Tuesday, June 30, 2009

summer time

Summer is in full swing now. You'd never know by looking that it was snowing a little more than a month ago. It's a regular tropical jungle out there, minus the heat (it was 9 degrees today). It's been raining for four or five days, there are waist high flowers in the garden and the poplars are in full leaf. As we boondocks firefighters say, "green up" is here.

We tore apart a car yesterday evening. Don't worry, it was a an old junker, not the neighbour's. It has happened you know. Firefighters getting the wrong car, that is. I heard about a crew that showed up at a vehicle crash, with people reportedly injured. Adrenalin was running high, people milling around, smashed cars here and there. The crew was directed to an injured person inside a vehicle off to the side. They whipped out the heavies, pried the door off and backboarded the patient. A well trained crew is beautiful to watch . . . just like a well oiled machine. Moments after the rescue, the irate owner appeared demanding what the #@!* they were doing. He had offered a seat to the injured person in his immaculate car, which by the way was not involved in the crash. The patient was waiting . . . well waiting patiently for someone to come help. And help they did. There is a reason why we say "try before you pry."

I can sympathize with both sides in this scenario. I'd hate to have someone rip off my car door, especially if they didn't need to. But I'd really hate to be the guy that ripped off the wrong door. Lots of folks make mistakes, but firefighters get to make them very publicly.

I'm going to offer you another recipe. "Tim's Curried Chicken." I used pre-made curry powder, but you can make your own if you want. Here are some recipes I haven't tried, but they've got to be good . . . they're on the internet.

Tim's Curried Chicken
  1. take some chicken legs, or thighs . . . or legs and thighs
  2. roll them in a mixture of flour, curry powder, garlic, and whatever other spices you like
  3. fry them in oil until they are nice and brown
  4. pour some water or chicken broth on them
  5. add a bunch of curry powder, some garlic, some soy sauce, some grated fresh ginger, and some salt
  6. note: sorry about the no measurement thing. If you don't know how much to put in, just add a little of each (except the curry powder - you'll need quite a bit) then add more, a little at a time until it tastes the way you want it to
  7. add some diced potatoes
  8. cover and cook until the chicken is done (no red juices when you poke it), add more water if necessary, but not so much as to dilute the flavour
  9. add some chopped chinese cabbage, half an onion sliced, some baby corn, a chopped red bell pepper, and some sliced mushrooms . . . sorry, still no measurements . . . there should be a good balance of chicken and vegetables
  10. cover and cook a little longer. . . the veggies should be nice and bright coloured but still crunchy
  11. thicken with corn starch
  12. serve on rice (cooked with curry powder and soy sauce)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mr Inspector

A while ago I wrote about my fire investigation woes (see my April 15 post). If I'm not much of a fire investigator, I'm definitely not much of a fire inspector. I'm lousy at it actually, but I admire folks that are good inspectors. One old timer was reported to have x-ray vision. But seeing the problem is only the beginning. To be really good at inspections, you have to be an Enforcer. It doesn't do much good to say, "I noticed your smoke alarms don't work, the exit doors are chained shut, the corridors are blocked with stacks of gasoline cans, and there's marijuana growing in the basement . . . but I'm going to trust in the inherent goodness of humankind. I believe your conscience will awaken, and you will bring everything up to code."

That approach just doesn't seem to work. At least, not for me. You don't have to be an ogre . . . just give 'em a little tough love. "If you don't get that mess cleaned up, I'll bean you with this baseball bat!" Or something like that anyway. But I'm not good at tough love either.

There is the old in-your-face tactic. Put signs up everywhere so they can't ignore fire safety. Like this photo here:
fail owned pwned pictures
see more Fail Blog

Or this one:
fail owned pwned pictures
see more Fail Blog

You can see what happens to fire code offenders in the real world by clicking here.

My final word on inspections? Kudos to all you fire inspectors that are actually good at your jobs. If it weren't for you, we firefighters would be a lot busier. As for me, I'll do the best I can, and hope to compensate by using my nice-guy, educate-'em-into-compliance approach.

On another note, the July edition of Fire and EMS Quarterly is available on the Firefighting in Canada website now. Click here to see my contribution to the publication. I drew this cartoon to go along with the article:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

highway stuff

Michael Jackson is dead. So is Farrah Fawcett. Their stories have already dominated the news, but if you want to read what CNN has to say, click here and here. My first recollection of Michael Jackson was the cartoon about the Jackson Five which featured his singing group in animated form. But I am dating myself.

I came within a whisker of smucking a bear yesterday (nothing to do with Michael Jackson - hey, this is supposed to be a firefighting blog). In true beastly fashion, he (the bear, not Michael) appeared out of nowhere leaving me the precarious choice of hitting him, an oncoming transport, or a narrow slot in between. I chose the narrow slot, and almost felt his fur brush my truck. Literally a whisker away. He ambled off like nothing happened. I continued on my way as well, thankful that I wasn't going to give the local volunteer firefighters some excitement on this otherwise boring day. I'm supposed to respond to these incidents, not cause them.

Some friendly bikers from Quebec stopped by the fire hall today. These weren't your typical Quebec bikers . . . not that I'm personally acquainted with any, but I do read the news. These folks were from a firefighters' biker club called the Fire Knights, or something like that. They were on what they called the Grand Tour, which meant they had to visit fire departments from towns and cities whose names started with the letters from "Grand Tour." Most of the letters are no problem - Guelph, Richmond, Abbotsford, Niagara Falls. But U was a a bit tricky. There aren't many places in Canada that start with U. Uxbridge. Upton. Upsala. That about does it. Since Upsala is on the way to Abbotsford, we got the honor of a visit. He took a photo of his bike next to an Upsala fire truck, thanked me for my help in keeping such an important landmark alive for his club, and headed off down the road.

Upsala is inextricably entwined with the Trans-Canada Highway. It probably has something to do with our village straddling the only highway to span the country. There was talk of rerouting the highway a number of years ago. It likely would have been the end of us. Most folks in the 2000+ cars that pass through here daily don't actually have Upsala in mind. They're on the way to Calgary or Toronto or Vancouver. A few stick around and fish or hunt, but most pass through without so much as a wave. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to read my post on ways to remember our fair village (April 6, Where the Heck is Upsala).

The highway accounts for about 75-80% of our call volume, which is why I take such a keen interest in driving safety issues. The life blood of Canada flows through here. A fair bit of crap does too. Last week we responded to a transport rollover that contained about 15 different hazardous materials. Another time we shut down this main artery of Canada for nine or ten hours to deal with a truck fire involving radioactive materials.

Lots of bad things happen when drivers get careless. Click here for a story about a guy who wasn't paying attention to his driving. A potential cereal killer if I ever heard of one.

Monday, June 22, 2009

collisions, yet again

Bear with me for yet one more musing on collisions at yet a different level. We humans often collide with nature and with each other (as mentioned in an earlier post). People against governments . . . click here. Vehicles against vehicles . . . these ones are kind of like overgrown air hockey pucks. Click here. Vehicles against moose. We get a few of these each year, starting about now. The moose start roaming more when the black flies get bad. You would too, if you had to live out there all day with them. If you missed my posting on black flies, and the link to the black fly song, click here.

Some of the most devastating collisions are when humans collide with the elements, particularly fire. Then they call on us to pit element against element - water against fire. Humans are always the losers in these collisions. The fire destroys their stuff until we arrive. Then we destroy their stuff putting out the fire. If they are lucky there will be a little bit left in between that is salvageable.

The best thing is to avoid the collision in the first place. That isn't so easy in a people vs government situation like Iran. Some governments are bound to collide with the people eventually. It's easier with the other types of collisions. In winter, stay home when the roads are crappy. Keep your eyes peeled for the swamp donkeys (as they are affectionately called by some here). As far as avoiding a collision with fire, talk to your local fire department. You can also get some good information here.

Enjoy summer while it's here. You are always welcome to collide with me on this blog.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

collisions again

Speaking of collisions (and I was speaking of collisions, if you've been reading), tis the season again. I made the mistake of saying something about it being quiet lately for calls on the highway. This time of year, the kids get out of school, the weather gets warmer, and people start travelling, which means that the number of crashes on our lonely stretch of highway increases. But it hadn't yet, and I opened my mouth and said so. Bang. We were paged to a tractor trailer in the ditch. Later that day we were paged again . . . tractor trailer in the ditch again. The location they gave sounded suspiciously the same as the previous one. It does happen you know. People call in the same crash numerous times. You'd think they would slow down enough to see the police tape wrapped around the vehicle, flapping it's message, "we've already taken care of this one you bonehead, put the cell phone away!" But they don't and we get called out twice (or three times) to the same call.

Back to my story. The dispatcher assured us that the cops were at the scene, and that this was indeed another crash. We responded. Sure enough, it was in the same location as the first call . . . but on the opposite side of the highway. Another tractor trailer in the ditch. Must have been an unlucky piece of road.

Yesterday, we had another rollover, which caused my crew to heap more reproaches on me for saying the "q" and "l" words in the same sentence ("quiet" and "lately"). These folks were lucky by my estimation, even though they wrecked a really nice car. They crossed the centreline, hit the ditch, rolled their vehicle and stopped about two feet short of a hydro pole. Then they climbed out a side window. Call it luck, or angels, or Fate, it doesn't matter, I'm sure they were thankful to be in the ditch and not in the grill of a transport. For my opinion on luck, click here. If you are a faithful reader, you may have seen the article already.

The following video shows crash tests for a Smart Car, and another similar model. Not something you want to try at home, but interesting to watch.

I think the moral of the story is, don't drive 70 mph into brick walls. The end result will never be good.

Another moral of the story is, wear your seatbelt. I heard someone as recently as yesterday suggest that people often survive without them, while others in the same car are injured or killed. I can't argue because I don't know everything, but I can say I've seen lives saved because of them, and lives lost without them. Here is another video if you need convincing:

Enjoy the summer and buckle up! Every time :-)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Humans are on an unavoidable collision course with nature at times. Lots of people get sentimental about it and start movements to save the seals, save the owls, save the whales. I'm not here to comment about other's convictions, but it seems that we are a bit choosy about our sentimentalities.

I drove home from Sault Ste Marie on Monday. Nine hours of collision with nature. No, I didn't hit the beautiful bull moose drinking from a pool, or the cinnamon bear posing for a tourist's camera. That would have been a shame . . . collisions of that type are lose/lose for both both the human and nature. But I did collide none the less. If you saw my windshield and front grill, you would understand. They're covered with a blanket of black flies and mosquitoes, an occasional moth, a few woodpecker feathers, and a small amount of squirrel urine (the squirrel escaped with his life, but I'm certain he wet himself in sheer terror).

I expect you to feel a little sympathy for the woodpecker. I did too, but not enough to swerve into the grill of a tractor trailer. I've seen enough of those kinds of collisions to know that they never have a happy ending. You might even feel a modicum of sympathy for the moths. But no one, I repeat no one feels sorry for a blackfly. Or a mosquito. How's that for fairness. 9,372,562 insects smushed on my car, and not a single tear is shed. My sister-in-law, who is philosophical by nature, suggested that it's difficult to have sentiments about creatures with exoskeletons.

Be that as it may, I say we humans are fickle. We value nature according to the harm or good, pain or pleasure that it gives us. Are you fuzzy and cute? We deify you in the form of a stuffed animal. Are you a hard-hearted, buzzing, blood-sucking picnic ruiner? We commit mass murder with poisonous chemicals. Don't get me wrong. I'm not on the bugs' side. I just thought I should show you life from their perspective. Having said that, it's hard to ignore the fact that the sand flies are swarming through the bedroom window screen (that's right - through the screen) and having their evening snack at my expense. Where's that Raid can?

There is one fly out there that gave his life to become world famous. If you haven't seen the clip, click here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I was right for once. Gerry did have a light, reader-friendly version of game seven of the playoffs. Click here.

In addition to being right, I'm going to keep my promise and write about the heroes of Goulais River, Aweres, and Searchmont. And Batchawana Bay. I'm talking about volunteer firefighters in these communities, of course. If you want to see the spectacular area these folks live in, go to Sault Ste Marie, then follow highway 17 along the north shore of Superior for about 50 km. You can get a cheaper, less rewarding tour by going to my June 12 entry and clicking the link to some north shore photos.

But back to the heroes. In an age when $60,0000 is considered a normal wage, these folks crawl into burning buildings, respond to dangerous goods incidents, give medical aid to total strangers, and drop their lives at the tone of a pager for less than $50 a week. In many cases, it's much less than $50 a week. On top of that, they use their spare time and vacation days to train so they can volunteer more effectively.

Firefighter training is rarely a picnic. In Ignace a few weeks ago, it was a physical gauntlet of firefighter survival (see my May 30 entry). This week it was a psychological game of cat and mouse: Incident Manager vs Fire. We instructors don't spare the students. Fire isn't polite or considerate. Even in simulation, we present the truth as we see it. The amazing thing is that, after tolerating a couple days of mind games and abuse, the students smile, shake your hand, and thank you for for the great weekend. If that isn't heroism, I don't know what is.

Training isn't all stress and strain though. Here is a slideshow of firefighters having a great time. It might not be training in the strict sense of the word, but I'm sure they learned a few things while having fun together.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

hockey and the underdog

The Penguins won. Wow. I won't bore you with my opinions about the whys and what-ifs of hockey, but I will tell you that my son Phillip and his buddies are ecstatic. If nothing else, this means the Stanley Cup will visit Thunder Bay this summer. For you uninformed hockey illiterates (no insult intended . . . I'm in hockey preschool myself:-)), Jordan Staal is from a small community outside of Thunder Bay, and since he is a Penguin, the cup will visit his hometown. The last time it came to our area was when his brother's team, the Hurricanes, won the cup a few years ago. You can read Jordan Staal's stats here. If official stats aren't your thing (and they probably aren't if you are reading this blog), but you still have a burning desire to know about the road to NHL greatness, click here for the Wikipedia version of Jordan's history. If you want a lighter, more reader-friendly opinion about recent hockey events, click here. I think Gerry takes Saturday off, but I'm sure he'll have an opinion tomorrow.

I love it when the underdog wins. It's probably because firefighters are often the underdogs against a much better equipped adversary. This is particularly true amongst the volunteer ranks. The extraordinary thing is that we do win sometimes, in true Pens vs. Wings style. If you have a little time, a good computer, and an interest in seeing what firefighters are really up against, watch this video.

I don't write every day, against the better advice of the writing sages. I could list my reasons, but I am against deliberately boring my readers. This weekend though, I'm making an exception (to the writing rule, not the deliberately boring rule). I'm in a hotel room with nothing to do but write my blog and wonder if anyone actually reads it. Today, it's the underdog, tomorrow it will be the heroes of Goulais, Aweres, and Searchmont. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 12, 2009

a million words

I'm in Sault Ste Marie this weekend. I'd forgotten the tiresomeness of the drive, but not the magnificence of the scenery. If you've never been around the North Shore of Superior between the Sault and Thunder Bay, it's well worth the trip. Click here to see some photos.

I survived the Mutual Aid meeting on Thursday, although I guess since I'm writing this and you are reading it, you didn't need me to tell you that. In my last entry I compared a Mutual Aid meeting to a drive to Thunder Bay . . . arduous with some benefit. This last meeting was more like a drive to the Sault, minus the scenery. The meeting didn't actually last nine hours, but it seemed like it. My agenda sheet was covered with artwork of various descriptions, none worth including here.

Mutual Aid meetings are usually run using Robert's Rules of Order as a rough guide. The chair asks for a motion, someone makes it, someone seconds it, we haggle and hash it to death, then either vote it in or out. Democracy in one of it's purer forms. The problem is that pure democracy is time consuming. A motion is made to accept the last motion, which nullified a previous motion . . . pretty soon, we need Gravol to stave off motion sickness. A little dictatorship, judiciously sprinkled in, might not be a bad thing. You can read about Roberts Rules here.

The English language reportedly welcomed its one millionth word recently. I think we used them all several times on Thursday. While a million words might not be good news for a Mutual Aid meeting, it is for us writers. With all those nouns, verbs and adjectives to choose from, it shouldn't be too hard to put together a few thousand into an interesting book, but I haven't had much luck. It has something to do with not sitting down and starting I guess. I have drafts for a few dozen short kid's stories, but they are as rough as a Northern Ontario bush road. It will take some major construction to get them paved enough to where folks don't get flat tires trying to read them. To read about the million words, click here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

mutual concern

I'm exhausted. Yesterday I took a day "off", which means we bundled the kids into the car and drove an hour and a half to Thunder Bay to get the car fixed, the dog shot (I mean immunized), do a little shopping, and have a picnic with my wife's folks. Then we drove an hour and a half home. Except that the dog wanted to bite the vet's hand off, everything went as planned. All this driving around and having fun is more work than earning a living though, so it wasn't much of a holiday.

I'm headed back to the big city on Thursday for a Mutual Aid meeting. Mutual Aid is an agreement that allows a department to leave it's boundaries to help a neighbouring department with a fire or other emergency. It works well if you have neighbours, which Upsala doesn't. Four or five times a year all the mutual chiefs get together to haggle over mutual issues. The meetings are long and arduous, but usually result in some mutual benefit - kind of like a trip to Thunder Bay. I keep myself awake by doodling. The more doodles on my agenda sheet, the less mutual connection I made with the discussion. Here is a cartoon I drew a few years ago about Mutual Aid.
I have called for help a few times in the past dozen years. Once was for a train wreck. If you want to read an article I wrote about that experience click here. If you're a faithful follower, and read my April 22 post, you may have seen the article already.

Why do I bother going to these marathon meetings? The volunteer fire service in the Northwest tends to be polarized. We often fight our battles individualistically, especially the bureaucratic ones. Mutual Aid helps broaden us out a little. That's what I tell myself anyway. The real reason that I go is because I'm supposed to.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I'm not a very traditional type of guy. I know, that's a strange thing for a firefighter to admit. Firefighters are traditionally very traditional. They like those time-honoured customs. This can be a good thing, because there must be some reason why those traditions survived all those years of people trying to tear them down. It can also be a bad thing, because the world changes and even firefighters have to change with it. There is a famous quote that kind of hits the nail on the head: "The fire service: 100 years of tradition, unimpeded by progress..." You can find it on over a thousand web sites, but I got it here.

Upsala Fire Department did a very traditional thing yesterday evening. We had an awards banquet, the first one ever. Firefighters received 5, 10, and 20 year service awards. If you are wondering why it's the first time for such an important event, it has something to do with our fire department being only 22 years old. That's right. Twenty-three short years ago, Upsala fought fires with buckets. No organization, no training, just show up and bring your pail. While it wasn't the most effective way to fight the dragon, it was a great bonding experience. Nothing like standing shoulder to shoulder with your neighbours and watching someone's history and traditions go up in smoke. In 1987 we decided to depart from that tradition and get some trucks and training. Here is a good link to view other fire department traditions, if you are so inclined.

I have good reason to be wary of traditions . . . they can be hazardous to your health, as you can see from this cartoon.
Sometimes breaking away from tradition can be a lot of fun. Take the guys in this next video for example. Definitely not a traditional use for fire hose. Click here.

By the way, the awards banquet went well. Lots of food, fun and festivity. We might even make it an annual tradition.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

saved by the pager

Saved by the pager again. I've been studiously avoiding my desk for the past few days, taking care of other "important" business besides the paperwork. When I came back to my office after lunch and looked at the discombobulated pile of unfinished reports and records scattered in disorganized array, I realized that I could procrastinate no longer. I had to deal with it. Sigh.

Miraculously, right at that moment, my pager went off. Brush fire by the Firesteel River. You might not think it extraordinary, but if you had been anywhere within a hundred miles of here in the past week and seen the barrage of rain, snow, and foul weather we've been having, you would understand. How could anything catch fire in these conditions? But this was no time for questions, especially since I expected a cancellation page at any moment. I had an office to escape.

We hopped in the trucks and took off. Upsala firefighters to the rescue again. All emergency responses give you a bit of a rush, but wildland fires (if nipped in the bud) are actually kind of fun. We get to put water on fire and there are no injured people to peel out of mangled wreckage, or neighbours losing their home.

We scanned the horizon looking for a telltale smoke column. Nothing. We would have blown right by, except we noticed a group of construction workers waving us down. We stopped and found that they had extinguished all but a few smoulders. Of all the nerve.

After mopping up the fire and giving a report to the MNR fire rangers - who arrived later, and also looked dejected that the fire was out - we packed up and went back to the hall. We put everything back in service, and I went into my office. Now there was another piece of paper on my desk, foretelling at least half a dozen more to come in the form of a fire report. Oh well. Tomorrow is another day.

I'm not much for managing bureaucracy, but if you want to see how a real firefighter handles it, click here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I'm not much of a hockey fan. Yes, that's terrible, especially during the Stanley Cup finals, but I might as well confess. My son Phillip, on the other hand, is hockey fan enough for both of us. Not only is he a hockey fan, he's a Maple Leafs fan. Gotta hand it to him, he's got guts.

I'm half watching game three of the finals. The Penguins just scored, tying the game two to two. "Who scored?" my daughter asks. "The guy with the beard," I reply. "They all have beards," Phillip says. "It's the play offs."

I'm actually quite proud of Phillip. He sticks to his guns, in spite of all the Leaf bashing that goes on. He showed up for a gun safety course proudly sporting a Leafs ball cap, and took a good ribbing from the instructor. The next day he arrived with a Leafs ball cap, Leafs hoodie, Leafs tee shirt, Leafs watch . . . he wasn't going to take flak lying down. Especially not from an infidel.

I try to be a good sport in the winter, and spend a lot of quality ice time making a fool of myself, while Phillip and his friends skate circles around me. They're only young once. When I come home battered, bruised and soundly beaten, it seems that I'm only middle-aged once too, but I guess that doesn't count.

The Penguins are holding the Red Wings off. Phillip isn't really a Penguins fan, but it appears that anything is better than the Wings getting the cup again. And apparently there are at least three Canadian Penguins, one from the Thunder Bay area, which means the cup will come here if they win it.

Locally, it's time to hang up the hockey stick and pick up the soccer ball. We had a rip-roaring game again tonight. Teens against dads as usual. They thought they were going to smear us, but we held them off to a 2-2 tie, mostly because we had a large number of pre-teens on our side. Shin-kicking, leg-tangling, boundless-energy imps. They successfully slowed the teens down while we went for the jugular. And that was with the handicap of having the fire chief on the team. I'm as much of a klutz on the soccer field as I am on the rink. Click here to see a good example of my style of playing.

Hey, wait a minute. This blog is supposed to be about fire fighting. Didn't you read my first entry? Fire fighting is all about teamwork I guess. And there are a few firefighting klutzes out there too. Click here. No, it wasn't me, or anyone I know.

The Penguins scored again, taking a 3-2 lead. Phillip is happy. Even if they lose, at least they gave it their best shot. If that isn't true Northwestern Ontario firefighting style, I don't know what is.

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