Friday, May 31, 2013

L.O.D.D. Houston

Four firefighters were killed today while battling a five alarm blaze at a hotel/restaurant/nightclub in SW Houston TX today. An additional 13 firefighters were transported to the hospital according to the Houston Chronicle. A HFD spokesperson told news media that the four fallen firefighters were killed when a portion of the roof and a wall collapsed on them.

Capt. Matthew Renaud, 35 and FF Robert Bebee, 41 both from Sta. #51 were identified as two of the fallen as were FF Robert Garner, 29 and FF Anne Sullivan, 24 both from sta. #68.

 Shit. I hate this shit. I hate it so much that I rarely write about it. I hated thinking about being lost/entrapped, I hated planning for it and I hated training for it. (Though I did all of the above) There was some part of me that knew, despite all of the training, planning and experience that the same fate could befall me. Or worse yet, to some of the people under my command. I hate reading about it, watching videos on it and writing about it.

Every once in a while, an event occurs which fills up my hate bank, forcing me to vent, creating space for me to continue bottling up my ire when the next tragedy occurs. This is one of those events.

I cannot imagine the trauma that has befallen the families of the four that were lost, their friends or their brothers and sisters on the HFD. I know how crappy I feel about it and I have no deep connection with the fallen, other than being of the same profession and of the same tribe of humanity.

A cloud of unimaginable sorrow has descended upon those involved, one that will get darker before people begin to heal.   The event will be investigated, reports will be written causes, and contributing factors will be identified. Some remedial actions will be taken, to "keep this from ever happening again".

Though I know absolutely nothing, about what happened today in Houston, I can guess that the report will have a section on communications and how this happened and that happened, causing poor comms between this person and that person.

There will also probably be a section on situational awareness and one on policies and procedures not being adhered to. Effective command and control is a likely target as is pre-planning and knowledge of the building.

How do I know that these will be some of the issues addressed in the final report? Because they usually are.

And yet, sooner or later (sadly probably sooner) a similar tragedy will occur and the process will start all over again.

The scabs that have formed on the people left behind from today's horrendous events will be picked and the blood will flow again, adding to the carnage that the new event has caused.

My ire will surface anew.

To those who remain, my deepest sympathy. Any words that I can express are nothing compared to the pain that you must feel. Just know that my thoughts are with you, and I pray for your recovery.


Monday, May 27, 2013


A number. The number of hours that a homicide case should be pretty much resolved by. The number of states that our country had for quite a while. The number painted on Jimmie Johnson's race car.
 The number of military personnel from Riverside Ca. killed in southeast Asia during the Vietnam war.

I picked Vietnam for this little exercise  as it is the first war that I have direct memory of. It is also probably the most controversial war in our nation's history. Regardless of the controversy, 48 men from my home town lost their lives in that foreign land, far away from family and friends.

I am sure some of them volunteered, either from a sense of moral obligation, to have a little more control over their lives than a draftee or just to get out of the house.

Others were drafted, forced into military service by their country. Many could have fled to Canada, but chose to tough it out, get whatever job they were assigned to do done and get home.

Still others were career military personnel. People who had determined that the mission, values and lifestyle were what they were meant to do.

The man with the lowest rank from my home town who was killed in Vietnam was a private in the Marine Corps. He was a draftee, and was killed by small arms fire near a place called Quang Nam. He was white, and was not married.

The highest ranking Riversider to be killed in Vietnam was a two-star general in the Air Force. He was killed in action when his RF4-C reconnaissance fighter was shot down near Da Nang. He was married, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics are all sadly represented on the list of the fallen. Sadness and tragedy seemed to be equal opportunity themes during this war. Ages ranged from nineteen to forty-nine, all premature deaths in my opinion.

I am sure that some of these men didn't spend a lot of their time in Riverside during their too-short lives, Just as I am sure there are others who lived in town at some time in their lives, but just didn't list Riverside as their home town when they signed their enlistment or induction papers.

The two biggest things that they all had in common, was that they thought enough of Riverside to consider it their home town and that they were killed before their time, in a place far away, while wearing the uniform of the armed forces of their country.

While I will never be able to accurately assess whether their loss "was worth it", I, and many others here in town are eternally grateful that others were willing to place it on the line. Whether for us, for their country or their comrades, we owe the fallen a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay.

Not only the fallen from the Vietnam war, but all of the conflicts, small and large, that our nation has undertaken. Hopefully, someday, armed conflict will be obsolete, until then people will be lost. Hopefully as well, we will continue to mourn, to remember and to support the remaining.

Thanks for reading,

A grateful Schmoe

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Happy Belated Birthday To Me

Four years ago yesterday, I hit the publish button on my computer screen and Report on Conditions was hatched. I had almost forgotten the anniversary date, but was reminded of it when I read Brigid's blog, Home On The Range.  Her blog and mine share the same anniversary, though she has been at it a year longer than I.

Like life itself, the experience has been paradoxical.  In some ways, it seems like it began yesterday, in others it seems like a million years ago. It was incredibly easy to start and at times, it is incredibly hard to keep going. I started it for one reason, I keep at it for another. My material was initially of one subject area and has shifted a bit to another. What started as primarily a writing exercise has evolved into a photographic project. Odd.

 I never had even read a blog until my friend Eric started his. Eric was my friend and co-worker who was battling cancer. He started his blog to document his battles and share his thoughts and impressions as he waged war with the disease that eventually cost him his life. Needless to say, those were emoptionally trying times. Though my need for confidentiality prevented me from factually writing about it, I was able to use this forum to vent, share and express vague impressions about the times and of other emotionally trying events.

I have met some interesting people through the blog, both in person and on-line. I have read some great blogs, though many seem to have moved on to other things.

Probably the biggest impact on me, has been my renewed interest in photography. After the first few posts, I realized that some visual aids were necessary to keep the blog somewhat interesting. I also realized that my five year old point and shoot wasn't going to cut it for me, so I spent a couple of bills and bought a Canon SX-100 IS. A bajillion dollars, two bodies, five lenses, two flash units and a series of classes later, I am still in pursuit of the elusive perfect image. Though some progress has been made, I don't think there is enough time left before planetary destruction for me to get where I need to be.

For those of you who continue to drop by, I appreciate your loyalty. I plan to keep posting stuff as long as I feel that some level of quality remains. For those who come here and have blogs of your own, I thank you for your efforts, I know what it's like. You are an inspiration to me.

Again, thanks for your support,


Monday, May 20, 2013

More on Moore OK

I've been listening to the news radio stations as I was driving around, taking care of business. The devastation in Moore appears to be as bad as I feared, the current number of fatalities is at 51. I fear that it will climb higher, maybe much more so.

Not only does that debris in Moore need to be combed through in the search for victims, nut the rural areas that were wiped off of the map as well. Just that there is any number available this early in the game is interesting, it appears that whoever is in charge has a fairly good grasp on the scope of the disaster.

It is incidents like these where our investment in the disaster geeks pay off. Those of us in operations tend to look at disaster preparation with mild disinterest, until of course, fate sends a bona-freakin-fide disaster up our pipe and the world comes down around our ears.

Then, the CERT program suddenly seems like a good idea and you're kinda of glad the city dumped all of that money into an EOC. The ICS training that the city administrators received suddenly seems worthwhile as well.

Image kyped from the web-RRM Design Group
Funny how that stuff works out sometimes.

Hang tough Sooners.


Moore, OK

It's hard to watch. I'm live streaming two OKC TV stations, The Weather Channel has a third live as well. Neighborhoods, schools, stores - all gone. Talk about watching a disaster in the making.

The firefighters, medics, cops and hospital staff in the area are having the worst day in their careers as I watch it live. It ain't any better for quite a few folks who just happen to live or work in the wrong area either.

I can see a structure taking off, I'm guessin' it will go to the ground and in the scope of the matter, it won't make any difference.

I think this is going to be a bad one.

Thoughts and prayers to all.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Apparatus Drill

Apparatus Drill. A/D. 10-7 time. What ever you want to call it, it's a time when you can go out of service to train. You don't have to run calls or answer the phone, though you do have to monitor the radio just in case the city gets skinny on units and you have to go back into service.

Every unit within my agency is required to perform at least 6 hours of apparatus drill each month. Over a year's time, 6 of those 72 hours are to be performed at night. It is usually used for stuff like pulling copious amounts of hose, throwing ladders and driver's training and it usually occurs at the training tower. It is scheduled in advance by a captain (B.C.s pick) and units that have a boot usually get priority over those that do not.

Extra A/D time can usually be obtained by co-coordinating with the captains from nearby stations and then requesting it from the B.C. It is not to be confused with multi-company drill (MCD), company drill (manipulative drill while in an in-service status), or a company school (book learnin' - usually while available in quarters).

It's a good system and it usually works for us.

As I live kinda close to the tower, I occasionally stop by and shoot various units while at drill. I look at it like an A/D for me. I get to use some of the photographic skills that I would use while photographing emergency skills and I always learn something.

I always ask the company officer on the participating unit if it's OK, the last thing I want to do is put pressure on a struggling boot. It also gets the boot a chance to know me and get used to having a camera clicking away, often within his/her comfort zone.

Plus, it's FUN!!

As I am still working on getting acquainted with the new camera unit, I popped by for a little photographic A/D the other day. E10 and E4 were there, gettin' it done in the 951!

I actually met this guy a few months before he started working with us. He was working with another agency, one where I was taking some photos. It took me a few minutes and a few questions before I figured out who he was. 

Click on the image to enlarge.

By the time I showed up, they had already done a few evolutions. This was the last one in this building.

I shot some photos of the 10 crew loading hose (I won't bore you with them here) then headed over to one of the roof props to see what E4 was up to.

Saw work, that's what!

This gentleman recently finished up his six month test and is now working on skills for his years.

After spending some time with E4, I headed back over to the 10 crew, who by now had finished loading hose and were working on extending and reducing lines.

Don't worry, the camera didn't get wet, besides it is reasonably well protected against limited water exposure.

Extending lines and replacing broken sections of hose is somewhat labor intensive - especially on a warm day.

Of course, all of that hose on the ground means nothing unless a nozzle is attached. This is the senior firefighter on the rig, taking some of the load off of the boot.

Of course, the water needs to hit the target, even if the target changes or starts to move.

It was getting to be a warm day. No captains were harmed during the taking of this photograph.

A good apparatus drill for them, a good apparatus drill for me. Thanks to RIV E4C and RIV E10C for allowing me to shoot their drill, thanks to you for reading.


P.S. I am loving this camera more and more.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Even I could Have Figgered This One Out!

I first saw this on The Bayou Renaissance Man. I found it somewhat humorous, it exemplifies why guys like me had careers. Although there is a chance it might be staged, it also shows how sometimes things get out of hand and that the road from humor to disaster can be a short one.

If it wasn't staged, (I have my doubts, but I'm kinda leanin' toward not staged) these guys are pretty lucky that things didn't get any worse. I can imagine that if the building had gone up, the investigator would have had a little puzzlement until the interviews would have been completed.  The video would have been the clincher, provided someone would have grabbed the camera on the way out the door.

I've had a few fires like this, ones caused by less than brilliant behavior. When determining cause, certain evidence was just not making any sense until the interview made the unbelievable believable in an unbelievable sort of way.

A dirt bike stored vertically (upright with it's front wheel in the air, it's rear wheel on the floor) in an enclosed water heater cabinet comes to mind. Things were cool until leaking fuel was ignited by the water heater. Fortunately, the sprinklers out it out, but I couldn't figure out why there was a slightly damaged dirt bike twenty feet away from the activated sprinkler head. The interview with the tweaker occupant set the details straight. There is no cure for stupid, meth definitely doesn't help!

Even if this was staged, it really wasn't a display of superior intellect. Open flame, fire works and some sort of flammable gel/liquid combined with a video camera doesn't indicate future leadership potential. Well, except maybe for a captain's position on "C" shift.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, May 9, 2013

The New Camera

As I mentioned last week, I jumped out there and bought a new camera. I didn't really NEED a new one, my old one is working fine and meets most of my needs. However, some time ago, I recognized how nice it would be to shoot emergency scenes with two separate camera/lens set-ups. I also came to  realized what the shortcomings of my 7D were and how far camera technology has progressed in the past three years. I also realized that full-frame sensors have some advantages over crop frame sensors. If I was going to jump, I was going to jump big and go with a full-frame sensor camera.

So, last Thursday, I bought a Canon 5DMkIII. As I had the foresight to buy quality glass over the past couple of years, I really am set as far as lenses go. Thus, the plan is to pair the 7D with a 70-200 2.8 and put my 24-70 2.8 on the 5DMkIII. Having two set-ups will prevent me from having to make lens changes in the field. When the wind is blowing and the ashes are flying, the sky is laden with all sorts of crap. Crap which I would like to keep out of my cameras and my lenses. Not changing lenses in the field will go a long ways to prevent stuff from entering my equipment.

One of the weaknesses of the 7D, is the amount of noise present in low light situations, especially when the ISO setting is rather high. While some of the noise can be processed out, that comes with a price. Sharpness and detail can be processed out along with the noise. I have noticed this on numerous occasions, especially in skin tones in the shaded areas of the image. The new rig has greatly reduced noise, even under high ISO settings.

Fire ground photography is often under awful lighting conditions, I am hoping to reduce the amount of flash needed to capture my beloved RFD in action. Although flash is a great tool, the reflective trim on the apparatus and on our safety gear wreak havoc on my images. The reflective material bounces a huge amount of light back into the camera, overexposing the trim equipped areas while causing the surrounding areas to be underexposed. Some of it can be compensated out with camera settings and some of it can be corrected with processing, but that all comes with a price. Hopefully the new camera will reduce the amount of flash I need to get the image.

Enough of the technical stuff.

The Saint and I went to Coronado Island last weekend, to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We had a great time and I had the opportunity to take some pics with the new camera.

I don't think that I will notice a huge difference under normal lighting conditions, except if the image will be blown up in a large print. The shot below is of an old Coronado fire station that has been converted into a bar and grill. We spent some time there and enjoyed it immensely.

This Coronado engine drove by, the sun was down low and the back side of the unit. I added some light to the shadowed areas during processing, the noise was considerably reduced over what my old camera would have been. BTW, not a big fan of the Pierce "Quantum" look, I think it's ugly. Hopefully there is a functional use for that stuff bolted on to the front of the cab. I digress.

 The sharpness and detail of the selected lens combo is excellent, I am happy in my choice.

Again, I mainly bought this camera for it's low light performance. Here is a shot of the interior of the above bar and grill. ISO 10000, shutter speed of 1/80. No flash was used, just ambient light. Although some noise is present, it is far, far less than my 7D would have had. The texture of the noise is less coarse when compared to my previous camera, making processing easier. The image has had some processing, a boost in exposure and a reduction in noise.

A night shot of the San Diego skyline. I took a similar image two years ago with the 7D, I'll have to dig it out and compare. I didn't set this up properly, I didn't bring a tripod or use a remote shutter release. I did lock up the mirror though and I set the camera on a railing. I still like the low noise and the sharpness is pretty good considering.

It was a great weekend. I'll leave you with one more shot, one of the poor woman who has been a wonderful wife for thirty years. I am very lucky to have her, hopefully she can tolerate me for at least another thirty. 

Again, no flash. ISO 1600, 1/60. Maybe I'm almost as good at picking out camera equipment as I am as selecting a wife. Maybe I just got lucky at picking a wife.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

California Burning - "The Big Picture"

As I commented last week, It was kind of hectic in So Cal last week. A major wildfire, along with several significant minor ones were keeping crews busy in the south, while a couple of others were burning in the North.

The "Springs" fire in Ventura county along with the "Summit" fire here in Riverside county dominated the new for a couple of days. Local media was out in force, including the press photogs. The best images were picked up by AP and Reuters, The Boston Herald's Big Picture picked up the best of those.

The Big Picture has a history of publishing extremely good wildfire photos, the current selection is no exception.

Image #11 was taken by Kurt Miller, a photographer from the Press Enterprise - our local rag. All of the images are worth a look.

Check out The Big Picture, you won't be disappointed.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, May 6, 2013

Tragedy In The Bay Area

I first heard about the fatal limousine fire near San Fransisco yesterday while driving to breakfast. As the immensity of the event became apparent, the national networks picked up on it and now CNN, Fox News and others have picked up the story.

The abbreviated version is that five women perished when their rented limousine  caught fire on the San Mateo Bridge, located near Foster City, CA. The driver and four women survived the incident, with the four occupants being injured. It has been reported that units from the Foster City Fire Department and Hayward Fire Dept. responded to the fire.

When I fist heard the story, the first thing that came to mind was how did a vehicle fire end up killing five people? I have been on several fatal vehicle fires over the years, most involved either an accident or restrained children. The second thing  was, where did the fire start. Most accidental vehicle fires start in the engine area and they usually give plenty of warning before they get large enough to put the occupants at risk.

After watching the TV footage upon my return to home, it was apparent that the fire started either in the rear of the passenger compartment or the front area of the trunk. Either way, fire likely started fairly close to the only designed point(s) of egress for the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

That led to another series of questions, most regarding safety in limousines.

Personally, I don't have a great deal of experience traveling in large limousines. The few times that I have been in them, there were several common factors:

A large group of people. - The limo in question had nine passengers in the back with a capacity for more.

Alcohol - The times I have been in a limo, the alcohol was flowing. Freely. That's why we were in the limo to begin with, we didn't have to worry about driving.

Limited access / egress - During my last limo trip, I only remember one door, located on the passenger's side at the rear. There may have been another one or even a roof hatch, but I sure don't remember seeing one. I can assure my ability to recognize,locate and operate unfamiliar exits would have decreased as the evening progressed.  Nor can I tell you whether the windows rolled down or not, I never even thought about it. I can tell you that kicking out a car window is very tough and attempts to do so usually unsuccessful.  Even if there were two exits, if both were at the rear, fire may have blocked them both.

Heavy loading and electrical accessories - Most large limos are all about the bling. Excessive upholstery, a multitude of extravagant lighting displays and high powered sound systems all contributed to the festive atmosphere that enhances the limo experience. Unfortunately, all of that stuff burns or are potential ignition sources.  

Isolation of the driver - The cab, or driver's compartment was separated by some form of partition, with a small window that could be opened or closed for privacy. That would usually be a good thing, the driver would be less likely to be distracted by the festivities going on in the back. That same isolation might lead to a delay in recognizing a problem, especially if the passengers were impaired or busy having a good time.

In addition, is the driver required to have an extinguisher at hand? Are there flammability requirements for upholstery and other materials used in limousine modifications?

I spent an hour or so searching the web for answers to no avail. I made a few calls, one to a friend of mine who drove a limo on his days-off years ago and another to a limousine manufacturing company.

My friend thought that a minimum of two exits were required in the passenger area, but wasn't sure. He didn't recall about the extinguisher either. I'm still waiting for the limo manufacturing company to call me back.

Like most disasters, I am sure the limousine fire was a chain of relatively minor events that let to the fire and then the loss of five lives. One break in the chain may have prevented the final event. Sadly, that break did not occur and the result was tragic.

One thing for certain, the next time I get in a limo, I am for damn sure going to make sure I know all of the ways to get out. I may even take the uncomfortable seat next to the door.

Thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims, to the survivors and finally to the firefighters and cops who had to deal with the mess. Been there, done that - it truly sucks. I feel your pain.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, May 3, 2013

I Took His Picture...

and he took mine.

 His image showed up here

And mine on the paper's on-line edition. Go figure. At least I don't have to buy ice cream for that kind of stuff any more.


Yesterday, I commented on the Springs Fire, a wildfire that had started in Camarillo California. Pushed by a Sana Ana wind and accompanied by a relative humidity of 4%, it had burned 10,000 acres as of 0600 this morning. Engines from all over So Cal are there, it's still moving and has basically burned to the big blue fire break in the west 

That is truly impressive, 10K in one day, especially as it is only May. Wait til September.


I finally jumped yesterday and bought a new camera. I have been eyeballing the recently released Canon 5D MkIII for some time. I came into a little cash and decided to go ahead and get it. It is far superior to my 7D ( a great camera in it's own right), though It operates a little different and will take a little time to get used to. I have to stop and think about what I am doing with it, I want it to become instinctual.

I plan on keeping the 7D and keeping the long lens on it,  while using the wide angle zoom on the new body. Having two cameras set up while shooting on incidents will be a great thing, though again, it has a learning curve.

The Saint I Am Married to are headed out for a little weekend get-away, I am taking the new camera to document the event. It's our 30th anniversary and I can't believe she has tolerated my sorry ass for so long. It ain't easy being married to me, she is likely the only woman up to the task.

Have a great weekend, I am planning to.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, May 2, 2013

More Stuff

Another activity over the past few weeks was a camping trip with some friends. As this was more of a "social" trip, five couples drug out their various camping vehicles and headed to a local lake. The venue wasn't particularly beautiful, so not many photos were taken.

Again, this was a social trip so all we did was hang around the campground and socialize. That was great fun. I did manage to shoot some pics of our friends. The pics below are of  a friends of ours who I managed to capture in a rather animated state.  Of course, as he and I were both in a rather animated state, the shots could have been better. Regardless, I was happy that anything turned out at all. The camera was positioned on my knee, I was trying really hard to keep my motion at a minimum.

He is a pretty expressive guy and he uses his hands quite a bit while conversing. It makes for great images.

I told him when I took the photos, that the pics were the shots of the week and that I was going to put them on the web. I don't think he believed me, he doesn't know that I am a man of my word. As I struggle with photographing people, this was actually kind of fun.


The fire I told you about yesterday, the Summit incident, laid down pretty good and is 40% contained. It sounds like forward spread has pretty much been stopped with 3000 acres having been burned.

Of course with the Santa Anas blowing, other fires have erupted and are giving firefighters fits.

The Spring Fire near Camarillo started this morning and has burned 1000 acres. I am watching it live and it is moving out. The smoke is obscuring shots of the head (from the news helicopter) but the flanks are tanking out some acreage and a multitude of RVs at a RV storage site. Yee Haw.

The Van Buren fire is about 5 miles from my place and has reportedly burned several structures. It is a county fire (RVC) but I know that we sent three engines on a mutual aid request. As it is not in my agency and it is surely chaotic, I won"t be going unless I can shoot it from our side of the river.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Easy Way Out

The easy way out would have been for me to just post on as if I hadn't taken a few weeks off from blogging. Start up again with somebody else's video (horrifying/captivating as it might have been) and just keep on going. I think you deserve better.

Although I really have no excuses, I do feel that some catching up is in order. Although I have been somewhat busy, compared to many of you, not so much.  I have been taking a lot of photos, for many different purposes. I managed to get a couple of camping trips in and even received an award from the city. It has been a fruitful couple of weeks.


As I write this, I am watching Riverside County Fire (RVC) on TV, working a vegetation fire just north of the City of Banning. I am also listening to the SCANNER FEED  , command net and air to ground net. It is called the Summit Incident and right now, the dragon is definitely holding it's own. The IC just called for 25 engines, any type, any configuration, for an immediate need structure protection. That is in addition to the 25+ already there or en-route, including 2 from my agency (RIV). 

I started my career in Banning 31 years ago and am familiar with the area. This could get uglier before it gets better.


I've shot several events over the past month or so.

We had a promotion and award ceremony. It was a lot of fun seeing some of my friends make chief and others up through the ranks.

Its also kind of cool to see how this event has evolved into more of a family oriented event.

As usual, the event was supported by our Honor Guard and by our Pipe and Drum band, one that is actually part of the UCR pipe band and that we help support.

I also shot our annual retirement dinner, again a fun event. It is a little more bittersweet, some of the retirees were ready to go, others not so much.


The command net on the Summit Incident is stating that a firefighter has suffered minor burns on the fire and will require transport. Thankfully the injuries appear minor, hopefully that will be it. At least one structure has been lost, the IC is stating another period of structure threat will exist in another 20 minutes or so. 1500 Acres have burned, no containment as of yet.

Sheesh - it's only May!!!!


A political campaign, camping and a few incidents have taken up some time, photos will follow. I've bored you enough as it is.

Thanks for hanging in there.