Firefighter    ■    Power Dispatcher    ■    Husband    ■    Daddy    ■    Grandpa    ■    Crazy Man

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Farewell to a Blog

I was bummed out this morning to discover one of my bookmarked and blogrolled law enforcement blogs has gone away.

Pepper Spray Me was gone on arrival this morning, and last seen southbound through the houses.

A lot of unfinished storylines there..... sigh.

Farewell, 'One Time'.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Before you play that card

Engine 51 arrived on the scene of a downed power line.

Hmmmm. Which hat shall I wear today?

All right, I showed up in a fire truck, I guess I'll wear the yellow one with the face shield.

The road was blocked for two hours. There was the German guy who ignored my orders and threaded the traffic cones across all lanes, and then also weaved around 51 (which was parked squarely in the center of the road), continuing on up to the scene only to get 'corrected' by the Sheriff's deputy up there. Upon his return, I questioned him, and he pleaded the language barrier card. Sorry pal, traffic cones and fire trucks blocking the road are of a universal language, even if you pretend to not get the meaning of a red octagonal stop sign being waved at you. Or how about the off-duty Mayberry Assistant Chief who just blithely waved and also drove past my stop paddle, only to come back when he found he couldn't get through either. Are you freaking serious? Of all people? He's now on my List of people to be wary of.

But the best part was upon my initial arrival. A good samaritan was standing in the road waving for traffic to stop, until I took up position. He had parked his car directly under the power lines, under the next span downstream from the problem. These wires were under serious tension, as the conductors actually never separated when the pole came down. The wires from either side were stretched taut, under tension like rubber bands, holding the broken pole slightly off the ground, with all that weight transferred to the adjacent upstream and downstream poles and crossarms. He himself was probably only 50' away from the broken stuff in the street. If it broke free from there, he could have lost his head, literally.

If you've read this blog for a bit, you would know to never park or stand there, right? Don't get within two spans of recoil range, and especially don't get under the wires if you decide to go into the 'danger zone' against my advice.

As he left, I stopped him to give him some advice.

Grumpy Dispatcher: Thanks for the help, but I just want you to know... when power lines are down, you should never park under the wires. The next poles can also break and you would be right under them.

Good Samaritan: Oh, it's OK, I work for Kinda Small Public Power Company.

GD: Oh really? I work for Very Big Power & Light, I'm a dispatcher. What do you do at KSPPC?

GS: .......uh, Business Services.

GD: Yeah. OK. Why don't you just stay back in the future until you get some safety awareness training from your field division, OK? But I appreciate your willingness to help. Have a nice day.

Before you feign to play a card, know who you're playing it to. Better yet, don't play it unless you really have it.

Have a nice day.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Crossing from Comfort to Quiet Terror

A strange thing happened to me several months ago.

After a nondescript fire department planning meeting, I wandered into the kitchen. We had four in the house for the shift, including a new intern and a ride-along cadet. As we enjoyed some pizza and shooting the breeze, I noticed how the new kids were regarding the Shift Captain. Like always.

New volunteer kids and cadets have a certain regard for new career guys in the 22-26 set, like, they're the shizzle, they made it, they're gung ho, I want to be like them and succeed. They treat the middle-career guys differently, a little more silent respect, as a source not so much for how to get the job, but how to succeed and stay alive in the job and get the goods on a promotion in a few years down the road. And then of course, senior officers are generally to be avoided, you don't trouble the white-shirted Oracles unless absolutely necessary....

I realized that the new kids were treating me almost like they were treating the duty Captain.... middle group treatment. I at first wryly thought, I must be getting a little older, it has to be my age, 'cause I'm not that good, heheh....

And then the little whisper of terror hit me. These kids hopefully have a long career in front of them. But most of it depends on how they are formed and raised in the service. If they survive or not depends a lot on how we shepherd them, whether we're individually officers or not. How we protect them, and how we train them using whatever means are necessary to safely see them through to being productive contributors and eventual trainers and leaders themselves.

Good lord, the responsibility! Am I capable of that?

I was all comfortable in my place as a fairly well-experienced non-officer just 24 hours ago. Suddenly, I felt terribly inadequate. Can I do my part to keep these kids alive? Can I effectively utilize my knowledge and experience to help them save themselves and countless others of future generations in the future? Suddenly I was afraid of what I might forget to teach, all the things that can go wrong.... all the fears I have about raising my own children, amplified.

Just like that. I was terrified. I never saw this line in my career progression coming up and being crossed, and it was quite a shock. Especially because it happened in one second: bang.

In the intervening months, the quiet terror still smolders. As long as I don't let it prevent me from doing my job, I am glad it is there, reminding me of what it is I am responsible for.

Do you have the fear?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another Adventure with Numbnutz

Sort of but not really picking up where we left off in the previous post.

I'd been on that particular agency, my first, for almost three years at the time of this adventure. I was, I'll admit, nicknamed 'Schwartz' there because of my rather overzealous approach to the job in my formative years, long before I became grumpy. That nickname is between you and me. Don't tell.

We were dispatched to a smoke smell in a residence. I drove to the station, as per protocol, to either staff up assigned BRTs and respond, or staff the big house if the assigned BRTs were already gone.

This agency has well-defined response procedures by call type, and the SOPs are clear that you continue to follow the response order until Command cancels you, regardless of what you hear on the size up, etc. You don't even have to check the SOP, because all the units on the response, in the order they're supposed to go, are included in the voice dispatch. Easy.

I arrived at the big house (15 total units!) to find the first engine and the rescue already gone. The small structure fire response SOP directed that a medic go next, followed by the quint/ladder. So I geared up and, logically, trotted out towards the first-out medic.

Numbnutz walks onto the apparatus floor and tries to wave me off. Oh stop it, Schwartz, it's probably just food on the stove, we're not going anywhere.

Numbnutz, I respectfully but firmly said, we haven't been canceled. I kept trotting.

Schwartz, do not get on that ambulance!

I ignored him. He was not an officer, and he was contradicting clear SOP. Screw him.

Schwartz, if you leave on that truck, you are finished here! You're gone. Damn it, don't you get on that rig! He was pretty upset. Wow, dude. I felt very safe, protected by the policy.

For some reason, he didn't try to stop the next two guys that came out and climbed aboard Medic 61 with me. We were supposed to leave with a minimum of two but recommended staff of four for fires. Numbnutz wasn't coming and no one else had arrived yet. Medic 61 left Numbnutz behind.

Medic 61 arrived to a single story bread-and-butter residence with nothing showing, and was immediately directed to pack up and prepare for entry. Well, now! Small but active attic fire which had spread from an old faulty chimney. In fact, I personally pulled the ceiling in the living room after we put down salvage covers.

When my crew was low on air, we went outside. Ladder 61 had arrived. Numbnutz was stewing in the drivers seat, watching us work.

Apparently Numbnutz ranted about us leaving to the guys who showed up next at the big house, including a Captain. Smooth. Captain unsurprisingly directed the ladder to go anyway (you know, not yet canceled by Command and all that), and told Numbnutz that since he "wasn't needed", he could just "watch the truck".

It got even better when said Captain was informed of the threat to kick me off the department for following SOP, but I was not privy to that post-incident interview.

Numbnutz didn't say much to me for a while. It was nice.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Angel and My Ghosts

I walked out of the locker room, buttoning up my uniform shirt. I'd clocked in for a three or four hour fill-in while a couple of the FT career guys were running a patient transfer to the Very Big City hospital. It's just me and Jeff, the career medic that stayed behind.

It had only been a year or so since I got my badge, and I still felt pretty good when I got to clock in and back up the career guys.

It's pretty late. Jeff is futzing in the kitchen and I've got the TV on. Just settling in, might even get some Z's before the other guys get back.

The lights came on. The speakers in the ceiling hummed, but no dispatcher voice yet. That didn't take long. I'm the driver.... let's go! Jeff muttered and put down the bowl he was holding.

Medic 61, Engine 61, Rescue 61, Ladder 61, traffic accident on the state highway.

Not a gomer call. Sweet. The ladder is not usually on MVC's though. Wonder what the dispatcher knows that we don't.

In this agency, the Medic goes first, other units to follow when the volunteers make it in.

Jeff and I go. Driving code at night was still a kick for me, watching the lights flash on all the downtown buildings as we went through town. I ask Jeff what he wants me to do, eager to show I am heads up, but he tells me to relax, he'll figure it out when we get there.

Out on the highway. as we come around a bend, I see cars pulled over, flashers on. There's crap all over the road, but I don't see any damage on these cars. Then I notice people down the embankment. Not a gomer call. Jeff keys up.

Medic 61 arrived, two-car head-on collision on the southbound side, heavy damage, both vehicles down the embankment, multiple patients, other units expedite.

One guy is laying in the grass, lacerated all to crap. Someone is clearly pinned in the front of one of the cars, as the hood and front left tire look to be under the windshield. I see long blonde hair and an arm.


Bystanders report no other occupants, just the two patients. Jeff goes to the pin and directs me to assess the guy in the grass.

I lean over to identify myself and get permission to.... ugh... phew. The alcohol smell took my breath away. He doesn't really acknowledge me, so I just go to work. Lots of blood. As soon as I touch his head his eyes snap open with rage. I'm going to f'ing kill you, you f'ing blankety blank blank. He doesn't look like he's up to it, but I pause. His attention wanders. I reposition myself defensively and start in again. This time he swings at my face and nearly connects. He's sure got some fight for being so cut up.

I back off as a deputy arrives and I wave him over. Together we go in, and the deputy verbally asserts reality with lacerated man, with his flashlight out and in a skull-smacking grip. This works, and I finish my assessment, though the hate-filled eyes are on me. The guy is cut all to hell on his face and head, some cuts to his arms. No breaks anywhere that I detect. There's the blood loss from scalp lacerations, but he'll clearly survive if he doesn't have any hidden internal bleeds, but that will get sorted out at the ER. I put some 4x4s on the appropriate places. A bystander asks if he can help. He's a big guy, and looks ready to defend himself if drunk asshat takes a swing, so I warn him of the patient's frame of mind and have him take c-spine.

Jeff calls for me. I'm in a tight spot. No one else has arrived yet, and leaving the asshat is abandonment. Jeff calls again. Screw it. Jeff's in charge, so it's on him anyway. I ask the deputy if he's OK with me helping the medic. Yeah, he says, he'll call if something changes. More blue lights are arriving, and Engine 61 also draws into sight.

It's bad. The girl is moaning and trying to move her head. Jeff is trying to start a heavy gauge line and needs me to hold a light. He calls for Engine 61 to take command and prepare for an extrication.

Stuff happens fast. Six guys pile off the engine ready to work. Thank God the cavalry has arrived. I've never felt so alone, and I wasn't even alone.

While they're setting up, the department's numbnutz (everyone has one) throws the hydraulic manifold into the pressure position before everything is hooked up. The pressure now prevents hooking anything else up, and we're screwed. Expletive expletive....... we drilled on this specific problem over and over again when we got this thing. Engine Captain is pissed and directs the guys to get hand tools and the sawzall. Numbnutz is trying to blame someone else.

Rescue arrives and we have more help, but everything quickly goes downhill. We end up doing a rapid yank-and-go extrication without c-spine considerations, because her BP is almost nonexistent, she is bleeding out and we don't have 15-20 minutes to waste on doing it "right" with the limited tools. On the cot, and we're loading up. Four guys climb into the back, and I pull out for the hospital. I don't even know who took over for the drunk asshat. I turn the box around and pass Medic 63 arriving. Good call, the guys heard Jeff's initial size up and deferred the ladder to bring another medic.

Of course I get a guy who won't pull to the right lane as I am on his bumper, with very light traffic. I finally pull into the left oncoming lane and he moves over.  I am beyond annoyed that anyone would consider being in the way tonight of all nights, but to the driver who moved I am just another thing with flashing lights of the type he will see a few hundred times in his life without this one being especially noteworthy.

We arrive without incident and take the girl in. In the light I can see better. She's no more than 17 years old, and stripped of all modesty except for her underpants. The monitor is hooked up and although I have no cardiac training to this point, even I can see that it is bad.

She is quickly moved off the cot to the ER bed, and CPR starts. She has virtually no obvious external injuries. A bruise on her forehead, but otherwise she is angelically clean and white.  Pale.  I'm ready to help, but feeling useless as the ER staff and medics do their thing. Then I notice she is too low on the bed, because her feet are off the end. Mainly I notice because her right fib/tib are broken just below the knee and the ankle and foot hang straight down.

Dumbly, I grab the foot and try to straighten it to normal, and wait for a lull so I can ask that we move her up the bed. No lull. I am holding her pale foot.

The blur is interrupted when I hear OK, get clear now. Everyone has backed off and a couple of sets of eyes are on me. Oh. I try to let the foot down gently, but the bone pokes through, marring the purity of her pale skin. Her body jerks. They move in again, and after a short internal debate I decide to leave the foot be.

Nothing works. Fifteen minutes or so later, they call it.

I stand there, but I cannot emotionally resolve the lack of outwardly obvious severe trauma with the death of this girl. Why did they give up? She was moaning for help when we arrived, and here less than 45 minutes later she lays unattended, still not covered. So, this is denial, I guess.

Jeff takes me out of the room, but we don't talk.

We clean up and return. The guys out on transfer get back not too long after, and tales will be told but I want no part of it. I go home and my young wife is sound asleep. I don't wake her, just kiss her on the forehead.


The girl was just going home from work when drunk asshat crossed the median on the curve. He was treated for cuts and released. Sentenced to a few years, but comparatively a slap on the wrist. He's sorry and remorseful and all that.

I'd seen death before, and a whole lot more and a whole lot worse than this one since. But this is the one that sticks.

I hope writing about it helps me stop thinking about it so much. After all, it's been 15 years. Just proofreading it has choked me up a bit. I should be so over this by now, but I'm not.

As the good Captain Schmoe says, Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Speechless..... can't think of a title any more

The absurdity continues.

Again.... if you be a newcomer.... first you must reference The Pre-Plan, Follow up to The Pre-Plan and The Silly Fallout Continues.

Today I noted the following new arrivals:

* Electric skillet. This actually is the first good thing that has appeared.
* Red plastic tupperware-type food storage bins (uh... we bring our own from home, folks).
* Cutting board. With red handles. Of course.

But the best part of all was that someone figured out what to do with the dead space behind the sideways fridge.

I am beginning to understand why firearms are not permitted in this workplace.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The 911 Fire Dispatcher is Your Friend

The local pretty big City was dispatched with a standard first-alarm assignment of companies for yet another apartment fire. They've been getting a lot of those lately for some reason. Three engines, a ladder, the rescue, the BC.

After the BC comes online, the dispatcher advises that the call center is getting multiple calls, reports of multiple explosions, occupants are evacuating, and asks the BC if he wants anything else (hint hint).

BC advises they'll wait until arrival and decide.

Dispatcher comes back and apologizes, but there seems to be a "technical issue" and repeats all of the information again, does he want anything else? (HINT!)

OK, BC says, go ahead with the second alarm.

With the high winds that day, the first-in companies found a lower level apartment in a multi-building complex fully involved and loving the weather-induced air injection. First attack company went after it with the deuce-and-a-half, but couldn't stop it. 2nd engine got help from the PD to shut down the main road for supply lines. Fire quickly spread all the way to the attic. A trench cut slowed things down a bit, and they managed to save about half of the building. Wasn't too long into the job before Command had broken the crews into three divisions and tied up some TAC channels for the 2+ alarm companies needed that day.

Anyway.... strong work, dispatcher, getting those needed resources on the way. I loved the "technical issue" comment.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Silly Fallout Continues

If you just stumbled into this blog..... well, my condolences, and I hope your employer offers you an EAP plan.

So.... yeah, if you just stumbled in, the following post won't make sense until you first read The Pre-Plan and then Follow up to The Pre-Plan.

I thought the storm of unneeded accessories was completed when the nice table showed up, but no. Came in tonight and found this.

You can see for yourself the matching red trash can and dust buster vac. We have a cleaning service come through daily, though. The little vacuum might be a hint to get ready for that to go away, too. And oddly, the other two generic office-style trash cans in this room (that worked fine all along) are still here. I don't think anyone is using the cute red one.

Better yet, though, you can see that the empty plastic bins (shown previously in the picture with the square dishes) have been replaced by smaller, cute metal ones. The old ones were fine, really, I mean, they still worked. But spending money for these I guess makes it less obvious that we're spending less money on what used to go on the counter there. Spend more to downplay that you're spending less. I think I just talked myself into chasing my tail.

O Logic, Where Art Thou? I'm going to go cry in a corner.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beware What You Ask For

And beware of what someone on your crew asks for.

One of our firefighters, an intern with about a year on, was feeling pretty good. He was doing really well, a hard worker, good attitude. He just got hired as a part-timer, and is pretty much a lock for a career gig eventually unless he accidentally becomes a felon. It was his last intern shift, and he was feeling pleased and looking forward to a paycheck.

You couldn't help but be in a better mood when he was in the room, you know. Future's so bright, and all that.

While out on an errand on this fine and fateful day, they drove their BRT by a decaying bowling alley that had been closed for over a year, and he said to the Captain something about how it would be a good building to use for a training burn.

Yeah, you see where this is going.

Sure enough, 3:50 AM that very night..... and it went to two alarms. On his last intern shift.

I was at the power company gig and didn't get to go to this fire myself, but I had heard about his comment earlier in the day. I stared at my pager in disbelief. You have got to be kidding me. Happy Intern is going to catch hell for this.

He sure was lucky that he was still on shift. Made for a good alibi!

It didn't hurt that a transient basically admitted to accidentally starting the fire, taking the figurative heat off of Happy Intern.

The best part I heard the next day. Happy Intern's engine company was the local one singled out to cover while everyone was busy, so he didn't even get to go.

Not that he's catching any less crap about it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Follow up to The Pre-Plan

When I took the job at this uber-large electric utility, I noted during the interview phase (which is very much a two-way exchange) that the company provided not just coffee, but also hot chocolate, hot spiced cider, more than a dozen varieties of tea, microwave popcorn, and several other little kitchen-based perks. They don't buy your lunch outright, but the extras can smooth over some of the daily annoyances.

That ended a few months ago. We dispatchers noted that supplies were running low, and eventually were depleted. We raided the stocks of some other departments housed in the ECC to carry us a little longer while we waited for a reply on our inquiries about who dropped the restocking ball.

Finally it came out that the company was no longer going to buy anything other than coffee, filters, and creamer. We even lost the flavored creamers (oh how I miss the Irish Cream stuff). We were a little put out that the notification didn't come out until after the stocks were gone, but who asks us our opinion on anything other than shedding firm electrical load to save the free world?

OK, reality check. In this economy, anyone should be lucky to have a job at all, let alone one that provides you with cable TV, coffee, secure parking, and the internet to entertain yourself all night when the grid is humming along without incident. Just understand, I am not complaining loudly about the loss of the other perks, because honestly, I've still got a GREAT gig doing a job I really like doing, and getting paid more than I am worth to do it. If I really wanted to whine about it, it would have been a blog post back when the stuff disappeared.

As you may recall, a new, unnecessary, and unresearched refrigerator recently showed up. That brought out some derisive comments, of course. For what it is worth, the fridge situation is so far unchanged, it sits sideways in the corner, sticking out into the room.

Then, other stuff started to show up, unannounced and unrequested. Nice stuff. Color-coordinated, even. A nice set of knives in a block, a toaster oven, a hotplate (which I've still never seen used), and ... a popcorn maker? We got rid of company-issued microwave popcorn and then bought this? There's more, but these things were grouped nicely together. The new red-handled silverware sets look good, too.

Then the new dishes showed up. No one asked for new dishes. We liked our hodgepodge collection of oversized bowls and coffee mugs, and everyone had their personal favorites or brought in spares from home. Gone, and replaced with this cheesy... square-ish set. Shown next to the now-empty flavored coffee creamer bins.

Now this was about the limit. You ever try to eat out of square dishes? It's goofy. Must drink from a corner (which feels like drinking from a porcelain milk carton), because drinking from the flat sends coffee down your cheeks and off your chin. How about stirring microwave ravioli or instant oatmeal in a tiny, square bowl? Breaking News: It is tricky to stir anything in a square container. If anyone had asked us, we would have advised accordingly before this undersized cuteness was purchased. But alas, no, those that actually, you know.... use this stuff, were not consulted. Without a true, full kitchen, there's a lot of instant this and quick-stir that made here. Dinky, breakable, square dishes do not belong in this environment.

And then this showed up.

Gone was the old, indestructible formica-topped circular table. And its chairs. Here is this new, shiny, fancy, black-finished $750 counter-height wood table with internal expansion leaf. And no chairs, seeing as how the old ones weren't tall enough for the new table. What, did you just say $750? Yes. Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars. For a table we didn't need or want, that we can't sit at anyway. But since we skipped the chairs, I suppose that we saved a few bucks.

The crews soon realized: Do you have ANY idea how much hot chocolate, coffee creamer and spiced cider mix you can buy for the ~$2,000+ we just spent on un-asked for and un-researched "upgrades" that mostly were a step backwards for us?

Management says it was facilities money to be spent or forfeit, from a different bucket than the goodies used to be paid for with.

As I tell the new kids when they ask certain questions: "Junior, how many times do I have to tell you to leave your bag of logic at the door? It has no place here."

Still waiting to see if we remodel to fit the new fridge that was not needed, never asked for, and ultimately a downgrade. Probably red countertops (to match the spoons) will be included.