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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This video explains my job in 30 seconds

I swear Sprint must have interviewed some actual power dispatchers before making this commercial, because this is EXACTLY how we roll. Arguing about the dumbest petty crap while simultaneously saving the world as an aside. And then continuing the argument uninterrupted.

Our priorities can be so screwed up sometimes. This is so perfect, I can't believe it. This was aired a few years ago and I just stumbled onto it. Watch this, and you will know everything you need to know about power dispatchers. AWESOME!

Monday, April 25, 2011


Yet another drunk driver, yet another one-car wreck, yet another person who abandoned the scene. This time they somehow managed to take their car with them, though not before several bystanders noted not just the intoxicated status of the driver but also his license plate number.

I arrived on scene second, and was prevented from two-hatting by the Engine 56 officer, who noted that the power lines were in the road and that with no patient there was nothing for us to do but close it down and wait for the local power company guys. Thus I never made the scene, but stopped short a few hundred yards back at the point of a perfect turnaround. Seriously, it was a paved parking lot with two entrances. It was ready-made just for this situation.

I parked Engine 51 a little past the second entrance and put down cones indicating that drivers should turn into the parking lot. A gift-wrapped traffic redirection solution if there ever was one.

For the next few hours, none, not any, not a single car used the full turnaround. Every single driver without exception abandoned the perfect turnaround opportunity in order to do a three-point turnaround at the other entrance, or did a three-point turnaround in the parking lot and went back out the way they went in. I triple-checked how my cones were down, that I was not too close to the second entrance to scare people off, that the intuitive curve of the cones was visible to approaching traffic. Check, check, check... all good. What gives? I never figured it out, but the theme of abandonment continued unabated as the perfect traffic control solution was left utterly unused.

But this was not the worst abandonment of all.

My oldest teenager was with me on an approved ride-along with liability waivers on file and all that. Once it became clear that we were going to be parked for quite a while, she sweetly asked for permission to join the mixed crew of third-due Engine 53, who was being released for lack of anything else to do. E53 stood a better chance of seeing action than E51 was going to get on boring old traffic control. Thus, my daughter abandoned me with a wave, a blown kiss, and twinkle in her eye!

Lonely broken power poles, lonely perfect turnarounds, lonely grumpy dispatchers. All of us abandoned. Sigh.

Friday, April 15, 2011


The internet is a strange thing. It is a great equalizer even while providing opportunities never before possible.

Michael Morse recently spoke of Blog Snobbery over at Rescuing Providence. It allowed me to reflect on why any of us blog about anything at all.

This blog is not all that popular in the world of Fire and EMS blogs, and I'd be the first to acknowledge that I'm not much of an expert, nor do I have years and years of inner-city or busy suburban fire and EMS experience from which to form my views.

As an aside, I am killing the top ratings of power dispatcher blogs. Woo hoo! Perhaps this is because, as far as I know, this is the only one out there.

It amazes me that I get any love at all, really. Most of my favorite blogs have added this one to their blogrolls. This astounds and humbles me. I am not worthy. When the blogs run by the Happy Medic and MotorCop were on the rise, I was inspired by their examples to start this one, from a mutual desire to vent a little on the side.

So I am sitting here tonight, thinking about my very young days. Even as a teenager when I realized firefighting was something I'd like to do, I remember visiting the fire station in my neighborhood to learn more and absorb from the guys. I remember their stories. Mostly laughs, a lot of rants, a few holy-crap-how-did-we-do-that moments, and every once in a great while someone would open up a little on bad calls.

I reflect on those guys, now all retired, part of a great generation of the fire service in the 70s and 80s. Bigger than life, and I know I can never measure up to that standard.

But somehow, thanks to the internet, I write a little blog. And I get readers who I esteem highly, that I would probably be afraid to approach at FDIC or Emmitsburg or wherever. I will never be able to accept that anything I write is ever going to measure up to how I look up to those guys from back in the day. Yet I continue to be - for lack of a better word, astonished - that I ever get quoted or commented on by so many whom I hold in high esteem.

Really, one day I am sure you guys will figure out that I really am a nobody. A dedicated and occasionally humorous one sometimes, but not otherwise a contributor of note.

This service is filled with nobodies. To those we serve, none of us are nobodies, though. While we are rarely recognized for what we do, I know that we make a huge difference. We are nobodies who work hard, train hard, live right, operate with integrity and honor.

Few of us will have our names written on anything that will see the light of day after five or so years of our retirements. But here we are.

I still can't comprehend that I am a card-carrying part of this brotherhood even after almost 20 years of membership. It means something, and is an exclusive group.

So I am forced to conclude that I am not a nobody, that none of us are. That we all are capable of contributing without going down in history.

And my part is to write a silly little whiny blog. A few laughs good for the heart, and maybe a couple of brothers who learn something about power lines enough to save their own lives or others.

That's worth it, I guess.

I'm not sure I ever made the point that I vaguely had in mind when I started rambling, but this seems like a good place for me to shut up and reflect some more.

Update late 4/15: Per the comment added by Chicken Little, see also this post at Firehouse Zen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't Be Owned

Originally posted 9/12/2009, removed during a spate of paranoid content cleanup 5/26/2010, and now re-posted after some review and editing.

My company isn't unlike most electric utilities in North America, belt-tightening and cutting back everywhere in the 15 or so years following deregulation. Maintenance deferred, projects dropped, upgrades delayed, and my personal pet peeve... strict adherence to lowest bidder crap instead of paying a bit more for something of exponentially more value.

C'mon... in real life, if you have a choice between a truly great product at a certain cost, or a lousy crappy one for a little less, you put out a little extra and get the job done right the first time, else you pay for the savings later. Usually you pay more than you saved.

Some of us know that.

The company does not. Lowest bidder. Least cost. Period. And we continually pay for it through all available orifices as well as some new ones created for the situation. Overtime, emergency outages, repairs, lost time from dealing with crap. You get the idea.

That wasn't really the rant I meant to share when I started, though.

So, due to this lowest bidder - least cost - maintenance deferred frame of mind, One of my guys gets yet another routine alarm on a high voltage circuit breaker that is low on its arc-extinguishing internal gas (SF6).

He refers to the callout list. It's after-hours, you see. And these breakers can't be allowed to run out of SF6 gas while in service. They will either automatically trip before the gas gets too low, degrading the grid slightly, or they will "block closed", meaning if something happens that would normally trip this breaker, the trip signal will instead be sent to every adjacent breaker. It puts a big dent in your grid when you get a breaker fail operation like that.

So, (once again) due to this lowest bidder - least cost - maintenance deferred frame of mind, there are not very many guys assigned to this area any more. They're not being replaced as they retire or quit or move on. Three guys (including the designated on-call guy) don't answer calls to their home or cell numbers. The one guy that does answer is with his wife at the hospital. Bless his heart, he volunteers to go if we really need it. To hell with that, I'll see a substation burn violently to the ground on my watch to teach this company a lesson before I pull a guy from his sick wife's hospital bedside.

And let me not harp too much on the good old days, when we didn't have an "on-call" guy, we had an on-duty guy assigned exclusively to a trouble truck and waiting for action, fire department-style.


So, anyway, I call the field supervisor for that area.

Field Supervisor: Hello?

Grumpy Dispatcher: Hey, this is Grumpy, Shift Supervisor at the ECC, We've got a critical low gas alarm at Outback Sub, and my dispatcher can't raise any of your area guys. You have anyone else available or know how we can reach your crews?

FS: Really, you couldn't get Tom or Dick?

GD: No answer on home or cell. we got Harry, but he's with his wife at the hospital and can't go.

I didn't reveal that Harry offered to go anyway, lest this guy glom onto that idea.

FS: Low gas, huh? Well, I don't have anyone around here, I'd have to call someone on OT from Far Away Service Center, that's three hours away. It'll probably be fine until morning.

An aside: I love that our phones are recorded.

GD: All right then, I understand you're assuming responsibility for this incident, and are choosing to defer work on the critical gas alarm until tomorrow. If anything worsens, can I call you?

Silence ensues.... field boss just remembered that our calls are recorded.

FS: Well. ........ You know ..... you know, let me make some calls and see if I can reach anyone.

Uh-huh. Go team.

GD: Sounds good, I'll wait to hear back from you when when you've assigned a crew.

Don't be owned.

If I had let this guy put off the work and something blew up or got someone killed, you know where responsibility lies? The Dispatcher is In Charge. And as the Dispatcher's Supervisor, I am In Charge-In Charge.

When stuff has to get done, make it clear where responsibility lies. I took that burden off and placed in unequivocally in his lap. He knew it, and he knew why. He didn't want to bear that liability. Guess what Captain Cavalier, I don't either. They pay you field supervisor pay. Go earn it. Find your guys, and get it fixed.

I'm sorry about the cutbacks and all, but no part of the cutbacks includes the requirement that I retain the liability for getting people killed or blowing stuff up simply because you couldn't/wouldn't do your job. You see, despite the clear transfer of the burden to the field boss, I would still be held at least partially accountable for not pushing harder and finding someone somehow to get it done. Frankly, spending 45 minutes on the phone and playing voice mail tag is not my job. We are running critical national infrastructure. When I want help, I want it right now. If I can't get it, I will make the boss of that area assume that burden. If he doesn't like that, maybe he'll ensure his guys aren't impossible to reach in the future, huh?

Captain Cavalier shouldn't tolerate being owned by me, either, He should be using the same approach to his bosses to put responsibility where it belongs: Sorry boss, I can't help the OT costs, because you won't hire help and we're behind on scheduled maintenance, so stuff is breaking all around our ears. If we fall behind, and especially if something big breaks because of it, we get fined big bucks.

Push responsibility where it belongs. And deal with it if it is truly yours.

Don't be owned.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Changing of the Passions

Mr. January (the best-looking Captain with our agency, nicknamed as a male pinup calendar picture) was standing next to me as we looked down the embankment. We had three relatively new guys with us on Engine 53, and had sent them down. Full of vim and vigor, rummaging and blundering through the brush and sticks, looking for a body, living or otherwise, they labored on. Fumbling with TICs and box lights, tripping over vines, getting branch whiplashes to the face. Occasionally looking under the upside-down car yet again. They were a determined crew, and wanted Mr. January's silent approval. They wanted to find the prize.

Behind us, the crews of Medic 98 and Engine 56 were packaging the guy who had been the passenger in the car, which was now missing almost its entire front section. How he got out of the car and climbed up here is anyone's guess. Considering that he should probably be dead, he's doing pretty well. Well enough to insist that his girlfriend was driving, and that she never wears her seatbelt.

We found his stuff in the car and strewn around, and not a shred of evidence - purse, makeup, clothing - to suggest a female presence. He gave us her cell number, and we called it. No sign of a ringing or flashing phone anywhere, and no answer. Car is registered in his name. Is this sounding familiar yet? Assumptions in this business can be a dangerous thing, but everyone knows that he was actually the driver, trying to duck the charges. Still, we played the game, and got plenty of just-in-case searching help from the deputies.

Mr. January just stood there. No smile, no frown, no emotion, as his kids continued to crunch around down there.

I reflected on why I wasn't down there with them. Nor the Captain. We agreed that having energetic greenhorns can be a good thing. I looked at him with a grin and asked a question.

Where's your passion? Nothing seems to excite you any more. Doing this too long?

This is me being passionate. You should see me when I am bored.

I can't tell the difference, then, you always look the same to me. Stone cold good looking, but unchanging.

That's because I'm always passionate about this job. Our young crew is doing a good thorough job down there, right?

Yes. Yes, they are.

They make me happy. They're enjoying what they do, and I am enjoying helping them enjoy what they do. You enjoy that, too, don't you?

Yes. Yes, I do.

Mr. January's passion isn't gone. It's just different. As is mine. Slowing down and staying calm isn't a loss of passion, it is a focus of it. Those who lose it, leave. Yet, here we are.

I hope I never lose it. Thanks for the reminder, Captain.

Still, I didn't feel too bad about letting the kids do the searching on the hillside. I'm getting slightly too old for that kind of play if it can be delegated. And sure enough, the girlfriend was finally awakened at home, oblivious to the events where we were.

Check your passion. It's probably still with you somewhere, so don't lose track of it.