Sunday, April 29, 2012

Banning F.D. Reunion

I was impressed with the turn out. I commented on this to Billy, who was one of the Captains in Banning when I worked there.

"Ya know Billy," I said, "it says a lot about a department when this many people show up for a reunion of members from an organization that hasn't existed in 13 years, many of whom were only here for a relatively short time. It shows how much people loved working here."

Billy agreed with me, he was hired in Banning when (they) went from one paid firefighter per shift to two. This was probably in the early '70s or so. Billy was also one of the guys who stayed on with Cal-Fire until he retired five or so years ago.

There were some guys there who I didn't know, guys who came on after I left and then left themselves; other guys who came on after I left and who ended up staying on with Cal-Fire after they took over. There were some other guys there whom I had met when coming back into town to visit, something that I initially did fairly often.

The main reason I attended, was to see guys that were there when I worked there. Old timers, many who had been there for years before my arrival.  Not all of them made it, some I suspect may have had a health issue or maybe logistical problems. A few of the no-shows have retired and live out of state.

Sadly, there are a few guys that I will never see again, like Fuzzy and Stanley. Stan and I were never close, but I still think of him occasionally. I still feel a stab in the heart when I remember getting the call from Jack when Fuzzy died. He was one of the great ones, a former door gunner who carried NVA shrapnel in his body till the day he died. Billy and I both got quiet when his name was mentioned.

It would have nice to have seen Carl, he was acting Chief when I left. He ended up taking an early retirement from Banning and ended up serving as the Fire Chief in Branson, Mo for 15 years. He just retired last year, maybe I'll get to Branson one of these days and pay him a visit.

I and many others were sad to see that Dennis didn't make it. I heard that he is currently living in Utah and was planning to attend. Maybe something came up - regardless I regret not getting to see him.

I was a little curious how it was going to go with Bob, we didn't get along all that great when I worked there. Looking back, I am quite ready to take the blame for that. I suspect that as a brash youth, I was unable to recognize that we were very much alike and I probably should have known just to keep my mouth shut. Though much better now, that is something that I have had to work on for my entire career. Bob ended up retiring from Cal-Fire as a B.C. and still lives in town. We had a nice chat, it was good speaking with him. I wish him well.

I really liked working there, it was simply a matter of money and opportunity when I left. A $300 dollar a month difference in take home pay made a big difference. $300 was a big chunk of change in 1983.

Banning is a one station department. As I was leaving for a department ten times that size, there would be far more opportunities for promotion and for different assignments where I was going.

I missed the people, they were great and they made me feel at home while I was there. I admired the way they got stuff done, including building a quick-attack and a water tender around the time I was there. It was old school the way they made do.

The irony is that had I stayed, I would have ended up working for Cal-Fire, a department staffing almost 90 stations in our county, and one with even more opportunities. That's what most of the guys who worked there in 1998 did. Financially it was probably the best thing that could have happened to their careers.
While I have a lot of respect for that agency, I think I ended up in the best place for me. I'm sure either way would have worked out fine.

So, the next time you're driving to Palm Springs from L.A. and you pass through Banning, please remember that though it still has excellent fire/ems protection, it was once served by a small group of highly motivated individuals, who were used to gettin' er done. A great group of guys to be sure.

Thanks for Reading,


Friday, April 27, 2012

Red Light Camera vs. Fire Engine

Few hate red light cameras more than I. I think that they are a sissy way to enforce laws (collect revenue) and that they do little to reduce accidents. For the record, I have never received a red light camera ticket - yet that does not diminish my hatred for them.

I may have found someone who hates them more than I. Patrick O'Donoghue was an engineer for Cal-Fire. O'Donoghue was operating a fire engine and responding to a call when he ran through a red light. Apparently, he knew that the intersection was monitored by a red light camera, so he flashed a thumbs-up signal to the camera as he busted the intersection. He reportedly used both hands to give the thumbs-up and was traveling at 60 mph when he did so. As a result of his actions, he was demoted from engineer to firefighter, a disciplinary action which he feels is extreme. He is currently appealing his demotion to the state personnel board.

The offense reportedly occurred in the City of Corona back in November of 2010, though I don't know which intersection. O'Donoghue was driving out of Riverside County Sta. #15,  which is located in the City of Corona and protects unincorporated areas located just outside of the city limits.

I can't find where Cal-Fire was said specifically why O'Donoghue was demoted, but they apparently provided the Press - Enterprise a copy of their operating policy which addresses due regard for safety while operating emergency vehicles. Two hands not on the wheel, excessive speed  and the hand gestures might fall under the due regard doctrine, but as this is a personnel issue, Cal-Fire isn't saying much.

O'Donoghue's attorney,  David Givot said that O'Donoghue acknowledges using poor judgement in displaying the hand signals and driving through the red light at 60 mph. Givot argued at the personnel board hearing that the punishment was excessive.

The Press-Enterprise, our local rag, ran this story yesterday and also ran a poll on the matter. Readers were asked what punishment O'Donoghue deserved for displaying the thumbs-up gesture as he went through the red light. As of an hour ago, the results were:

Demotion - 26%
Reprimand - 42%
Suspension - 14%
No Punishment - 16%
Don't Know - 2%

The poll is deceiving as it does not address the speed at which O'Donoghue was traveling through the red light. Personally, I have no problem with the gesture, in fact a thumbs-up gesture is far more benign  than the one I would have given.

The speed issue is another matter. Not knowing what intersection this occurred at or what conditions were present, makes it difficult for me to give an educated opinion on this - though 60 mph does seem excessive.

What I DO have a problem with is that Cal-Fire was even made aware of the event in the first place. If the offender had been a black and white for Riverside County Sheriff's Dept, the matter would have been closed when the photo was reviewed by Corona P.D.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that a citation cannot be issued to an entity, so a phone call was made to the county Fire Dept, advising them of the event. I also suspect that this call was probably a result of  City vs. County conflict or, worse yet, the continuing animosity of P.D. vs. F.D. I know a few cops from Corona, they are not big fans of their bastard child step-brothers on the big red (or white) trucks.

Regardless, O'Donoghue's demotion seems extreme to me. Perhaps a day or two off or a written reprimand would be more in order.

I would also advise company officers to monitor their engineer's driving habits and mentor them as needed. It might save everybody some grief in the future.

Click on the Press-Enterprise link for the full story, they did a good job with this. Take the survey as well. Let them know what you think.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Crapped Out and Shocked

As I said earlier, the weather in the desert at this time of year is a crap shoot. This time we rolled the dice and crapped out. Our friends who have been going to Ocotillo Wells for years, said that this was their hottest trip ever.

I can say that we had a great time, except for a thirty minute period that I spent under my jeep and for the oppressive heat that we endured for the whole four day period. As I have previously stated, Ocotillo is not my favorite part of the desert. Friends and it's proximity to more enjoyable spots still allow me to enjoy going there.

As the heat was oppressive, very few people were in the Off Road Vehicle Area. That almost made the heat worth it.

 We arrived on Thursday, at the hottest time of day. Setting up camp was a real joy for me, trying to save labor ended up making me have to do some things twice. After we were done with camp, it was kick-back time for a little while before going on an evening run.

I tried to get artsy-fartsy and photograph this tree while on the 
evening run. Boy did I get some grief from my friends. 
They should have known, it's not like they haven't traveled with 
me before!

As the jeeps were air conditioned and the desert was not, we opted to return to camp at dusk. Though the sun was down, the temperature was not.
 Taken a mile from camp, just after sunset. It was still in the high 
nineties. Our temperature control strategy, though helpful, 
wasn't perfect.

There were two types of off-roaders in our camp: jeepers and quad riders. Though we did some riding together, the different equipment and preferred types of riding caused us to go on several different rides. We jeepers preferred longer rides in a more trail-oriented environment.  A/C made the long trips that much more enjoyable.

On one of our trips, we a drove up South Coyote Canyon, a mostly easy trail that ends up at a bighorn sheep preserve. Way back in the day, the road used to go all of the way up to Sage, a community located near Hemet, CA. Some time ago, a three mile section of the trail was closed off for the bighorn preserve. This created two separate trails, the North and the South. I have never done the North, but completing the southern section makes me want do the North. Maybe in a week or so.

The jeeps go up. Much steeper than it looks.

Near the top of the South Trail is a primitive campground called Sheep Canyon. A few ancient picnic tables and some pit-toilets would actually make this a nice place to camp - in cooler weather of course.

Even though the facilities lacked a roof and flushing mechanisms,
apparently they did the trick. A bouncing jeep is tough on a
full bladder it seems.

The Jeeps go down. It was shortly after this that one of my lower
shock mounts broke.

Yeah, that's me under the jeep. As The Saint I Am Married to and 
my friend's wife were standing right there, I swapped out my usual
expletives for: Golly gosh darn! My blasted stinking shock mount broke!
How annoying, I'm sure that this sand will be much cooler under
the jeep, as will the doggone exhaust pipe that I will be forced to work
around! It's all about self control.

After 30 minutes or so, the offending shock was removed and
we were back on our way.

Examination of the shock mount revealed catastrophic failure of the passenger's side rear, lower mount. Detailed examination indicates the failure resulted from damage received in an earlier, unknown event. Continued stress placed on the mount during subsequent off-roading expeditions caused damage to evolve into a crack, expanding until failure occurred. 
Actually, this was an easy trail repair, removing the shock allowed us to continue the trip. I am looking for replacement mounts, my brother-in-law will weld them to the rear axle for me. I will likely replace both lower mounts and both rear shocks while I'm doing it, it might save some work later.
In a future post, I will cover some more highlights of the trip. Due to the high temps, it will likely be our last trip to the desert for the season. It's mountain and beach time now!
Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Caught On Camera - Electric Vault Ka-Boom sends OCFA Crew Reeling

 The Story of an Orange County Fire Authority crew getting caught up in an underground vault explosion has been pretty big news around here for the last couple of days, but I was still surprised when it was featured again last night on the 10 O' clock news

Yet again, I was caught working my molars over when I heard the magic words "Caught on Camera". I turned toward the T.V. just in time to see a couple of guys from O.C.F.A. enveloped in a fireball and another image of one of the firefighters dragging the other out of the danger zone.

Blast That Sent Fire Captain Flying Caught On Camera « CBS Los Angeles

I was further surprised to see Captain Dave Wolfe of the OCFA being interviewed at his home, relating of his experience in the matter. I actually know Dave, we moonlighted together at a small department back in the day. He has actually been pictured in this blog, though I blurred his face out as i didn't want his mother to see what obscene gestures her son was capable of making.

The explosion was caught of the dash cam of a Brea P.D. cruiser who had responded  to the call with O.C.F.A. It is really worth a look, click on the link above. Sorry for the ad, I could find an embed code so I had to link it.

I hope Wolfe heals up OK, his ears look a little tender. It also looks like his boot did a good job, shaking out the twittering birds and dragging Wolfe to safety. It looks like they were both a little lucky considering that they were a little unlucky to begin with.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shooter of Craps

It's always a crap shoot when you head to the desert this late in the season. It could be nice, maybe in the mid to high eighties, or it could be hot, slightly over the century mark.

When we made plans for this weekend, back in February, it was really nice. Looking up the weather for Indio/Ocotillo Wells for this weekend, it is supposed to be 100+. Hopefully, it will cool down into the low 70's at night, allowing for sleeping. As we don't have a large enough generator to run the A/C in our trailer - shade, water and beer will have to suffice for cooling during the day. We have plenty of all three.

One bonus of the warm weather will be fewer people. As this is not a long weekend, the crowds will be fewer still. Hopefully the carnage will be at a lower level as well. I will let you know on that.

This is probably our last trip to the desert this year, unless we decide to camp a a place with hookups in a few weeks. That is doubtful, but you never know.

Regardless this will likely be a great weekend for us, hopefully yours will be as well.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Good Decision

Alan Cockrell, a 757 pilot for United Air Lines, writes of a good decision that he made recently over at his blog Decision Height.

After my dark post of yesterday. I found it uplifting and thought I would share it with you. Give it a click and enjoy the uplift.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Absurdity in an Absurd City

I watched it go down on live TV. As is my usual practice, I had turned the TV on before pulling my boots off and brushing my teeth. Much to my delight, a car chase was in progress on one of the local stations. You have to love L.A. TV, if there is a car chase and a news chopper is up, you are going to get to see it.

I stood there in my chonies, working on my molars, looking up at the screen. The driver of the pursued car was a real desperado it seemed. It appeared as if he was getting ready to flip a u turn and head back toward the many patrol units that were pursuing him. He was in the middle of his maneuver when one of the black and whites hit him in the driver's side door, causing the car to come to a stop.

The driver crossed over to the passenger's side door, opened it and hopped out. The suspect ran down the freeway, officer's in pursuit, with at least one officer pointing his weapon at the suspect. There appeared to be something in the suspect's hand as he ran. 

The suspect stopped a couple of times and pointed the dark object toward the pursuing officers.  At one point, the suspect took cover behind a stopped car before resuming his flight and stopping at least one more time to assume a firing stance. I remember thinking "this is going to go bad for someone" and wondered how long it was going to take until someone got shot.

As it turned out, not very long. An undetermined number of officers (probably many) opened up on the suspect, quickly eliminating the threat. The suspect was dropped and cuffed, dying somewhere in the process. The dark object turned out not to be a weapon, but a cell phone. Yet another tragedy, one brought on by bizarre behavior.

If my description was not adequate for the purposes of this discussion, watch the video below. It is exactly what I and thousands of fellow viewers saw.

To be honest, I was not shocked nor horrified. I was glad that no officers were hurt and I felt bad for the suspect,  in that he lost his life. However, it appeared to me that the outcome was about what it should have been.

Having been a peace officer for a short time, one that was armed and reasonably well trained, It looks like a good shoot to me, though a tragic one. Either  the suspect was really, really stupid, or he wanted to die but lacked the guts or method to do it himself. Either way, a tragedy, someone lost their son, brother or friend. It is not a good thing.

Initially, I withheld commenting on the matter, despite video clips of the suspect's family publicly demanding why their loved one had to die. Despite their ridiculous statements, ludicrous questions and absurd protestations,  I figured my lip service on the subject would serve no functional purpose and out of respect for the family, I abstained from expressing my ever humble opinion. That is until yesterday, when the family announced that they filed a $120,000,000 million dollar wrongful death claim against the City of Los Angeles.

The family retained an attorney, I don't know who approached who. Regardless, as the attorney/family partnership has began trying their case in the media, the gloves are off.

Though I am saddened by the loss of this 19 yr old man, I am even further saddened that his lack of intellect or his desire to kill himself has dragged so many others into his mess. This sadness is only surpassed by my anger over the cost to the City that defending this frivolous claim will cause.

Hopefully, this case will get dismissed or dropped before it really gets rolling. In my perfect world, L.A. would fight this at all costs and would prevail, with the plaintiff's attorney getting nothing. As the City of Los Angeles has a history of settling cases rather than fighting them, this is unlikely.

The attorney has probably hit the LAPD lotto, the family will still grieve. The residents of L.A. will all pay.

For those of you who wonder what happens when you wait too long to eliminate a threat, watch the video below. Be warned however that it is very disturbing, I was both shocked and horrified when I saw it and I won't watch it again.

Thanks for reading and allowing me to vent.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Exploring Mercy Air

The afternoon ended with me asking the pilot to depart the area flying low, to the north and just over the old burn building. I was thankful when he agreed to comply with my request.

The afternoon started with a classroom session, taught by an Area Business Manager from Mercy Air, a division of Air Methods.

The occasion was was the weekly meeting of our explorer post. The post advisers had made arrangements with Mercy Air to give a class and demo for the post. Needless to say, attendance was high. Everybody it seems, loves helicopters. As many of you know, I love helicopters as well..

After the classroom session, the post went to an area near the maintenance shop and watched the arrival of the helicopter.

I, being somewhat trainable, took up position behind a convenient Volkswagen and recorded the event.

The helicopter came in with three people on board, the pilot, a flight nurse and a medic. They spent about an hour showcasing their equipment and answering questions. Needless to say, the presentation was well received.

After the presentation, it was time for the obligatory posed photos, in reality the reason that I was invited to the event. (trust me, I don't mind in the least)

After the photos, I and a couple of the parents hoofed it back to the tower and went to the fourth floor landing where we waited for the departure of the helicopter. Thanks to the agreeable pilot, we were not disappointed.

It was a great opportunity for the explorers to see what a med-evac helicopter is all about. We rarely use helicopters for transport, we have three hospitals in town including a level-two trauma center. Occasionally, a burn patient or head trauma patient may get flown to the regional medical center or to the burn unit in the next county. Even those occasions are very rare.

Our P.D. helicopter has the capability of placing a special stretcher in it and flying a patient. As it is not an air ambulance, it is not used for transporting patients to the hospital. I have used it a few times to fly a patient out of an area where vehicles cannot travel and flying them to an LZ where an ambulance then takes over and transports. That is a handy capability when dealing with spinal injury patients who are down in the river bottom or the wildlife sanctuary. Flying is usually a lot smoother ride than being carried by six firefighters.

Some day, some of these explorers will likely be incident commanders on major medical incidents. The seeds planted by Mercy Air at this class just may germinate and produce some business. Regardless, it was a great display of goodwill toward our explorers and is greatly appreciated. Thanks to Mercy Air and most of all, thanks to you for reading.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Something I Never Thought I'd See

There are a few things that I never thought I'd see at my agency. Either for budgetary or philosophical reasons, there are several pieces of equipment that I was really surprised  when they showed up.

This sweet little unit was placed in service last week. Although I no longer will have any use for most of it's features, there are a couple of items on it that I may someday get to use.

 Meet Breathing Support 5. It was purchased through a grant and is assigned to Sta. #5, which covers the north-central part of the city, including the airport. I am not sure all of the reasons why it was placed there, but as an engine (3 persons) and a squad (2 persons) are assigned there and it is toward the center of town it seems like a good spot for it. That there is adequate room at 5's was likely a consideration as well. The S.O.P. for it's response hasn't been developed yet, I am sure one is on the way.

Bottles are filled at the rear of the unit, from a protected filling station.

The filling station can fill 4 bottles at a time, from a four tank cascade system. The cascade tanks are kept full by the on-board compressor.

How we have handled the filling and/or the exchange of air cylinders on scene has always been a little sketchy. All of our engines carry a spare bottle for each SCBA on the unit, as do the squads. Each truck company carries an minimum of 12 extra bottles, some more. The haz-mat unit and heavy rescue carry spare cylinders as well, though I am unsure how many. 

As we send 2 engines, 2 trucks and a squad as a first alarm assignment to a structure fire, we should have at least 34 spare cylinders on scene. That is usually enough, though when conducting extended operations it may not be.

Our primary method of filling cylinders is by a compressor located at station 3. If a need for additional cylinders arose, someone at 3's would load up a cache of filled cylinders into the utility truck and haul them to the scene. There, the cylinders would be swapped out for the empties and the empties would be hauled back to 3's where they would be filled. Additional trips could be made as required.

The department also owns a breathing compressor which is mounted on a trailer. The trailer was kept at station 12, located in the south west corner of the city. Theoretically, the trailer could be hooked up to utility 12 and hauled out to an incident. That takes time, was kind of a pain and was rarely done.

As I said as before, the SOP for this isn't out yet, but it's refilling capacity and it's myriad of functions leads me to believe it will be used quite a bit.

BS-5 is also a lighting unit, with a large generator and two masts. Each mast has four quartz lights and two large area floods. Each mast has its own remote controller, which allow the light to be moved over a large area. In addition, there are two additional quartz floods mounted in the side of the unit. These are to light the area next to the unit. 

I haven't seen the lights operate at night yet, but I am told that it is impressive.  Trust me, when I get to see the unit light up the world, you'll get to see the unit light up the world.

The unit is also designed to handle re-hab functions as well. Out here in the land of the dirt people, heat is our biggest environmental enemy. That and spicy food. BS-5 can handle both.

This is the re-hab area, which can hold 5 or 6 people. I am told that the A/C works well enough to allow meat to be safely stored in there if needed. On the rare occasion where cold weather is a problem, the re-hab space can be heated to a comfortable  level. 

When I first saw these units, I thought that they were ordinary gas powered blowers. To my delight, I discovered that they are actually misting fans, to be used to cool outside areas.

These will come in handy during the hot summer months, there are times that one would give anything to get cool, even for only a few minutes. If these keep one firefighter from going to the hospital due to heat exhaustion, they will have been a good investment. 

This feature really surprised me.


This is one of those items that I have only really needed two or three times over the years, but when I needed it, I needed it.  Those all-night fires on Tuesday night (after the famousTaco Tuesday taco feed) can bring discomfort, especially when no head is available. I have hijacked an investigator's car and have had the squaddies give me a lift to the nearest station when nature called while on a long incident. I can assure you that I am not the only one that this has happened to.

Maybe this will prevent the dreaded "black ring around Uranus" that occurs when one drops a deuce in a soot covered  terlet. Trust me, this capability is a good thing!

Had the UASI grant not paid for this unit, I doubt it would have been purchased. The funding just would not have been there to do it.  It fills a need, and as one old salt engineer commented "this unit is here strictly for us".

Thanks for reading,