Sunday, July 31, 2011

Canvas, Leather and Steel

Anybody wanna take a crack it what this work of hand-crafted, firefighting, industrial output is?

I found it while visiting some friends last week. I have seen a few similar to this, but I don't remember any with leather straps.

If you figure it out, drop me a comment.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, July 29, 2011

Where Is It Going To Stop?

We have been spending a lot of time up in Home Town the past few months. While driving past the local BMW dealership, I have seen a few people picketing on the sidewalk in front of the store. At first, I thought perhaps the picketers were dissatisfied customers, who had not been able to receive satisfaction through the dealership.

As BMW has a reputation for excellent customer service, I had doubts about my theory. After several weekends of seeing these people walking with signs, I decided to stop and investigate further.

It turns out that the picketing is part of a labor action against BMW of North America. The beef centers around a parts distribution warehouse in Ontario Ca and the teamsters local which represents 68 workers at the plant.

The workers were recently notified that their contract, which expires at the end of August, won't be renewed. The company's plan is to contract out the operation of the warehouse to a third party, which will hire non-union employees and pay them below a living wage. Apparently, the issue isn't about contract negotiations or wage and benefit concessions. The company is not talking about those matters. The only thing BMW is willing to discuss is severance packages.

Needless to say, the Teamsters aren't taking this laying down.

Protests have been staged at BMW dealerships around the south-land and at the attorney's office who is representing BMW of North America. Further actions are planned.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the plant has received several awards of excellence from BMW, citing efficiency and several top ranked employees are assigned to the Ontario warehouse. The fact that BMW received a 3.6 billion dollar bail-out loan several years ago and made nearly 5 billion last year aren't helping cool the flames either.

I'm sure that there are some who have little sympathy for the teamsters, even in this battle. Here's why I think this is important. Many of us ignore these kinds of issues until it is our ox's turn to get gored. Then we raise hell about the issue as it affects us. Many of us have made concessions regarding our wages and hours - we recognize that these are challenging times and have made adjustments accordingly. May of us have lost our jobs due to companies going bust or our agencies losing funding.

That is not the case here. BMW is making money, the shareholders are making money and the plant is healthy and viable. BMW is attempting to capitalize on the current economic situation and the groundswell of anti-union sentiment that is prevalent and eliminate the collective bargaining process for the employees.

When I graduated from high school, there were options for people who did not wish to go to college or trade school. They could go into the trades or work at several manufacturing plants in the area. That is no longer an option for most. Most of the manufacturing jobs have gone away - the products are made overseas. The trades are now done by immigrant labor, many of whom are here illegally.

The United States is different in that we have always left enough prosperity for the working and middle class. That difference is fading away for most.

Where is it going to stop? Twenty years from now, are the Chinese going to have missionary trips to this country and build us garage door houses? I wonder.

Good luck to the folks over at the Ontario BMW warehouse. I hope that BMWNA changes their mind. Judging from the public statements made by BMW, I fear that it is a losing battle.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, July 28, 2011


My oldest kid is frighteningly like me in many ways. Some good, some bad. I was not surprised when these showed up in my text que a few days ago.

I am not sure of the sequence or the details, but I know that he was on his way to/from his girlfriends house when they spotted this brush fire. He, being the Schmoe that he is, used his phone camera and snapped these shots.

Not too bad for cel-phone shots, besides I cannot be critical. He has caught more fire action than I have over the past few weeks!

Thanks for reading,

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Call

I was pulling the lawnmower out of the shed at my past and future home when my phone rang. I looked at the calling number and saw that it was from Willie Wines over at Iron Firemen.

"How you doing Schmoe?" he asks me.

"How YOU doing Willie? is a better question", I responded. I knew that Willie and friends were scheduled to do the 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb at the Firehouse Expo.

Willie called to let me know that he, Rhett and Kevin had successfully completed their mission. I could tell by his tone that he was pumped-up over the event.

"Schmoe" he said, "This was one of the most significant things that I have done in a long time".

How impressive is that? A great fraternal activity, a tribute to the fallen of Sept. 11, 2001 and a way to raise some money for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Plus (I'm just guessin') a few cold frosties afterward.  Wish I could have been there, at least for the frosties anyways.

Well done lads.

An impressed Schmoe

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I get so much more work done after 2000. The crew usually starts to settle down, visitors leave and the phone stops ringing. As I work in a mainly industrial/commercial area, the population drops. The people who do live in my district require significant income to do so, most have employment and require slumber during the nighttime hours - thus our nights are usually pretty slow.

Often, it's just me and Coast to Coast AM on the radio while I catch up on paperwork, edit work pics and take care of a lot of the other stuff that I don't get done during normal business hours. Some of my bosses past would say that it is poor time management, others would say that I'm just doing the best with what I've been given. Either way, it is what it is and it isn't going to change over the next 14 shifts.

I find it easier to multi-task during this time of night. I can download files on the work computer, and while I am waiting, I can spin around and blog on my laptop. (if the net connection is up). As you may have guessed, I am doing that now.

Of course, the district radio is on, five crews on my net are out. One is on a routine medical aid, one is on a ringing alarm and three are on a hell of a mess that is going down on a highway. Several ambulances, a rescue and CPR are involved. Better them than me (selfish I know), death on the highway is something that I won't miss.

My log is up to date, the inspection reports are entered and checked. The training records are done and my in-box is almost empty. I should be able to get up at 0530 and wash my jeep before heading for home. It's 0105 and I really should pack it in.

I was hoping for some good action shots to post, but things have been slow near where I have been. Maybe tomorrow.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Climb

On Thursday, at 1400 hrs Eastern Time, my buddy Captain Willie Wines and a few of his friends will don their turn-outs,  helmets and gloves - and begin climbing a flight of stairs. It is a task that they all have done many times, but this time is different.  As they continue their climb, their lower backs will start to ache, their lungs will burn and their thighs and legs will start to feel like lead. They won't stop until they have climbed the equivalent of 110 flights of stairs - the number of flights that members of the FDNY began to climb almost ten years ago.

As WinesRhett Fleitz and Kevin's turn out gear begin to fill with sweat, they will not lose their grip on photographs of  FDNY firefighters who fell on September 11, 2011, ones who didn't get to complete their climb. These guys and many others are choosing to honor the fallen with more than words and money, but with sweat, pain, blisters and guts.

Willie, Rhett and Kevin are participating in a 9-11 memorial stair climb at the Fire House Expo in Baltimore Md. This climb is one of many planned this year, the proceeds of which benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. There are numerous other climbs throughout the country, all are open to both firefighters and civilians. If you think that you might want to participate, visit the 9-11 Memorial Stairclimb web page. Locations and contact info are posted, as well as background info.

While the lads are climbing, I will be attending a retirement luncheon for one of the District secretaries. I am not sure how long the climb takes, but I am pretty sure I will still be at the luncheon when they finish up. Around 1300 (1600 eastern) or so, I'll pop the cap on an ice cold Pacifico and raise it to the east. Good on ya laddies, strong work.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Getting There

For the past several months, you've heard me talking bitching about the  remodeling project that we are currently undertaking and about how much I hate living where we are and how I can;t wait to get back home. I am happy to report that we are on schedule and hope to be back in on or about Aug. 1.

Above photo taken on May 4, three days after moving out. You can see the remains of the main wall, which formerly separated the living room from the dining area.

This view, taken a few days ago, shows the same space taken from the opposite end. Obviously, the wall is gone, the cabinets have been moved and upper cabinets added and the former formal dining room has been enclosed and transformed into a laundry room. As you can see, we are getting close. The changes to the rest of the house are equally dramatic.

I can't wait to get home, though I will have to find something else to whine about. It won't be hard, firefighters are unusually adept at whining.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cookin' With Gas

You can always tell when an academy is nearing completion, the cadets start applying the raw skills they have attained by participating in live burns. One such burn is a flammable gas burn. These are usually held at night so that the instructors can see the flames easier and ensure that the flames are being controlled properly. The burns are also more spectacular at night and make for better photos.

A friend of mine teaches this class and invited me to shoot it. 346 photos in 2.5 hours, you know what I will be doing with my spare time over the next few days - editing photos.

For the uninitiated, the evolution consists of the propane prop, which simulates an ignited propane leak. The objective is to control, not extinguish the flames, so that a control valve can be accessed and the propane supply shut off. Teamwork and coordination are the keys here, as the hose streams must be manipulated precisely and uniformly. If the back-up guy moves wrong, the nozzle moves wrong, causing a break in the water wall. Ignited propane could then work in, injuring the firefighters.

 In the above shot, you can see the simulated control valves. The hose streams have moved the flames away from them and the instructor has already "turned them off". The instructor's hand is in the air, signaling that the evolution has been completed and that the prop is to be shut down.

I last went through this evolution during a Fire Control 4 class, held in El Centro Calif. back in 1982. It was a blast. I must say that I REALLY enjoyed shooting this, it brought back a lot of memories.

I must also add that this is a part-time academy. Most of these cadets have full-time jobs and go to the academy on week-ends and one night a week. Many have families and a few run businesses. None have any guarantee of employment as a firefighter. Look up the word motivated in the dictionary, you should see pictures of the people in the above photos.

Many thanks to the instructors and students of the academy for letting me shoot. It can be a pain in the ass having a dork with a camera wandering about, even if he does wear a red helmet.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, July 15, 2011

Irons in the Fire

The K-Bar cleaned up pretty nice,

The flat-head, not so much.

Sometimes, the dragon fights back. Apparently, he has an appetite for fiberglass.

Be safe out there folks.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, July 11, 2011

First Fire With the K.B.F.P.D.

It's all about training. If someone has been properly trained, "going in" on a typical structure fire usually isn't a terrifying experience. For most people that is. There are some who are terrified at the door and cannot be trained out of that fear. Their issues are readily evident and they do not last long.

Most are exited and a little apprehensive. The apprehension is multi-faceted and has little to do with self preservation. The apprehension has more to do with not wanting to screw up in front of the guys and do something stupid or get someone hurt. Of course, no one wants to be viewed as a pussy or a coward, so there's that.  Some are extremely exited, again a trait which can often be trained away.

For me, the first test came at a single family residence. It was mid-afternoon, I was the boot on E-222, a four man engine company. We got the call, loaded up and got en-route. Back in those days, a modern engine was one with covered jump seats and an enclosed cab for the captain and engineer. There was no air conditioning or intercom. The engine was loud enough that you could not hear the radio through the outside speaker, nor did anyone but the captain have an H.T.

 My first indication that we were responding to a working fire was when the captain opened the sliding window between the cab and the jumpseat and shouted to the Sr. hoseman that we had smoke showing. The Sr. hoseman then shouted to me over the dog house that we had something. Yee-haw.

We pulled up in front of the house and saw that the front of the house was ripping pretty good. The captain ordered us to "Scott-up" while he did the walk-around. Back then, the SCBA were known as Scotts and were kept in the right rear lower compartment. Each Scott had it's own mask, one was not issued to each member as they are today.

Jim and I met at the rear of the engine and Scotted up, the captain did his thing and met us at the tailboard.

I don't remember the lay, but as the house was at the top of a long driveway, it probably involved a hundred or so feet of 2 1/2" followed by a bundle of 100' of 1 1/2". We had to stretch past a big picture window, which had long since been shattered by the heat and had flames blowing out of it. I remember lowering my head toward the fire, letting my helmet take the heat instead of my face.

We arrived at the front door, made sure we had enough working line flaked out and went in. I don't remember who forced the door or how, but I suspect that Jimmy applied a size 12 Chippewa to the door and kicked it in.

I backed Jimmy up, there was no way a guy with a few months on the job was going to get on the nozzle. We fought our way through the living room and into the kitchen/dining room, spraying and praying as we went. The squaddies showed up a few minutes later and began pulling ceilings while the second engine pulled a second line to the back of the house to handle some flamage that had slopped out of the rear slider. As I recall, there was no extension into the attic or to back half of the house. It was actually a decent stop.

At no time was I afraid, other than of screwing up. I had total trust in Jimmy, I absof%$#inglutely knew that he was not going to get me hurt, so there was really nothing to be afraid of. Structure Fire Control III was a really popular class at that time. It was fairly new, so it was being offered all over the place. I had attended it several times in the months prior, this instilled a great deal of confidence in myself, adding to that in my Sr. hoseman.

After it was over, my engineer Lurge the Scourge, came up to me and said that I had done well. I thanked him, then downplayed his compliment as all I had really done was bury my head in Jimmy's back and pull hose. Jimmy made all of the moves, I was almost along for the ride.

Lurge disagreed, saying that being able to lower your head into the heat and follow the Sr. man in was a test in itself, one that many on the scene watched and noted. Maybe so, but in reality it was all Jimmy. I relied on Jimmy just as much ten years later, when I made captain. Jimmy was on my crew as the Sr. firefighter.

It's funny, maybe I was too young to worry about some of the stuff that I worry about now. We didn't have RIC, emergency evacuation procedures or accountability policies. Radio traffic was minimal, the entire agency ran on two channels.  We just went in and kicked ass. We were probably very lucky that we never lost anyone.

I miss the simpler methodology, that's probably a sign that it's time for me to go.

Thanks for reading,
a nostalgic Schmoe

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Plan A / Plan B

The Post I should have published on Monday would have began with something like this:

Partly to escape the sweltering heat, partly to introduce an out of state visitor the the San Bernardino National Forest, we started up the grade and were greeted with the stunning vista of blooming flora, blue skies and the rest of nature's splendor.

And, I stick to that. It was true. Unfortunately, the next photo and caption would have been this:

Nick adds coolant to Jimmy's Jeep which dramatically
overheated 20 minutes into the trip. Game over.

The stunning vista in the first photo was taken while Nick and Jimmy cooled Jimmy's Jeep down and determined that the issue was an internal one which could not be corrected by a roadside repair.

We nursed it home and I ended up spending the day with The Saint That I Am Married To (Yay), shopping for sinks, toilets, ceiling fans and other fixtures (boo).


The post that I should have published on Tuesday should have opened with a stunning photo of fireworks, the colors streaming across the image. Sadly, it was not to be. This was the best I could get:

Fireworks photo by Schmoe, dull because the idiot
forgot the tripod and had to use a fast shutter speed
and hold the camera by hand. Moron.

Note the little white/orange dots in the lower portion of the image. They will be discussed below.

Three spot fires, caused by the City's fireworks show.
The show was held up for over an hour while crews
extinguished the fires.

We have been traveling to this city to watch fireworks ever since I was a little kid. They launch the fireworks from the top of a hill that is covered by dead, dry grass and brush. About 50% of the time, the spot fires become large enough to cause the show to be halted while the fires are extinguished.

A guy I went to the academy with works for their fire department and has worked the fireworks show numerous times. He says that you can hear the drunks that are attending parties at the houses along the bottom of the hill cheering when the hill catches on fire.

He said that he heard the drunks cheering when he blew out his knee while fighting a fire on the fourth a few years ago. That injury cost his employer over $60,000 by the time he was all healed up. More, I am sure, than they paid for the fireworks display.

Couldn't they find a nice oil refinery to set off the fireworks from?


This morning's post should have been about me having to leave my beloved Canon 7D at the camera doctor's for a few days.

It would have been a woeful tale. Full of angst, grief, wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. A real tragedy of the modern era.

Happily, it was not to be. Yesterday, The Saint and I made the trek to the Canon Express Service Center, located in Irvine, CA.

It was like an urgent care center for cameras. We arrived late in the morning and found a waiting room full of about 15 people. We took a number and waited around for about an hour before meeting with the triage nurse service rep, who listened to my issue and performed a secondary survey on my camera. His assessment/diagnoses concurred with mine and a treatment plan was developed.

Our disagreement was on how long my camera would be required to stay. I was hoping to pick it up in a few hours. We could drive down to the beach, have lunch, walk out on the pier and peruse the shops, then stop by and pick up the camera on our way back to the baking desert. The triage nurse service rep didn't think that would be possible as they were swamped from the post holiday rush. Apparently, Americans don't treat their cameras very well around alcohol and water.

I sniveled and groveled and pleaded and begged. Finally,  the triage nurse service rep said "let me go check" and disappeared with my camera for about five minutes. He returned with my camera and said that it was all better. The offending micro-switch had been replaced., all we had left to do was fill out the paperwork and head for the beach. As it was a warranty item, there was no charge and the best part is that I will return to  work tomorrow with my good camera. Thanks Canon - you rock!

Since we were down by the coast, we had to go to the beach.

Jr. Lifeguard camp in action.

Though the locals considered it a hot day, we desert dwellers found it near perfect weather-wise. We had lunch, walked the pier and went to a street fair. 

After an afternoon at the beach, we decided to attend an Angels game. We bought cheap seats from a broker and had a blast. The cheap seats almost made up for the $12 beer. It was a warm night, a perfect one for baseball.

Although the day did not go according to plan, it actually turned out to be the best day of the summer so far.

Nothing has been going to plan over the past few days. An electrical issue at the crib has sidelined my posting as has the lack of internet at the place we are staying. I go back to work tomorrow and hope to get back on schedule.

Regardless, we had a great weekend, I hope yours was as good as mine.

Thanks for reading,