Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I was going through some old photos and found this one. I thought I would share it with you.

Fun and games at the K.B.F.P.D. A good drill by the training division.

Thanks for reading,

More On Wooden Ladders

After my post last week on wooden ladders, I received considerable feedback on the subject and on antique apparatus in general. The post also spiked some curiosity in my mind about wooden ladders, mainly who makes them and do they still make wooden folding attic ladders.

One comment, from Lunchox, pointed out that the City of San Fransisco Fire Dept.has a shop that maintains and repairs their wooden ladders.

I did a little snooping and found that the SFFD ladder shop not only repairs and maintains wooden ladders, but manufactures them for the department. A little further snooping found this video:

Inside the Ladder Shop at the San Francisco Fire Department from AdamKaplan on Vimeo.
(if you are having trouble viewing video in Google Reader, go directly to blog and view from there)

I was amazed at a few facts brought out in the video. First was how old some of the ladders are that are still in service. Second was how long the wood has to cure before it can be used in the making of a ladder.

I also found out that the ALACO ladder company in Chino, California still make wooden fire ladders and has done so for a long time. One of their products is a wooden folding attic ladder, model number 2305.

Image from ALACO catalog. Click to enlarge

As I have never worked for an agency that uses wooden ladders, I know nothing about them. Looking at the ALACO customer list, it appears that most of their customers are on the west coast. Does any east coast departments use wooden ladders and, if so, where do they purchase them?

Isn't the internet great? You can get your questions answered and as a result, create more questions!

It appears that the ALACO ladder company is within a few hours of my house. I may try and arrange a tour of the wooden ladder operation. It might make a good photo op.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Complex

There are four apartment complexes within my first in district. As the development of my district has only been under way for the last 15 years or so, the area is heavily zoned and therefore laid out in an atheistically pleasing fashion. The main thoroughfares are landscaped as are the medians and open spaces.

The apartment complexes are marketed as luxury units. Each complex has a recreation complex including a gym, pool and common area. Many of the units have garages, all have parking spaces under carports. The units are nice, the grounds well maintained.and the complexes are usually pretty quiet. We have had several members of our department reside in these complexes, often as a result of marital status changes.

 Actual shot of the pool area (kyped off of the internet)
As we perform company inspections at a few of them, we are usually pretty aware of their occupancy rates, their rents and the general condition of the complex. Traditionally, the rents have not been cheap. Rents start around $1200 a month and climb to around $2000, depending on size, floor and location within the complex.

We were a little surprised last shift as we pulled up to a unit and saw a different scene than we were used to seeing. Our call was in a ground floor apartment and was for chest pains in a 26 yr old female. There was a  multitude of people milling around outside, many of whom were shouting and speaking very loudly.  My first impression was that there was a party in the building, but as some people in the group were entering various apartments it became apparent that these people just belonged there.

Numerous dirty diapers were tossed out onto the ground floor patio, as were several trash bags. Hip-hop music was coming from either an apartment or a parked car. I took all of this in as we entered the apartment, my impression of the apartment interior was no better.

Several former owners of the soiled diapers were in the bedroom where our patient was located, several requests had to be made before one of several tatted-up women came and removed them. The apartment was a pig sty, food containers, debris and clothing were strewn about, the toddlers walking on the rubbish as they wandered around the place. 

The medical call was quickly resolved, the patient loaded and transported to the hospital. The scene on the outside didn't change upon our exit, if anything the crowd grew. It was noticeable enough that we discussed it as we left the scene..

None of us could remember ever seeing people "just hanging around" at that complex, nor could we recall hearing loud music or seeing trash on the balcony. Frankly, it was a scene straight out of The Big House of Pain, a station that I left many years ago.

I commented that something must have changed at the complex, either the rents or deposits have been lowered, they are accepting housing vouchers (not likely) or someone hit the lottery and brought all of their family into a group of units.

We all agreed that if we were living in a nearby unit, we would be pissed due to the noise and trash. We also agreed that we would be looking for another place to live. People pay those big rent bucks to live in a nice place, not to put up with neighbors B.S.

This is a situation that the management is going to have to monitor, or else their vacancy rate will rise. Then they will have to lower rents and the number of problem children will increase, causing further vacancies etc. etc. etc. This could be a pivotal time in the life cycle of the complex. Played wrong, it could be the start of Healing Place's first "bad neighborhood", an honor no complex wants - nor do we.

We will be monitoring the situation closely over the coming months. We are scheduled to inspect the complex in the next month or so, I may discuss the issue with the manager. If the trash and diapers are still present on the patio, I will definitely write the complex up for that. A warm summer day and a patio full of dirty diapers do not make for a pleasant living experience. Maybe I'll try to get Sloven to rent a neighboring unit, he would fit right in.

He'd be close to work too, maybe that would help him show up on time!

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Morning Solitude

It is 0830, I am sitting in the office of the healing place, enjoying a nice cup of custom brewed coffee. It is a gray, rainy morning and I am glad to be inside sitting at my desk, rather than working a crash on the highway.

Technically, I am off duty and have been so for the last half hour. The on duty crew had a public relations assignment and left the station five minutes after shift change, so I have this lovely station all to myself. I am under no obligation to answer the door, answer the phone or do anything other than enjoy my coffee. The solitude allows me time to reflect on my job, my past and my future.

I have a million things to do at home and my remaining here is a form of procrastination. A looming tax appointment, several photo projects and a filthy, loaded jeep will keep me busy for the next couple of days. I am writing this here, because I know that once I get home, I won't get the opportunity to post until late tonight. I have found that my ability to write late at night is waning and should be avoided.

As I write this, I have resigned myself to the fact that the time for me to change careers is rapidly approaching if not already here. When doing a risk/benefit analysis, it is apparent that staying for an additional year does not pencil out for me. As a result, I will be out of here toward the end of the year.

My game is one best played by youth. Although I work at a relatively slow station, I have had some of my most challenging incidents while rolling out of here. Challenges I once welcomed, I now am wary of and do not wish to experience again. In short, I just don't want to play any more and I want to take my toys and go home.

I wish I was one of those guys who want to stay and slay dragons until I am 65 years old. I am not one of those guys and I don't want to be one of those other guys who stick around long after they should have left. When the K.B.F.P.D. stops getting their money's worth out of me, it's time.

Funny how silence and solitude makes you think. Maybe I shouldn't be left alone.

Thanks for reading,
A pensive Schmoe

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I was asked to shoot some pictures for a local service organization. The event was a ceremony to honor a law enforcement officer who was slain in the line of duty a few years ago. I clicked away as the MC read the officer's bio and made the first presentation.

It was about then that I zoomed in on the family and first noticed the pain in their eyes. I was shocked at how intense their emotions were displayed on their faces and I wondered how deep their pain must be. It was disturbing to the point that I stopped taking photos with the family in them. I also deleted a few that I had already taken. That kind of pain does not need to be shared.

I guess time doesn't always heal all wounds.


Sorry for the lack of posts over the last few days. I've been really busy and not really inspired. It happens sometimes, thankfully not often. Regardless, I appreciate your readership.


Monday, March 21, 2011

I'll Take It!

I went out to the mail box on Saturday and found a handful of letters. I grabbed them and went into the garage where I could sort them out, with the junk going directly into the garbage. Buried in the stack, underneath the AARP solicitation (screw you AARP, save that crap for some old guy!), was a letter from Furnace Creek State University.

It was my report card for last quarter. I got a B+ in my photography class. While it was not the A+++ I was hoping for, I'll take it, it was better than the C--- that I probably earned. The + is likely a mercy +, the instructor said that he is more liberal with grading these outreach courses than he is with his regular courses. Still, even a B- or a C+ is better than average.

Besides, I learned a lot and the grade is not my primary objective with these classes. The instructor is kind of clever though, he knows that as I didn't fail the class, I am likely to enroll in the next one - which he also teaches.

I am sure that the next one will be equally as good, it covers more creative aspects of photography. I can't wait.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Got Wood?

Most agencies have a parade unit, either an antique unit that has been restored or a vintage unit that has outlived it's usefulness but is unique or well preserved. Usually, they are fire engines as opposed to ladder trucks, squads or other vehicle. Every once in a while, you mights see a jeep or a chief's buggy that has been restored.

I ran into a vintage ladder truck the other day, this one a Seagrave. It was at a St. Patrick's day fundraiser and as it had just arrived, they were spiffing it up as we walked by. I didn't get any info on it, but I believe it may be a "City Service Truck", as it did not have an aerial ladder.

Of course, I had to take some photos. (click to enlarge)

As the lighting was off and the venue not to my liking, I focused on detail.

You don't see these life nets much anymore, and if you do, they are usually hanging on a wall. Engines didn't have the room, so they were carried on truck companies. I don't think anybody uses them, they don't have the staffing and don't want the liability. Like the pompier ladder, the life net is now a museum piece.

A well full of ladders, all wood.

Wooden ladders down both side of this truck as well. Look at the grain on the rung of this ladder, it is beautiful wood.

This is something that I have never seen before, a wooden folding attic ladder. It folds just like the aluminum attic ladders that we use, it just happens to be made of wood. Again, beautiful grain and texture.

If any of you happen to work for an agency that uses wooden ladders, are your attic ladders wooden as well?

I was fortunate to be able to run across this truck, it was quite photogenic. If I ever find out any details on it, I'll pass them along. Hope you all are enjoying your weekend, I am back at work, but enjoyed my break.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, March 18, 2011

Are you kidding?

The phone rang, a captain from district HQ was on the line. "Hey Schmoe, they're putting together a strike team to go up north. Are you interested?"

"Are you kidding? Whats burning?" I asked as I looked at my watch. It was 2100 hrs and I was intimidated my the term "up north".

"I think up in the Owens valley, I heard they're losing structures." 

By the time we actually get the request, drive for five or six hours and then get a 24 hour assignment - I am looking at being up for the next two days. "I'll pass, but thanks for calling".

Let some young guy jump on that, I'll stay here and be warm. I got on the computer and logged on to Sure thing, 500-600 acres just south of Big Pine, right off of Hwy 395. That's crazy, it's in the middle of winter.

It would appear that it's a wind driven event, the winds associated with a frontal passage. Right now, however, the winds are reported to be less than 10 kts. in Big Pine. The low winds now could be a sign that the front is passing and that they will return, though blowing from another direction. The temperature is 46 degrees, the crews are going to be cold.

We get so used to fire season being a summer/fall phenomenon, that it surprises us when a wildfire pops in winter, especially a wet one like we have had this year. Ya just never know, our state has had large structure loss wildfires in every month of the year.

Again, I'll pass if I have the option. I am getting to the point that I like comfort and dislike discomfort. Funny how that works.

Thanks for reading,
A warm Schmoe

Thanks for reading,

Voluntary Service

"Warrant Officer Kamori!"

"Hai, Colonel".

"As you know, the situation is dire. Therefore, you must perform this assignment with the utmost in care and precision. At 0830, you will take helicopter #312, attach a bambi bucket to it and fly into the exclusion zone. When you reach the coast, you will turn North and proceed to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant. When you arrive there, you will dip the bambi bucket into the ocean and fill it with water. You will then fly through the radio active plume and directly over reactor #3 at a low altitude. As you fly over reactor #3, you will toggle the bambi bucket and drop your load of water onto the burning reactor. You must repeat this process four times. After this has been completed you will return to base and land in the special contamination reduction area where you and the helicopter will be decontaminated and you will be medically evaluated. Do you have any questions?"

"Hai, Colonel"

"What is it Warrant Officer Kamori?"

"Are you out of your &^cking mind?"

For those of you older readers, you might recognize the above dialog as ripped off from a comedy bit that was performed by comedians Cheech and Chong. back in the early '70s. Believe me when I tell you that there really is no humor to be found in the above situation. The continuing, escalating nature of the tragedy defies humor, sorrow and every other human emotion. They are being replaced by numbness and resolve. 

The original comedy bit was based on a kamikaze pilot in WWII. I couldn't help but think of the parallels between the kamikaze missions of WWII and that the helicopter missions of yesterday. While I don't know if the current water dropping missions can be considered suicide missions, they certainly are very high risk. Sadly, things gave deteriorated to the point where the risk is justified by the consequences of failure. Desperate times require desperate measures.

Throughout my career, I have believed in performing a risk-benefit analysis (rba) before committing people to potentially risky operations. So far, it has worked out well for me. The time when I miscalculated in my analysis, luck bailed me out. I can't imagine how the rba pencils out at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant, I don't posses the knowledge to accurately assess the situation.

The people in charge of the mitigation efforts at the power plant have a tremendous burden on their shoulders. If they fail, the cost to their society is great. That has to be balanced by the need to protect their subordinates from needless harm. Their decisions should not injure their personnel unless a reasonable chance of real benefit exists.

Based on that, is it unreasonable to order personnel to go on a suicide mission if the potential benefit is vital for society as a whole? Or, should they ask for volunteers?

Conversely, would you volunteer for such a mission?

Regardless, the commanders of the situation in Japan are making difficult choices. The three mitigating risk reducing factors when dealing with nuclear emergencies are time, distance and shielding. All three of these factors are compromised when working around the source of the contamination. The question becomes, how much are these factors compromised?

The pilots, plant workers and other emergency personnel who are dealing with disaster are heroes in my eyes, they are all putting themselves in harms way for the benefit of society. Heroic actions by any standard.

My buddy Capt. Wines had some thoughts on the subject over at Iron Firemen. It's worth a look.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deja Vu

We don't get to train in nice buildings, ones with life or use left in them. The ones we get to use have somehow been passed by, societal shifts have rendered them useless or undesirable. In time, after we get done with them, the bulldozers will arrive and a new vacant lot will be created

So it was with this building, a formerly stately Victorian,  converted into a four-plex during WWII and now a derelict, waiting for it's date with a bulldozer. The smell of stale piss permeated the air under the carport, the neighborhood denizens taking advantage of the seclusion that the space provided. This building's last years were not kind to it, even before it was vacant. Some tenants tend not to be good stewards of other people's property, even when they live in it.

All of these thoughts crossed my mind as I entered the rear door to the building and began climbing the rear stairs, heading to the second floor. As I climbed the first short section of stairs, I got that weird feeling that I had been there before.

Stronger than the typical deja-vu moment, the feeling persisted as I continued my climb up the stairs. When I reached the second floor, the steps terminated in the kitchen. It was then I realized that this experience was not daja-vu - I had been there before. The layout of the kitchen affirmed that at some point in my career, I had trod those stairs, provided my services and had assisted someone down them to a gurney waiting below.

I don't remember the details, I haven't worked in that district in many years. When I saw the light shining through the window, I thought that it was worth taking a few minutes and taking the shot. Although I may not remember the details of my first visit to this building, I have documentation of my last.

These will likely be the last photos taken in this place, the building is coming down tomorrow. At least it's last days were spent doing something useful, despite it's dilapidated state.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Disaster Wrapped in a Tragedy, Bundled in a Catstrophe

The scope of events in Japan are mind boggling. The concept of a magnitude 9 earthquake is unbelievable for most of us, a 7.0 would be horrifically powerful. For 99.99 percent of us, the chances of being directly affected by a tsunami are zero. A failure at a nuclear power plant, allowing large amounts of radiation to escape has never occurred in this country.

If any one of the above events occurred, it would be a major ordeal. For all three to happen at the same time, I can't imagine. Nor can most of us.

I saw Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa on TV the other day. His purpose (other than self-promotion) was to comment on the Japanese disaster and to reassure the citizens of his city that the city was on it and that they were safe should a large earthquake or tsunami strike L.A.

I know Los Angeles has spent considerable effort to prepare for the "big-one", as have most other communities and counties throughout the state. When the mega-disaster does hit,  the first responders in the area will bust their asses, follow the plan as much as possible, follow their training and do a great job. Other entities will rise to the occasion and perform reasonably well, while some not so well.

However, despite all of that, it will still be a freaking disaster. People and puppies will die, others will be injured, some grievously, the survivors will be miserable and many, many lives will be ruined. Even the lucky ones will have extreme negative impacts for a long time.

I expect the mayor and other politicians will grab as much air time as they can garner, and state how well everything is going. They will gloss over the challenges and expound on the positive aspects of the event, regardless how trivial. Those of us toiling in the mud, blood and ash  will listen, shake our heads and get back to work.

The media will cover it all, only as long as it will get ratings, then move on. Move on until the finger pointing begins and the story regains it's legs.

It is all so predictable, even when the event itself was not.

Thanks for reading,
A somewhat cynical Schmoe

Monday, March 14, 2011


...welcome to the healing place. I am Captain Schmoe and as I am the only person on duty today who owns a decent camera, I have been asked to take your Rookie Class Photograph. Please ensure that your station uniform is properly aligned ,  remove all objects from your shirt pockets and line up as I previously instructed you. This photo, as well as the individual shot that I took of you earlier will be published in the union newspaper.

That's it, good shot. Wow, recruit Adolescent, that's quite a blemish on your chin!

Ya know recruit Adolescent, you seem like a nice kid. Since you busted your ass off in the academy and finished in the top three, I'm gonna do you a favor.  I'm gonna take care of it for you. Besides, we can't have mommy seeing her boy with that blemish on his chin when she sees the paper can we?

There we go. Nice job if I do say so myself. It's a good thing you didn't turn out to be a jerk. Then your portrait would have come out like this:

What did we learn today Recruit Adolescent? Thaaats right, ya don't wanna piss off the photographer.

Thanks for reading,
A just and merciful Schmoe

Big Picture - Post #3

FYI.'s Big Picture has just posted their third installment on the Japanese earthquake. I am sad to say it won't be their last. These amazing photos show a lot of the suffering that the Japanese people are enduring. As more and more photographers make it into the area, the availability of high quality images will increase.

I am afraid that the availability of subject matter won't be an issue.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hiding Behind The Lens

Me Auntie, singing a ballad to her departed son.

Wee Jimmy on the guitar, the drummer and the percussionist I do not know. Schmoe behind the Canon, sniveling like a bitch.

For those of you who would like the back story on this, it can be found HERE. It's been a little over four years, it seems like a million.

R.I.P. Cousin.


Aftermath's The Big Picture posted a series of photos covering the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami overnight. Incredible image once again.

Some officials in Japan are now estimating that the death toll from this disaster could top 10,000. Looking at some of these images, I wonder if they might be a little low. The suffering continues as millions are left without basic needs and some news outlets are reporting that officials haven't even reached all of the destroyed areas.

Rising fears regarding damaged nuclear reactors and leaking radiation are just piling on to the magnitude and scope of the disaster, like Japan needed anything more in it's plate.

I am quite confident that firefighters and other first responders are doing what they can, but I am equally sure that their efforts are being swamped by the enormity of the event. That's why it is called a disaster.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend, keep the Japanese people in your thoughts. Many of them didn't have such a great weekend, it will ba a while before things improve.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

It Figures

As much as I would have liked to stay glued to the television today, it wasn't to be. We had a busy day today between running calls, two visits from the district commander, assisting with a rookie class and some project stuff. I did manage to watch CNN for a few minutes mid-afternoon and watching it now. (00:15 hrs)

One item that I found interesting, was that a 25 yr old man in northern California was killed when he was swept off a beach by a Tsunamic wave. Two other people who were with him were also swept away, but they manged to reach dry land and survived.

It appears that the victim was a photographer who was on the beach, trying to capture an image of the tsunami. Apparently the tsunami caught him before he caught it.

While my instinct of self preservation is strong enough for me not to die "getting that perfect shot", I can see how this happened. When setting up for an important shot, one tends to focus on the shot and ignores his immediate surroundings. When on the fireground and at the site of a potential Tsunami, it is imperative to be aware of your surroundings and adjust as necessary. This enables one to avoid unnecessary pain. It appears that the unknown photographer forgot this principle and paid for his mistake with his life.

I don't know what the unfortunate photographer was attempting to capture, sadly it didn't work out. His desire for the shot overrode his judgment and even if he got the shot, no one will get to see it. Sad. Sad but predictable.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, March 11, 2011

Power III has just posted on their Big Picture Blog showing some of the devastation in Japan. As usual, the images are a collection of the best available shots. Some of them are screen shots of last night's coverage, others are new images that have not had widespread distribution.

I like stills over video at times, it enables me to look for details that I miss when viewing videos.  Either way, go to the above link, there are some great shots.


LA news is showing some damage (relatively minor) damage to a yacht harbor in Santa Cruz Ca. Thanks god it was minor, still due to the distance away, amazing.

Thanks for reading,

Power II

The Los Angeles news stations have been covering the earthquake in Japan since last night. This morning, all of the stations were covering it, not just Fox. One of the many points which they are covering, is the effect of the quake on the local beaches.

Of course, the big fear is a tsunamic  type wave striking the California coast. Several counties have closed their beaches and harbors. Numerous tourist piers have been closed as have several schools located on or near the coast.

As I write this, local reporters covering the coast near Ventura, Calif are reporting turbulent waters in the yacht harbor and an outflow of water from the beaches. Areas under water a few minutes ago are now dry. That is a classic precursor to a tsunami. Of course some local idiots are down, walking on the newly dried land and the surfers are still out on the water.

While any tsunami that does arrive in So Cal today is not expected to be large, the very idea that an event occurring halfway around the world can effect the coast in California is amazing. While I hope that any preparations being made are precautionary, I appreciate the fact that someone, somewhere is thinking and ahead.

I'll keep you posted as much as time allows. To be honest, not much is going to be accomplished at The Healing Place today, we are going to be glued to the TV.  As news continues to trickle in, I am sure we will continue to be amazed.



I was awakened by the voices of my family, commenting about how incredible the images were. I rolled over and fumbled for the remote, finding it on the nightstand where I had left it and hour earlier.I am embarrassed to admit that I have the ability to manipulate the remote in the dark. I did so and the TV was soon fired up.

Like the other times when I have been awakened to be advised of a disaster, it took me a short while to figure out what I was seeing on the TV. I watched the screen as a wall of debris and water advanced across farmland and then through a city. My initial thought was a dam failure, but streaming graphics soon alerted me to the large earthquake in Japan.

I flipped through several channels and found it humorous that the local Fox affiliate was showing live video, while the NBC news affiliate was proudly showing the latest of Charlie Sheen's antics. Finally, I settled between CNNI and the local Fox channel, flipping between the two.

The video was horrific. All of the things that I fear both during and after a large quake were present. Shake damage, post quake fire, destruction to infrastructure and large numbers of people adversely affected by the event milling around.

There was a fair amount of video. Most of what I saw was shot from a helicopter flying over a coastal area, reportedly near Sendai, Japan. Images of Sendai airport under water, with people standing on the roof of the terminal building left an impression, as did those of a huge fire burning among some natural gas storage tanks. Still, nothing compared to those of the wall of debris and water flowing across the coastal plain. After some time, the images became repetitive, and as I had to work today, I switched the set off and returned to sleep.

As I write this, Hawaii is bracing for a wave, it's size and intensity is unknown. Images from Japan have stopped, darkness and damage have stopped them for now. Reports of hundreds of fatalities in the Sendai area are beginning to surface, those figures are sure to increase as time passes. As daylight returns to Japan, there will be more video showing the level of destruction, some we will find astonishing.

This looks to be a truly regional disaster, one that will have long term physical, emotional and political impacts upon the people of Japan. Events of this nature are not that rare in Japan, they have spent incredible amounts of money in preparing for them. We will be well advised to watch Japan closely over the next few days, observing what is working for them during the rescue/recovery phase and what is not. I think we will be amazed at the scope of this disaster and hopefully we will be amazed at the efficiency of the recovery.

Keep the people of Japan in your thoughts and prayers today, the suffering of many will be great over the coming days. Also, keep the first responders over their in mind, they are getting rocked, both figuratively and literally.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Too Far

Charlie, you have gone too far. I couldn't care less about the hookers and the blow. Now that your kids are out of your hands, what you do is really up to you. Though I am getting tired of your hourly tirades, I recognize that you feel a need to spew and the media feels a need to cover it. I have gotten used to the idea that one of the better sit-coms on network TV is probably going away.

But today Charlie, one of your rants went too far and you really pissed me off. During one of your you-tube rants, you said that you "wouldn't have to wear those silly bowling shirts" any more. Ouch.

Charlie, I LIKE those silly bowling shirts. I even own a few. They are comfortable, fit well and look great. The Saint That I Am Married To likes them as well. She knows that if she is having a problem finding the perfect gift for me, she can pop down to the big city, score one of those silly bowling shirts and it will all be good.

But now Charlie, all of that has changed. Every time I put one on, all I will think of is the term "silly bowling shirt." You took the joy of those shirts away from me Charlie, it will never be the same.

I just want you to know that your actions and words affect others Charlie. First Jon Cryer, now me. Stop the madness Charlie, it hurts. 

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


The words I am about to write will likely instill anger and fear in some readers. That I have even thought of them disturbs me, as they go against my belief in the fire protection model in which I have been raised.

As I see it, the current fire/ems delivery system focuses on protecting the lives and property of the individual, with the understanding that if the individual's property is protected, society's collective property will be protected as well.  If an aggressive interior attack is performed on my burning house, the fire will be prevented from spreading to my neighbors home and then those of the remainder of the neighborhood. The same concept is applied to commercial and multi-family housing buildings as well. If the fire is contained to a single room or area of the blacksmith shop, the fire is prevented from spreading to the general store.

In a similar way, the same concept is applied to EMS. If an individual has a life threatening injury or an emergent medical condition, the rapid application of ALS procedures will save that individual's life, sparing society the cost of supporting the survivors and the loss of a valued member of society.

Morally, I support the above concept. I think it is a noble cause to protect the individual from emergency situations. I hate it when an individual dies or when an individual loses their possessions to fire. Just because a disaster is limited in scope to one person, it doesn't reduce it's impact on that individual.

For a long time now, the protection of society through the protection of the individual has been acceptable to most of society. The willingness to financially support the existing system was widespread, with little opposition to it's cost. In many communities it was a priority, with other services being sacrificed to maintain or expand public safety services. Frankly, I am OK with that too. Society, as well as individuals, need to prioritize expenditures and fund the high priority items.

The current economic turmoil has triggered a backlash against the status-quo in government. While certain segments of society have always been opposed to government providing services, those opinions were countered by those of socially conscious individuals and organizations, who lobbied for increased levels of service.

The pendulum is now swinging the other direction. What was a smaller segment of the population who advocated a smaller governmental influence is now a much larger one. The rise of the Tea Party movement is a manifestation of the smaller government movement. This shift is a direct result of the dwindling resources of both individuals and governmental agencies. People are making less money and are therefore providing less revenue to the government.

The pinch is so tight in some areas, that the once sacred cow of public safety is now fair game. Many communities have laid off significant numbers of firefighters, are carrying vacancies and have closed or browned out fire stations. A few fire departments have even ceased operations. This situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

It has been my experience that the budgetary fortunes of local government trails that of the economy by about two years. It just takes that long for a reviving economy to filter through the tax collection system. As signs of any economic recovery being extremely slow, it is going to be quite some time before our situation improves.

Economic conditions, combined with the current political environment, lead me to believe that we have seen the pinnacle of public safety protection in our society and that future service delivery models will be that of lower expectations, not more.

Whereas now we spend a lot of effort on the protection of individual property, future delivery systems will likely focus on protection of the community - mainly the prevention of conflagration and the confinement of fire to the structure of origin. The days of twelve or fifteen firefighters arriving on scene within ten minutes may be numbered. The goal of having an interior attack underway within eight minutes of an alarm may no longer be desired and may be altered to adjust for greatly reduced staffing levels. Images of firefighters spraying water through an open window from the outside may become more common as levels of acceptable loss increase.

While this concept is repugnant to us, to those who manage government at a level higher than our departments, it is more than acceptable as it frees scarce budget dollars to use in other areas. Fire and police have long been viewed as necessary evils by many city mangers. Political pressure from unions, union supported politicians and other fire service organizations have prevented them from gutting fire service budgets in the past.

The recent debacle in Wisconsin and other attacks on public employee unions have exemplified a shift in attitudes toward public employees and firefighters in particular. Every form of media outlet is filled with ant-government, anti-union and anti-public employee diatribe. The conservative backlash against the protests and against governmental service in general has served it's purpose. Union influence is waning, maybe to the point of not being able to counter the attacks on public safety services.

As many requests for EMS services are made by people who don't vote and pay little taxes, EMS will not be immune either. The expectation of an immediate 911 response to any request for medical aid will be a thing of the past, waits for an ambulance will be like that of those at the ER. 

I hope that my vision of the future is wrong or at least not as dire. If this should be our future, us old timers will have to radically alter our way of doing business in order to comply with the new delivery system. Progressive, visionary managers may have to base their visions on the far past, not an idyllic future. Many of us may have to make changes to our lifestyle, as compensation will surely drop along with societal expectations.

The reality is that it is really not up to us, it is up to the public we serve. They are the ones who determine what levels of risk they are willing to accept. Despite our efforts to educate the them, it has been determined by many communities that we are just not worth the money and that they will take their chances. That will work out for most, until it is their ox that is gored.

Thanks for reading,
a pessimistic Schmoe

Sunday, March 6, 2011


**** Edit****
If you are reading this on Google Reader or similar feed and the video embedded below doesn't show up, go to my directly to my blog and the embed will show up. Sorry, I don't know enough about HTML code to fix it. Thanks.

Some time ago...

"Good afternoon sir. I am Sergeant Cochran and I am the loadmaster on this flight. When was the last time that you loaded a vehicle on  a C-17?" She asked with an expectant expression on her face.

I found her question a little humorous. I decided to share the mirth.

"Me?" I asked as I looked around the otherwise empty cab of the truck. "Never. In fact, this is the first time that I have ever even been behind the wheel of this truck."

I was being honest on both counts. The operator of the truck had made  the mistake of leaving it in the staging area unattended. When it was time to load, it was time to load. As I was the only person nearby when the staging area manager wanted it repositioned, I was nominated. I drove it over to the aircraft thinking the operator would be there. He/she wasn't and I was soon directed to back the vehicle to the foot of the loading ramp.

"Okay, just go slow and do what I tell you" She directed.

I kept my eyes on her the entire time, I was nothing more than an extension of her will. I made no decisions, no judgments, I put it all on her. As a result, the vehicle was loaded without any issues or damage. I sat in the truck as the airmen chained it to the floor of the aircraft and thought about the ramifications if I had hit something on the way in.

A C-17 costs about $200 million each. That puts the cost of that little stringer that holds the doohickey at the top of the ramp in the $80,000 range. Not to mention that the mission would have to be scrubbed, dozens of strangers (some of whom looked very mean) would be pissed at me and a huge monkey wrench would be thrown into the exercise (whatever that was).

I don't think the owner of the truck would have been too happy either.

That's why when I saw this video, I found it to be amazing. Well, actually, quite nuts.

For the aeronautically challenged, you are looking at palletized Humvees being yanked out the rear door of an airborne C-17. Basically, a large parachute is opened out of the rear of the aircraft. The drag of the chute pulls on the cargo. The cargo is released and is pulled out of the open ramp in a rather expeditious fashion. The cargo then floats gently down to the earth, under a gently billowing canopy. Hopefully.   

The consequences of an error or malfunction would be dramatic and likely disastrous. I am sure that the Air Force does these all of the time, but still. I have to believe that the troops lining the side of the aircraft were quite relieved when the last Humvee cleared the ramp.

Suddenly, backing a pick-up truck into a C-17 doesn't seem like such a big deal any more.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Crap I Pack For a "Day" Trip

I get paid to worry. Worry, plan and prepare. These job requirements have filtered over to many aspects of my personal life, including the one depicted below.

I like to visit the desert, the one where few people live. Better yet, is the desert where few people visit. Although it can be a harsh, brutal place, it is also filled with an immense beauty and a peaceful solitude. A great place to visit if one is so inclined.

While unpacking my jeep after a day trip yesterday, it occurred to me that a day trip requires only a slightly less amount of stuff than an overnighter. I decided to whip out the 7D and document the load.

Photo #1: Unplanned food/water

This is the food and water that I take, but plan on not using. This is the stuff that I will use, should I get stuck out in the sticks for few days. I usually take enough water to last two or three days. Dehydration probably kills people faster than anything else, ask the scores of people who have died along the southern border. The one gallon containers can be used to fill the radiator in the jeep if needed, the small bottles are exclusively for MY radiator.

MREs, though not savory, contain a lot of calories and are easy to carry and store. I take at least one for each day, each person and enough for three days.

Photo #2: Recovery Gear

This is the stuff that I use to get unstuck if I should get stuck. I have been stuck before, 30 miles from anywhere. I was with my two kids, then 8 and 10 and we were alone. It pretty much sucked. I used the entrenching tool in the picture above to dig us out. It took over two hours and it was after that that I started buying four wheel drive vehicles.

Most of the stuff pictured is used to either hook up to another vehicle or use as an anchor for my winch. The two yellow straps have different uses. The wider of the two is a snatch strap that is used to use a vehicle to "snatch" another from being stuck. The skinnier of the two is a tree strap that is used to wrap around a tree to use it as an anchor point. The clevis, pully and the chain are winch accessories, as is the black coiled wire.

The black coiled wire is actually the controller for the winch. You plug it in and control the winch with it. It is something you don't want to forget, the winch won't work without it.

Notice the winch stuff looks new and unused. I try really hard not to use it, I try to avoid getting stuck.

Photo #3: Survival/mechanical Stuff

Tools, flashlights, first aid kit, more tools, jumper cables, wipes, TP, maps GPS duct tape, 200 MPH tape, flat repair kit, hose clamps, baling wire, wire ties etc. etc. etc.

The maps and GPS get used all of the time. I actually use the maps more than the GPS, the GPS serves to verify that I am where I think I am. I think that being lost would be worse than being stuck or broke down.

Wipes. One type for your ass, one for your hands and a specific procedure for using both.  Gastro-intestinal distress is never any fun, it's worse when you are digging a hole for a restroom.

Photo #4: Other Stuff

Air Compressor - This gets used a lot. I lower the air pressure in my tires nearly every time I go out into the deep desert. I usually drop the air pressure to 14 PSI. That pressure reduces the risk of tire damage from sharp rocks, improves the ride on washboarded roads and improves traction. The compressor is used to "air up" when returning to the pavement for the drive home.

Fire extinguishers - I carry two, the one pictured and a smaller one that I can reach from the driver's seat. All of the stuff that I carry isn't going to help me if it is reduced to ashes!

Warm jacket - Hypothermia sucks just as bad as dehydration.

Food/water - This is the stuff that I PLAN on using.

Handgun - The deep desert is a remote place. There are some strange folks out there, as well as a few dangerous ones. I have never seen a ranger, sheriff deputy or any other law enforcement officer while in the deep desert.  The canyon we traveled through yesterday, Berdoo Canyon, has been the dumping ground for a few bodies over the years. The one time that I really felt threatened, was in the deep desert, in Joshua Tree National Park, located at the top of Berdoo Canyon. That was before I even owned a handgun, I vowed never to be that vulnerable again.

I assume that every person I meet in the desert is armed, they likely assume that I am. (rightly so) It makes for very polite conversations.

Not pictured: Camera and tripod; Engine coolant, 2 gallons; spare radiator hoses; motor oil; high lift jack; hand sanitizer; sunscreen; boonie hat and a bunch of other stuff that I won't bore you with.

Add a tent, sleeping bag, cot, compact folding table and chair for overnight trips and you can see why I have an extended wheelbase jeep. 

Off-roading is a great way to explore the desert, I am fortunate to have the equipment to do it. Some desert explorers carry more stuff, some less. I have never used most of the stuff that I carry, that is fine with me.

I the next few days, I will discuss a few instances where people who didn't have some of this stuff died. A tragic ending to what could have been a wonderful experience.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Photo Class

As some of you know, I have been taking a photo class for the last few months. The instructor is very knowledgeable and has done a good job in instructing us in a step by step method. As the course is  being taught in a quarter system, we are winding down, with the final project being due next week.

As much as I am enjoying this class, some of the assignments have been a challenge for me. The instructor made it clear that we are being graded on the technical aspects of the assignments, not the creative ones. Apparently creativity is taught in another class. Although I believe him about the technical vs. creative thing, I can tell he is a creative guy. I can also tell that the rest of the students are a little more expressive than I am and it shows when we review the assignments. Therefore, I spend a lot of time and energy trying to be creative and present my technical assignments in a more aesthetic and creative fashion.

 Depth of Field Assignment

My success has been limited. I am just not a naturally artsy-fartsy kind of guy. Although I have improved in the creativity area, my photos are pretty stodgy when compared to most of my classmates. I think a lot of it has to do with age and the "inside the box" thinking that years of working within a system brings. I am not complaining, I think that most components of my personality have served me fairly well over the years and the regimentation of the fire service has melded with my personality type to allow me to have a somewhat successful career.

I also think that the same combination has stifled me in other ways such as creativity. Now that my fire service career is winding down, it may be time for me to work on other areas of my life which have been somewhat neglected. Maybe this photography thing is a step in that direction, maybe this blog is another.

Thanks for reading,

Report on Icy Conditions

Ice is a non-issue around here. In my time on the job, I have received one safety alert regarding possible icy road conditions and I have put chains on a rig exactly one time. Both events were precautionary and both proved to be unnecessary.

I know that my comrades back east and in the great frozen north are not so fortunate. I see news stories of the horrid conditions that they respond in and it makes me thankful that Grampa Schmoe became fed up with the Indiana winters and fled the state.

As tough as my frigid brethren have it driving apparatus in icy conditions, I wonder if  their discomfort matches that of these pilots:

Yikes! That had to have been a little scary. Don't try to blame this on Californian pilots not being able to handle a little ice either. As the pilots fly for Scandinavian Air Service, I am sure they are experienced at driving on  ice.

Rest easy my cold weather readers, a few more weeks and winter will soon be over. Then tornado season begins.

Thanks for reading,