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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.