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Friday, March 26, 2010

The table finally got dirty

I wasn't fast enough to get a picture before it got cleaned up, but I am finally able to report that the useless new table in our power dispatch kitchen was cluttered and dirty today, perhaps for the first time ever, thanks to a dual-birthday event resulting in a cheesecake and birthday cake being served from it.

The scene was not too much unlike what happened in the movie Office Space (one of my personal favorites):

Anyway, glad that $700+ investment is being put to good use. Took a long time, though. At this rate, we're being so hard on that table that it might only last us around 500 years.

The old Formica one would have made it 800 years, even if we were rebuilding small engines on it daily.

Carry on.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where's Lowsere?

A long time ago, on a department, far, far away....

We pulled into the county hospital, code three, with an elderly pt in bad shape aboard. She really wasn't likely to survive the next hour or so. I was just the 3rd guy aboard because I had happened to drop by the House just before the call was toned. I wasn't doing much, just bagging her on the way in, and after she was transferred to hospital staff I then became the cleanup and gofer guy.

I was about done, and just putting new sheets on the cot by the ER doors when some guy came up behind me and conversationally asked "Where's Lowsere at?"

I'm sorry, what was that?

Then the little lightbulb lit up.

= = = =insert mysterious flashback
sounds as we roll back in time

= = = =

I was attending school for my Fire Science degree, back when I was on a fire career track. The medium-sized city where this college was located was getting ready to hire a bunch of firefighter-medic candidates, as they were slated to take over all EMS transport from the two private providers in the area within the next year.

We were all pumped, naturally. Who doesn't get optimistic when major hiring is coming up?

Numerous graduates still not on The Job tested, as well as many of us nearing completion of the program. Some of us got interviews, some not. I thought I interviewed pretty well.

Then the wait. Nothing happened. We checked with each other frequently. Heard anything? Nothing. Weeks, then a month, and another, went by. Nothing but rumors we hoped were bogus.

Well, to cut to the end, the City ended up hiring around 50 Paramedics, NONE of them with fire training, opting to put the new hires through their internal fire academy instead. I suppose this was a cost-cutting measure, as they were able to offer low dollar. I don't want to open the debate or get political, but the City also hired a handful of Affirmative Action candidates that were not Paramedics, some without fire experience either. Just applicants off the street who had the right genetic and/or gender credentials. Not even one student (male or female) was hired from the local college program this time around.

Again, I want to avoid the politics, but the facts are what they are. It was surreal.

We Fire Science students were of course aghast and deflated at the same time, and started fraternally calling each other losers. We also decided, in that cheeky 22-year-old way, to make a bit of a protest gesture. We created uniform fire department shirts (not specifically mimicking any particular fire agency's design) that read on the back, instead of a real city name:


= = = =
mysterious music fades
out the flashback and
we're back in the ER
= = = =

Oh. Expletive. I forgot what shirt I was wearing when I dropped by the House and then spontaneously jumped on the medic for this call. If you don't actually read the shirt, it looks official.

Here, in the ER, this guy read it, but his brain thankfully processed that no town would actually be called Loser, and decided it must be pronounced Lowsere.

"Oh, Lowsere," I ad-libbed, "that's where my best friend just got a fire job, in Utah, I think. He just sent it to me."

Utah?? Where did I get that?

The guy nodded absently and then wandered back to the waiting area. Tony came out, clipboard in hand, and asked me what the guy wanted. I said I'd explain later, because it wasn't important, and threw the linen bag over my shoulder to cover the back of my shirt. OK, Tony said, that's the patient's son, and he's about to get some bad news.

It was nothing patient-related, sir. I'll be in the medic.

I guided the cot out with my free hand, and hid in the box until we left.

Later, it was funny.



Sometimes there's nothing you can do

You've met them.

No one will ever get through. Regardless of their real age, they're like hard-coded teenagers stuck in the illogical non-comprehension stage, because they just know they're right. Yeah.

Don't even bother with the 2x4 to clobber them with, it just isn't worth your time.

When I moved into my place a few years ago, I was told one of the guys - we'll call him Sunshine - who lived farther in down our private road, automatically didn't like me because I was a firefighter. I represented The Man, taxes, and the all-seeing Eye upon his "misbehaviors". Whatever those were, as if I cared that much.

Give me a break.

We do door-to-door stuff, in pairs, as part of our community education and outreach. Naturally, I worked the area around my place with a partner. We share wildland defensibility info, hand out address signs and smoke detectors, make nice, and all that good stuff.

We tried to visit his place, he didn't answer the door even though he was home. Whatever, Sunshine.

Advance weeks.

Our road gets pretty dusty in the summer. I had Brush 51 out for a regular PM, and decided that instead of just running the pump for the sake of running it, I would set up the rear monitor and spray down our road with a wide fog, and then refill the 300gal tank off my private well. Rig needs road time, pump needs to run, doing a community service, and paying for the water out of my pocket because I'm a nice guy. I did this a couple more times as the summer wore on during very dry stretches. The pump-and-roll capability of the brush rig is a neat trick that Engine 51 can't duplicate. All the neighbors loved it.

Except Sunshine.  He complained to the brass.

Are you serious? It came back through the chain to me from a BC, who queried on what I had done without naming the complainer. Upon explanation, BC was cool with it. But I wasn't. I told the neighbors that someone had complained, and they all knew who it was. Told the neighbors that the wet downs on my dime were over, and they could forward their feelings on the matter to the source.

Weeks go by...

Hangin' at home. I smell smoke. Not campfire or fireplace smoke, nor burn pile smoke. Plastic crap smoke. Uh-oh.

'The funny thing about firemen is... Night and day they are always firemen.'

I go out hunting and track it to Sunshine's place.

So, the dilemma.... do I investigate further and piss him off by snooping, or drive away and piss him off for ignoring a real fire. And this is a "real" fire.

I go on in, ready to dial up the forces and give an initial size-up. Behind the shop, Sunshine is stretching a garden hose to attack the shell of a car he had apparently been cutting up with a torch. Don't ask. Somehow he controls the fire. He's not happy I am there, so I leave after some polite comments about making sure he was OK.

Advance months.

Last week, I hear from a friend who peripherally knows Sunshine from work. Did you make that fire down by your place, he says? What fire? It was right on your road, dude, didn't you guys have a fire down there?

I was around that weekend, and we had calls, but nothing around my place.

Turns out Sunshine went to bed one night, and after hitting the lights and laying down, noticed a glow between the cracks of the ceiling panels. Sunshine pretty much burned the entire ceiling cavity out of off his single wide, but drew on his miraculous madd firemans skilz and handled it with his trusty proven garden hose and chain saw, according to local lore.  Sure enough I go check out his place from the road and his entire roof is now tarp-covered.

I would have paid good money to watch that.

I thought I couldn't be surprised any more. But I am by this, it was pretty amazing. He never called 911. He just doesn't like us, or he's too dumb to realize that's what we do. So yeah, when he has a chance to capitalize on the services provided by the taxes he hates paying, he just goes solo anyway. Yup, that's a problem solver there, bud.

Yesterday, Sunshine and I happened to meet at the mailboxes at the head of the road. He complained that I didn't notice his place burning and wanted to know why I didn't come help him.

I had to pretend I didn't hear him, because I couldn't think of any response that would sound polite. Just listening to his question had already wasted too much of my time. Also, my power dispatcher attitude prevented me from finding a damn to consider giving.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Appearances Matter

In this day and age of the economic downturn, emergency services everywhere are finding themselves in the surprising position of justifying their expenses and in some cases their very existence. Some folks are so clueless about what we do, they'd chop us to nothing without realizing we're like the last strand of the rope keeping them from falling off a cliff. We know what will happen if the cuts happen, and by the time they figure it out, people will be dead and they'll turn it around and blame us, asking why we didn't warn them, despite all of our attempts to do just that.

Talk about frustrating. Burnout isn't bothering me yet. I'm still physically able to do the job. I don't mind the low pay... heck my volunteer firefighter's salary of $0.00 has more than tripled in less than three months, I'm not complaining! But the sheer blunt stupidity of the people we serve who cannot bother themselves to understand how or why we function, and just assume the sky will never fall..... that is the one thing that has made me seriously consider walking away from The Job more than once. They don't give a damn, so why should I?

I know this isn't news to many of you. Bear with me.

So we get banged out a couple of weeks ago to a very minor medical call. Dispatched as a possible sprained ankle. Seriously? Can I roll my eyes and call you a taxi? It's a lot cheaper than the bone box, and you know, someone might actually need the medic unit while we're tied down with you. No? We gotta go? OK then, because, you know, it's not like we need to limit our spending or anything.

But guys, for cripes sake, if this band-aid ice pack non-emergency call comes in during a drill and we've got twenty guys in the house, you do not need to send six firefighters on the engine to accompany the ambulance. We've got other apparatus in the house, if we get something "real", there's more than enough room to get the manpower on scene.

Seriously, the citizens are screaming about high taxes, and then the caller and all their neighbors observe as a total of eight burly firefighters arrive with an ambulance and a shiny big red truck. Most of them, unsurprisingly, end up standing around doing nothing. What is the signal we're sending?

Yes, you and I and all the other guys at the drill know that the Captain and the Medics are career, and that the five freebie volunteers showing up financially means essentially nothing to the taxpayer burden here, but they're all wearing the same uniform more or less, and the citizens on the street can't tell us apart. Looks like eight salaries showed up for a fluff call, looks like a tremendous waste of resources or overstaffing.... where should we cut? There's plenty of extra firefighters, aren't there?

Folks, the citizens don't get it. You need to spell it out not just in the information you provide, but also how you appear day-to-day in the course of your work.

It isn't enough to do public education, or budget seminars, or newsletters explaining why an engine goes with the medic. Sometimes you just need to use your brain and realize that sometimes it is more important to put the right face on than to let a gaggle of volunteers ride the engine because they can. If your patient turns out to be 400lbs and face-down in a broom closet, sure, call for another unit for manpower, but until then, use common sense. Look busy! Be busy! And if you're justifiably on standby with nothing to do at the House, don't lounge on the station deck in full view of the world.

These are tough times. Engage your brain. Don't make things worse than they need to be by being oblivious to the external perception of how we do our jobs.

As the Happy Medic says.... that is all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yeah, this thing is still on.... barely

Finally dragged myself up to see how long since I had posted... about two weeks. Wow. I usually can't shut up. The silence must be golden.

Been under the weather in a pretty serious way, off work, being a big crybaby at home. Thank heavens for my patient wife.

Be back in a few more days, I hope.

Stay safe, you guys.