as a barren wasteland, devoid of life and beauty. Others view it as something to get through on their way to somewhere else or as a place where you can die if things go bad.

The desert, can be all of those things, but is much more. My desert, the one I visit, is a place of immense beauty. For me, it is mainly about the geology, the sky and the solitude. Throw in a little history and some engineering and it makes a wonderful place for me to visit and explore.

They key to successful desert exploring is to find a friend that shares your love of the desert. I am luck in that I have a buddy that views it pretty much the same way as I.

On day one of our trip, we saw exactly two other parties and spoke to only one of them. It was a very polite conversation, We assumed they were armed, they assumed we were. Amazing how that works.

Much like the mules that the miners used to explore this area, our jeeps were made for this environment. Although much of our travels could have been made in a normal pick-up truck, there were a few places which required the capabilities that only a high clearance, short wheelbase 4X4 have. I didn't get any pictures of the difficult sections, I was too busy.

Sky, geology and solitude.

History - This was once the home of Burro Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt lived in this area for most of his life. Word has it that he mined in the winter and spent some of his summers herding cattle at a ranch up north. Burro Schmidt is famous for digging a half mile long tunnel through the mountain in order to avoid some of the bad roads to and from his mine. He spent 38 years digging the tunnel, all by hand.

By the time the tunnel was completed, it was no longer needed. The ore played out, the tunnel turned into a folly.

It is still there, and is somewhat of a tourist attraction. The road to it is fairly good, a pick-up will suffice. After Mr. Schmidt passed, a woman named Toni moved in and watched the place for many years. After Toni passed on, the claim got tied up in litigation with the government and the camp was pretty much looted.

The desert can be cold at night, especially in December. Despite my extensive preparations, I never was really warm and didn't sleep well. It didn't matter, the experience was well worth the discomfort.


Next post: Day 2

Thanks for reading,
A refreshed Schmoe

Friday, December 3, 2010

Back in Range

When off-roading out in the boondocks, I like to get back to the pavement right at dusk. This allows me to spend the maximum amount of time on the trail and it keeps me from having to air-up in the dark.

For the uninitiated, airing up is the act of refilling the tires on your jeep after an of-roading trip. While jeeping, I like to lower the air pressure in the tires to 15 PSI or so. It greatly increases traction, decreases the chance of tire damage and makes the ride a lot smoother.

As you may have figured out, I have been Jeeping in the Mojave desert for the last few days. No phone service, internet access or TV. It has been great.

I saw some amazing things, met some interesting people  and  had a great time. I took some interesting photos and I will try and post them tomorrow.

It's late, I have a jeep to unload and I'm tired. Until tomorrow.

Thanks for rwading,

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sometimes... sure is nice to have a rock to stand on...

file Schmotograph you can see what's going on below you.

file Schmotograph
 If you can see through the smoke that is!

A good vantage point isn't always available. It is important however. In fact posting lookouts is one of the 10 standard orders of wildland firefighting. It's a practice that we are starting to use in other types of emergencies as well.

Thanks for reading,