Friday, September 30, 2011

The Worst Day Of My Career - Part One: The Revalation

 November 1996

It started like any other day. Awake before dawn and before the alarm went off. Threw on a shirt, staggered out to the street and got the paper. Staggered back inside and got the coffee started.. Staggered back to the bathroom and peed. Headed up to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. Took a chair, enjoyed a cup and read the paper.I, like most everybody, am a creature of habit.

I could tell as I staggered out to the curb, that the day was going to be warm and dry. A warm breeze was coming from the ENE, a sure sign of a pending Santa Ana wind event. The Santa Anas are a regional weather pattern that usually occur in the fall and early winter. They have the potential to turn small incidents into large scale disasters, all of the firefighters in the area are wary when they blow. I can rattle off dozens of major wildfires involving the loss of thousands of homes and the deaths of dozens of people that have occurred during Santa Ana wind events. They can be brutal.

I always started with the local section, I wanted to see if any of the stuff my department ran on made the paper. Back then, the paper was locally owned and profitable. They actually called us every day to see if anything newsworthy had occurred. I have made the cover of the local section a few times over the years, as have many of my friends.

I don't remember what caught my eye first, but it was probably the headline. I can't quote it, but it went something like "DA Frustrated That Jury Can't Reach First Degree Murder Verdict". For some reason, I read the article. It was about a murder trial in town. The case involved the murder of a four month old baby, who was killed by his step-father. His mother had some role in the case, she had plead guilty to a child neglect charge, likely in exchange for testifying against her husband.

The article went into the details of the crime, and how evidence indicated that the baby had been tortured for nearly all of it's short life, with numerous healed fractures showing up on x-rays. The article also mentioned vast quantities of scars that were present on the baby's body. Apparently, things had gotten a little out of hand one day and the baby, tough as he was,  succumbed to his injuries.

For some reason, the jury could not agree on a guilty verdict for first degree murder, but were able to agree on second degree murder. The DA was outraged. Rather than life without parole, the defendant was looking at twelve to fifteen  years. Provided he was a good boy in prison, he could be paroled in as little as seven years. I shared the DA's outrage, enough so that I read the entire article.

Toward the end of the article, the unusual circumstances of the baby's birth were mentioned, circumstances that included being born in a car on the freeway. At some point, a light came on and I realized that the murdered baby was likely Baby Jake, the subject of my last post. The first name was the same, the dates of the murder, the age of the baby and my recollection of Jake's birth-date all coincided. Yet, I was still not totally sure. Still, the news hit me like a ton of bricks.

One of my heroes, the toughest baby I ever met, had been murdered? By his parents? Unbelievable. I tried to get my head around the matter and went to work. As soon as eight o'clock rolled around, I got on the phone and called the DAs office. By some miracle, the deputy DA who prosecuted the case picked up his phone and spoke with me.

I could hear the emotion in his voice as he told me about the case. Basically, Jake lived a life of pain, torture and agony., all at the hands of people who were supposed to care for him. All of the crap that Jake endured when he was born,  was just so that he could be the target of a sadistic murderer, one who his derelict mom picked out to be her partner. What a tragedy., It still saddens me when I think of it, it still angers me as well.

To be continued.....

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Worst Shift of My Career - Prologue: The Birth

Autumn - 1992

Ben and Paul normally didn't work with us. They worked on a privately owned ambulance in the center of town, at station #3, two districts away. As A shift had wrecked our squad, Paul and Ben's  ambulance was moved into our station. We were glad to have them, the presence of paramedics meant that ALS capabilities were available to our customers that much quicker.

The call came in during the afternoon. It was for a woman in labor, one who was in a car, parked on the side of the freeway. The engine and ambulance were dispatched from our station, an additional engine was sent from sta. #3. Ben and Paul would have been there anyway, their temporary assignment just got them there faster.

Ben and Paul arrived first, we a few moments later. The ambulance spotted in front of the car, I spotted the engine behind it, shielding it and us from the onslaught of freeway traffic. As an engineer, I had to secure the engine and the scene before walking toward the patient and the crews.

Typically, childbirth calls result in a quick assessment and transport to the hospital. As I approached the car, I could see through the rear window. Frankly, I was not quite prepared for what I saw.

Our first patient was naked from the waist down, laying on the back seat. Our soon to be second patient, was only partially visible to us, part of him was still inside our first. Unfortunately, the part of him that was hidden from us was the most important part, his head. I couldn't help notice that the infant was a deep shade of blue as he sort of dangled limply from his mother, all of him out except for his head. I silently compared his skin color to that of our uniform pants.

Either Ben or Paul (sorry, I can't remember which) was in the back seat along with one of our firefighters, while Captain Hatchet began to get information from the family. I, as ever the perfect engineer, stood by and wrung my hands.

The focus of the medic's efforts were to relieve pressure on the umbilical cord, as it was wedged tightly between the vaginal opening and the infant's head. The problem was, there was absolutely no room to work gloved fingers into the opening next to the cord and relieve the pressure. The medic tried for several minutes with no success. It rapidly became apparent, that the best action for us to take was to get the patients to the hospital and quickly.

The two crews manipulated the mother and the limp, blue partially delivered infant onto the gurney and into the ambulance.

Off to the hospital they went. I said a quick prayer as they left, sure that the infant's first vision would be that of his maker. I was pretty sure that baby wasn't going to make it.

As none of our people went to the hospital with the ambulance, we had to wait until the private ambulance crew returned to the station before finding out the baby's status. Ben and Paul were in a state of disbelief, as the story only got better after they left the scene and went en-route. They had continued to try to relieve pressure on the umbilical while en-route to the hospital, again with no success. The intensity and the pressure of the situation continued to build, until they pulled into the E.R. parking lot and drove over a speed bump. It was at that point that the infant popped completely out.

Again, I don't remember the details, but I believe that the cord had stopped pulsating long before and so it was cut as soon as the head delivered. I also believe that resuscitative efforts were begun as the ambulance rolled to a stop. Regardless, as soon the ambulance stopped, the rear door was flung open and a nurse from the ER grabbed the infant and hauled ass into the ER.

She made it through the door, then promptly dropped the baby onto the floor of the hallway. Paul saw it happen as he looked up while unloading the gurney. He was shocked, but could do nothing as he was busy with the mother. The infant was scooped up off of the floor, still limp and blue and was whisked into a treatment room. The mother was taken to another room and treated there. Ben and Paul returned to the station and told us what had occurred. We were as shocked as they were.

We were even more shocked eight hours later when Ben and Paul came back from the hospital after running another call. They had asked the ER staff about the status of the infant and were shocked to hear that the baby was very much alive, breathing on his own and was actually in pretty good shape considering the shape that he was in.

Two shifts later, I called the NNICU and spoke with the charge nurse, who told us that the baby was doing very well and would be going home in a few days. Heppa was not on the horizon yet, so patient follow-up was pretty common.We decided to take a trauma teddy down to the hospital, so we bought a card and went visiting. The nurse let us into the room and we got to see him. He really looked pretty healthy, I kind of viewed him as a miracle.

The mother wasn't there at the time, so we dropped off the bear and the card and took off. I received a thank- you card a month or so later, she was kind enough to send the above photo.

This call kind of stuck with me, for a few reasons. First, was the strong will to survive that this kid seemed to have and his apparent toughness. I related this story a number of times over the following few years and always referred to Jake as the toughest baby that I ever met.

At the time that this occurred, My wife and I were expecting our second child, a son, who was born a few weeks after Jake. I remember thinking as I watched Jake endure his birth, that under the wrong circumstances, that could be our kid, born on a freeway with a bunch of firemen and paramedics serving as midwives. But for circumstances and fate, that could have been us.

To be continued......

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Knife I Carry

Several blogs that I read recently posted on the knives that they carry and why. While I wouldn't ordinarily write about something as inanimate and cold as a knife, I thought about it and realized that I really like my knife and do so for a good reason. 

I come from a long line of knife carriers. My grandfather carried a pocket knife, as did my father. I never did until I started as a volunteer firefighter in the early eighties. I started with an ordinary three blade pocket knife, then moved up to a Buck 100, worn in a leather pouch on my belt. Neither were a good choice, the Buck was more of a fashion statement than anything, all of the experienced firefighters carried one.

At some point, I purchased a Spyderco Delica. I bought it from Pete, a man-toy dealer who used to come by the stations on a regular basis. Pete sold knives, hatchets, flashlights, crossbows etc. from a step van.

 Pete also sold the occasional gun from the step-van, a fact I discovered one day while digging through a milk-crate full of Russian night vision goggles. I pointed the Smith and Wesson revolver out to Pete, he told me to forget about it. My suspicions were confirmed a few years later, while I was in the arson unit. An ATF agent that we were partnered with, told me that Pete was under investigation for dealing guns. Apparently, Pete wasn't licensed to sell firearms nor was he real careful who he sold them to. I don't know what the result of the investigation was, though I heard that he did change his business model. I digress.

Buying the Spyderco was one of the best work-related purchases I ever made, though the first one I bought was on impulse, not on logic. The early models had a plastic belt clip which turned out to be a less than stellar design. I broke mine off in less than a year. Pete, always a customer service oriented vendor, simply replaced it with one equipped with a metal belt clip. I was so impressed with "new and improved" model, that I have been carrying one ever since.

I actually own three of these. The original "new and improved" model, which is equipped with a smooth blade, the unit above, with the half smooth / half serrated blade and a full serrated blade that I picked up somewhere. I like this knife because of it's light weight, it's ability to hold an edge, the durability of it's design and it's ergonomics. It's moderate price point is a bonus.

I really like the ergonomics. The metal belt clip can be moved from one side of the knife or the other. The positioning of the clip allows me to be able to draw the knife, open it and put it to work with one hand. The thumb hole greatly facilitates this process.

I have received other knives of similar quality as gifts, none have worked out as well as the Delica. I gave a Gerber away and have a few other "good" knives rat-holed away in a drawer somewhere.

When we deployed to New Orleans for the Katrina response, I screwed up and forgot to switch my knife from my jeans to my uniform pants. I went to the largest natural disater in U.S. history without my trusty knife. I was fortunate that one of our team members had a brother who works for the TSA. Apparently, the rules for disposing of confiscated items are not always followed. Our team member brought a bag full of confiscated knives that he allegedly received from his brother and I was able to get one of those. Frankly, the knives in the bag were all cheap Chinese imports and every time I used my loaner, it made me miss my Spyderco that much more.

Though I no longer need a knife for work, I still use my knife on a daily basis. Unless some new kind of "miracle knife" is developed, I will remain loyal to my Spyderco Delica. It's that good.

Thanks for reading,
A "sharp" Schmoe

The Fine Print: Joseph Schmoe nor any of the Report on Conditions staff have received any money, merchandise or any other compensation for the endorsement of this product.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"It's Just A Freaken' Game" - Bryan Stow Update

The baseball season is winding down, so has the uproar over the beating of Bryan Stow, an AMR paramedic up in the San Fransisco Bay area. Bryan, as you may remember, was attending the baseball season opener down at Dodger Stadium as the Dodgers took on the San Fransisco Giants. He made the mistake of wearing his Giants jersey to Dodger Stadium and of assuming that all Dodger fans are civilized human beings. He paid for his error in judgment by being beaten nearly to death. Bryan suffered tremendous brain damage in the assault and has been in a comatose state since April. Though some improvement has been observed, the overall outlook was still not good for a significant recovery. The injury was just too severe. I originally posted on it back in April, the original post CAN BE FOUND HERE.

After the initial uproar died down, updates occasionally showed up in the media. Unfortunately, there was little good news to report. After a while, the reports stopped showing up and other news took over the headlines.

I happened to be listening to a local radio station today, to a show that has actually kept up on Bryan's condition.
They were interviewing Bryan's sister, who had just left the facility where Bryan is receiving re-hab. Apparently, Bryan has just started to speak, is answering a few questions and asked to see his kids. Although he has not truly regained consciousness, he is in what is referred to as a "waxing and waning state of consciousness". The family is ecstatic, and is hopeful that he continues to improve.

Although his status is not as good as most would like, the family is extremely grateful that Bryan has improved as much as he has. His improvement has provided hope, something that many in Bryan's situation do not have. Every bit of improvement is a blessing and provides further hope. I hope that Bryan continues to improve, our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.


On a side note, Bryan's family has filed a lawsuit on his behalf against the Dodgers and the myriad of other companies that make up the Dodger organization. Although I am not usually a fan of litigation of this type, I fell that this suit may be justified.

The Dodger organization has known for a long time that their fan base could be problematic, yet did nothing to remedy the situation. It has been reported that security was reduced prior to Bryan's beating. It has been greatly increased since.

Attendance has been way down this year, the Dodgers would like to blame it on team owner Frank and Jamie McCourt's divirce, the economy and their losing season. Funny, the thug mentality that prevails in the stands is rarely  mentioned. I think people are just tired of the crap in the stands.

I know I won't go and see the Cubs when they come to town, I'd rather drive down to San Diego or to Arizona. Pity, that.

Thanks for reading,

Glow Worms

When I first started in the fire service, Haz-Mat was a kind of new concept. Unless it appeared really, really dangerous, we pulled a booster line and hosed the offending substance down into the storm drain. Of course shortly after I came on, we realized that this was a flawed mitigation strategy and began operating a little differently.

Initially, we used the county for Haz-Mat service and it worked OK. As their awareness level increased, the sole Haz-Mat unit became busier and busier, until there were a few times where we had to wait quite a while for them to show up. It was then that we started our own Haz-Mat team.

As a young firefighter, I had images of green and orange vapor clouds of methyl-ethyl bad stuff spewing from railroad cars, which happened to be parked next to orphanage run by leperatic nuns. The Haz-mat team would pull up, quickly don their magic suits and rescue all of the orphans and nuns, carefully de-conning the victims and securing the leaking tank car.

After a few calls with the Haz-Mat team, I soon realized that this was not usually the case and that Haz-Mat calls were often exercises in slow, calculated, methodic responses - often to the point of tedium.

The Haz-Mat call of my career came shortly after I made captain, it did nothing to change my view of Haz-Mat calls and killed any remaining desire of joining the unit. More on this later.

I have been trying to get some incident photos of the Haz-mat unit for quite some time and have been largely unsuccessful. A few days ago, I thought I was finally going to score some good shots, but the incident turned out to be less intense than it initially sounded though I did snap a few pics.

The call involved some lab equipment that may not have been working as designed. The incident objectives were primarily to monitor the air and secure the equipment. Level B protection was selected as a precaution and it worked out well.

The initial objectives for any hazardous incident are to isolate, evacuate and deny entry. This facility had an emergency event procedure in placed and used it. It went pretty well. The employees were stoked as it was close to quitting time and they were allowed to leave early. Ya-hoo!

A few years ago, we were able to upgrade our converted motor home to a real-live, designed from the ground up Haz-Mat unit. It is full of toys and gadgets, most of which I have no knowledge of. One thing I do know about is the mast-mounted video camera which allows personnel inside the unit to see whats going on outside from afar. Unprofessional operators could really get into trouble with a toy like that, fortunately our glow worms are far too professional to fall into that trap!

Nothing like wrapping yourself up in a plastic bag on a 94 degree day! At least they were able to park in the shade, the other side of the rig was probably ten degrees warmer.

Even when the situation is not critical, rule and procedures must be followed. The guy with the clipboard is using a checklist to ensure all of the critical bases are covered.

After the walk from the Haz-Mat unit to the exclusion or "red" zone the entry team members make the final preparations and get ready to go in. The last thing that they will do is go "on air".

The worms go in, the worms go out.  Total time in the hot zone was less than 10 minutes. All indications were normal,  imagery was sent back to the entry team leader and then to the lab supervisor who verified the findings. The offending lab equipment was secured and verified by the lab supervisor. There was no release, so decontamination was not required. Stick a fork in 'em they're done.

Well, done except for putting everything away.

Maybe my next post will have some great shots of the orphans and nuns being rescued or huge orange and green vapor clouds spewing from a tank car. Or not. Regardless, this will have to do.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thoughts on the Reno Air Races disaster

Its been a few days since the news of the disaster up in Reno, NV hit the web like a wildfire. The death toll currently stands at 9, with several patients in remaining critical condition. The number of patients transported under EMS was reported to be 56, with local hospitals reportedly treating 69 patients. It appears that some patients serf-transported.

An anonymous reader sent me THIS LINK  to a recording of the radio traffic from the incident. It appears that everybody operated in a relatively calm and functional fashion during the incident and maintained control.

L.A. Times reported that all patients who were transported by EMS were off-site within 62 minutes, a remarkable event considering the magnitude of the incident. This performance was not by accident, a regional MCI exercise held in May, rehearsed the same emergency, a plane into the crowd. Planning with event organizers, daily briefings and on-site responders, staged and ready to go all helped the effectiveness of the response.

The exercise held in May was exceptionally effective, in that it dealt with a real live possibility, one that was relevant to the risks that the participating agencies faced. That it apparently involved not only responders, but EMS authorities and hospitals further aided the response and treatment of patients.

The actions of the response to the incident will be placed under a microscope, and examined by regulators, politicians and lawyers representing the victims. Hopefully, the time spent in preparation of the incident will help reduce the amount of strife that the aftermath will surely produce.

The NTSB and associated agencies are conducting the investigation, it will be many months for the definitive cause of the crash is announced. As this was an event attended by many affluent and technologically savvy people, it was well documented through still photographs and video. Several images of the aircraft, taken seconds before the impact, show a part from one of the control surfaces separating from the aircraft. This has caused many to speculate on the cause. The investigation will certainly examine those images, as well as the remains of the aircraft to determine whether the failure was the cause of the event or a result of another failure or event.

In a thorough investigation, all components of the incident are examined, including maintenance records, the pilot's medical history and qualifications, prior damage to the aircraft, modifications to the aircraft (it appears to have been heavily modified), weather and any other factor that may have influenced the incident.

In addition, the event itself will be looked at to ensure that all applicable regulations were complied with and that the event was properly monitored for compliance.

The scope of the investigation is one reason that it takes so long for the report to be released. All bases must be covered, there is so much riding on the findings to no be thorough.

The media was quick to point out that there have been other fatal events at the Reno Air Races, though this is the first crash that involved spectator fatalities. There has already been speculation as to whether this event will ever be held again, at least in it's present form.

It is only a matter of time before the politicians will be stepping all over themselves, calling for regulation to "ensure that this does not happen again". With the number of victims involved, litigators are lining up to find clients who are seeking to be "made whole again", a process that usually only makes the attorney whole, the victim's loss not able to be corrected by litigation.

There are so many losers in a disaster like this. Obviously, the biggest losers are the victims who were killed and their families, followed by those who suffered permanent injuries and loss. The friends and families of the lost, the local economy, the fans, the industry and all of other stakeholders.

Through it all, the responders and bystanders who did what it took to reduce the effects of the disaster can hold up their heads, they did their job and they did it well. Strong work. 

Thanks for reading,

Friday, September 16, 2011

MCI Plane Crash at Reno Air Races

Details are sketchy, but a plane crash occurred at the Reno Air Races late Friday afternoon. USA Today is reporting that a P-51 Mustang crashed into the "box seat area" of the crowd at about 1630 local time.

The P-51, a WWII era fighter was reportedly piloted by Jimmy Leeward when it crashed into the crowd. The video below shows the aircraft plunging vertically into or near the crowd.

A spokesman for the air race told the AP that the situation was a "mass casualty event".

The Chicago Sun-Times quoted Stephanie Kruse, a spokesperson for the Regional Medical Service Authority as saying that 25 people were critically injured and another 25 were seriously injured. More than 25 more people were treated for minor injuries, she reportedly said.

These are early numbers, hopefully they go down. There are also some unconfirmed reports of numerous fatalities, but as they are not confirmed I will not post the numbers.

A tragedy for all involved, I am sure the local ARFF and EMS plan for this type of disaster,  but it still has to be a strain on resources. I will post more on this when confirmed details become available. Keep the pilot, victims and responders in you thoughts as this develops.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Carrying One's Own

There is nothing like watching an Honor Guard in action, carrying the remains of a fallen comrade. As much as I hate seeing it, there is some level of comfort knowing that one's brethren care enough to perform that final duty, one of effort, sweat and sacrifice.

We just got our TV hooked up yesterday, after it spent the last several months in the garage, covered in plastic. As it was about dinner time, I switched on the news then continued what I was working on. A few minutes later I walked by the set and noticed a video of six officers from the City of Chino Police Department, bearing a flag-covered casket, carrying it from a church. The next shot was of the Chief of Police, eulogizing their fallen comrade and then that of a weeping family.

I stopped what I was doing, as I had heard nothing of an officer being killed or of one passing from other causes. I rewound the TV and started the segment over. It was then that I heard the story.

Their fallen comrade was a little boy, who had passed away from brain cancer. Prior to his death, he had been sworn in as an honorary police officer for the Chino Police Department. Apparently, his dream was to be a police officer when he grew up, a dream that was realized when he was seven years old, mere weeks before his death.

View more videos at:

The story aggravated my allergy condition, one that seems to get worse with age. I thought it touching enough to share with you, sad, yet uplifting in a way.

Strong work to the men and women of the Chino P.D, Ya done good yesterday.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Apparently, It wasn't enough!

My last post started out with an apology, one for trivializing the recent earthquake that occurred a few weeks ago in the state of Virginia. Although sincere, it appears that the apology was not enough. Don't ask me how, but my readers from Virginia somehow conspired and sent me a little reminder of how disconcerting ground movement can be.

Without providing too much information, let me just say that when this one struck, I was in a somewhat compromising position. One that occurs on a regular basis for most of us, one that for me, usually includes a session with my favorite kokuro puzzle book, a cup of coffee and my jeans around my ankles.

The jolt was short and very sharp. For the uninitiated, every earthquake around here is analyzed by most of us. After the initial movement is felt, the next few seconds is used to determine whether this is going to evolve into something larger and whether a reaction is in order. None of us "temblor veteranos" wants to be viewed as a sissy by screaming or running amok without good reason. Nor do any of us want to be seen tripping over our un-donned trousers and face planting onto the front lawn.

I quickly determined that this quake was very minor, but that it's epicenter was very close. As an EMS professional, (emergency moronic seismologist) I figured that the magnitude was mid-threes and located within 5 miles of my location. I calmly finished my business, though I could feel the effects of adrenaline for quite some time.

There is a reason that I went into the fire service and not into seismology. The local seismologists are brilliant, I am, well, a firefighter. I was way off on both of my estimations. It was a 4.2 and was centered 23.48 miles away.

After washing my hands, I flipped on a radio and heard the F.D. going through the post earthquake response procedures and smiled. Totally not required, however a good time to employ the response. Practice how you play!

Though I managed to maintain some form of dignity, this little shake was a reminder of how unsettling earthquakes can be, even to us who experience them all of the time.

Again, apologies to you Virginians, I didn't mean to trivialize your recent event. One question remains however. How on earth did you arrange this event?

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Built Like a Brick Outhouse

Let me start out by apologizing to all of you who live/work/play within 100 miles of Mineral, VA. There are few who like earthquakes less than I and I understand how the sensation of the usually stable ground moving beneath your feet can cause a little concern. Having said that, let me now say magnitude 5.8 wasn't all that much.

I suspect the overwhelming majority of you behaved quite normally and, after the initial surprise wore off, did what you needed to do, then went about your business. Of course the media did not portray that image - it isn't very interesting.

Frankly, I'm extremely grateful that the quake wasn't any bigger. I suspect that seismic building standards are not as stringent in that part of the country as they are in mine.  There are probably much bigger issues like ice/snow loading on roofs, R-value insulation ratings and BTU capacity that play a bigger role in the building code. They probably should, those issues are more pressing on a regular basis than the ground moving under one's feet.

As we get measurable snow where I live once every 50 years or so and average 10 inches of rain per year, roof loading isn't as important to us as seismic safety.

When I worked at the Big House, I prayed that I wouldn't be at work when the "big one" hit. Though I was in the building when a couple of good sized temblors occurred, my payers were answered. The Big House is a large brick building, sturdy and well built - though only to the seismic standards in place in 1953 when the building was built.

 The lessons of Northridge, Whittier Narrows, Landers, Sylmar and numerous other quakes have taught us that the codes that were in place in 1953 are not really sufficient to protect "essential" structures like fire stations. The city looked at the cost of upgrading the Big House to current standards and found it excessive, especially when coupled with the modernization that the 50+ yr old station needs.

Thus, a new station is being built, one up to the latest seismic standards. I must say, were I still working, I would want to be nowhere else when the "big one" hit, except maybe Nebraska.

Notice all of the diagonal bracing, colored in gray. According to one of the foremen, they are designed to provide lateral stability to the structure in the event of an earthquake. Barely visible in the right side of the photo, are additional diagonal braces. Even more are out of the photo on the left and several are waiting on the ground to be installed. I was told that the gray diagonals are filled with concrete, the red diagonals are conventional steel beams.

I have to think that the center part of this structure is the place to be during an earthquake. I don't remember the floor plan of the building, but if it were up to me, I would try to ensure that the captain's dorm were located on the second floor, directly in the middle.  Close to the stairs, hopefully when the shaking stopped, I could make it out of the building before anyone on the crew saw me screaming like an adolescent.

The third floor of the structure is going to be the administrative offices, the Fire Chief, Ops chief and support staff will be located there. There will a pole going from the third floor to the apparatus floor, I can't wait to give that a try, though I would likely take the stairs after a quake.

Prevention is located over at city hall. Although a relatively modern building, I doubt that it is built as tough as this one.

Training and disaster preparedness are located at the city's EOC, another essential building that is built "Ford Tough". I think I still would rather be at the building above though - I saw how it was built.

Casa Schmoe is another matter. Though thoroughly remodeled, it is still a house designed in the '60s. I just hope the boyos from the local house can come dig us and the wiener dogs out before we run out of food. I think the dogs would soon tire of Schmoe as a regular diet and I don't wanna know what wiener dog tastes like.

I will post pictures of the new "Big House" over the coming months, it is supposed to be done within the next 12 months. I'm sure it will be impressive.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I have been hauling the envelope around for nearly ten years. It was given to me by my son's elementary school teacher in 2001, in the week after the tragic events of 11 September.

After receiving it,I had opened it and had read the thirty or so hand drawn cards, carefully sketched and colored. The written words running the gamut from nearly perfect for a third grader, to the scrawl of less scholarly kids like the younger Schmoe. The messages thanked me/us for our service, told us to be brave and to fear not, God had our backs (this I believe).

 When I received the envelope, I was working at the big house of pain. We had nine firefighters plus the B.C. that called thr big house home. As I had promised my kid's teacher, I shared the contents of the envelope with the crew and left the cards on the table for a few days. As a bunch of our members were in New York as part of the USAR response, we were inundated with baked goods, cards and other tokens of appreciation - largely out of remembrance of the sacrifices that our 343 brothers made on that horrific day..  I didn't want the envelope and it's contents lost in the mix, so I recovered the cards and placed them back into the envelope, closed the clasp and placing it into my locker.

I cleaned out my locker a few times over the next few years, each time finding the envelope, opening the contents, reading the cards smiling, shedding a tear  - then re-clasping the envelope and returning it to the dark recesses of my locker, to the part where stuff that never gets used reside. At some point, I removed the card that my son made and one that his good friend made and I taped them to the inside of my locker door.

Two more stations, two more lockers and the routine was nearly the same. Find, open, read, sniff, close and return. Kevin and Luke's card taped up n a place of honor on my locker door. I thought about tossing the envelope, frankly I felt unworthy (still do) of the attention garnered on us, based on the tragic deaths of 343 Schmoes, heroic Schmoes, who were called upon to perform heroic acts and perished doing so. I wished there was some way that I could give those cards to those who fell, either at he WTC, the Pentagon or in the field in Shanksville. I knew that to be impossible yet could not toss the envelope into the trash.

Two weeks ago, I cleaned out my locker for the last time. The envelope was tucked safely into the bottom drawer, right where I placed it during the last spring locker cleaning session. The large green trash can, the one from the patio was right there, already full with the manuals, books and other unneeded possessions of a retired fire captain. I nearly tossed it this time, I had already packed Kevin and Luke's card into my "take home" box and could find no logical reason to haul the envelope home - yet I couldn't do it, so into the box the envelope went.

 Friday, I drove down to Yorba Linda to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.  I had read where a ladder tower from the FDNY that had been used in controlling the post-collapse fires and a large piece of twisted steel that had once been a part of the WTC were to be on display. I thought that perhaps I could take the envelope and perhaps it on the ladder tower or on the beam. I figured that would be as close as I would ever get to delivering it to the people who deserved getting it.

It was my lucky day. "Friday light" traffic and a beautiful fall day.. I arrived and saw the display. Many people were slowly walking around the displays, pausing and reflecting on that day and what it meant to them. It was a somber scene, one filled with quiet reverence.

I briefly left the display and attended a presentation by  Chris Kawai,  a B.C. for LAFD, who had responded to the WTC disaster as part of the USAR response. His show was well done, using words, music and images to present the disaster, the response to it and his impressions and reflections.

After the presentation, I returned to the display and found even more people there, though the somber, quiet mood was still prevalent. I waited for the crowd to thin, then unclasped the envelope and read the cards, just one more time.

I picked out three of my favorites and returned the rest to the envelope. I arranged the envelope and the three cards on the beam, with all three cards visible. I took a few pictures and thought of leaving them all of them there, tokens of my appreciation and remembrance of the sacrifices made on that day. Mine and that of Miss Smith's third grade class.

 I didn't know what would happen to them, whether they would be stored, whether they would travel with the rig and the steel to the next display or whether they would simply be tossed at the end of the day.

In the end, I couldn't do it. Apparently, I have too much invested to the envelope and it's contents.

Perhaps it is because the world changed on that day, not only for me but for a class of third graders who will likely not remember what the world was like before the events of 11 September 2001.

Maybe it's because the envelope is a physical link between me and 343 brothers who I never had the opportunity to meet. Brothers with whom I had a lot in common and some differences. Brothers who I would have welcomed into my station and into my home.

Maybe it's just because that envelope somehow represents the tragedy and enormity of the events that occurred on that day and that I'm just not ready to let it go.

Regardless, I still have the envelope and I realize that any thought of disposing of it is just me fooling myself.

Rest in peace my FDNY brothers and all of the other responders who were mudered for just doing your jobs. Rest in peace all of you Service Members who died at the Pentagon and all you civilians who died at the WTC, the Pentagon and on Flight 93. Finally, rest in peace to those of you hero-warriors who won the battle of Shanksville, God's grace on you all.

The envelope belongs to them, it is not mine to destroy.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Endless Summer

My brothers and sisters in Texas are getting their butts handed to them once again. A drought that won't end, extremely adverse weather conditions and heavy fuels have created an endless fire season. A record 3.5 million acres have burned since last November, an area slightly larger than that of Connecticut.

The Atlantic has compiled some of the best images from the unfolding disasters in Texas and has posted them here as part if their "In Focus" photo blog. They give a great representation of what is happening down there and are worth a look.

This video was posted by the Associated Press, though it looks like it was shot by the Texas Dept. of Parks and Wildlife.

It gives you an idea how fast a wind-driven fire can move. As you can see, you wouldn't want to be in front of it trying to get out of the way. Add some slope, a bunch of tools and safety gear and you can see why having escape routes, safety zones and trigger points lined up ahead of time are so important. I would hate to figure all of that stuff out with the dragon breathing up your backside.

For those of us in my neck of the woods, the peak of fire season usually hits during the end of September, October and early November - though we get major wildfires throughout the year. For us it's a matter of chance. What is going to come first - the devil winds or the rain.

Be safe my brothers and sisters in Texas.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, September 5, 2011

How it Was

On the advice of fellow blogger Mad Jack, here are some photos and commentary on last weeks vegetation fire. The original post can be found here. In it, I lamented about how the conditions were not the best for taking photos, with the smoke inhibiting the the quality of the photos.

As I walked up the road from the clear air into the smoke, I knew that getting quality images would be a challenge. I stopped to snap this while I still was in the clear, in a few moments later I was in the smoke.

When I neared the engine, I looked over to my right and saw these guys stretching a line getting ready to go to to work. Though the smoke wasn't bad from a firefighter's perspective, from a photographer's  point of view it was bad enough.

Even closer shots are affected.

The crew finished making the needed connections and began to disappear into the smoke, I began walking back down the road. A short time later, the wind shifted slightly and I was more or less in the clear again.

 Homeowners tend to get a little excited when the dragon shows up at their back fence. I had chatted with this gentleman earlier and had told him what was going to happen and what to look for.  He and his property came through it just fine. I must also add that he had done a pretty good job keeping the weeds down on his property.  That, as much as anything else, was the main factor in keeping his property safe.

Of course if there are aircraft involved, I will be working to get pictures of that.

 If you look closely, you can see the firefighters in the background mopping up the fire. It was a very short time after this photo was shot that I walked back to my vehicle and went home. These guys were still here, getting it done. It was down to the mid 90's at that point, so I was glad to grab a cold frosty and kick it with the wife. These guys were out there for several more hours, then back to the station for a lengthy clean-up.

I should feel guilty, but I don't!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner!

Well folks, here we are. Thanks to all who submitted an entry, I really enjoyed reading them all. Let me say that I am surprised on several counts. First of all, I am surprised that I was able to keep my agency a secret for the 28 months that I have been writing this blog. Second, I am really surprised how close most of your entries were to my agency.

When I announced the contest, I was surprised at the number of people who took some time and went through the archives, researching and trying to figure it out. Maybe that research helped to come up with the closer guesses.

Of the entries received, San Bernardino County Fire was the number one guess, with it accounting for 25% of the entries. Riverside County Fire was the #2 guess with 15% and Contra Costa County came in third with 10%. None of the above were the winning entry.

The remainder of the entries were guesses from around the state, with most of them being in the south. A couple of the entries were really really close, I'll write more on those in a bit.

One entry correctly guessed my agency.

Rambling Chief, a fellow blogger, submitted the winning entry on August 31st. He correctly identified the City of Riverside Fire Dept. (RIV) as my employer, where I worked for the past 28 years. Congratulations to him, I hope he enjoys his "new to him" flashlight.

For the past 7 years or so, I have been assigned to Sta. #13, the best designed station that I have ever worked in.  I was lucky to get that assignment and I know it.

One entry, posted by Thomas guessed Riverside County Fire, probably Sta. #6. That is a remarkable guess as we once shared that station with them, back in the day before The Healing Place was built.  County Sta. #6 serves the City of Moreno Valley, which shares our eastern border. They are literally a two minute code- three drive from my station.

FireLady was just a little less specific, guessing Moreno Valley Fire. Again just next door and a very good guess.

Another interesting entry was from Brenton H, who guessed Riverside County Fire, Sycamore Creek Station. Although that station (RVC sta. #64) is about thirty miles from us, it is remarkable as we have a station known as the Sycamore Canyon Station. Pretty close to the pin if you ask me.

I must admit that a part of me will miss blogging anonymously, though I won't miss editing and cropping photos in order to hide their origin.

 It would have taken me 30 minutes or more to "sanitize" this shot!

I will be writing about more about my agency in the future. It was a pretty good place to work.

Thanks to all who entered the "Closest to the Pin" contest and congrats to Rambling Chief for getting the ball into the cup. Thanks to you for reading,

A grateful Schmoe

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I looked through the viewfinder and brought the subject into focus. My subject was a young man, one that I hadn't seen for many, many years. The last time I remember seeing him, he was probably 7 or eight years old. Now he is a university graduate and is sitting for his mugshot portrait and his ID card photo. Today was his second day on the job as a firefighter for my agency.

I briefly worked for his grandfather in the eighties. If I remember correctly, his grandfather is the only person that I know who has been blown into the street twice from natural gas explosions. His grandfather was a captain on B shift and although I wasn't assigned on his crew, I did work for him while swinging through on vacation relief. I always like his grandfather, he treated us fair and made sound decisions. You can't ask for much more than that.

I also worked for the young man's father several years ago. He was my battalion chief for several years after I transferred up the hill. We also deployed to New Orleans together as part of the hurricane Katrina response. We got along well, he allowed me to do my job and forgave my transgressions when I crossed the line. One of these days, I would like to have a few beers with him and discuss a few things. Maybe verify a few perceptions of mine or disprove a few others. Now that I am retired, he just might reveal a few things.

Now, as I photograph the third generation of this young's family to be a firefighter with us, I find the irony of missing working with him by a week. I'll bet that there aren't a whole lot of folks who can say that they have worked with three generations of firefighter from the same family. I missed it by only a few days.

Our administration has a wall with the photograph of every member posted on it. It is laid out kind of like an organizational chart, with the management team on top and the operations division separated by shift and laid out in order by seniority in rank. I don't know who updates the mugshot wall, but they are doing a good job of it. I walked by it today and noticed that my photo is already gone and the man who was promoted into my position has already been moved to the last position of the C shift captain's spot.

In a few days, the photos that I took today will be added to the very bottom of the mugshot wall. In what will seem like only a few days for most, those photos now at the bottom of the wall will work their up the wall. With luck and hard work, maybe one or two of them will be at the top of the wall - up in the management team's section. Good luck with that folks, just don't screw up my beloved department in the process.


As the new firefighters filed into the room, I asked them where they were going to be assigned and who their captains were going to be. Three of them are going onto my former shift, one will be assigned to my replacement at the busiest single company house in the department. Another one of the new firefighters is going to be assigned to a former engineer of mine, one whose dad I worked for back in the eighties. All of the new employees are going to busy stations, always a good assignment for a boot.

Another group will have to be brought on board before the end of the year. This will be a smaller group, probably four or five people. One or two of this smaller group might not be so lucky, they may end up at a slower house. They will likely do well with their studies and drills, but they may not get as much experience as they (and we) would like. Hopefully, those assigned to slower stations will rotate into the big house or other busy station. The big house is an experience that everyone should have, at least for a while. It's where firefighters are made.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How It Is

I was able to drive up the boulevard and park my jeep near the command post before the cops got serious about traffic control. I was happy about that, sometimes accessing the scene is a chore. I always get in, it's the grief I get during the process that is trying.

Although it only took me 15 minutes or so to get there, the fire had already made its primary run into the neighborhood and had butted up against a greenbelt., slowing the fire spread. Secondary runs were in progress - it was one of those I was hoping to capture.

I checked in with the chiefs and let them know I was there. I snapped a few pictures of the Ops chief and the BC, poring over maps, talking on the radio and doing other chiefly duties. While not usually the most intense photos, they can be dramatic as they capture momentary facial expressions that sometimes show pressure and stress.

They scene was still dynamic, with units arriving, then hurrying to their assignments. The radio frequencies were crowded with the arriving units receiving their assignments and other units giving reports to the division supervisors as to what was going on. As a result, I opted to leave the vehicle where it was and huff it up into the neighborhood. The last thing I wanted to do was get in the way.

I walked up an access road, the smoke blowing through the trees lining the edges. I walked past a couple of engines, their crews donning hose packs in preparation of punching in a hose lay up the left flank. I knew most of these guys and I waved to them as I strode through the thick smoke.

I stopped to reassure a homeowner as he used a garden hose to hose down bare dirt. I offered some advice, hinting that maybe hosing down his reed fence or patrolling the backyard for smokes might be more productive than squirting dirt. His nervousness may have caused him to forget that bare soil doesn't burn.

I moved on, looking for that elusive shot where lighting, flames, smoke and firefighters all do what I needed them to do in order to capture a good image. I was disappointed, it was more like all of the components of the event were conspiring against me, keeping me from doing my work.

I walked back down the road and found that several of the engines had been pulled from that location as a higher priority assignment had been received. I was alone and when the wind shifted ever so slightly, I was able to see out over the incident and get a glimpse of what was happening in that division. Sadly, the smoke was still bad enough to make a good photo impossible. I snapped a few anyway - you never know for sure until they are downloaded whether they are acceptable or not.

After a few minutes, I spotted an unmarked SUV drive up the road. I recognized it as the Fire Chief. we chatted for a few minutes and I snapped a photo of him moving some hose that had been left behind when the units were repositioned. I caught a ride with him down to the command post and snapped a few more pics of the brass in action before deciding that things were dying down and my opportunities were greatly reduced.

I walked to my jeep, watching my brothers mopping up the mess as I walked. I took off my brush jacket and helmet, stowed my camera and headed home, waving at the chiefs as I drove by.

I walked in the door and found The Saint kicking back with her feet up. I grabbed a cold beverage and joined her. We chatted and I shared with her my activities, noting that my friends were still there, climbing, spraying, grubbing and picking up, meanwhile I was kicking back, talking to a pretty girl and drinking a cold drink.

When I run into people, it is almost inevitable that they will ask me how retired life is. I will think of this afternoon and I will say "pretty damn good". That's how it is.

Thanks for reading,