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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.