Sunday, November 27, 2011


It is a peaceful place, this small canyon. It is a place where few went, as there was no need to go there. Perhaps an occasional hunter wandered up it, looking for quail or chukkar. Maybe the occasional off-roader rode the bottom, hoping that the canyon went somewhere. Now, the floor is covered with footprints, those of friends and family making the pilgrimage to this quiet place.

The canyon's location keeps out the noise from the highway, located only a mile away. The sun illuminates the rocks and sand of the canyon, providing an earthen hued contrast to the vivid blue of the desert sky.

The serenity of it masks the carnage that occurred there. The momentary physical carnage and the lingering emotional one - the one that causes people to go there.

Memorials like this are not uncommon, they are found all over town. The town memorials do not have the serenity and solitude that this one does. When people visit them, they do so under the gaze of passers-by. That will not happen here. Visitors will have a place to remember, reflect and to heal and will be allowed to do so in privacy.

I have found memorials similar to these out here in the Mojave. I have wondered what the story was, how these monuments to loved-ones lost came to be, out here in the middle of nowhere. I didn't find this one, I visited it. I know the story of it and frankly, I wish I didn't.

I don't know for certain if I will visit this place again, though as I am in the area every so often, it is likely. Hopefully, whoever controls the property will allow the monument to remain as a memorial to those that were taken from us far too early.

Even if the monument is removed, the occasional set of footprints will be impressed in the canyon floor, serving in it's place.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, November 26, 2011


It's a tradition here in the Land of the Dirt People. Not mine, tonight was the first time that I have attended other than in an on-duty official capacity. I don't think this will become our tradition either. Cool as it is, the crowds are a little more than I like to deal with.

It's called the Festival of Lights Switch On Ceremony and it's been a tradition for the past 19 years. A local hotel is adorned with 1.3 million lights for the holiday season. They start on the project several months in advance and they switch on the lights for the first time on the Friday after thanksgiving.

You know it's a big deal when you see three news vans from the L.A. stations set up on the periphery, one doing a live remote.

Another clue is the crowds. Last year's was estimated at over a quarter of a million people, I am sure that there was at least that many there tonight.

The crowd completely surrounded the hotel, a large one that takes up an entire block. A stage was set that was populated by dignitaries and the guy that owns the hotel, The mayor and the hotel owner spoke for a few minutes. I didn't mind listening to the hotel owner, as he is paying for most of this event, he should get to speak.

Thankfully, both the mayor and the owner were short-winded so after a short while the switch was thrown. 

The result was immediate and impressive. Not only did the lights come on, but a fireworks display was initiated as well.

The lights are somewhat overpowered by the fireworks, but that is OK. The lights will be on until January 8th, the fireworks are just for tonight.

After the fireworks, we attempted to walk around the block. We made it most of the way, but the pedestrian mall was just too crowded to get through, so we by-passed that side. We did manage to see most of the sights though.

It was truly a beautiful sight, I am told the hotel books up many months in advance for this event. One of our BC's booked a room for this, I am sure he enjoyed the view.

I don't know what the hotel spends on this display, I'm sure it isn't cheap. Regardless, I am grateful for their efforts as the results are spectacular.

These photos don't do it justice. If you like Christmas lights and are ever in the Land of the Dirt People during the Christmas season, stop by the Mission Inn hotel, have a drink, then walk the block. You won't be disappointed.
Thanks for reading,

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Day

Happy day, turkeys!

Whether you are camped out at Best Buy,

getting ready to stand in line at Toys R Us,

stuck at work,

or slaving away in the kitchen, getting ready for all of the hungry Schmoes, have a great Thanksgiving!

Thanks for reading,
a grateful Schmoe

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ground School

First, let me say that I was impressed with the answers that I received regarding the photo in my last post. The responses that I received from firefighters were correct, and the ones that I received from  non-fire service readers were well thought out and was based on observation. Well done!

The photo was of the "ground school" portion of a ladder bail class. As the ladder bail requires following a precise procedure to perform safely, students are required to demonstrate proficiency on the ground before being allowed to perform it above ground. Serious injuries have occurred during training on this evolution, showing a need for safety guidelines and training procedures for it.

The ladder bail (low profile above ground ladder escape) has been widely taught in one form or another since the late 80s. It is an evolution that requires very precise movements, as the consequences of an error are dire.

The objective is to rapidly egress an upper floor window, while keeping as low as possible in the window frame. It is not to be performed for fun, but should only be used when the flames are licking at your ass and you have no control of the situation. They call it a bail-out for a reason.

The images and captions below document a recent "train the trainer" session, covering the ladder bail procedure and the set-up for teaching the class. The "students" are peer instructors, who assist the training division in training crews on their shifts. As at least 12 multi-company drills covering this evolution will be performed, it is important that everyone is getting the same material. Hence this session.

Step 1: Find the window sill.

Step 2: Find the beams.

Step 3: Slide the beams.

Step 4: Hook rung #2 and make a fist.

Step 5: Slide beam with other hand and find 4th rung.

Step 6: Slide rung to the opposite beam.

Step 7: Feet together, kick your own ass and swing out.

Step 8: Find rails with your feet and slide down.

Obviously, there are other bits of important information that need to be instructed, but you get the idea. Another tool for firefighters to put in the box, just in case.

If you have never taken a safety/survival course teaching this evolution, I urge you to do so. Just make sure that the instructor is qualified to teach this, the consequences of failure are great.

Thanks for reading and have a happy Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Anybody Wanna Take a Guess... what these guys are doing?

I'll give you a few hints:

  • It does not involve exercise, stretching or anything like that. 
  • It is a critical part of an injury prevention program. 
  • Some of you may have participated in something similar, but were taught in a different fashion. 

For what it's worth, I have never done this, but I recognize the need for this action and think it's pretty clever.

Comment if you think you know what they are up to. Sorry, I don't have any prizes this time.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, November 18, 2011

Opportunity Rings

While shooting pictures at the PLT testing event, my phone rang. It was a guy that I used to work with, one that was assigned to my station, on the other shift. Despite being busy, I picked up.

"Hey Schmoe, do you remember that guy from LAFD, the one from the event that you shot for me? Well, he is a captain on a fire boat and he has invited me to come in for a tour. Are you in?"

He didn't have to ask twice. "Heck yeah" I replied. "Let me know when."

Well, yesterday was the day. Boy am I glad I picked up the phone. Working in the desert precludes us from having a harbor, much less a fire boat.

The front of the station looks pretty much like any other, with an engine inside, pointed to the street. The inside appeared to be a normal house as well, similar to dozens that I have been in over the years. It was when we got to the rear of the station that the difference was apparent.

I believe that a large portion of the population has some instinctual fascination with the sea. Whether it is an urge to fish, an urge to sail or an urge to swim, I think those urges are somehow linked to our past connection with the sea and our dependence on it. I am one of those people who enjoys being on the water, even though I don't own a boat. I knew the second I saw LAFD boat #4 that I was going to enjoy this tour.

The harbor in Los Angeles is kind of a looped affair, with two separate ports, one belonging to the city of Los Angeles and the other to the city of Long Beach. They share port protection duties, with each handling the small stuff within their boundaries and both responding to the major stuff.

The first stop on our tour was another fire boat station, the one housing Boat #2. Boat #2 is the newest boat in LAFD's fleet, but the cool thing is that old boat #2 is sitting dry, next to the station.  There is hope that a museum can be created out of it.

Due to the history involved, I hope that they are successful. The U.S.S. Iowa, a WWII era battleship will be coming to Los Angeles and will be converted to a museum. It is going to be docked next to the station where old boat #2 is positioned, they might make a good historical pairing.

Fire boat #2, as is boat #4 are staffed with five personnel. A pilot guides the boat, two engineers operate the engines, pumps and other machinery, a mate and the captain. Boat #2 is the newest of the LAFD fleet and bears a remarkable resemblance to several tugboats based in the area.

 The tour continued and we headed toward the entrance to the harbor.  A tanker, laden with oil or some petroleum product was headed into the harbor. A tug was headed out to meet it.

In the port of Los Angeles, as well as in Long Beach, container ships and tankers make up most of the marine traffic.

In the port of Los Angeles, every tanker must be inspected by the Fire Department before it can be unloaded. It is the crews of fire boat #4 and #2 who perform this function.

The tanker inspection requirement is a result of the Sansinena disaster, an oil tanker explosion that occurred in the port of Los Angeles in 1976.

While on the Long Beach side of the harbor, we came across a Long Beach fire boat as the crew was performing some duties aboard the craft.

We exchanged pleasantries and continued on our way.

Obviously, the operation of a fire boat requires a vast nautical and mechanical knowledge base as well as firefighting skills. I was impressed with the way the crew handled the boat, though the large wharf fire I was hoping for didn't materialize while I was there so I couldn't see them in action.

Boats are extremely maintenance intensive, fire boats even more so as they are complex and must be ready to go at all times. This vessel was in immaculate condition, it is obvious that they spend vast amounts of time cleaning and maintaining it. The cleanliness extended to all areas of the boat.

After returning to quarters, we spotted boat #3 backing into to a slip next to boat #4's quarters. LAFD operates three of these small boats and although they can pump water, they are mainly used for dive and rescue operations. Apparently, the guys on the big boats don't consider the small boats fire boats, but as far as I'm concerned, if it's red and can move water, it's a fire boat.

 After the tour, we were invited to lunch with the crews. We dined on swordfish, purchased from the dock where the fishing boats unload their catches. Another bonus of working in the harbor!

This was an awesome trip, many thanks to the crews of sta. #49 and the boats. You guys rock!

Thanks to you for reading,

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Opportunity Texts

I heard my phone ding, the sound filtering through the haze of an early dawn slumber. As overnight requests for photos will be either be e-mails or phone calls, I opted not to look at the message until after getting up an hour or so later.

After arising, scratching and relieving myself, I staggered over to my dresser and checked my phone. The text was from America's Fire Captain - Willie Wines. The message was simple, "call me when u get up".

Coffee waits for no one in my house, so after firing up the Keurig and brewing some joe, I gave Willie a buzz. Surprisingly,  he picked up. We usually play phone tag for several days before finally speaking with each other. He and Rhett "The Fire Critic" Fleitz were on the road, starting an epic road trip that would end up in Ohio.

Willie wanted to give me a heads up on a photo opportunity that was occurring that day, one that was not too far from the Schmoe crib. I had read about the event on the day prior while surfing The Fire Critic, and had thought about going. The call from Willie and the contact info of one of the principals sealed the deal, so I loaded the camera into El Cheepo Jeepo and hit the freeway.

The event was an objective test of photo-luminescent technology (PLT) as applied to the fire service.  PLT is the modern version of "Glow In The Dark"  technology, but is GREATLY improved. PLT has been playing an increasing role in emergency egress/exiting for a while and is exploding into fire service usage. The goal of the testing was to provide data on the amount of time required to perform certain tasks that are often performed on the fireground. One data set would be without the benefit of PLT, another would be with the benefit of PLT.  The products are being developed by a company called GlowZone Inc. and distributed by MN8-Foxfire. Other products are still in development.

Spatial disorientation is the bane of anyone who works in a visibly challenged environment, firefighters are not exempt. Visual references to other team members helps combat this issue. Accountability and the ability to visually track other team members are tactical goals that we strive to attain. PLT is a tool that can help with all of these issues and are reasons that these products are taking off. 

This isn't your daddy's PLT! 

 The testing was administered by Dave Hudson, a training captain with the Riverside County Fire Dept./Cal-Fire. You can READ THE DETAILS HERE, but the scenarios included a fire attack with victim rescue and a firefighter down rescue. All of the evolutions were live fire, using class A combustibles.

The testing occurred at the North-Net training facility in Anaheim, CA.

 It was a big deal, with a significant amount of effort spent getting the testing performed and documented properly.

Infra-red camera were placed at strategic locations in the tower.

As were digital video cameras. For you fellow camera geeks, these were Canon 5D MkIIs. I hope they were rentals, they took some heat.

All of the data was recorded and checked to make sure it was accurate. This spot was where the data was amassed and processed.

The first half of the day consisted of performing the designated tasks without the assistance of PLT equpped gear, turnouts or egress routes.

As the egress PLT aids were installed the day before, they had to be covered before the first phase of the testing.

I was happy and surprised to see some firefighters from my agency assisting with the testing. They work for a company that provides training to fire departments throughout the state and were hired to perform the evolutions in the testing process.

In the photo below, the rescuers are exiting the building, after rescuing a victim from a contents fire on the fourth floor.

The firefighter down evolution used a "real" victim, a firefighter from Riverside County/Cal-Fire.

Even though I know the image is that of an exercise, I find the image below disturbing.

It came out a little too "real" for my taste. Call me a sissy if you want to.

The series of "before" evolutions were performed and the times recorded. More subjective material such as the rescuers impressions were recorded as well.

Someone, I don't know who (thanks, to whoever it was) catered lunch. Like the rest of the day's events, it was well done.

 The afternoon session consisted of the same evolutions as the morning sessions, except that equipment and means of egress were equipped with PLT accessories.

One of the things that I like about this technology is that it has a tremendous number of uses and therefore can be applied to the purchaser's needs as budgets and other constraints allow. Some agencies might opt to purchase PLT tape and apply it to their tools and equipment. Some might purchase PLT epoxy coatings and apply it to equipment and others might have the resources to purchase equipment with PLT built in. Flexibility is king when it comes to this technology.

PLT impregnated  PPE trim is being developed as I write this.The very first sets of PLT trimmed turn-outs were un-boxed and used during this testing session.

These are FDNY turn-outs with PLT trim. I envision a future where fire departments will be able to order turn-outs to their existing specs and opt for PLT trim. 

Other products in use are slip-on air bottle covers, helmet bands and adhesive decals.

As I didn't have full structural PPE, my photos were limited to the stairwell on the first and second levels and to some demonstrations that were performed for the media. The results were the same, this stuff emits light where no other light exists!

I followed Billy up the stairs into the darkness. His PPE, SCBA bottle, helmet and tool are all illuminated.

In this shot, a firefighter is laying on the floor on the third story. He is clearly visible and it would be easy to determine his orientation to facilitate rescue.

The rescue is in progress and the fallen firefighter is being carried down the stairs. The rescuer in the front is equipped with a PLT helmet band and his tool is taped with PLT tape. Though not quite as effective as PLT trimmed PPE, it still does a remarkable job. 

I must say that I was impressed with this product and I like the direction that product development is going. I know some people who are field testing the products and they like what they are seeing. 

If you want more information on MN8-Foxfire products, IT CAN BE FOUND HERE. If you wish to shop for their products, They can be purchased at

This was a long post, fortunately most of it was in photos. Thanks to Wines for hooking me up with this and thanks to Zach over at MN8-Foxfire for letting me shoot the event. I had a blast.

Thanks to you for reading,