Friday, August 31, 2012

I Heard It Through The Grape Vine

A few posts ago, I posted that my services were not wanted as a juror in a criminal case. I heard through the grapevine a short while ago that the defense lost the case and the defendant was found guilty of the charges filed against him.

Good. He looked guilty to me anyways. He had shifty eyes and he acted like he was trying to charm his way out of trouble. Apparently, neither my replacement nor the other jurors bought the defense attorney's effort to get his client off either.

It's likely prison for the defendant and a mark in the loss column for the defense attorney. Despite the defendant's shifty eyes and his Eddie Haskellesque greeting, I'm sure I would have had open mind until jury deliberations were well under way.

As it turned out, it didn't really matter. There is no longer any presumption of innocence, no need to remain fair and impartial and no need to use the terms alleged, suspected or accused. Convicted dirt-bag who got caught burglarizing someone's  home is now an appropriate phrase when applied to the man who stood trial.

Looking at the above words, I am beginning to suspect that I don't deal with rejection well.

Who knew.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Any Amateur Arachnologists Out There?

The area where I live has always been a favorite habitat for black widow spiders. I must admit that I hate the damn things and I work hard to keep them under control. As I am too cheap to pay a  pest control service to come and spray once a month, keeping them under control means that once a month I take a flashlight and a can of Raid and go on spider patrol.

For spider patrol to be effective, it has to be performed after dark. It consists of first walking the perimeter fence, using the flashlight to spot the offending arachnid and the can of  Raid to kill it. After the fence is cleared, the same procedure is performed on the exterior walls of the house. It works pretty good, but must be performed regularly if it is to remain effective.

Up until the last year or so, Black Widows were the predominate spider followed by Daddy Long Legs. The Black Widows were always killed, depending on my mood, the Daddy Long Legs were sometimes allowed to live. I have nothing against Daddy Long Legs, but their webs are pretty messy.

After we moved back into our house last fall, I noticed that there was a newcomer living in some of the nooks and crannies of our back yard. It had many similarities of the Black Widow, in fact other than being light brown, they were almost identical. I didn't think much of it until recently, when I realized that they have taken over my yard and seem to be rather prolific.

This one was one of the larger specimens, it was residing on the side of the house between the deck box and the spare propane tank. Click to enlarge, it is kind of a pretty spider.

Despite it's beauty, I killed it along with 15 of it's neighbors.

A little web research revealed that the Brown Widow was first spotted in SoCal in 2003 and has spread like wildfire. I found a L.A. Times article on the Brown Widow, apparently I wasn't the only one to notice.

Frankly, this thing skeeves me out. Number one son received a nasty spider bite on his belly a few months ago, I have no way of knowing whether it was a Brown Widow or not. It was bad enough that he had to see a doctor about it and the discharge from the wound was disgusting enough to put on You Tube. ( If I ever find it, I'll embed it).

Maybe it's time to rethink the pest control service thing.

Thanks to the Saint I Am Married To for holding the flashlight, allowing the above photos to be taken. Thanks to you for reading.


Confined Space

Back in the day, all that was required to perform a confined space operation was a high guts to sense ratio and a flashlight. After the tragic loss of many would-be rescuers, ropes, SCBA and two forms of communication were required.

Although the number of rescuer deaths dropped, too many people were still dying and getting hurt in confined spaces. Recognizing the need for improvement, additional requirements were put in place, training offered and equipment developed. Today, a systemic approach is applied to confined space operations and to confined space rescues and investigations. It is a system that was borne from blood and loss and one that should be applied when working in these areas.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to photograph one such operation. It was an investigation of a suspicious odor and though there was no emergent situation, it did call for the expertise of the technical rescue team assisted by the haz-mat team.

The scene - dusk at a rail car unloading facility. The situation - a suspicious odor coming from a drainage system. The mission - determine if the cause of the odor.

The conditions present situation mandated a permitted entry. Thus - a lot of things needed to happen before entry could be made.

There are knots to be tied.

There is a multitude of equipment to be set up and checked out.

Checklists must be completed and marked.

The entry and back-up teams have to be equipped and made ready to go. After all, these procedures are designed to protect people, both the victims and the rescuers.

The ambient air in the confined space must be monitored before entry and continuously during the operation.

Before entry is made, a final briefing is held to everybody knows what the game plan is and that everybody knows exactly what they are supposed to do.

And of course everything is checked off and documented.

After all of the boxes are checked, the people briefed and the equipment ready, it is time to make entry.

Again, everything is recorded with particular attention being paid to entry times, ambient air conditions and air supply.

You can see why they call this confined space.

Two in, two out - ready to assist the rescuers if they should get in trouble. Here, the second member of the entry team is lowered into the hole.

As the people down hole are dependent  upon the external air supply, constant monitoring is mandated.

What goes in must come out. At some point, either the objectives are obtained or the entry team needs to by replaced. Either way, the people must come out. Even though they are on their way out, vigilance must be maintained until everybody is out of the space and the entry point is secured.

 A meeting between the shot-callers is held to make sure all of the objectives were met and to determine the next course of action. Issues and concerns are expressed and the status of people and equipment are verified.

As all objectives are met, clean up begins. As the confined space was filled with all kinds of decomposing organic material, the entry team and their equipment needed to be washed off before being loaded up and returned to quarters. I must say that the entry team had a unique odor about them upon their egress from the hole. There was some debate about whether they had picked up some smell while down hole, or whether it was just the usual "B" shift stench. It remains a mystery.

  After everything was loaded up, the crews returned to quarters and finished clean-up and returning the equipment to a serviceable state. I returned to the crib and enjoyed a cocktail and some quality time with The Saint That I Am Married To. 

As always, it was good to see everyone again - even though I see some of these people as often as I did when I was on the job - I still miss them.

Thankfully this turned out to be nothing of great concern. Even so, the game still needed to be played.

Thanks to "B" shift and the Chief for letting me shoot, you guys did a good job with this.

Thanks to you for reading.


Monday, August 27, 2012


I was the first juror kicked off of the panel by the defense. The judge had eliminated a few, but of the 10 voir dire challenges given to the defense, I was the first.

"Mr. Schmoe" the defense attorney said a few minutes before my dismissal "frankly, you make me nervous."

"I have concerns about your being a former arson investigator and you working relationship with law enforcement during your career. That and your wife's career choice makes me wonder if you can be truly impartial"

Little did he know,

I know cops aren't perfect and I know the D.A.'s office has it's issues as well. Each witness, piece of evidence and victim statement has to be judged on it's own merit and weighed as to it's value to the case - both on the prosecution and the defense side. You can't get much more impartial than that.

It all worked out in the end, I got booted just before lunch and I was able to meet The Saint I Am Married To for lunch, something that I probably would not have been able to do had I remained on the jury. It would have not have presented well and could have created issues for both of us.

As it was, I was able to spend some time with someone who wanted me and not be stuck on a jury where I was not.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, August 26, 2012

First Post (Sorta)

This is my first post from my new desktop computer. After nearly seven years, my old machine finally gave up the ghost and refused to display data on the monitor. This occurred several months ago, forcing me to use my five year old laptop for all computer related activities.

Seven years is a long time in the world of computing. As attached as I was to my old machine, it had stopped being as productive as I would have liked several years ago. It simply did not have the power to run several programs that I use on a regular basis. It was still running windows XP, a OS which I loved but had become outdated. In short, my computer had actually outlived it's usefulness.

Since I switched to editing photos in RAW form, I had been forced to use my lap top to run Elements and Lightroom, both of which my old machine could only marginally run. Elements would run OK as long as I didn't have too many files open for editing at once. Lightroom just took up too much resources for the old girl to smoothly operate.

While I had become used to editing on the laptop, I actually find it more comfortable to work on my desktop. I quickly grew tired of exclusively using the laptop, though I am glad it was available for my use. It was with great joy that I assembled some cash and went down to my favorite computer store.

This is probably the fourth machine that I have purchased through Ace One Micro Computers, they have all been reliable, well built machines. Ace One has performed a few repairs and upgrades for me as well - I have been happy with them as well.

I had conferred with the folks at Ace One about a new machine before, however the catastrophic failure of our washing machine, refrigerator and some unexpected car repairs had taken precedence over my new computer. Having resolved those issues, the failure of my old desktop placed the purchase of my new one high enough on the priority list to dedicate the funds to close the deal.

It's kind of ironic, I paid $300 less for this machine than I did for my first, an XT clone that I bought in 1986 or so. I ordered this one with significantly more capacity than I need, hopefully it will meet my needs four or five years from now. This is a purchase/build strategy that I have used in the past- with great success.

After bringing this computer home last weekend, I have spent the past week transferring data from my laptop and from files backed up from my old desktop. I have also purchased new versions of Lightroom and Elements and installed Office and numerous other programs that I use. It took far longer than I expected, with the transferring of bajillions and bajillions of photos taking up the largest amount of time. All I have left to do is back up the reorganized photo files onto my portable hard drive and reestablish my I-Tines folder and I am done. Hopefully I won't have to this again for a long while.

Another time consuming factor was my need to stop and look at photos before moving them. I get kind of sentimental while looking at them - I guess that is one of the reasons why people take photographs. You have seen a few of my old favorites while reading this, sharing experiences is another reason why we take photographs. (Most of these photos you may have seen before. Re-Runs - it is summer after all)

I have also edited my first batch of photos using the new computer and the new version of Lightroom that I installed on it. You will get to see those in a few days. They are of a confined space entry that I shot last week, about 85 images.  I received pretty good feedback from them, the Haz-Mat team and the Tech Rescue team liked the way they came out.

I have jury duty tomorrow, we'll see if I get assigned to a trial. The Saint I Am Married To doesn't think there are any really big trials up this week, but you never know. As she works in "The System", there is scant chance I would get seated anyways, not unless some defense attorney falls asleep at the switch and lets me get by. Time will tell about that.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Dog Days of Summer

I had the opportunity to photograph some search dogs a few days ago, including a couple who were searching for a live "victim". These dogs are worked constantly, repeated training is essential to keep their skills up to snuff.

They are thoroughly tested and certified  before being able to be deployed and then are re-certified every year, (I think) to maintain currency. Neither the initial certification or the re-cert is easy, these dogs and their handlers have to be on their game in order to get through it.

These dogs are live victim search dogs and are members of a FEMA USAR team. I know some of them and have deployed with a few of them over the years. I must add that most of the dogs that I have deployed with are either retired or are no longer with us as they have a very finite life. It's kind of sad when you think about it.

The game is mostly one of scent, thus an effective search should be started down wind of the area to be searched. Here is Nikko and his handler starting a search of the rubble pile.

Nikko is nearing the "victim" who is actually a Fire Explorer, secreted in the pile. The handler is standing at the base of the pile, a hundred feet away.

 Nikko has found the victim and has alerted.  Nikko alerts by barking, though I'd bet that his handler could tell just by body language when Nikko is getting close.

Nikko is still alerting, even as the victim's hand pokes up through the pile. Now, Nikko will get his reward, a session playing with his toy. Most of the dogs that I have worked around are "play" motivated dogs. They will work for fun!

In a technical search scenario, the victim might not be visible to rescuers, even after detected by the dog. It would then be the job of the search team members to breach into voids and use specialized equipment to peer into the voids. The team has several cameras that can be extended into small openings, providing visual information that can be used to facilitate a rescue.

Next up was Blue, one of the more senior dogs on the team. Some of you older readers may remember Blue, he surprised me one day on the third floor of the training tower. As you can see, Blue is an enthusiastic member of the team, despite his veterano status.

 Blue has alerted his handler that there is a live human buried under the rubble pile.

Hey! He's up here! You!  Put that camera down, this guy could use a hand!

Nikko and Blue are my favorite dogs,each for a different reason. Blue is just awesome, nothing seems to bother him and he is very very good at what he does.

Nikko enjoys being paid attention to and being petted. Most search dogs can take affection or leave it, Nikko really seems to enjoy it.

Besides, how could you not love a face like that!

Though it was near dusk when these photos were taken, it was still in the mid nineties. A lot of the photos showed dog-tongue, they were all as hot as I was. After 10 straight days of triple digit temperatures I think we are ready for the dog days of summer to be over and for fall to arrive.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

RVC At Work

Let me start this by apologizing to the rest of the nation. I am sorry. I know most of you suffered through a record setting heat wave last month while we enjoyed a relatively mild July. Well America, rest assured that we are paying for it now, in spades.

It was 105 at my house yesterday, 108 today. The hot temperatures reminded me how brutal working during the summer could be. After returning home this afternoon, I checked the temps at a local reporting station. 108.3 degrees F. (42.4 C for you metric readers) that's hot by anyone's standards.

A few minutes later, I heard the lads get punched out for a structure fire a couple of miles away. A few more minutes later, I heard them get cancelled as the call was in the county and they could handle the call. Frankly, I was relieved - it was hot and I really didn't feel like going back out!

A few more minutes after that, I saw the deputy chief blast drive by my house, headed toward the fire. That prompted me to go check it out. I saw the smoke as I turned off my street, frankly it looked to me as it might be in the city.

I parked around the corner, grabbed my lid, my brush jacket, my trusty 7D and then went to work.

 The roof over the garage has already collapsed, crews are inside,
fighting the dragon, which was roaming freely in the attic.

Getting the fan ready to go. I'm not sure when it got turned on and 
I don't know what conditions were on the second floor, I don't get
to go inside any more. On days like today, that's OK by me.

A RVC crew using a rotary saw to make entry into the garage.

The dragon isn't dead until smoke stops coming from it's nostrils.
Crews were still upstairs, these guys went to work on the garage.

 For those of you not in the fire service, let me give you an idea 
of what life is like on days like today. Wrap up in a blanket, 
then wrap yourself up again with a layer of heavy plastic.
Put on a backpack weighing thirty pounds or so, then push some
weights and do some jumping jacks for thirty minutes or so.

Safety message: Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

I hope this wasn't serious, one of the RVC crews began treating
a firefighter after the fire was knocked down. Given the 
conditions, I'm surprised that  more guys didn't have problems.

This fire belonged to Riverside County (RVC). Units from Corona (COR) assisted and a photographer from the City of Riverside (RIV) tried to stay out of the way. Although my agency wasn't involved, I knew a few people - mainly from the FEMA USAR team. One of the RVC engineers used to be an explorer back in the day - it was nice to see a local boy who done good.

These folks made a good stop on a tough day. Well done laddies, strong work.

The weather reader on one of the Los Angeles T.V. stations was saying that we have a few more days of 100 plus weather before temperatures drop into the nineties next week. I can't wait, though it really doesn't matter nearly as much as it used to. At least not to me.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ka-Boom Ka-Boom

Firefighters from my beloved agency had a close call last night while fighting a garage fire at a residence. Units were dispatched to a reported structure fire at about 11:15 last night. Arriving units found a garage well involved with fire and initiated an attack. As access was being made, the first of at least two explosions occurred, spraying burning gasoline on a firefighter who was reportedly forcing entry.

The flames on the firefighter were quickly extinguished by firefighters on an attack line, preventing any injury to him. Operations were changed to defensive mode and exposure protection after the second explosion occurred.

A second firefighter received minor burns to the back of his hand while performing vertical ventilation operations.

The second of the three explosions were caught on camera by an employee of a local hospital who was reported to be on his way to work. The explosion occurs at the 1:05 mark.

 Yikes!! Despite the poor quality of the video, the flash and ensuing mushroom cloud are pretty impressive.

At some point, firefighters were made aware that the garage contained multiple 55 barrels of gasoline that were being stored there by the occupant. A man smoking in the garage caused the fire when smoking materials ignited vapors from the gasoline. The man is being treated at a local burn center for second degree burns to his hand.


Fortunately, all PPE worked as designed and nobody got seriously hurt. If I get a chance, I'll talk with the firefighter who was most affected by this event, I'm sure that he will not forget this for a long time.

This video should remind us that you really never know for sure what  is being stored in an occupancy until after the event is over and the clean up is underway. What appears to be routine can bite you in the ass in a hurry and catch if you are unprepared.

Thanks for reading,