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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's Just Not the Same

Once upon a time, my current agency was all-volunteer. There was a lot of overhead and administrative work to do, and a lot of equipment and facilities to maintain, so the department hired a part-time Chief. The Chief ultimately was also hired by a neighboring agency to be their part-time Chief, making for what amounted to a net full-time position. Still more help was needed. An Assistant Chief was hired full-time by my agency to help the part-time Chief. Then an admin assistant. The other agency brought on an admin assistant. Then each hired a single full-time Captain.

This genealogy is getting boring, sorry. Today, the two agencies have been fully merged, there is one FT Chief, two FT BC's, three FT Captains, five FT firefighters, and three FT admin assistants. We're still mainly a volunteer agency with an authorized force of around 60 members, but with the thinning of the local ranks, of the type that we're seeing across the country, a lot of work that needed to be done to keep up is now being done. Not just facilities and apparatus, but training mandates and the like. It was a couple of years ago that we started staffing one of our stations 24x7, and a second one just came online as a 24x7 house as well.

This was supposed to be a godsend for the volunteers. It was made clear that the career staff was there to relieve the volunteers. Relieve them from long post-fire equipment cleanups at 3AM. Relieve them from tedious weekly apparatus maintenance inspections. Relieve them from housekeeping duties. Relieve them from the tiresome 2:34AM "help I have a sideways nosehair" medical runs. Relieve them from state and federal mandated documentation tasks, equipment inspections and re-certifications, training development plans, etc. etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

But what did we get? About half of the longtime volunteers have subsequently left us in the past year or so.

It seems many felt sidelined about not running first due calls any more. Responding to the station and only needing to standby as staffing backfill. This didn't do it for them any more.

In my first gig, we volunteers were always expected to backfill for EMS runs, to take the second call that might come in. And of course for major incidents it was grab the second, third, fourth rig, etc, and go. This is what we did, providing backfill most of the time, and we were happy to help. It wasn't bad duty, really, coming down to the big house and spending an hour or two with our brethren and maybe drilling a bit while awaiting the return of the ambulance.

Now here in my latest gig, it seems these volunteers we lost recently were not happy with backfill. No matter that our service area enjoys faster and more organized emergency response than ever. They would rather have the career staff taken away so they themselves can drive big red trucks and be heroes, but before the FT staff got beefed up, they bitched about the crap work.

One of the guys posted to his Facebook status shortly after resigning, "Quit the Fire Department. It's just not the same any more".

Boo-freaking-hoo. Are you kidding me? Get over yourself. Honestly.

No one was kicked out from the calls or the duty shifts. Anyone is welcome to work a 12 or a 24 with the career staff or even ride out with the City medics, and get the fairly generous stipend that comes with it. Heck, for that matter, feel free to take a one-off part-time shift vacancy and get paid an hourly wage for it. If you like playing fireman, all you have to do is show up.

At whatever point it became all about you, because you only wanted to be the big boy driver or officer, it was time to show you the door.

The career-minded volunteer probies who have joined to fill the holes were happy to see the vacancies open up, to be sure. And while those probies certainly are a lot of work, at least they want to be here.

So, thanks for taking your leave, disgruntled volunteers, leaving the rest of us career and volunteer alike free of your collective whiny self-serving burdens so that we can do what we are here for: Save lives and property. Even if my contribution is often just waiting for the next call.

Monday, December 27, 2010

How Not to do Distribution

If you show up at the wreck or lines down call, and see a distribution pole like this, hopefully it is merely a bad dream. Roll over and go back to sleep. Hopefully it will go away.

I don't like to post pics too close together, but I am having a hard time getting up to write anything right now. Still circling around some of the issues that required some time off from the blog this past summer. Thanks for your understanding.

Hope you all had a good holiday.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bureaucracy, Reprise

One of the things I griped about in my long and rambly rant about our company's bureaucracy and resulting daysleeper stint I pulled for mandatory safety/medical training, was the lame videos and poor actors showing us poor techniques.

One of the things I didn't like was when there were two people doing civilian CPR under the new rules with no one giving ventilations, that (a) they didn't check for a pulse before commencing compressions, and (b) the bystander just watched impassively when they could have at least verified/maintained a good airway.

Then I got a comment from mack505 regarding those observations.

"Don't check for a pulse, just start compressions." -- I believe this is what AHA is teaching non-rescuers now. Something about not properly recognizing agonal respirations. Perhaps your instructor is just ahead of the curve? :-)

Wouldn't you know, this weeks EMS training was about the new Professional Rescuer's CPR being rolled out in our area. As expected, a huge emphasis on fast and uninterrupted compressions, but with some new local twists that I won't get into here as they are not terribly important. But really the new stuff makes so much sense that if you're like me you're kicking yourself that we didn't all go to this years ago.

Amazing that we had our two local CPR full saves in the past six months or so under the old rules, and now they're telling us that if we get numbers like other study areas, we might get up to 50% of our codes to the ER alive, and something north of 20% might go on to make it out of the hospital.

Anyway, nods and props to mack505, as sure enough our FD paramedic proctor provided some anecdotal information regarding bystander CPR cases, where bystanders performed compressions over hearts that were still beating, resulting in a relatively minuscule number of actual rib injuries (and one broken leg, WTF????), but zero deaths. Result? Bystanders should not waste time checking for a pulse - a skill set they usually don't have in the first place - when they can't do any real harm by just pumping away and asking questions later. Can you feel me now?

So there you have it. I actually DID learn something in the company training. I just didn't know it at the time.

Still, that second bystander should have been maintaining the airway, right?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Units can slow to Code 1. Man with bucket on scene can handle.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

THWS: Give Wisely

Starting a new thing here, which I will call Totally Handy Web Sites (THWS).

I have a small mental collection, which I occasionally add to, of extremely handy web sites that are worthy of permanent bookmarking. Sometimes they are funny or amusing as an exception, but for the most part they are functionally very good to know about.

First out of the chute: Better Business Bureau Charity Accreditation.

I give to a lot of charities regularly, but unless you have a personal hand in what's going on there, how do you know that your donation is well spent and on the right things? Any organization can say anything in a fund raising letter, but who checks for truthfulness and integrity?

The BBB's Charity Accreditation program has well-defined and remarkably stringent standards that any charity must meet in order to gain accreditation.

Before running a query, make sure to check the "Limit my results to only charities" checkbox first. When you run a search there, you will see an accreditation seal by any compliant organization:

You can click on that seal (or on the "No" that appears in its place when an organization fails muster) to see their levels of compliance or why they were not accredited. Especially handy: A pie chart that breaks down the percentages of their funds and how they are used, such as Programs, Salaries, Fundraising, etc.

All of the organizations that I give to are vetted by the BBB. I also dumped several that I had been giving to beforehand, when I found out that they weren't on the good list, and why.

Donate with confidence this holiday season, knowing your gifts are used wisely and effectively.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The power company has mandatory safety training annually.

This is good, no? Of course it's good.

It's just that, in regard to their requirements for my job in the control center, I am already trained well in excess of power company standards in all the areas they are worried about through my fire department gig. Now if I was a field grunt, the story would be different. But, I'm not.

I've ducked the mandatory power company training for years, leaving them with a fresh photocopy of my most current EMS cert, professional caregiver CPR cert, and Haz Mat Ops cert every December.

Until this year. The bureaucracy decided that it was not going to be flexible this year. It was do the company-provided training, or forfeit the end-of-year 10% performance bonus.

OK, fine. Whatever. Money talks.

Oh, just so you know, there's only one day left this year that you can make it. Guess what. It's smack in between two 12-hour night shifts, from 0800-1500.

Freaking terrific. I'm not even sure that making me attend this between two night shifts, making for 31 working hours inside of 36 clock hours (with a couple of parking lot catnaps wedged in) is legal or not, but when you're talking about the year-end 10% performance check, I can try to stay awake for a few hours.


First off, it had been forever since I had seen first aid training videos not intended for emergency service professionals. The acting was worse, but it was the background music .... now that was so very realistic, just like the music we hear when our tones drop, when we drive to the calls, when we arrive. Very dramatic, just the way we like it piped in wherever we go with our big red trucks. Gripping. Perfect. I told my closest compadre in the class that we have a looping audio cassette in many of our rigs that plays that sort of music when we're running hot, just to get is in the hero mood groove.

I like how the video showed compressions-only CPR, with two people taking turns. Except that the person taking a break is doing nothing to maintain an airway. Airways are overrated, I guess.

Or how the instructor said that someone who is not breathing will always be in cardiac arrest. Don't assess for a pulse, just start compressions. ???

The review of how to read haz mat labels and MSDS sheets, something a shade beneath the annual haz mat ops training we go through every year at the FD.

Scene safety? What's that? The first-aid-trained actors arrived at a traffic accident at night and just left their car in the road without even hazard flashers on, never looked for scene safety problems, just waltzed straight into the thick of it.

I like how a rescuer actor carefully donned their PPE gloves before administering the Heimlich. That choking guy can just hang on while you go get your gloves, you know. Where did I put them anyway?

When doing the hands-on CPR run through, not even one person (except for me) managed to get chest rise from the practice doll. No matter. Next!

(Sorry this is so disjointed and choppy, my bad form comes from about three total hours of sleep over the previous 40 hours or so.)

A particular favorite scene: a couple of actors are talking, one asks the other, "So Kenny, how is that new project you're working on going?" Kenny opens his mouth, draws up a pained expression, and collapses. My compadre behind me wasted not even a second before piping up with "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!" FTW!!

Then we did Halon awareness training. Zzzzz.

And fire extinguisher inspections and discharge practice. I've taught this class myself many times. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Let us not forget I was up most of the day before, did 12 hours awake on shift overnight, and then had to sit through seven hours of this for my 10% check before rolling back into another 12 hours of babysitting power lines overnight. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

I didn't want to come off as a smartass, and was determined to keep my mouth shut. Still, a couple of times the instructor said some well-meaning but half-baked stuff that I felt obligated to do damage control on. It didn't go over with her very well despite my overly deferential approach, so I stopped trying. Oh well.

I did learn something new though. Our Halon tanks have symbol signage which clearly endorses pranking your friends with portable marine air horns. Note that there is no circle with a slash through the pranking action to imply prohibition. How cool is that?

Nap time. Please hold all 911 calls for about ten hours or so. Sorry my attitude sucks today, it's only temporary. Thanks.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lucky, Reprise

A follow-up to "Lucky"

Turns out, the code-save pt was a retired FDNY fire lieutenant who moved to our area to enjoy retirement.

He came by Station 56 on a group drill night to meet those of us who made his call. He brought pizza and apple pie for everyone. The local rag even showed up and took a picture of us together, and he wore his Class A uniform hat for the occasion.

It was an honor to serve you, LT, and as you well know, that's what we're here for.

It's always nice to get thanks, rare as it is. And thanks to you, LT. Call any time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Classic Kaboom!

This clip has been around for a long time, so you may have seen it elsewhere.

This is a 138/23kV substation, and a capacitor bank on the low side (used to boost voltage) is for whatever reason experiencing a relatively low-current ground fault. For some reason, the station's protective equipment is not detecting and then clearing the fault.

The sustained fault arc is cooking and welding and destroying everything it can reach, like a death ray blaster stuck on maximum. How hot does an electrical arc get, you ask? Oh you didn't ask? Well I'll tell you anyway. Depending on the amperage and voltage of the arc, the temperature can vary widely between 9,000°F and 36,000°F. Hot. For reference, the outer visible surface of the sun, the photosphere, is only about 10,000°F. Hot.

So, where were we? Oh yes, this hotter-than-the-sun arc is blazing away next to this unlucky transformer. It doesn't take long for the transformer's flammable mineral oil to overheat, boil and expand, and finally cause the transformer's overpressure safety valves to release the oil as a high-pressure spray.

Incidentally, transformer banks are typically equipped with pressure relays to detect and de-energize the bank within a second or less when something like this goes down. Since there are two independent show-stopping problems going on (arc fault current and transformer overpressure) that are not causing any kind of shutdown, I have to conclude that the station's entire protective relaying system was inoperative.

Back to the long boring story. The high-pressure flammable oil spray meets the hotter-then-the-sun arc, and the result is a foregone conclusion. The spray and associated fireball with its conductive smoke particulate byproducts also seems to somehow finally cause a good hard high-side fault to occur (watch and listen for the flash/bang right as the fireball goes up), and this fault is at last detected, by whatever station is feeding this one. The other station says "Whoa, something's going down out there!" and opens up the feed. Alas, a tad late to save the day.

The transformer alone will cost perhaps about $750,000 to replace, the other destroyed station components at least that much again, and don't forget to add the cost of the environmental cleanup, and other peripherals.

Repeat message from an earlier post. Stay away from the pretty sparkly show:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kiss It

I was out on a call that was running a little on the long side, and had to get clear so that I could get to work at the full-time power company gig. Ironically, it was a tree on power lines call that I had to break away from.

To be on the safe side, I called the control center to the dispatcher I was supposed to relieve, to let him know that I was in a pickle but was doing what I could to be at work on time. This was a good 90 minutes before I was due at work, mind you.

I made it to work on time, as it turned out. If I had not called in, no one would have known the difference. Some folks ask me how I do both jobs, but to be honest I can think of only three times in around ten years that I got pinned by a fire call and couldn't get to work on time because of it. Sure, other things make me late here and there, but not the fire department. It's just rarely ever an issue. I know when to skip calls based on time of day, and type of call, to prevent that from happening..

Still, the guy I was supposed to relieve complained to the boss. I didn't hear about it right away (probably because I was on time in the first place), but eventually it came out. The way it was phrased was along the lines of how he didn't want to be stuck while I was out "playing fireman".

As a volunteer, I hear that a lot. I imagine many of my readers, career and volunteer, hear it too.

Well, you guys who think this is fun and games can kiss my pale and hairy ass.

I've seen far too many people bleeding and dying, had my feet nearly frozen in my boots and icicles caked on my helmet, lost nights of sleep while running calls or waking up to certain nightmares, consoled grief-stricken family members, had ceilings fall on me and once nearly fell through a floor, jumped out of the way of drunk drivers while trying to extricate and save another, held dead children in my arms, and paid for the privilege of all that and much more by missing time with my family and greatly increasing my chances of early death by various nasty cancers.

When you think it is fun and games for us and make wisecracks about our job and its been only two hours since I worked on a guy who blew the top of his head off and I had to bag my turnout gear because of all the blood we were mucking around in......

Fun and games? Playing fireman? Some game. Some fun.

I don't ask for love or medals, I just do it because it needs to be done.

If you can't just take that at face value and leave it be.... if you have to mock and belittle what I do, well you can substitute "kiss my ass" for what I really think about you. If you call 911 for whatever, or drop with cardiac arrest right in front of me, you bet I'll be the first one to help you. But respect? You get none.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What?? What's my Name???

The volunteer association meeting ended, and several of us wandered out to socialize with the career staff on duty before heading home for the night.

I was standing in the kitchen when the fire phone rang. Conversations muted immediately, and some of us turned to listen. Captain Stauber was the career officer on for the night, but volunteer Captain Lund managed to snag the phone before Stauber grabbed it from his spot on the couch.

Fire Department, what are you reporting.

Yes, ma'am.

OK, 4519 West 17th Avenue, right? OK. What is the problem, again?

In a tree? Your cat is, in a tree? (eyebrows up at us)

You're kidding, right? Are we really hearing this? Eyes rolled.

How high? Because we can't, well.... OK, well we aren't permitted to do that any more.

Yes, I'm sorry, but we can't (interrupted)........ we can't be committed to rescuing your cat and be unable to respond to a true emergency.

(apologetic) Yes, I'm sorry, they won't let us do that in case we get a fire or heart attack or other emergency that we can't get to quickly enough.

(pulls phone a bit away from ear in surprise) Well I'm sorry (interrupted)........ I'm (interrupted)........ well, no (interrupted)........ (looks at us with disbelief, he's getting an earful).

(forcefully) Ma'am, I'm sorry, but there is no need to use that kind of language.

Ma'am (interrupted)........ ma'am, I'm sorry (interrupted)........ now that's $@&*^$#%, that's enough, don't talk to me that way!

Dead silence violently falls across the room except for the voice from the caller harping at Captain Lund. Captain Stauber, a heavyset guy with blood pressure issues, suddenly stood up in alarm.

Well I'm sorry you feel that way, but if you're (interrupted)........ well, you can kiss my #&%, you #%&*%$ #&*%&*% @^*(%!

Captain Stauber is, like most of us, panic-stricken and is frantically signaling Lund to shut the hell up. And pale and sweaty. Just that fast.

Yeah, that's right, %#*& you and your &%$*@#? cat, you %^&%@ ^#$*%#* *#&$^@%&$*%!!

We were all completely dumbstruck with mouths hanging open, it was surreal. Stauber looked like he was going to have a major myocardial infarction on the spot.

What?? What's my name??? Yeah, &^$%#^%$, it's Stauber! That's Captain Stauber, you &%&^%#.

Lund slammed down the phone and stormed out of the day room, slamming the door. Stauber's eyes didn't even follow Lund out, they were locked on the now-hung-up fire phone.

What was maybe three seconds felt like an eternity of silence as we all stared at each other in utter disbelief, before we heard the laughter on the apparatus floor.

One of the other guys in back had called the fire phone from his cell phone. It was no coincidence that Captain Lund snagged the phone first.

One of the best firehouse pranks I have ever witnessed. We were all phenomenally OWNED.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Premature Charging

Sometimes things do get hot in a hurry, but there’s therapy for that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I was heading back to my area to drop off Engine 51 after an evening drill at Station 56. About halfway through my trip, Engine 52 got dropped for a respiratory arrest call. I had already passed through 52's district, but wasn't too far to turn around. Seems like there's never enough help on the oh crap calls, you know.

By the time I had arrived and parked at the end of the driveway, the call had been upgraded to a full code, Engine 52 was on scene with three guys who were all very busy with CPR. Medic 98 drove past me on up to the house on my way in.

It was not an especially noteworthy code call. No fun, sure, but nothing unusual, either.

Shortly after the late-middle-aged male pt was tubed, we were able to shock him back to an apparently sustainable rhythm. After that it was load and go.

Medic 98 pulled away from the house, and we grabbed equipment to carry down to the road.

Then we heard a really sickening metal crunch from the direction of the road, but we couldn't see through the trees to tell what happened. Crap.

We hustled down the driveway to find that the Medic had pulled the corner a little too sharp, and had dropped their right rear tire in the ditch, and were laying on their frame. Crap.

It just so happens, though, that Engine 51 has a winch. One of only three units so equipped in our entire 20-something unit fleet. In probably less than ten minutes, Medic 98 was again en route to the hospital.

That was a month or so ago. Found out a few days ago that the pt has made a near full recovery and is home.

Units from 51's as a general rule never run calls in 52's area any more, it is just too far away since we've opened a station between them. But this was one of perhaps three times over the past several years that I can think of that Engine 51, through random circumstance, made the scene of something less than a major incident in that area, making it possible to pull out the Medic. Any other time of any other day, and the pt and medics are screwed.


A week ago I was at home when a structure fire was dispatched right up the road from me. I hustled off to Station 51 for the engine and was on the road in short order. Fire Dispatch advised homeowner returned to find the house charged with light smoke.

I spotted Engine 51 in front and gave the size up. Two-story wood frame, nothing showing, occupants outside, etc.

The smoke was not heavy, but smelled a little like candles and a lot like plastic/mechanical trouble. The resident said they heated by wood stove, so the furnace was ruled out. Yes, she used candles, but insisted that she had blown them all out. She double checked her candles and found nothing. I was checking the walls, ceiling, major appliances, etc. with the TIC and coming up empty when Engine 54 arrived. Yay for backup!

The attic and crawlspace were cleared. The smoke was dissipating, but we were not leaving until we found the cause. Finally the Engine 54 officer spotted it: A candle. Surprise. The resident was aghast, she said it was a decorative candle not intended for burning, that her brother must have lit it, which is why she didn't check it when leaving.

It had melted sideways off its holder, dropping two wicks to the tabletop and under the corner of their gigantic flat screen TV, where it proceeded to scorch the table and catch the plastic housing of the screen. It burned up the plastic housing perhaps 16" before inexplicably going out by itself. The metallic innards of the screen were entirely exposed at that spot. The resident turned it on while we were there out of curiosity, and it still worked. We swept the area with the TIC again and found only a slight residual heat in the candle wax puddled on the carpet. Case closed.


With the CPR save last month, and the amazing drowning/hypothermia save from late summer, that makes at least two "they were dead but now they're alive" saves on the year for me. Not bad for a kind of slow outfit like ours.


Monday, October 25, 2010

It's a Haz Mat Call! Ugh.

Haz Mat calls, while frequently interesting and sometimes exciting, are not really my forté. Since my FD has no one beyond "Operations" level, which isn't really much more than evacuate, exclude and identify, mostly we stand around and wait for the big boys and their big toys to save the day.

Sometimes, however, you're right there, with no higher qualified help available, and have to take action up to your capabilities as long as your safety is not compromised. Last night was just such a case.

I was in bed when the call reached my ears. I was tired and didn't want to go, but that's why we get paid the big bucks. Up, dressed, and out we go.

I arrived second, and found that the first person on scene had taken command, identified the spilled substance, and was already deploying absorbent materials. Sometimes arriving late has its benefits. Command of a Haz Mat call? No thanks.

The IC advised me that she had already cleared the area of the few bystanders around, and I saw them not far away, watching us with some interest. What do you need, I asked? More absorbents? OK, and I went to clean out my supply accordingly.

I independently verified that the spilled substance was what she had identified it as, and while an unfriendly material, it was not especially hazardous, and required only minimal PPE. As such, no further resources were requested. No need to call everyone out without cause. Besides, that costs a lot of money and we taxpayers have less and less of that lately. Fiscal responsibility of responders is in vogue, you know.

But yuck. I noted papery materials in the spill, and as we now had enough absorbent down that it was no longer spreading, I was able to approach the source and verify that the spill was contained.

Indeed, although the plunger was still in the toilet where one of my sons had dropped it in a panic when the flood began, the level had receded an inch or so below the top of the bowl.

The IC had been trying to close down the house for the night when the incident occurred, so I released her from the call and finished the mitigation myself. And as we don't have an unlimited supply of absorbent materials, I could not just throw my used ones out. I carried a lot of towels to the laundry room.

On the job training is useful everywhere, isn't it?

Cleanup complete and cause resolved, I was back in service. I went back to bed. Very early day shift coming up, you know.

God bless my IC.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Transmission Towers as Art

Although I am a power company guy, and I have a first-hand understanding of the dire need for transmission system upgrades in North America, I am not a proponent of stringing power lines everywhere willy-nilly. They're not pretty, they degrade property values, intrude on scenery, and the jury is still out on health effects (though power companies deny that with the same gusto that tobacco companies denied nicotine addiction).

I got a note from Mack505 of Notes From Mosquito Hill with a link to some interesting stuff. It seems that a company has engineered a transmission tower structure with configurable components, built to resemble the human form. These towers can be installed in a variety of positions and arrangements while still maintaining their required structural strength and integrity and maintaining adequate conductor clearances.

I'll just leave you with the pictures, two links, and this comment:

These are freaking cool.

See more, read more:

"The Land of Giants" by Choi+Shine Architects

Who said pylons have to be boring? (Bayou Renaissance Man)

Thanks, Mack505. Good stuff.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boom, Baby!

Check this fault current arcing over the cutout fuse. This is just line current serving load, not grounding as a fault. At least not at first.....

There's a big, huge, violent difference between arcing line current and fault current to ground.

Stay away from the pretty, sparkly show.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Do You Know George?


Station 51, psychiatric problem, deputy on scene requesting Code 1 response.

Every time I hear this, I get a little put-out. I am a low-level EMS provider. My EMS skill set revolves around making sure air goes in and out, and blood stays in and goes round and round. Secondary to that I make sure that it is good air going in and out. From there it is downhill with things like making sure 'owies' of all types are covered and/or immobilized. That's really all EMTs do the great majority of the time.

Where in that framework is the training to deal with psych problems?

We're going to get there, perhaps stage for PD/SO if asked to wait, then see that the patient is jacked or wigged or freaked, ensure no injuries, and wait for the medics to show up and take the patient in for an eval because they really don't know what the hell is wrong, either.

It's not that I am unsympathetic. It's just that there isn't really any purpose for us to be there unless the person needs to be wrestled with, and even that falls outside of our job training. There's rarely any real EMS problem, and the exceptions are rarely serious ones. There is not much value I bring to the scene of a psych problem.

But, we go. That's why we get paid the big bucks.

Arriving first in Engine 51, I see Deputy Harrison and the patient. He's got an apparently-cooperative patient cuffed and standing bent over with his head on the hood of a truck. Harrison is holding the patient's cuffed hands in place and standing guardedly behind him.

I pull around them, and shut down the Engine to restore the peace. Harrison merely nods as I get out. I walk in a wide circle, sizing things up since Harrison isn't talking, and so that the patient is not startled by my approach. Looks not too deadly, so I walk in.

Psych Guy: Who are you!!

Grumpy: I'm Grumpy, with the fire department. We're the good guys.

Harrison (deadpan): Hey, now. What's that supposed to mean?

GD (to PG): We're all the good guys, all of us.

Harrison silently mouthed something about my parentage. I helped his Mom once, but just burned my get out of jail free card.

GD (to PG): You're one of the good guys too, man. What's your name?

PG: Aaron. It's too late. You're too late. I can't stop them now. They won't let me save them. Do you know George?

GD: I'm not sure, Aaron. Who's George and where do you know him from?

PG: Who's Aaron? We're talking about George! He was the only one, but he can't help now, either.

GD: ........

PG: Why won't they let me save them before it's too late?

GD: Maybe I can get a hold of George to see if he can do something. Do you know George's last name?

PG: ..... uhhhh (grimace) ..... his wife is...... Jane! She's a nice lady.

GD (wild-assed inspired guess): George Jetson?

Psych Guy abruptly looks up in delight like he just found a long lost kindred spirit.

PG: YOU KNOW THEM!? You can save us all if you call George right away!

Harrison has that beautiful cop poker face thing going on, no idea what he is actually thinking but certain we're putting together a good tale for the shop later.

GD: I haven't seen George in years, Aaron. But I went to school with Elroy, and I think I still have his cell number. Let's get you checked out first, and then you can tell me what's up so Elroy can tell his dad.

PG: Who's Aaron?

The conversation continued in short spurts like this for another ten or fifteen minutes until the medics arrived to take over the dialogue. I could continue, but it was just more of the same and would get boring.

Aaron(?) was found in the garage loft by the homeowner, who had never seen him before. He had taken everything off the shelves, absolutely trashing the place, and made a pile in the middle of the floor before crawling under the pile. His ID said he lived miles and miles away. There was no car or form of transportation that we could link with him. He was hopped on something, or probably multiple somethings. I never found out what it was or what happened to him.

Anyway, I've done a lot of theater, and with it a fair amount of improv. Who knew how well those skills would serve me when driving big red trucks and seeing crazy people? Can't wait to tell George and Elroy, though. Except that it would be a HIPAA violation. Bah.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Erasing the Name

I came in for a night shift at the power company a few days ago. The guy I was replacing was not at his post. I waited for him to reappear, but he was nowhere to be found. I finally asked the other dispatchers. Where's Connor? In the upstairs conference room? Oh, OK.

Went to the conference room, and opened the door. Lots of suits and ties in there, most of whom I recognize. A Director, a VP, a few HR people, my direct boss, and Connor. He wasn't in a "hot seat" configuration, so I knew he wasn't the subject of the meeting. The talk stopped instantly as eyes turned to me. Uh, Connor, can I log you out? Yeah. Closed the door and escaped.


Gerald was enjoying a quiet night. Until of course a storm tore through and started causing him some fits. Trips and recloses. A few lockouts. He was sending crews out here and there for the things he couldn't fix remotely by SCADA. That's what we do, after all. At the end of his shift, he handed off to Matt with the required hand-off debriefing, and went home.

Matt knew that a particular 115kV line was still out from the storm, and that crews were already at work on repairs. A few hours later, the crew called back to return their Clearance. Matt grabbed the Clearance ledger and the "in-progress" work documents. There was a small problem, however. The Clearance ledger had no record of the Clearance on that line. And there was no documentation of the switching orders issued to clear it, let alone the orders prepared to return it.

So, Matt pulled me into it. Why me? Because I'm a Transmission Operations Duty Supervisor now. Yeah, I had not shared that bit with you yet on the blog, but I've been a shift work boss for almost a year now, directly or indirectly supervising about ten dispatchers at a time. Why in the world they think I am responsible enough to do that is beyond me.

Matt and I dug around some more, and found nothing. Matt had to find out from the field crew exactly what had been switched out, and how the Clearance had been given, in order to take it back and put it together. Needless to say, this is irritating and scary for a dispatcher, to have to re-fabricate a "go-back" with no record of the "take-out" to base it on. Matt is good though, and handled it.

But what happened to get here? Gerald didn't answer his phone, as no doubt he was now asleep. So I got to do my favorite boss job: Listening to taped calls.

And I was not pleased with what I heard. Gerald's quality of work was somewhere between very unprofessional to deadly dangerous, and I could tell the field guy was not liking how it was going by the tone in his recorded voice. But the field guy pushed back just enough that things were done at least to his satisfaction, though he had no control to make sure Gerald documented what had happened.

No documentation. Crappy phone work. Shoddy switching. Invalid Clearances.

Connor was Gerald's shift boss, so he and I got together to compare notes. Connor and I later held a little internal meeting with Gerald in the conference room. Gerald got copies of our switching and communications policies, and copies of the scary transcripts I had prepared from his calls. Gerald was warned. Stay on operating policy and follow the rules.


Gerald was bummed. He felt that the world was out to get him. Yeah, if you're risking lives through your incompetence, then that is probably a fair statement. All dispatchers whine too much, but Gerald was doing a lot of it in the weeks since his brush with Connor and I.

Then Gerald issued a routine Clearance. Logged it in the ledger. Put the in-progress document away. Not long after, he got a call from a crew that had just arrived to switch out one end of the job.

Say what?  A crew has just arrived to switch out something that just had a Clearance issued on it??

Yeah, Gerald managed to issue a Clearance on a section that, while de-energized by opening circuit breakers via SCADA, was not actually lockout/tagout cleared. Crews had hung hard grounds on 345kV wires that were just three mouse clicks from being closed in on.

Gerald failed to follow policy and issued his orders... well, out of order.

So Gerald pulled the in-progress document back out, issued the order to clear that end, got it all back, and quietly put it back away. Generally speaking, no one critically listens to phone calls or reviews the logs without cause, so it will all go away as long as no one has reason to look.

Wrong answer. The switchman and the work crew somehow got together for lunch, and somehow ended up comparing notes on the times they were working on stuff. Needless to say, the work crew foreman was out for freaking blood.

Connor took that call.


So I logged Connor out and settled in for my shift. He eventually came out and briefed me on the day's operating events, but was not at liberty to discuss what had happened in the conference room. Need to know and all that. Whatever, I have my own problems. Office gossip holds no appeal for me.


Came in tonight for another 12 hours. Checked my email. There's one from my boss to the troops. "Gerald has announced that he is retiring effective today".

Next email was a management-only note from the boss with the details of the incident.

So that's what that was about. Retire or get fired. You don't get many chances in this line of work, any more than you would get in, say, air traffic control. Realistically, if you commit a switching or clearance error more than once over a two or three year span, you're pretty much gone, no matter your tenure or length of service. The last guy I had to participate in "helping out the door", like Connor had just done with Gerald, had over 20 years in. I felt bad, but he seriously nearly killed linemen three times within a year. There is absolutely no tolerance for that.

Looking up on the wall of the Duty Supervisor's office at the shift assignment board, I saw Gerald's name, on 'A' shift, where it had been for years.

I erased it, and then logged in for the night and looked over the next day's scheduled work.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Talk

A couple of weeks ago, a local teenager was killed in a wreck. Just 16 years old, he was riding in an SUV traveling at a high rate of speed, when the teen driver failed to negotiate a curve. The vehicle rolled, and the unbelted kid was pronounced right on the scene.

Jayden’s bright red soft top Jeep was his pride and joy. As he and Brian, best friends since grade 4, met after school, the evening looked promising. Brooke and Lauren were coming with them to the mall tonight to hang out and maybe catch a movie.

After the wreck was splashed on the news, it cut close, as these things frequently do. As the father of a teenager who has just arrived at driving age, along with many of her friends, I have become acutely aware of this latest new thing to worry about.

It was a bright, sunny, clear fall day, and the four teens took down the soft top and climbed in. Money in their pockets and hours of free time beckoned them to a night of fun. They turned on the stereo and cranked it up. Seatbelts were ignored, all the better for wrapping arms around each other, you know.

I told her to think about what was going through this kid’s mind just before the wreck. Was he having fun? Was he scared? Was he unable to get out even if he had realized the danger and wanted to? Did he know that his friend would drive like an idiot, or did he think driving fast was just harmless fun?

Jayden looked over at Brooke, her blonde hair blowing in the wind, and she smiled back at him. He suddenly remembered a hilarious prank that he’d seen pulled in the locker room before lunch, and turned to tell Brian about it, but he was already locked in a passionate hormone-driven teenage kiss with Brooke in the back seat.

I asked her if she ever thought about what her friends were capable of as drivers. Did she think she could accurately judge their character behind the wheel? Would she feel brave enough to say something to the driver if stupidity was being committed? Would she feel confident enough to stay behind in the first place if they encouraged her to go and she had reason to worry?

Jayden laughed, reached back to punch Brian and call him names, and told them to get a room. Lauren looked up, and her eyes widened in horror. Someone was yelling. Brooke screamed. Jayden turned back around. The road curved right, but they were barreling straight at 60 on the 35-limit road. He yanked the wheel to the right as they crossed the center line.

She looked back at me and gave me some mild and sort of noncommittal assurances. She was listening, and probably taking me seriously, but was confident that it could never happen to her. I know that look. I used to wear it, too.

The Jeep went up on its left wheels, yet made the corner. Lauren was thrown onto Brian’s lap. Brooke managed to hang on. Screaming. Crossing back over the line, Jayden was now aimed off the embankment to the right. He made another panic yank to the wheel, to the left. The jeep momentarily fell on all tires and then went all the way up on its right tires. Lauren and Brian were both launched up and out of the Jeep.

So I asked her this. I said, last week, if I sat you and the dead kid down side by side and gave this same lecture to both of you, do you think he’d respond to my worries about like you are? Yes? But now he’s dead. Do you think if I had lectured him last week that he would have taken me seriously? What could have prevented this stupidity?

As the Jeep swerved back to the left on its right tires and crossed the line, it was tipped up to the point of no return. Janelle, mother of three, with her two littlest ones in car seats behind her, was coming the other way from the grocery store. She was adjusting the AC when a red blur caught her eye. Looking up, she didn’t even have time to scream.

So I told her, again, that when she goes anywhere with friends, she needs to carefully consider what the driver might or might not do. Was it worth risking her life just to not be embarrassed by saying no or asking the driver to behave? Who knows, maybe the dead kid had asked the driver to slow down and got ignored, making him a helpless passenger unable to save himself.

The Jeep came right up over the hood of Janelle’s sedan as it rolled over. The impact was enough to deploy Janelle’s airbag, but the Jeep’s main point of intrusion was through the windshield, shoving the roof back and downward as it rolled over the top, leaving red paint on Janelle’s hood like bloody streaks. The airbag was not able to fully protect her head from the inward and downward collapse of the roof.

So, I went on, imagine yourself in that car instead of that kid. At what point do you wish you had not gotten in, and now it is too late, your fate out of your hands?

The leading edge of the roof of Janelle’s sedan caught the Jeep and flipped it violently into the air, the centrifugal force throwing Jayden and Brooke in different directions. Brian and Lauren fell onto the pavement close together, sliding and tumbling off the right shoulder into the bushes.

She looked thoughtful. Maybe the message was getting through. It’s hard to tell, but one can always hope.

The Jeep came to rest on its top, unrecognizable as a Jeep except for the ubiquitous roll cage. Some tires were torn, its hood was in the ditch, the engine partially dislodged, and debris everywhere. Jayden and Brooke landed on different sides of the road. Janelle’s car rammed into the opposite embankment and came to rest. It became quiet.

I love my kids. And this one and I have had this talk before, but the recent death was cause to bring it up again. Never pass an opportunity to use a tangible real-life lesson, you know. It’s different when it is not an anonymous face in the newspaper from somewhere far away, or an overplayed re-enactment done at a school assembly.

I later found out that the first caller reported “kids lying all over the road” and that one of the cars was smoking. It was in the 3rd-due from Station 51, and the way it was dispatched sounded a little hairy, but the “all over the road” part was toned down to “possible ejection”. I picked up Engine 51 and came online. Engine 56 arrived first and gave the size up from hell. Declared MCI, multiple patients on the ground, three trapped requiring extrication including two car seats, request three more ambulances, launch a helicopter, close off the road in both directions, and more manpower.

So I can only hope the message sticks, and try to not go completely crazy when she’s not under my direct supervision and protection. I can’t guard her forever, and I have to trust that she will learn how to make sound decisions. She is an outstanding daughter, and though we have our moments, she is nothing like the nightmares my friends told us teenagers would be like. I’ll take three.

Beyond all reason, none of the patients in this incident were critically injured. Major road rash and a few broken bones for the kids. Minor head trauma and lacerations on the Mom. This should have killed all the teenagers and the Mom, should have left the two little ones with a distant memory of the crash that killed their Mom. But that’s not how the cards were dealt.

Hours later, I had a chance to sit my daughter down. I said, remember what we were talking about a couple of days ago? Well, guess what I just got back from? I said, what do you want to bet those kids would have rolled their eyes had I given them The Talk this morning? It was never going to happen to them, just like it won’t happen to you. I got three hugs from her today. I can’t remember the last time I got three hugs in one day.

Only broken glass on the shoulder, some discoloration from spilled fluids, and orange spray paint on the roadway marking skids, impacts and final resting points give a clue to the day’s events. We were all fairly sure that there would be multiple critical injuries, and possibly a fatality in the mix, which resulted in a full scene workup by the Sheriff's Office that kept the road closed for hours.

Not this time, though. And somewhere, the next fatality knows....won’t happen to them. Never.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

What? You're Driving?!?

I have always been blessed to look young for my age. If I let my hair get a bit too long and happen to wear clothes that are scruffy enough, I am occasionally mistaken as my teenage daughter's older brother, even though she was born when I was in my mid 20's. I'm not complaining.

In the power company I deal with a lot of people by radio or phone only, and when they finally come in on a visit to the control center, it is pretty common for them to be surprised and say they expected me to be in my 50's, though I haven't yet quite cracked 40. I make keeping cool and using a calm "fighter pilot" voice a priority in order to put a lid on potential spiraling panic. It works the same in the FD, of course.

However, this youthful countenance worked against me in my earliest days on the FD.

Fresh out of the box, 21 and dumb, feeling ten feet tall in my brand new uniform and shiny badge. It was a very hot summer day, and we were prepping a house for a training burn, pre-cutting and then capping vents with plywood, boarding up some key windows, piling up pallets and straw, marking exit paths.... you know the drill. All of us working on this project were actually off-duty POC guys. Being the super-probie, I was the only one in uniform.... never wanted to miss a chance to wear The Badge, you know.

This was a relatively small Midwestern town, so when the work was done and the guys wanted to cool off, no one thought anything of having a cold beer or two. But who goes to get it? Super-probie, of course.

At the counter of the town's liquor store - in uniform - with two cases of Miller Lite..... my gosh how preposterous that scene looks to me now!! The clerk carded me. You have to be 21 to join the FD, but the clerk was playing it safe in front of the badge. And, you guessed it, I did not have my ID.

I never, EVER heard the end of it as long as I served with that agency, the Kid who returned empty-handed from the beer run.

Several years later and not too long before I moved onward and upward from there, on a routine medical call, we picked up a senior citizen with some nondescript issue that has long faded from my memory. As the medic climbed into the ambulance, the other EMT and I loaded the patient. She had been eying me oddly ever since I grabbed the cot on the way out, but when she saw the other EMT climb into the back with the medic, yeah, that's where this post's title came from.

"What? You're Driving?!?" Not a joke. She was legitimately concerned. I was ready to swap with the other EMT just to make her feel better, but the medic would have none of it.

"Don't worry ma'am, The Kid's got a perfect ambulance driving record, drives for me all the time."

As I closed the doors to the box I heard her ask in all seriousness, "But how old is he, really??"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Unplanned Kitchen Update

I actually thought the kitchen saga was more or less over. The work was done, illogically and haphazardly, and we had moved on. But no, someone had to kick the beehive again.

If you're new to this blog, there is a long, long history to this. I dare you to put on your favorite Dilbert pocket protector, refill your coffee, and read all the posts tagged Kitchen Remodel, from the oldest post forward.

Came in for the day shift a few days ago to find a slight modification. Specifically, a new counter.

No one asked for it. We sure didn't need it. There's no plumbing, no electric, and no nearby anything else you want in that corner. And, so far, nothing to put on it.

We just added clutter and cleaning space, usage pending. Important stuff.

I suspect we could have used this money to move the fridge as previously intended, but as usual I am not privy to the master plan.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Incomprehensibility Follow-Up

More laugh-out-loud fun with numbers. I promise to be brief.

Review: Grasping Incomprehensibility

I realized that I did not try to quantify how big of a computer monitor we would need to show the trend line of our ACE without changing the scale. Our display shows the ACE up to 300MW high or low before it goes off the edge. We can still see the +/- 300MW numeric value when it goes out that far, but the trend line falls off the monitor.

Anyway, today I did the math.

When the ACE jumped to 1,428,382,474,567,680, how high would that theoretical trend line have gone? Try 3 trillion miles. 3,005,855,375,774 miles, to be exact.

To put that into perspective, that is 819 times the distance from the Sun to Pluto.

It is 8.25% of the distance to the next closest star, Proxima Centauri.

If you wanted to see the top of that trend when it happened, you would have to travel at the speed of light for just over six months to get to the high end of your theoretical cosmic computer monitor.

See, math can be fun if you let it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Owning the Incompetent with Humor

In another life, I spent some time in the software industry. I had been in the electric utility business for a few years when I was offered a job with one of our vendors. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. OK, I'll admit that in retrospect it actually was a good idea, as my three years there looks really good on the ol' resume now that I am back in the system operations and dispatch circle of the industry.

I became sympathetic to the lives of software engineers, as I worked with them at length while dealing with dispatchers and power marketers using the software. I became a liaison of sorts, telling the software wonks about life in the control center, and telling dispatchers about software wonk life trying to make lots of people with often conflicting opinions all happy at the same time.

Sympathetic to a point, that is. I've never been able to tolerate blatant incompetence. My own included, I must add.

Unrelated to that, as yet, is that I am also a wise-ass at work. Many many years ago the senior dispatcher on my shift would always react the same way when a line tripped. The first thing he would do was quote Robot (voiced by Dick Tufeld) from Lost in Space: "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!" Then he'd get up, refill his coffee, and saunter back to the console to fix the broken stuff.

The quote inspired me, and it was very easy to find a WAV file of that quote online. I added a toolbar shortcut to it, and could play it loudly with a single click every time a line tripped. Hilarious. You had to be there.

I soon expanded my WAV collection and built an interface to instantly play back any of the 75 or so witty one-liners I collected over time. Some examples:

"I've felt a great disturbance in the force." (Obi-Wan Kenobi/Alec Guinness, Star Wars: A New Hope)

"Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead!" (James T Kirk/William Shatner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

"Look, I'm gonna tell you about an accident and I don't wanna hear about an 'act of God', OK?" (Jack Burton/Kurt Russell, Big Trouble in Little China)

"No sense worrying about it now." (Raymond Stantz/Dan Akroyd, Ghostbusters)

"I think it is time we demonstrated the full power of this station." (Grand Moff Tarkin/Peter Cushing, Star Wars: A New Hope),

"Finally, we shall bring order out of chaos." (Egg Shen/Victor Wong, Big Trouble in Little China)

"I'm sorry, but this is a highly sophistamicated doowacky, you don't treat it responsibly, ka-BLAM-o!" (Homer Simpson/Dan Castellaneta, The Simpsons).

You get the idea. So where the heck am I going with this?

Do you remember how reserve sharing works? If not, go refill your coffee now, then come back and review Tutorial 4: Basic ACE, and Reserve Sharing before proceeding here.

So one day we're testing a new reserve sharing application built by my former vendor employer. It's not tied to anything yet so it can't actually make things happen, but you can tell it to do stuff and see how it would theoretically react. I have a sneaking suspicion (aka insider info) that it isn't quite ready for prime time, and evilly relish the thought of breaking it. I am suspicious that they are testing it while it has known deficiencies, hence is a waste of everyone's time. Test it when you really think it is ready, instead of pretending you're making good progress and hoping no one exposes you by breaking it. Their bad luck I was on duty.

Every utility in the entire reserve sharing pool had someone in on the conference call. Our turn came up, and we were to simulate requesting replacement energy for loss of a power plant in our system. I selected a large, 550MW plant that was shared contractually with three utilities. The software threw down an ugly error message to everyone's screens. Exposed. Software guys fumble mumbled apologetically about how the application was not configured to handle shared units yet.

So why are we testing it? Grrr.

OK, I say, let me try something else. When picking off the big 550MW unit, I noticed that their drop-down list of power plants included every single dinky unit we had. So this time I picked a tiny 0.85MW (850kW) hydro plant. Submit.

Everyone's alarms went off, as you could hear over the phone. So the application alarm was working fine. Then the comments started. "I got the alarm, but no megawatt contribution". "Same here". "Yeah, we see the event but are not being asked to provide assistance" Then the largest utility, with the biggest prorated share of the pool, said "I got one megawatt on my display". Mind you, they are so big that they can swing 100MW every few minutes as a matter of routine. 1MW to them is rather less than a day-old fart in the wind.

Software guys were feeling pretty burned now. But I knew these guys, and was not exactly a big fan of their work to begin with. Finally I played along and picked a "safe" 220MW sole-owned plant, and the application worked OK and let everyone see numbers like they wanted to.

As we continued through the round-robin testing, a couple of other dispatchers followed my lead and started trying to break the thing on purpose with new tricks. A few were successful.

As the call wound down and a sort of debrief was being held, I grabbed my PC speaker and pulled up the WAV interface. Holding the speaker by the phone, the entire conference call was treated to:

"So far, this is not blowing my skirt up, gentlemen." (Spencer Trilby/Charleton Heston, True Lies).

Several rather rewarding snickers were heard from other participants. Conference call anonymity is nice.  The software guys were silenced for a few seconds, and then went on like it hadn't happened.

Next time we tested the application a few weeks later, shared units worked, and no plants below 25MW were in the pick list.

Monday, September 13, 2010


The worst part of the storm has passed, but some cleanup will be around for a long, long time. Still, I said I'd be back after a while, and it has been long enough. Although we were blindsided by a trial I wouldn't wish on anyone's family, I know that we will all be stronger because of it. We are in fact already benefiting from stronger relationships. Some important lessons have been learned. Time goes forward, and so shall we.

Writing on here again will probably be good for me, so let's roll this thing back online.

Now is a good time for me to take stock and ask what my faithful and suffering readers prefer. Power grid rants? Funny pictures? Resume my editorials on future energy? Fire and EMS rants? Tutorials? What do you want more of? Less of?

To those of you still here and waiting patiently, I pass to you many thanks of appreciation of not just tolerating my arrogant self-righteous self, but coming back again and again to suffer more of it.

Roll on.....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Syndicated Rerun

Continuing from the previous post..... I'm not "back" yet, and won't be for probably another couple of weeks, but the rain is not falling so hard now.

Here's a handful of my favorite posts, in no particular order, if you just cannot live without a fix of my tripe-disguised-as-a-blog while I am off my game.

Thanks for your patience, and stay safe out there.


The Ladder 49 effect

Go Away, You're Bothering Me

Rewards and Insults

Identifying the T-Shirt Firefighter in its Natural Habitat

If Only We Knew How Stupid We Were

Crossing from Comfort to Quiet Terror

A Tale of Five Monkeys

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Short break

Sorry for the lack of posts.

I have recently suffered a rather traumatic and emotional personal crisis not related to either of my jobs.

The worst seems past, but some things are never the same even when all the pieces are picked up, you know. As such, right now, I'm just not into writing about anything.

Eventually, it should stop raining.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

They Waited an Hour to Call

We arrived a little late to the party.

As it turned out, it took the bystanders something along the lines of an hour for someone to decide a 911 call was in order.

An hour.

The three of us made our way into the Mayberry district and pulled up in Engine 56 at about the same time the Heavy Rescue from nearby Kinda Big City was unloading its crew.

A quick look down the trail to the river bank showed the surreality of a few local rescuers and bystanders frantically attempting to free someone from under a log in the river, who was struggling to get air while held down by the water, as well over fifty others continued sunbathing, only a few paying attention.

By the time we got down to the edge, the kid had been pulled free.

The kid.

And he was blue.

He had been weakly flailing and fighting to escape when we looked down. Only a few minutes had passed. Now he was limp. They broke his leg to get him out when he lost consciousness.


We worked him for a long time. The medics of course threw epi and lidocaine at him, but the monitor gave us nothing but asystole. Still, we kept working.

Now a few people were paying attention.

We loaded him onto a basket and rigged up to take him up to the bridge. No way were the medics going to call it in front of the crowd.

I thought of my own kids as I bagged him all the way up the grade. Don't we always do that?

His dulled eyes stared in different directions under drooping lids. One-handed compressions continued as best as could be done by the guy across from me as we stumbled over the rocks. It was a miracle that I didn't dislodge the tube with the BVM as I was climbing. There was blood coming up the tube, from the tissue damage we were causing while working him.

Tried not to look at his parents, but how can you not?

It was after the ambulance departed for the landing zone to the helicopter, when we found out about the hour delay.

The entire freaking hour, the kid fought, screamed, struggled, his head not quite level with the water as the few bystanders who found the capacity to give a crap tried to free him, to help him get air.

An hour. Good God.

So, for the record, and I think I speak for all 911 dispatchers as well as my brothers and sisters on the BRTs and bone boxes, we would all rather hear about a problem ten times than never.

For the love of all that is good and right, pick up the phone and CALL.

For what it is worth, against all odds, the medics got a faint rhythm on the way to the helo. The kid was hypothermic, so the chance was there. The helicopter took him. He survived. Expected to make a full recovery.

Are you serious?

God was looking out for this one. He was about as dead as dead gets.

I guess that's a save.  No thanks to the spectators.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Grasping Incomprehensibility

It's a geek post. You've been warned.

If you are a regular reader, you have some basic familiarity with how bulk power systems are run. The topic of this post involves generation and load balancing. That is, matching power output to power consumption, adjusted for the expected power flows to other systems based on purchase and sale agreements. If you're meeting your obligations, your instantaneous ACE (Area Control Error) is more or less zero.

So, once in a while, events transpire such as those documented in Of Yardsticks and Manly Measurements, but without the drama. Having a meter go bonkers and sending you out by a few hundred or even a few thousand is just something that happens once in a while, and part of why we're here. Someone has to fix the broken stuff, you know.

But this event was different.

The visual ACE alarm activated, meaning we were at least a few hundred megawatts out of nominal, so we stopped jawing and took a look. But instead of showing us a number that we could comprehend on the big monitor, we saw 1.42838E+15.  (Not that I memorized the number....I took a screen shot.)

What the huh?

I didn't even know that our software knew how to show gigantic numbers in that scientific notation format, let alone what to do with them.

Although I didn't dig deep enough to get the exact value until later, I can tell you now that it was 1,428,382,474,567,680.

That's 1.4 quadrillion plus.

Every application and system that was was paying attention to this number summarily disabled itself, having just had a clear view into infinity and needing to sit down with a cup of tea to think things over.

It wasn't long before we found the source of this particular problem. For typical meter oddities that crop up, the 100 here, 500 there, we sometimes have to poke around to find it, but 1.4 quadrillion is hard to hide in a closet. We quickly tracked it down to a faulty tie line value that represented a remotely-located power plant, and flipped it to its backup data source, problem resolved.

That was cool.

So, how big is 1.4 quadrillion, exactly?  Stay with me through this, because I promise this will get slightly amusing again after we trudge through the technical stuff.

First, let's translate what a megawatt is again, as a refresher.  Megawatts (MW) are a representation of rate, or flow, while a Megawatt Hour (MWh) is a representation of delivered totals.  Think of it in fire pump terms.  A pump flowing 500gpm will deliver 500 gallons every minute.  If allowed to run for only 30 seconds, it will deliver only 250 gallons.  Likewise, a power plant running at 100MW but online for only 15 minutes will deliver only 25MWh.

To allow you to get your hands around what a MW is, exactly, look at your power bill.  1 megawatt is equal to 1,000 kilowatts, and your monthly household electricity consumption will be shown in kilowatt hours (KWh).  A typical home might use roughly 1,000 KWh (or 1 MWh) per month.  So, a 100MW power plant produces, roughly, enough power every hour to supply one hundred homes for a month.

Back to the big number: 1,428,382,474,567,680

It isn't really accurate to call it 1.4 quadrillion megawatts, it's like saying a million billions or something.  Quantity steps of watts use the same system as computer memory storage measurements: kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, etc.  1,000 kilowatts is a megawatt, 1,000 megawatts is a gigawatt (already moving into irrationality in power company terms). 1,000 gigawatts is a terawatt, then.... petawatt, exawatt, .... what we have here is 1.4 zettawatts.  Zettawatts?  L O L

How much theoretical power was this, really?

According to Wikipedia (the oracle of truth, I know), global energy usage is approximately 15 terawatts annually.  If this power plant had actually been producing 1.4 zettawatts and kept it up for just a single hour, it would have produced enough energy to power the globe for 95,225,498 years.

That is still beyond comprehension.

OK, it produced enough power every second to serve the Earth's energy needs for 26,452 years. Or to power Doc Brown's DeLorean DMC-12 time machine through nearly 328 million time-travel jumps.

Still hard to grasp, but we'll leave it at that.

For what it was worth, it was still only equivalent to 4 trillionths of 1% of the sun's energy output rate.

In real life it would probably have left a crater at that power plant's location a few thousand miles wide, and vaporized every power line on the continent in one trillisecond of glorious multicolored flame.

Good thing it was just a meter error. Feel free to allow a banking error of that magnitude on my account, as I am sure it will meet my needs for a several thousand years, too.

That was cool.  Thanks for letting me geek out a little bit.  My two jobs make me so serious on the clock, that I have to get a little goofy sometimes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Leave a Lasting Impression

Tonight is the expected peak of activity of the annual Perseids meteor shower. If you are fortunate enough to have forecasted clear conditions and have the ability to easily get to a dark area far from light pollution, it is reasonable to expect to see a shooting star every minute or so, maybe more. The current moon phase is also, very conveniently, nearly a new moon, so it won't interfere.

This is pure magic for children. Pure magic.

If you have kids, get them to bed kind of early tonight. Wake them again, make sure they have warm jammies, and get to your viewing location by about 0230. Bring pillows, blankets, reclining lawn chairs, and hot chocolate.

These are the magic moments that stick in the memory of a child forever. The kind of thing they will remember you for when you are gone, and that they will tell their children about, and that they will repeat for their own kids.

That's why we're going.

It's magic.

For more info:

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Couple of Demerits

Arrived by myself in Engine 51 to a truck off the road with some front end damage.

On the other side of the road, some people were kneeling in the ditch.

No one is in or by the damaged truck

Are you serious?  You whacked a deer and called 911 so we can save the deer?

Wrong.  Two demerits for me, for jumping to early conclusions.

I spent about ten minutes as the only firefighter on the scene, trying to get the guy to cooperate.  No seatbelt, drinking, smacked a tree, involuntarily used his lower abdomen to push the bottom of his steering wheel into the column. Wouldn't let me put a cuff on him or get lung sounds or anything. Pretty whiny when I touched his belly, though. At least his feeble struggle against me told me what I couldn't get from his vitals: Enough blood was still going round and round for him to function up to that point.

Sometimes those drunks walk away.  Not this time.  Though he gets two stars for trying, seeing as how he made it to the other side of the road before collapsing.

Eventually, more help started to finally show up.  About 25 minutes after that, the helicopter took him away. Dude was seriously messed up.

I will never, ever get tired of calling for a helicopter and watching them take my patient away.  I don't know what it is, but I always get goosebumps watching them take off with a hot one.

Last I heard, he's still alive.  Amazing.

And then I got to go to that housewarming party I was on my way to in the first place. They still had beer, so it was all good.


And by the way, I apologize for the misleading title of the last post.  There was nothing at all about the literal "truth" about lying.  It was just a catchy title that I wasn't bright enough at the time to realize was misleading.  If you didn't notice, then go ahead and forget you read this paragraph.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Truth About Lying

The time has come for my full time employer, the power company, to initiate the very complicated, bureaucratic, and inefficient employee review process. It is a colossal waste of time, and I won't get into too many specifics, because you don't care, and you've got your own problems, I know.

Suffice to say that as long as you're not trying to sabotage your career and being a clueless knucklehead, your COLA raise is going to be what it is going to be, no matter what your review looks like or what nice things you say about yourself. Just give me my raise and let me get back to work.

Anyway, I digress.

One of the elements of the process requires the employee to pick out a couple of company-provided classes to attend in the next year. I'm pretty weak on Microsoft Access, so I ran a search through the course listings for "microsoft".

I did a triple-take on the #5 result: "How to Lie with Charts"

Really.  You can click the image above to see the bigger version, or just look at this next one:

So is this "lie" like deceive, or attempt procreation with? Like you, I couldn't tell. Let's investigate.

I opened the description. It is a very normal description about a course on making useful charts for presentations to help get your point across. Nothing in the description turned the title into a witty joke. At least it wasn't a primer on creating little chartlings, though this company has taught me to not be surprised by anything.

All I can figure is whoever made up the course had to give it a title and couldn't think of what to use at the moment, just slapping in how they really feel. And forgot to go back later.

It made it through all the pre-publication reviews. And there it is.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Of Yardsticks and Manly Measurements

Like the day I broke the FD tanker, the shift at the power company started like any other routine day destined for minor excitement.

If you haven't read the tutorials (check the tag cloud on the right), some of this might be a bit overly technical, but I'll try to keep it simple. It won't however, be short. Sorry.

There we were, routinely minding our business, the grid more or less running as it was supposed to.

Suddenly, our ACE (the instantaneous difference between how much electricity we are producing, and how much is being consumed, adjusted for expected flows to other utilities, which should nominally be 0), jumped to about 650.  Then it started bouncing every few minutes by as much as 250MW up and down, pushing us way out of bounds on both sides.  That's an attention getter.

If the ACE thinks you have an extra 650 megawatts, only three things can have happened (or at least the AGC computer was led to believe one of these three things). Either (1) a generator suddenly decided to give you an extra 650MW (equal to a very large coal-fired plant), (2) you lost 650MW of consumer demand (equal to blacking out a very large metropolitan area), or (3) one of the power lines attaching you to another utility suddenly increased its flow by 650MW for some unexplained reason.

1 and 2 fall somewhere between impossible and extremely unlikely, and both would give you other clues such as an abrupt change in system frequency from the nominal 60Hz, and in the case of that much theoretical lost load, an overwhelming number of open circuit breaker alarms.

That leaves option 3. A flow meter, for whatever reason, decided that it needed to give us a vastly different number.  With no other tie lines also changing for a real-world event, this means the input went bad, a single false number.

The result of the instantaneous +650 ACE was that the automatic generation controller suddenly was being told that our generation/load balance was way, way out, and immediately started to control numerous power plants downward.

Remember the movie Star Trek: Insurrection, when Riker went to "manual mode" to fly the Enterprise? A flying controller deployed that amounted to a joystick, causing the audience to chuckle.

That's figuratively what I did. Went to manual AGC control and started flying by the seat of my pants to control our balance. Ultimately, we would end up running like this for about two hours. It was complicated.

While on manual control, the wind started to blow, wouldn't you know? Remember my wind power rants, about controlling around the serendipitous wind? This extra (real) generation output caused the units I was regulating balance with to go down to their minimum outputs.

This was about the time that the retired senior manager/engineer (RSME), who is now a contractor, arrived to save the day.

Now, to keep you interested in the story, I will break the monotony by sharing with you this completely unrelated picture, which always cracks me up.

OK, cute. Now, where were we? Oh yes, the RSME was now in the house.

I was periodically disabling the automatic controller while tweaking numbers, and the first thing he noticed was that the controller was off. He jumped to the conclusion that our excitement was centered on trying to get this thing back on.

This is key. He wanted to help us turn something on that I had deliberately turned off for cause.

So, what kinds of things would cause the automatic generation controller to automatically disable itself, you ask?

Any known bad input value will disable it, though in this case the software was not figuring out the value behind today's excitement was bad. Also, in theory, if the generation plants you are using to control output get all the way to the edge of their capability high or low, it is supposed to come off, though we have it set up to not do that.

RSME noted that, while I was flying in manual, the regulation units were almost bottomed out. If he had taken a few extra seconds, he might have realized that this was mainly because four major wind farms had a front blowing through and were giving us hundreds of unplanned MWs that we had to back out of the way to accommodate.

So we dispatchers are discussing the situation, flying manual, trying to resolve the problem, and RSME interrupts to tell us we have to move a couple of other power plants down so that the regulation units can move back into the middle of their bandwidth.

WTF are you talking about? (I didn't quite ask it that way, but I was helpless to control my tone).

You need to get your AGC back on.

No I don't, I manually disabled it on purpose, because I want it off.

Well, it needs to be on, and you have to direct those other plants to move up.

No it doesn't, and no I don't. That's not the problem.

He raised his voice and started to repeat himself.

It was then that I grabbed the hammer, broke the glass, pulled out the book, and invoked the Dispatcher is In Charge Rule.

You are not helping, you don't know what is wrong, you are interrupting us trying to tell us how to fix something that is not broken, and you need to leave the room.

Whoa, if looks could kill. He opened his mouth, closed it, then said he was going to bite his tongue this one time, and then left. Pardon me while I shed a tear of regret. Oh, and point of correction, it will be always, not "this one time". Thanks. OK, onward.

After affairs were settled a few hours later, I went to his office to clear things up, conciliatory and assuming good intent and all that. I related back the problem as he stated it and what he thought should be done to fix it, and he agreed with me. I then reiterated that the problem was now solved and had indeed turned out to be completely unrelated to his diagnosis. I told him his directives were 100% irrelevant to the incident.

There it was. We had pulled out the yardsticks, unzipped, and measured. I won on both counts: Authority to kick him out, and correct diagnosis in the first place.

He closed the conversation by ignoring my revelation, and by saying he wasn't going to worry about it, but that I should work on my people skills.

I'll get right on that, thanks.

I doubt I'm getting a Christmas card from him this year. It's too bad, though, because on the whole he is actually a really good guy. Which is not remotely enough to keep you from getting booted from my control room kingdom if you piss me off.