Thursday, January 31, 2013

Switching Hats

#2 Son and I came across this incident before the dust had settled. I have to say, old habits die hard. My fire officers hat was pulled from the dank, dusty recesses of my brain as I walked toward the scene. I'm glad I remembered to tell my son to grab my camera bag from the truck, it saved me a trip later.

There was some business to take care of, though to be honest, the best thing for me to do was provide support to the patient until the crews from 2s arrived. Once they arrived, a quick pass on to the Captain and that fire officer's hat was buried again, back where it belonged.

Out came another hat, one that fits far better than the one from my past.

 It was nice having the kid on scene, he was able to hold my camera bag, giving me one less thing to worry about.

 I kind of like this stabilization system, it sure beats a 1" life line.

There was some stuff that had to moved before the patient could be packaged.

The patient ended up coming out the rear hatch, it must have been nice to have that room.

A little slower shutter speed and this photo would have come out a lot better. A little blurring on the SUV would have shown the motion of the vehicle returning to it's wheels. Maybe next time.

This was kind of fun, I got to dust off some old skills and use my current ones. I must admit at this phase of my life, I am better suited to my newer skill set as opposed to my older ones.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New News From an Old Fire

The Old Fire started on October 25, 2003 in the foothills just above the city of San Bernardino, Ca. Started during a Santa Ana wind event, it exploded into a raging conflagration that consumed almost 1000 homes and over 90,00 acres of chaparral and forest. Six people died as a result of the fire. mostly from heart attacks while fleeing or fighting the flames.

 Press Enterprise Photo by Greg Vojtko

The fire was determined to be an arson caused fire, Two men were seen in a van near the point of origin. They were identified and one was arrested for lighting the fire almost six years after the crime. The other was killed by gunfire three years after the fire. The convicted man, Rickie Lee Fowler was sentenced to death a few days ago. As a sidebar, a 25 yr. old man was convicted of recklessly starting a second fire while driving in brush in order to get a better view of the Old Fire. That smaller fire eventually burned into and merged with the Old Fire. It sucks to be him.

 Press Enterprise Photo by William Wilson Lewis III

As a result of the recent conviction and sentencing, The Press Enterprise (our local rag) dug into the archives and pulled out some of their best photos of the incident. I looked them over and found them to be of the PE's usual quality work. I love good fire photography, It's good to see shots by people who can really shoot.

The Old fire brings back a lot of memories. I watched it take off from 40 miles away. I was teaching a wildland interface class in a wildlife preserve and we could see the header building as we walked through the brush. It was an amazing sight. Though it brought home what I was trying to teach the cadets, it was also a distraction. It's hard to stay focused on Schmoe when the thermal columns from two major wildfires are building on the horizon.

Some friends of mine were on that fire, others lived in the fire zone and fought to save their own homes. Ash rained on our house for a few days, our days were tinted a golden orange hue that only the drift from a major wildfire can produce.

As often happened during events such as these, my lot was to stay in town and back-fill positions created by strike teams fighting the fire. The pay is the same and it's usually a better working environment.

Click on the link and check out the pics. For those of you lucky enough not to have to experience these things, it's pretty amazing. Great photos too.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, January 27, 2013

I Have Two Profound Statements To Make

First, Russell Crowe is not a great singer. He is a fantastic actor, but his vocals would probably not enable him to make a living on his vocals alone. I am uniquely qualified to make that statement as I can't carry a tune, a symphony orchestra cannot play loud enough to cover over my tone deafness. If I sang with the New York Philharmonic, some jerk sound engineer would isolate my voice and put it on You Tube. I would replace Yoko Ono as the worst singer ever on the web.

Second, I don't really care for musicals, I don't ever remember seeing one at the movie theater, except for Zep's "Song Remains the Same" and "Rocky Horror". Oh wait, does the "Blues Brothers Movie" count? What about "School of Rock"? I digress.

Therefore, it was with some reluctance that we opted to cross "Les Miserables" off of our Academy Awards Best Picture List, bite the bullet and see it.

The Saint and I were both in awe when the movie was over. What an incredible movie experience. We have seen five of the Best Picture nominees and will likely get to see a few more. Les Miserables was by far the best film that we have seen so far.

For the Saint, it knocked "Django Unchained" down a notch on her best picture list and for me, "Lincoln" was bumped down to number two. "Django", "Argo", "Lincoln","Zero Dark Thirty" and now "Les Miserables" have been seen, discussed and pondered over.  All were great movies but none attained the overall level brilliance of Les Miserables. Just my opinion mind you.

I'm saying that you have to go see this movie, I'm just saying that we did and loved every second of it. If you are even thinking about it, just do it. Put on yer good boots, a nice shirt and drive the good Jeep down there. A little culture might do ya some good.


I started feeling sick on the way from the Calico Mountains yesterday. I thought perhaps it might have been a beer to many at the Slash X Cafe, a watering hole located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, or perhaps just being thrashed from driving and off-roading all day.

The Chills, a head that feels as if it is going to explode and violent sneezing fits have confirmed that I am freaking sick. I feel awful, these eight small paragraphs are  the only thing I have accomplished today. I know it's only a cold, but it is soundly thrashing my ass. Somebody needs to get working on a cure for the common cold. Soon.

Thanks for reading,

An Ellen' Schmoe

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It Transcends Time

Spotted at a local Starbucks a few weeks ago:

I had to look twice. That is not a car you see every day.

Not only are DeLoreans kind of rare around  here, but ones built to go back to the future are even rarer.

Rare enough that I felt compelled to take it's picture. Several times.

There was a small sign with a URL on the door, My curiosity got the best of me and I looked it up. Ya gotta love the Google.

It appears that the DeLorean is part of an organization called Team Time Car and is used to make appearances in car shows, special events and participate in the Fireball Adventurally, which is an adventure rally held to raise money for missing children.

Team Time Car's web page states that the car is a replica and has not appeared in any of the Back To The Future films, but has appeared on TV and in other movie projects. It could have fooled me, it is a very convincing replica indeed.

I have no idea what it was doing in the Inland Empire, but I suspect the co-pilot listed on the door may have Inland connections.

I was disappointed that it wasn't the "real" time traveling DeLorean, I could have used it to gather some intelligence. Like who's going to win the Kentucky Derby or what Google stock is going to be worth a year from now.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, January 21, 2013

Balls of Copper and Brass

This story was related to me second hand, but there is little doubt that it happened as told.

It was well after midnight at the healing place (my last assignment for you newer readers) The fire captain was asleep in his dorm. He awoke to the sound of a vehicle pulling into the driveway, but it did not cause him enough concern to complete his awakening and look through the window to see what was going on. Vehicles stopping in front of the station are not that uncommon, despite the late hour.

It only took a few moments for his awakening to be completed in a most rude fashion. To him, it sounded like a car had smashed into the station, not too far from where he lay. The noise was accompanied by a sharp jolt, one which shook the building. He jumped to his feet and peered out of the window. He just caught the image of a red SUV pulling away from the driveway and down the road before opening the door and rousing the rest of the crew. He also managed to get a call in to dispatch before heading outside. It was then that he realized the station had not been hit by the vehicle, but that the vehicle had been used to tear a large anti-back flow manifold away from the building.

The captain relayed the updated information to dispatch just as the red SUV came back and started to pull back into the station driveway. (maybe to pick up the manifold?) When the driver saw the crew examining the damage, he changed his mind and sped down the wrong side of the divided boulevard.

P.D. arrived a few moments later. The crews gave the officer a vehicle description and direction of travel. As luck would have it, a second officer was parked in the lot of a burger joint a few miles away. He spotted the vehicle and made the stop.  Evidence of metal theft was found in the car and the driver was soaking wet. Game over dude.


It takes real balls to hook a strap to the back end of your Suburban,  back up to an occupied fire station, hook the other end of the strap to a copper and brass plumbing fixture, then haul ass. Maybe he thought that he would get the device loaded and be gone before anyone could react. Maybe his plan just wasn't sound or maybe fate just reared it's ugly head. Maybe, that monstrosity of the anti-back flow manifold and it's bajillion pounds of copper and brass was just too juicy of a target to pass up - despite the risk.

Either way, the miscreant got caught. He reportedly plead guilty to a minor charge and is already out. He is probably going to lose his car over it, the impound and storage fees are far more than it's worth.

Metal theft is a continuing problem in the vicinity of the healing place. Fire hydrants, anti-back flow valves and other exposed plumbing fixtures are stolen all of the time. I have been returning from late night calls and come across water shooting into the street, the result of stolen anti-back flow valves. One of the latest tricks, is to take a saws-all and cut off the exposed brass OS&Y valve stems on fire sprinkler control valves. It only takes a few seconds and some of the large warehouses have more than five of them.

Maybe, just maybe the arrest of this ballsy idiot will slow down the theft of metal in the area. Somehow, I doubt it.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Another First for New Truck 2

Actually, this is probably be a first for the RFD. I opened the local rag last week to find this image staring out at me:

Photo By David Bauman -Press Enterprise

It is a photo of new Truck 2 giving a wash-down to a Boeing 727 at Riverside Municipal Airport. (RAL) The aircraft is being retired from Fed-Ex and has been donated to California Baptist University, a Christian university here in town.

Apparently, Cal Baptist is starting an aviation program, which will offer degrees in aviation administration, flight instruction and other aviation related courses. I suspect some of the graduates from the program will end up working in aviation careers supporting missionaries around the world. The 727 will be used to train students an complex aircraft systems and turbine engines.

It is a highly unusual photo for many reasons. First of all, I can't remember a 727 on the ground at RAL. I'm not saying one HASN'T landed here before, I'm just sayin' that if one has, I didn't know about it. IF one has, it was for an air show (highly unlikely - I have been to most of them) or a charter or something like that. Frankly, RAL isn't large enough, nor is it equipped for large aircraft such as this to frequent it.

Second, new Truck 2 is giving the aircraft a traditional wash-down. Wash-downs are a rite of passage for retiring airline pilots at the conclusion of their last flight. In this case, it was done as this was this aircraft's last flight. To my knowledge, a RFD apparatus have never done a wash-down for any plane or pilot. If it did happen, it would have to had been done during WWII or earlier and there is no record of it.

Third, there is no engine company providing water to the truck. That is the only truck equipped with a pump. If you look closely, you can see the supply line going from the hydrant to the truck. Unusual for us.

Check out this video of the landing:

My airline pilot buddy used to be a second officer on 727s, he tells me that they are a little tough to land smoothly when they are empty. There is a pretty cool collection of video of an ex-United Airlines 727 landing on a very short runway in Chicago Il, at Meigs field. That airplane was being donated to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, where it hangs to this day.

Meigs' runway was only 3900 feet long vs. 5200 at RAL, so the UAL pilots were presented with a greater challenge that the Fed-Ex pilots that landed at RAL.

I am glad that both sets of  pilots were up to the challenge, and these classic airliners are still around today, rather than being turned into beer cans. Not that I have anything against beer cans, it's just that I prefer bottled beer and I like airplanes even more.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It was like any other Christmas....

...sort of. Brightly wrapped packages were stacked around the beautifully decorated tree, the room was packed with eager kids and there were plenty of cameras recording the event. A table stacked with cookies and cocoa waited in the next room, a moment of relaxation for the adults after the chaos was over.

There were guests in the home as well. An engine company from the local fire station was present as were several fire explorers, a person from admin and the dept. photographer. It was a festive gathering, anticipation was high.

Like many Christmases in my house - and probably yours, the gift opening was short, loud and intense. Despite the huge mound of gifts, the fifteen or so kids made short work of it. It was over in minutes. The neat pile of presents was reduced to mounds of shredded paper, the toys converted to smiles.

In the midst of chaos, the kids did good. There were no squabbles over toys, everyone was grateful and polite. The cocoa and cookies were great, it was a perfect end to a fun evening.

Soon enough, it was over and time for us guests to go home. The photos were uploaded to my computer, where they sat until we got back from Death Valley.

I had a ton of photos to process last week, including those of that evening. As I went through the images of the gift opening, I found it refreshing to see the smiles of the kids as they opened their presents, then played with the toys and showed them to the other kids. The smiles were genuine and kind of a crack-up. Some of the kids had crooked teeth, some had lost a tooth and the new ones had not yet grown in. Some had perfect teeth, all had eyes that were matching their grins - expressions of happiness.

"It's just too bad that the members of my department will not get to see those smiles". I thought as I air-brushed over the smiling moths and eyes. I promised the director of the abused family shelter that I would not distribute the photos to the department until I brushed over the faces of the kids and their mothers.

Apparently, some of the shelter's residents are still being pursued by those that they fled from. It's called an active abuser situation, shelter staff and the residents are very aware of the risks that active abusers present.

The photos will go out, the faceless kids will still be jumping around and playing with their
new toys - but without smiling faces and laughing eyes, it just doesn't tell the story.

Maybe I'll just have to tell it with words.


By any measure, this years toy drive was a great success . Over 10,000 toys were collected, beating the target by a couple of thousand. Two tubes of Colgate toothpaste were donated as well, I'll tell you the story behind that in a few days. 

Our visit to the shelter came a few days before Christmas. The crew at Sta. #3 along with the toy drive coordinators and some people from admin spent an evening wrapping the gifts, Eng. #5 and the others mentioned above delivered them the next night. Our agency has done this at this facility for a few years, it is a rewarding relationship for all.

I know the holidays are over, but I thought this story worth telling. I know people donate toys during the holidays not knowing where they end up. I can tell you that this particular batch of toys went to some good and deserving kids.

Thanks to the members of the RFD for taking on this project, especially to the coordinators and to admin for all of their efforts. Thanks to the citizens of Riverside for coming through with the goods and thanks to you for reading.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chloronated Sunset

"The thing about sunsets", I told Eric as we were perched atop Chloride Cliff,

(as always, click on an image to enlarge. It's worth the effort)

" Is that for about an hour or so, if you do not like what you are looking at,

all you have to do is wait just a few minutes

or shift your gaze just a few degrees

and you are almost sure to like what you see then."

 He nodded, but I don't recall him saying anything.

Somehow, I knew he agreed with me.

Every once in a while, ya just gotta stop and take a look at the sunset.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, January 7, 2013

Silhouettes and Shadows

In a perfect world, I would holler at the suppression crews to stop what they were doing and not move while I repositioned myself to get the lighting and composition where I wanted it. Then, I would direct them into certain poses and order them to freeze while the fire grew in intensity and I clicked away.

That would be in my perfect world. Not the property owners nor the victim's perfect world, their losses would increase greatly while my feeble attempts at photography would benefit. Not the crew's perfect world, their safety would be compromised at the benefit of a more pleasing documentation of their impeded efforts. Not only that, but fire suppression crews really want to get at it and don't want to be held up by anything, let alone a F.O.G. with a camera. I'm guessin' the Chief and the bystanders wouldn't like it much either.

To be honest, I'm still a suppression guy at heart so I wouldn't really want to hold anything up either. The last thing I want to do is interfere with anybody doing their job. I enjoy the benefit of great access, one that I want to keep. So, when it comes to fire ground photography, sometimes you just have to take what you can get. 

That's how the photographs below came to be. Light low on the horizon, positioned right where I didn't want it. After the first shot, I realized that what I wanted to happen wasn't and that silhouettes were probably my best option to salvage the few minutes that I had. Although this was a training burn, I still wasn't going to have the crew stop while I accessed the roof and moved to the sun-ward side of the roof. Not that they would have listened to me anyways.

Click on the image to enlarge.

I don't remember who the crew was, but that's Crispy Helmeted
Billy monitoring the evolution.

I liked the way the masks are still visible yet transparent.

This one was taken a few minutes later. I found the shadow 
effect on the smoke interesting.

Same effect, slightly less shadow.

Final silhouette shot, the last operational shot of the day.

This project turned out to be a three day affair, with me being present for four of the six sessions. As always, I learned a lot and I refreshed some photographic skills that I don't get to practice very often. I even learned some new fire control concepts, though I likely won't get to practice them. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Thanks to the men and women of the Riverside Fire Dept. for letting me shoot their activities and, as always, thanks to you for reading.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sgt. Rex - The Book

Ya gotta love the Kindle, I read about the book, bought it and was reading it - all in less than five minutes.

Well, my suspicions were right. I burned through it in less than a day, I couldn't put it down. I was picking up what Dowling was laying down, every single word.

The book covers Rex and his partner's experience working together as U.S. Marines in Iraq during the difficult times of 2004. More than just a war story, it reveals how the author and Rex came to be partners in a very dangerous location performing very dangerous missions.

But wait, there's more. What the book is really about is commitment. A Marine's commitment to his canine partner, a dog's commitment to his handler and the pair's commitment to their fellow Marines. 

All was told in a manner that kept me from setting it down. I must admit that it helped knowing that Rex had survived his Iraqi experience and had passed away from natural causes as a civilian. It could have gone either way. I also appreciated the epilogue, which covered what happened to Rex after Dowling left the Marine Corps.

I really enjoyed the book. If I ever get the opportunity to meet Mike Dowling, I'm going to buy the hardcover, just so Dowling can sign it. I'm just bummed that Rex won't be available to put his paw print on it or maybe put some teeth marks on it for me.

If you think this book might interest you, just go and buy it. It is available at the major bookstores and can be ordered both electronically and hard copy from

Thanks for reading,


Friday, January 4, 2013

R.I.P. Sgt. Rex

I have a soft spot for dogs, especially when they display a high degree of loyalty. That's why my allergies began acting up when I read this post about Sgt. Rex, a retired marine who passed away recently.

I was so impressed with the post, I bought the book about Rex. Rex's partner back in 2004, was a Marine named Mike Dowling who was so connected with Rex that he wrote a book about their time together. I downloaded the book about 15 minutes ago and am 20 pages in. So far, I can pretty much tell that I'm going to enjoy it.

Obviously, Rex touched more than a few lives in his eleven year life. He saved a few and he helped some others get through some really tough times. What more can you ask from a dog?

R.I.P. Rex

I'll let you know how the book comes out, it looks like it will be one of those that I will burn through in a few days. Thanks to the NY Times BLOG At War for the heads up on this and thanks to you for reading.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Back From the Valley of Death

We got back late yesterday from a six day excursion in and around Death Valley National Park. As expected, we had a great time. Most of the time was spent exploring the eastern edges of the park, spending time in areas that most visitors do not visit. I took 789 images, Death Valley is a landscape photographer's dream.

The brochures will tell you that Death Valley National Park is a place of extremes. Believe it.

Most of the people that visited the park over New Year's didn't see any snow. The higher elevations had plenty. The above photo was taken in Phinney canyon, located on the eastern border of the park.. Phinney Canyon road used to go from the valley floor up through the Grapevine mountains and into Sarcobatus flats. Now, it can only be driven from the flats west into the mountains. Like many roads in Death Valley, it has been closed.

Titus Canyon on the other hand is not closed, though they will close it when the weather affects the road. Titus is a stunning trip, a one way road running from Rhyolite, NV through the Grapevines into Death Valley. Even before you drop into the canyon, the vistas are incredible. You don't need a jeep to get through it, a little skill and luck will enable to get most cars with above average ground clearance to make it. Though I wouldn't take MY car, I wouldn't have any problem taking yours or a rental.

A Cousin Jack is a small shack, usually one built partially into a slope. A partial dug-out if you will. Miners used them as a residence, often they were built in front of the mine entrance ar at least nearby.

Six years ago, my family found an abandoned Cousin Jack near the top of Chloride Cliff, a high spot overlooking Death Valley. As they are usually made of tin and are not insulated, we wondered if they offered much protection from the cold.

We visited it again this trip, this time in the dark.

It was a dark and frigid night. The temperature was in the mid-thirties and the wind was howling. It was determined that a tottie would improve our outlook on the situation and the Cousin Jack was near. Our wives all piled into two Jeeps, idling with the heaters on. Us men were banished to the shack.

I can't say we were warm, but I will say that we weren't miserable. It's amazing how six people, two dogs, a small stove and being out of the wind can raise ones spirits and the ambient air temperature. The totties didn't hurt either.

The reason for the drive up to the Chloride Cliffs so late in the day?

One of the best places to watch the sunset.

Thanks for reading,