Tuesday, January 31, 2012

From the Almost Didn't Go Files

Training burns. I have been to quite a few over the years, the early ones were pure joy and gobs of information was gleamed from them. As time wore on, the joy factor decreased and though I learned something from each one, the quantity of new information decreased as well.

I always enjoyed taking new people to training burns, it was kind of a joy by proxy. The new people had both high joy factors and learning factors. A very good situation for them and it gave me joy to see them experience joy. It also gave us a chance to see people that probably weren't going to work out. Training burns have a subtle way of providing an early warning system for people who really should be doing something else for a living.

From a photography standpoint, training burns are a challenge. If you want good interior shots, you have to be bunkered out. It is a BITCH to compose, meter and shoot quality shots from your stomach in full PPE and SCBA. Visibility is always a challenge, positioning is dictated by the fire and by where the students need to access the fire.

Exterior shots are a challenge as well, because the urgency, drama and tension from actual incidents are not present in most of the participants. It is also hard to convey the joy that occurs when the noise of the fire is surpassed by the sound that the water makes as it leaves the nozzle and vanquishes the enemy. The shouts of fellow firefighters, muffled by the smoke cannot be transferred to the visual medium photography either. For those of us who have experienced it, photos often are an incomplete delivery of significant events. Training burns compound this effect.

Thus, when I was notified of this burn, I almost passed. The desire to see some old friends was the primary reason for going. That and the need to practice fireground photographic operations combined to force me to head down to the site of a burn held by my agency recently.

 And to think that I didn't wanna go!

What was I thinkin?

A rookie gets some saw time. As there are numerous houses to 
destroy and only a few to burn, there should be plenty of saw time
for the new people.

The RIC team was activated after a simulated firefighter fell through 
the hole in the previous photo.

After it was over, a huddle was held, what went right was discussed
as well as what what went wrong. Everybody attended, except the

I don't think he felt up to it.

When I first arrived, I spoke with the Training Chief and my old Battalion Chief, both of whom came on with me. We talked about how training burns are run a lot differently than back in the day, we agreed that the changes were for the good. We are probably lucky that we never hurt anyone back then, lord knows that we tried.

It was a good training session and  am glad that I went. Next time I won't be so reluctant.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Heal Fast Fellas

I just got this E-Mail regarding some formerly green-clad brothers that were injured while fighting a structure fire yesterday down in Indio, a small city located in the eastern end of our county.

On Tuesday at 7:18am CalFire responded to a residential structure fire (‘Paseo Fire’) in the 81000 block or Paseo Real, City of Indio. Initial arriving firefighters found a well involved garage fire and began their search for victims and fire attack. While knocking down the fire in the garage, it appears some of the garage roof truss structure collapsed leading to structural debris knocking the firefighters to the ground and covering them.  Below is the status of the injuried FF’s:
•           Fire Station 80 Firefighter II, Tom “T.J.” Frazier, 32, was transported to Desert Regional Medical Center where he was admitted and underwent orthopedic surgery for three fractures of the tibia/fibula bone structure in the lower right leg. Last evening, T. J. underwent successful surgery and continues to recover at Desert Regional Medical Center, Room 2212. The CAL FIRE Tuolumne-Calaveras family transported his wife from Sonora where they live to Riverside County to be with T. J.
•           Fire Station 80 Firefighter II-Paramedic Mike Vera, 30 suffered a concussion and back strain. Early yesterday afternoon, Mike was released from Desert Regional Medical Center and is at home recovering.
•           Fire Station 88 Firefighter II-Paramedic Michael Lambert, 31, was transported to JFK Memorial Hospital. Mike was evaluated for a possible concussion and C-3 cervical vertebrae fracture. Very fortunately, a MRI showed no problem with the vertebrae structure. Mike has been released to recover at home.
I don't know any of these guys by name, but may by sight. It sounds like they were lucky that it wasn't any worse. Cal-Fire does a good job down in the low desert, they work on good command and control and RIC/ff survival procedures. It looks like it may have paid off for them.
Heal fast fellas, here's hoping you get can back on the rig soon.
I thank God almost every day that this never happened to me or any of my crew. I pray it never happens to any of you as well.
I'll keep you posted if any further info comes out.
Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The World Turned Pink

I started back at school again after taking a quarter off. I'm taking a course in photographic composition, a course that has more to do with art than with cameras or exposure.

I have an assignment due tomorrow so I wanted to get it done tonight and be done with it until next week. I chose a building that faces west in hopes of being able to use the golden glow that the last hour of daylight brings.

I was mostly disappointed with the early results, but things were beginning to turn around. I was busy snapping and noticed that the subject of my photos were beginning to turn pink.

Thinking it was a white balance issue, I checked my camera, then looked over my shoulder.

What a great time to be a photography student.

You might have to suffer with some artsy-fartsy stuff every once in a while, classes like this make me take photos of stuff that I ordinarily wouldn't. Frankly, that is why i take these classes - they make me do stuff out of my comfort zone.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Paper Trail Ka-Boom!

Hint to everybody who carries a briefcase, camera bag, backpack or any other container that could contain a hazardous device:

Don't leave it unattended!

Especially in a courthouse on a day that several vague bomb threats were received by local officials.

I didn't catch the actual ka-boom, but I did capture the aftermath. According to The Press Enterprise, our local rag, a legal courier left his briefcase unattended inside the courthouse. It aroused suspicion and authorities were called.

It was determined that the best course of action was to remove the briefcase to the street and detonate it. The above shot is of what remains. The only person in the photo who is interested in the debris is the guy in civilian clothes. I wonder if it was his briefcase?

Three courthouses in the area were evacuated, totally screwing up the court calendars for all three. Several streets in the area were closed off, the above shot was taken from a block away.

I was downtown, taking The Saint That I Am Married To out for lunch and saw the debris field that had been blown out into the street. I'm guessin' not much was saved. Ka-Boom indeed!

I may be looking for a part time gig -  maybe there is an opening at the legal courier service place?

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Might be the Last Time

If everything goes to plan and things don't get horribly delayed, this might be the last time that this floor gets stripped and waxed.

I'm not saying that the floor won't get mopped or even waxed, it's just that this is likely the last time this floor will be stripped to the tiles and new wax put on.

The station is being prepped for the annual inspection which occurs every January. As the new crib is scheduled to be completed this fall, this floor should be a scant memory by the time next January rolls around. The floors in the new station are reported to be finished concrete, I don't know what maintenance they will require.

I do know that I have been assigned to stations with old school tile as pictured above, no wax tile, no wax vinyl flooring, linoleum and ceramic floor tile. All have required some form of "special" maintenance on a semi regular basis. Hopefully the finished concrete floor will have minimal maintenance requirements, I believe that was the purpose for selecting those floors.

I spent more than a few years at this station, as a firefighter and as a captain. The area covered in tile has shrunk considerably over the years, the kitchen and heads are all that are left covered in tile. One hallway has vinyl flooring - a remnant of when the downstairs was reconfigured from offices into a video studio. A hodge-podge of carpet covers the rest of the place, some of it needing replacement. As the building should be vacant within a year, I doubt any of it will be replaced anytime soon.

The annual inspection also covers apparatus and equipment. Although the crews won't have to work too hard on the station next year, the apparatus will be the same and will require the same effort to get squared away. With a Type 1 and a Type 3 engine, a truck co, a squad, a BC's wagon plus a spare and a utility truck, the apparatus alone takes a while to detail out for the inspection.

Most crews do a good job keeping up on things - at a place like the Big House, things can get away from you if you don't.

I'm sure a little slack will be given, as the chiefs know that the new place will be open and money hasn't been spent on the old house. They still want to see some effort though, it's stations that have not expended any effort for the inspection that have gotten beat up over it. Frankly, they had it coming.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Though annual inspections are a pain in the ass, they are necessary. They show everyone involved that everybody still cares.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I had really intended to write a good post tonight, but my heart isn't in it. I am mourning the loss by the Packers to the NY Giants. I usually don't get that worked up over any sort of game, but the appalling manner in which Green Bay played tonight had me saying bad words and throwing things at the TV.

The above actions were performed without the assistance of beer, I was so pissed off that I never got around to getting one from the garage fridge. It's probably a good thing, an empty beer bottle would likely create havoc when thrown through a TV screen.

The Saint I am married to was smart enough to make chicken and dumplings for dinner, a dish which does not require knives, forks or any other sharp instruments to consume. It's pretty hard to hurt yourself with a spoon.

I am hoping that she still lets me go to the desert tomorrow, some friends and I are supposed to haul some firearms up there and blast away at some steel plates. She allowed me to load the weapons into el cheepo jeepo, but balked when I asked for the key to the ammo locker. I should be my old jovial self in the morning, hopefully she will relent and let me take some ammo.

I felt kind of bad for the Bronco fans yesterday, little did I know that I would be in the same boat today.

Thanks for reading,
A despondent Schmoe

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Somebody's Getting a New Engine

On a recent trip to the Fire Engine Doctor's recently, I found exactly one new engine being readied for delivery. Of course I felt a need to take some pictures and share them.

This engine has been at the doctor's for several weeks getting equipment, mounting brackets and storage accessories installed. After all of that is done, it will be accepted and off to the radio shop it will go.

It is a pretty conventional engine, just a few things that are sort of unique to it and the agency where it will be put to work.

Top mount pump panels are not that common around here, but we love them. As 12 of our 14 stations spend a lot of time on the freeway, we like the protection and the visibility that the top mount panel provides the engineer. Every structure engine that we have purchased since I came on in 1983 has had one, four engines prior to that were so equipped. I can't think of any agencies within a couple of hundred miles of here that use them, it is part of our culture.

This engine is going to replace a '90s vintage E-1, one which is rather tired. The E-1 will be retained as a reserve engine, a role that it will keep for five years or more. We just can't keep enough reserve engines around here, we have a few that are almost 25 years old. A reserve engine's life around here is not an easy one, they are in service more often than not.

We like electro-mechanical sirens, especially the Federal Q2B. Although I have no hard data to back it up, it is my experience that the Q2B is louder than the electronic sirens. I was lucky, our units were equipped with both. I usually used the electronic siren as a turn it on and forget it device, useful when my face was buried in the map or pre-plan book. The Q2B was used as necessary. Of course the air horn was liberally applied as required. I miss mashing the foot switch and hearing that Q2B howl.

This will be our first engine with the mandated high visibility paint pattern on the rear end, though the haz-mat unit is so equipped. Meh.

This will also be the first engine in the last 30+ years which is not equipped with a Detroit Diesel engine. Apparently, Detroit is out of the fire apparatus engine market, so a Cummins engine it is. 

The crews at 2s will enjoy this engine, I am quite sure that it will provide many years of service.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I published my last post late Saturday night. In it, I lamented about how dry it has been and how warm. Less than 12 hours later, I hear a vegetation fire go down, in a location that has historically given us some problems.

Last winter, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. Due to the present dry conditions, I mulled over driving out there and snapping a few pictures. A look out the window and seeing the trees bending in a swift wind made my decision, I  needed to go. Of course I wasn't dressed (I had slept in for once), so it took a few minutes for me to get into the jeep and then head across town.

The radio reports said that they had about half an acre in flashy fuel with a strong wind giving it a moderate to rapid rate of spread. The first-in engine claimed it, named it and opted to attack the head. According to a friend of mine who happened to be on that engine said that they really had to get on it, as the head was moving pretty quick. Fortunately, their efforts paid off and they caught it right away. Unfortunately for me, they also ruined any opportunity for good photos. As I was already there, I chose to take a few photos of  mop-up operations. Some times you just have to take what you can get.

You can see last year's growth along with the stubby growth from that resulted the small amount of rain that we received in early December.  

Blue sky, twenty knot wind and 14% relative humidity. Yee-haaw. As it was, they held the fire to just under an acre. While it ended up being not much, remember it is early January. This should not have burned at all.

I have been on a few fires at this very location and have pulled hose through some of the back yards that lie behind the fences that you see in the above photo. That wasn't an issue today, the fire was kept north of the bike path. The bike path made it easy for the engines to access the fire as well.

If not for the efforts of the first-in engine, this would have turned into a big deal. It;s good they picked it up.

As for the warm, dry weather, it's not all bad. 

Some just can't get enough of it.

Thanks for reading,
A warm Schmoe

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"They" Say

They,  the old gravely voiced ones, used to say that it's not the fire season after a wet winter that will kick your ass, it's the season after that.

A lot of those guys were remarkable in their knowledge - that of history, experience and weather patterns. They were remarkable in appearance as well. The tobacco stained fingers or teeth, the limps and the bags under their eyes. They had been in the business for a long time. Some had started their careers as "fire truck drivers" long before there were captains, engineers and firefighters all riding the engines at the same time. Back when the IC was known as the fire boss and when Smokey was a cub. Some of those guys put out the burning bush, shortly after Moses found the tablets and called it in.

Last year was a very wet winter throughout most of our state. This year, not so much. With the exception of San Diego county and the southwestern corner of my county, the state of California is way behind on rainfall. It has also been unseasonably warm.

My city has received exactly  1/10th of an inch of rain since December 1st, 2 inches would be closer to normal. The high temperatures have not been below the mid-70s since Christmas eve, most days the high temps were in the 80s. While not extreme fire weather by any means, the warm dry weather, which is believed to be caused by a "La Nina" weather pattern,  may be the foretelling of a hot dry summer and a long fire season.

We did receive some early rain in October and November, it's appearance pretty much eliminated fire season this year. Last years growth is still present, the brown ,dead fuels mixed with the stunted growth from that fall moisture . In August, barring meaningful moisture, both will be dead and tinder dry - waiting for the Santa Ana winds to turn small incidents into major events. It is always a matter of which arrives in Southern California first - the winds or the rain.

Should the rains arrive first (as they did this fall) fire season ends early and the seasonal firefighters get laid off. The limited term promotions expire and everybody goes back to their regular assignments. If the winds arrive first, things can go to hell in a hurry. Staffing patterns are enacted and wildland firefighters all over the state might spend several weeks at work without getting to go home. It's always a crap shoot.

Maybe the gravelly voiced ones only anecdotally remember the various bad fire seasons and the winters that preceded them. Or, maybe, their recollections are more detailed than that and are compounded by the lore of the gravelly voiced ones that they learned their craft from. Regardless, I remember their words, if for nothing more than see if they are right.

If so, this summer and fall might be good ones to be out of the game and to document them with a camera. Time will tell.

Thanks for reading.,

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Out With The Old...

...In with the new.

Work on the new "Big House" progresses. I was able to spend an hour or so there yesterday, of course I had my camera. After spending more than a few years at the existing station, there is part of me that will miss the place, despite my knowing that the building is in dire need of replacement.

It is my understanding that the new station is a few weeks behind schedule, a situation caused by external influences beyond the department's control. It's a shame, as there have been very few delays caused by weather - it would have been nice to get this wrapped up a little early.

They are finishing up the steel framing, exterior coverings come next.

Anybody wanna guess what this architectural feature is? I'll give you a few hints, it has both aesthetic and functional purposes. The outcropping will be sheathed in glass and lit from within. When in use, the activity within will be visible to the public and will likely be well recieved. I can't wait to use it, though my getting to do so will require permission.

This is a three story station. The app floor, equipment storage, a reception area and a small museum will be located on the first floor. Living quarters will be on the second floor and department administrative offices will be on the third.

If I was the chief, my office would be a glass penthouse on the roof and I would make someone from the other battalion come down and wash the windows every Sunday, right after breakfast.

I am quite sure the chief will have a good view from his office on the third floor, besides I don't think the people in the new building across the street would like looking down into my glass walled office. It's probably a good thing that I never made chief.

I also think that the "feel" of the new place will be entirely different from the old. This building feels to me more like an office building, rather than a comfortable firehouse. Interior accents and furnishings will hopefully temper that, but I am sure there will be a reluctance to "customize" the brand new station. 

Though the old place will be missed, all of the inadequacies will not be. People will love the new house and become acclimated to their new environs. They might even get used to having administration right upstairs.

It's funny, way back before my time, administration was located in the existing "big house". They moved out a few years before I came on and moved into city hall. They have moved three times since, I know they are ecstatic about moving into the new house.

What was old has become new again.

Thanks for reading,