Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mini-Academy Selected Images

Several weeks ago, a group of ten was put through a three day mini-academy. The objectives were to orient the new people to our way of doing things, expose them to various crews and equipment and to evaluate how suitable the new people were going to be in our agency.

Remember, all of these people have graduated from a state certified fire academy, typically through a jr. college program. Regardless of their performance in this mini-academy, all will have to complete an 18 month probation period with very arduous tests at the six month and one year point in their career.

Right now, the numbers say that roughly a third of this group will be deemed not acceptable and will be seeking other employment before  their probationary period is up. That is a tragedy, not only for the newly unemployed, but for the unsuccessful candidate's crew and for the agency. The time and effort spent training new people is considerable. Despite our best efforts, some are just not capable of performing at a level that we expect our firefighters to perform at.

We have learned the hard way that as difficult as it might be, it is best for the organization if we weed out sub-standard employees during the probationary period rather than be stuck with them for thirty years or more. 'Nuff said on that.

This post isn't about our probation period, performance or policy. It is about the photography and the capturing of visual images of people working hard to achieve success. None of the images were posed for, all were taken while the new employees were performing various evolutions during the mini-academy. I don't know anything about any of the boots depicted in these photos, other than they all were polite and treated me with dignity and respect. Probably more than I deserved.

Teamwork is an important part of this gig. Can an employee work well with others, even under pressure and in trying circumstances?

Even simple tasks like loading and rolling hose can reveal issues with teamwork, skills and concept retention and the ability to receive direction. I noticed no problems with any of that stuff while shooting the photos.

The rookies are the ones without shields on their helmets. The guys with shields are peer instructors, each shift has a cadre of them. Frankly, the peer instructors carry a large load for the training division. Training would be in the hurt box without them.

Everyone buys in. Everyone. This is the probably the last time these rookies will perform manipulative drills in station pants and brush jackets. Shortly after this photo was taken, they went "full metal" and donned full structural PPE. That is how they will be adorned for all of their future drills as well.

As my first captain at the RFD used to say - "A day without drill is like a day without sunshine". Plenty of both here today, a perfect February day.

Pulling a metro-pack off of the cross-lay. Loading these properly is critical, it's the details that can mess you up.

Hustle was in abundance. A good thing.

Hopefully, I will be able to catch these guys slaying real dragons in the near future. Much more exciting than hosing down steel props.

I and most members of the department, wish these guys well and want them to succeed.  They looked like a well motivated group, hopefully their performance is as good as their motives.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, March 26, 2013


A copy of an e-mail that I sent to a couple of city council members that I know:


 I hope this finds you well.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when I heard that the city was not going to pay out the reward money that it had pledged in the Dorner case.

The couple in Big Bear and the watchman at the camp both provided information at some level of personal risk. That the city not pay up because Dorner chose to end his life is unconscionable. Frankly, the decision not to pay the reward casts a shadow of insincerity over the offer of a reward in the first place.

The city needs to reconsider this decision. To not do so is a dishonor to Officer Crain and the deputy from SBSD who was killed as well. Please do what you can to have this bad decision reversed.

Thanks for your efforts


A copy of what I wanted to say (names have been changed)

Larry, Jerry,

WTF! Not paying out because that douchebag chose to ice himself is bullshit. Get on the phone to the city attorney and the CM and put a stop to this nonsense. LA news is running with it already, it is only a matter of time before CNN and Fox news picks it up.

A wording issue should not preclude the city from doing whats right on this. Especially since it was pretty easy to figure that the cowardly asshole would probably not allow himself to be taken alive.

This is wrong, fix it.

Your pal,



When I read THIS in the daily rag this morning, I got a little pissed. The city isn't going to pay out any reward money in the murder of one it's police officers because the suspect wasn't captured and convicted. It's pretty hard to capture and convict someone when they kill themselves or when they opt to shoot it out with the cops and are killed.

Some people actually called 911 and gave the police information that was critical in the termination of the incident, to deny them the reward money over the verbiage of the reward offer is, well, bullshit.

Hopefully enough people will raise a stink over the issue and it will be reversed. I have my doubts.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 25, 2013

Thanks, God

Thanks, God for giving me the opportunity to work with these people, For letting me have thirty tears doing what I mostly loved to do. For keeping me safe. For allowing my somewhat selfish self to help others. For allowing me to see and do stuff that many others didn't get to do. For providing me with a good living, giving me a good family and giving me many friends.

Most of all, thank you for allowing me to retire on my own terms. For allowing me to go as long as I wanted to and not cutting me off early. For giving me my last cycle, one of the best of my career. For allowing me to see those who I once worked with, including those who left before I.


We had our annual retirement dinner Saturday night. There were quite a few who left last year, nine I think.

Several went a lot sooner than they wanted to or expected to, injuries forced their hand. Another couple had their time in, but their retirement date was determined by a doctor telling them they were done.

A couple may have left as less than happy campers. I do not know, nor do I want to know the details. I just feel bad that their experience was not as good as mine was.

The turn out for the retirement dinner was a good one. A cross section of people attended including active and retired members, council members, the city manager, family and friends. I took photos of the ceremony, hopefully the retirees can use the shots.

I think everyone one had a pretty good time. Quite a few of us went out afterwards, including several of us old bastards, an honoree and some guys that are getting promoted this week. Needless to say, spirits were high and the spirits were flowing. Not everyone made it to Zacatecas for breakfast the next morning. Just so you know, I did.

I tend to get a little sentimental at these events. There is always a slide show, one that shows photographs of the honorees from back in the day. Many of those are group shots taken at fires, training or social functions that occurred way back when we were skinny and had more hair. I laugh when I appear in one of those photos. They bring up memories of events I hadn't thought about in years, some that I don't even remember.  Obviously, someone had a camera and had recorded the events. Sharing photos was a lot more bothersome than it is today. I am just grateful someone captured the moment.

My thanks to god is a genuine one. Many I know did not get the same experience as I did. I feel lucky and/or blessed and I hope and pray  that my luck and blessings continue.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Uhhh... About Last Weekend

Here's the deal. The exercise involved four airfield locations, three of which are located on the mainland and another which is located on an island about 40 miles or so off of the So Cal coast. The plan was to drive from our base, located in Riverside, to an Armed forces Reserve airfield  called Los Alamitos. There, we were supposed to board a C-17 and fly out to San Clemente Island where we would offload our equipment, spend the night and then fly back to Los Al the next day.

 As luck would have it, the weather was not cooperating with the tactical plan that the AF had done such a great job developing. The island was pretty much socked in for most of each day of the exercise. On most days, there was only a few hours that the fog lifted enough to allow the aircraft to land. As the AF wanted everyone to attain their training objectives, they simply modified the plan to eliminate the weather on the island as a factor.

As it turned out, instead of going to San Clemente Island, we ended up at March Field, which is basically our home airfield. What are the odds - drive to an airport 45 miles away only to be flown back to our doorstep!

Remember, this is a training exercise - both for organizations such as ours and for the USAF reserves. The AF training objectives are to haul the needed equipment to a remote location, set up functioning airfield operation,  then prepare, load and transport cargo and personnel to other participating airfields. After completing the exercise, the ground components load all of their stuff up and return to their home bases.

Our training objectives were a little different. Flying the people of our team and the bajillion pounds of rescue related equipment is a daunting task. Everything must be weighed and packaged according to AF specs. The vehicles have to be weighed, measured and the center of gravity determined. All hazardous materials have to be packaged properly, documented properly and packaged in a manner that doesn't cause problems. Of course the above tasks involve a lot of paperwork which must be completed properly or the load will not be flown. As each site and us are being trained, each operation will be done at least twice, some will be done three times.

Many other organizations participate in this exercise, the Coast Guard, FBI, other rescue teams and some other entities whom I never did figure out who they were. 

Though I was a little disappointed, I tried to focus on the fact that was a training exercise and that depite the change in plans, almost everyone was getting the same training, just at a different locatiion than was planned. For a plan "B", it worked out pretty well.

As noted earlier, all of our cargo has to be weighed, measured and properly documented. We did it, then the AF did it then all of the paperwork was checked. As redundant as it seemed, it was a great way for the new people to learn.

As an added bonus, everybody got the chance to pet the dogs!

Teamwork makes all of these tasks a lot easier. We were told  that not everybody is as team oriented as our group, that is a shame. I really enjoy working with the USAF reservists, my experience has been nothing but positive.

Documentation is the key. If it isn't on paper, it didn't happen or it doesn't exist. As long as you know that going in, it doesn't seem that intrusive.

Ultimately, all of the measurements, documentation and other mundane chores is to ensure the flight is conducted as safely as possible. The lessons learned in the past were paid for in blood. 

When loading a multi-bajillion dollar aircraft, one must be careful not to damage the aircraft. Here, as in all other aspects of the operation, teamwork ensures success.

Petting dogs calms people down and relieves stress. I recommend everyone do it at least once a day.

 Actually, five time a day would be better.

 Of course the entire process has to be repeated on the return trip. Some of it was completed on the evening of the first day, just after we arrived. The rest was completed the next morning before boarding the plane. I can assure you that all of the paperwork was in order.

You realize how important all of the preparation is when you are seated in the aircraft before the flight. You sit along the side of the aircraft, facing inward and the cargo is strapped to the floor of the aircraft, often just a couple feet away from your face. On some of these flights, a high performance take off is performed, the acceleration and g-forces are a bit higher than on your typical commercial flight. When you see the vehicles shift on their springs as a result of these forces, you really appreciate that everyone did their job properly and that stuff is truly secure. You also appreciate that the weight and balance calculations were done properly.

Just like the flight out, we were in the air less than 15 minutes. Before we knew it, we were unloading the aircraft, loading our semi and headed home. It was a successful mission for the team. Several newer members applied all of their "book learning" for the first time, others refreshed their skills and learned some updated information. One old photographer got to take some photos and learned some things as well.

I hope you had a good weekend, just as I did. I am working on my taxes and I am almost done. I hope you have a great week and don't forget to pet the dogs.

Thanks for reading,


PS - if you want to learn more about this exercise, go to you tube and search for Patriot Hook 2013. Several videos that were produced by the Air Force Reserves will appear. 

Thanks again.

Friday, March 15, 2013

It's the most wonderful time of the year!!!!

I'm going to be away again this weekend. This will be my third trip to this particular destination and frankly I am looking forward to it.

The accommodations are rather austere, though they are quite secure and comfortable enough. The food is good in an institutional sort of way.

There isn't a lot to do, but my camera will be kept busy.

 I will see some old friends and I might even make a few new ones.

I don't expect to do some of the things that I have done in the past. I really need to let some others take a turn.

Even so, the ride out will be a blast. I've commented before how my job allowed me to do stuff that I never thought I'd get to do. The reality is that I'm STILL getting to do stuff that I never thought I'd get to do.

It's the gift that still keeps on giving.

Sorry for the re-run photos, I'll have some new ones when I get back. Have a great weekend.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 14, 2013


We have a lot of new people on board right now. Nine have been hired in the last few months, there are several more who have been around for a little longer, but still have not completed their probationary period. Sadly, a couple of rookies have been let go in the last few weeks and if history can be counted upon to repeat itself, (as it usually does) a few more will be seeking employment before the end of their probationary period is over. That will create even more rookies.

We do not assign rookies to truck companies. Some agencies  put their rookies on a truck for  a few months for a truck company rotation - it helps train the rookie on truck ops during the probationary period. As we only run 3 on the trucks, one of whom needs to tiller, throwing a boot in the box is not an option.

Thus, coordinating drill time with the truckies is essential for a captain who has been burdened with the responsibility of training a rookie.  Some of the BCs have opted to facilitate inter-company training, by scheduling specialized drills and assigning companies to participate. Several drill of these sessions were scheduled last weekend and I was invited to photograph one of them.

There were a few training objectives to be met by this drill. First was to expose the rookies to the aerial ladder and to cover a few of the basics of it's operation.

Gratuitous firetruck shot. Truck 3, pride of the fleet, until the arrival of new Truck 2.

 Basics, such as plates:


and pins:

Some basic spotting stuff was covered as well. This was more for the engineers who don't get to work on the truck very much, as well as certified relief drivers.

Of course, no drill is complete without climbing the ladder and stepping off.

While some of the more technical stuff was presented to the engineers and relief drivers, the rookies used the time to work with the longer ground ladders such as this 28'.

This drill gave the rookies the opportunity to work together on the two and three person evolutions, practice coordination and to be in charge of the evolution.

Note: I think the last time I laddered this building was in 1983 or '84. It happened to be on fire and there were 5 or 6 people standing on the single story section, anxiously awaiting our arrival. I raised a 24', all of the people climbed down on their own. E6 (Dave Harlow, I think) ended up putting the fire out from the alpha side, on the second floor. I digress.

After the various skill stations were completed, it was time to pick up and go home. I spent a couple of hours there, hopefully the BC can use a shot or two for his needs.

I know I used a shot or two for mine.

Thanks to "C" shift for letting me shoot and thanks to you for reading.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Actually, I found this more than sobering, I found it depressing.

I found it first on Rhett's site, The Fire Critic, then on Dave Statter's site, As I have a lot of non-fire service readers, who might not read those sites regularly (though they should,) I decided to run it too.

It is a video concerning the City of East St. Louis IL. and their fire dept. It a a very well shot and produced video that has some incredible fire and artistic scenes in it. However,  it is more about what happens to a community when socioeconomic conditions produce an environment where the "takers" outnumber the "makers" and it can no longer generate the resources to maintain itself. It's a freakin' tragedy, sadly one that is not unique to East St. Louis.

Enjoy. Wait it is actually not an enjoyable video experience, so watch and contemplate.

Kind of makes you feel grateful that you live/work where you do, doesn't it?

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 7, 2013

R.V. Fire - Stills

I was actually on my way home from shooting the photos in my last post. I was listening to Tim Conway Jr. on the AM radio, (yes he is the son of THAT Tim Conway and he's pretty damn funny) who was talking about the river bottom fire.

Apparently, KFI has televisions in the studio, so Tim was able watch the news chopper coverage and provide play by play commentary of my brother firefighter's efforts in controlling that beast. Tim then began talking about a second fire, one about a quarter mile south of the river bottom. My attention became more focused on the radio, as I was about a quarter mile south of the river bottom fire. I looked around and saw nothing, so I turned west on a side street. After a few blocks, I spotted a header and the glow and worked my way in.

A huge shout out to Tim for the heads up, even if it wasn't meant for my benefit.

A County BC was on scene, as was our disaster prep manager. No other units were there and there were probably six news helicopters hovering nearby. A green line was in play.

As you can see, it was burning pretty good. I could hear units working their way in, but I still felt pretty silly standing there with my camera in one hand and air in the other. Finally, an engine pulls up, one who had been covering one of our stations.

It was then I switched to video. (this video is a re-run from the earlier post)

I was able to get in position to capture the crew getting to work. The initial objective was to extinguish the exposure, the siding on the house.

Then it was time to make/improve access and work toward control.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the photo opportunities from the river bottom fire, but this fire kind of made up for it. The shot below was my favorite of the day.

I am not sure exactly when it occurred, but at some point another crew appeared on the delta side, accessing through a back yard. Between the combined efforts, the fire was quickly knocked down.

I didn't made it over to the delta side until after the fire was knocked down. There, I found  a truck company and a reserve engine working the debris.

Later, another mutual aid/cover engine showed up and the mess was overhauled. Between three fire agencies and a couple of air drops from the police dept, the fire was kept from causing severe damage to the exposures.

As usual, I was just glad to be able to capture it with my camera.

I have been off the job for almost a year and a half. I have been able to take some decent picture of my brothers and sisters from the RFD and some of other departments in the area. While the adrenaline of photography has not come close to that of actually slaying the dragon, photographing the dragon has been almost as fun. With a lot less BS.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Riverbottom Fire - The bane of our existance episode #6

I was sitting in the dentist's chair when the kid texts me a picture of a large column of smoke. A few minutes later, a captain from my former employer texts me and tells me that the riverbottom is on fire again. A few minutes after that, I look up from the chair and see the fire live on TV. As the dentist was standing around waiting for me to numb-up, I didn't feel right about tossing of the bib and heading over to the river bottom and shoot. Thus, it was well after dark when I arrived.

As the Santa Anas were blowing, (and I had just watched it on TV) I figured that the scene was going to be a little hectic. I was not disappointed in that regard.

I parked a few blocks away and walked in. There were enough embers blowing through the air that I had reservations about leaving the truck there. As I approached the street that backs up to the river bottom, I found my beloved RFD hard at work. as well as the chaotic conditions that exist when fire tries to come out of the river bottom and wreak havoc in the neighborhood.

My lens was instantly dirtied by ash and water. Small fires abounded as did embers flowing through the air.

I followed an 1 1/2' into a back yard. Frankly, things didn't look much better there either.

 I spoke with some guys I knew, in a backyard I had probably been in several times before, and found that things were pretty much going OK, in the same manner that they gone many times before. I opted to bump down the block and around the corner to see what was up over there.

Of course, I had to shoot some pics along the way. They crews, though busy, were keeping ahead of the spots. A multitude of hose lines were pulled, each heading in a different direction.

Around the corner, things were picking up. I went into a back yard, one that is often used as a location for a command post as it offers a commanding view of the river bottom. On this night, it was just me, a couple of firefighters, a city councilman and the property owner.

The wind shifted several degrees and the main threat shifted as well. Time to move on. On the way, I spot my old unit. My former shift is on duty, The guy on the left was on my crew, I have absolutely no idea who the guy on the rights is.

More of the same. 

Guys on the roof,

guys with green lines.

all trying to keep  little fires from growing into big ones.

As many times as I have seen a fan palm tree blow up, I still stop and watch. There is a tragic beauty when they torch. The irony is that despite their beauty, I hate them. They are giant weeds that are a pain in the ass when they burn. To add insult to injury, they rarely die when they burn and they reproduce like rats.  They are the rodent weeds of the tree world.


Frankly, it is a lot more fun to photograph the rodent trees than it is to extinguish them. 

Though some might initially disagree, I'm pretty sure that as the night wore on, more of the crews saw things my way - though they obviously had no choice in the matter.

On many of these larger fires, it is often the weather that dictates how quickly the dragon is slain. This night was no exception. The winds died down and the fire's movement did as well. I realized that the amazing fireground shot wasn't going to occur, so I decided to leave. I said good by to some friends and hoofed it back to my truck. I took the parting shot below, most of these crews were there all night.

Though in ever decreasing numbers, crews were on scene for over two days. No houses were lost though a few were damaged. A RV and some bushes caught fire a half mile away (see the video in my previous post) and I caught it on my way home. Though the cause is still under investigation, it is speculated that embers from the river bottom ignited it. Based on my long history with the river bottom and they way that embers were flying around when I arrived I would not be surprised. 

More on that fire later.

Thanks for reading,