Friday, July 24, 2009


I'm going away for a week or so, and (get your Kleenex box handy) I might not be able to blog during that time. Yes, I know it's sad, and yes, you can take a moment to wipe your eyes and blow your nose. But such is the drama of life.

Speaking of drama, here is an update on DJ Harper, the boy that was rescued from a burning SUV on Sunday. If you believe in prayer, now would be a good time to add this little guy to your list. Third degree burns are ugly, nasty injuries. Even grown-up, tough-guy firefighters say they are some of the most miserably painful wounds to recover from. I'm not a doctor, and don't know the full extend of the burns, but I suspect he will need months, possibly years to recover. I will try to follow his progress, but stories like this have an annoying habit of disappearing after the initial drama dies down. I think the media knows that most folks get tired of reading about skin grafts, plastic surgery and rehabilitation, unless it has to do with Michael Jackson or Lindsay Lohan.

As a side note, I hear you can help with DJ's medical bills by donating to the David Harper Fund at any US bank. Click here for the story. In another story, the mother apparently admitted falling asleep at the wheel. Click here. Before you become the judge, jury and executioner, and decide that this lady doesn't deserve any support, consider that people fall asleep at the wheel every day. Just because their SUV didn't catch fire doesn't make them less guilty. Lucky maybe, but no less guilty. The real issue is that a little boy is going to need some expensive care.

I leave early tomorrow to take my son and two of his friends to a youth camp in Missouri for a week of fun, sports and church-related activities. I'm trying to stay positive and consider this a holiday, but driving 18 hours there and and 18 hours back is enough to put a damper on any fun that might happen in between. The fire hall secretary philosophically reminded me yesterday that any change is a holiday. I'm not Socrates or Plato, but I'll do my best to look on the bright side . . . and I'm sure it will be fun.

Because I'm going to a backward, recession-plagued country (the US), I don't have assurance that there will be internet service, so I may have to postpone posting (say that ten times fast). Actually the real reason I might not blog is that I probably won't have time. I hear they keep people hopping from dawn to dusk, and into the night at this youth camp.

I hope to be writing again by August 2 or 3. I know, it's going to be hard to live without my keen insight and thought-provoking mumbo jumbo, but you'll have to manage somehow. You could always go back and read some of my other 50+ posts . . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Everyone has their own idea about fun. Yesterday evening I took my daughter and her friend to play soccer with some friends. They were pumped. I was glad someone else was supervising the game. Neighbourhood soccer could be fun I guess . . . if you like getting tripped, kicked in the shins, and bitten by black flies. When I play it's familial duty, dad laying down his life for his kids, the ultimate sacrifice . . . are you wiping a tear from your eye, ready to give me the dad-of-the-year award yet?

Some folks volunteer as firefighters because it's fun. Or because they think it might be fun. If that's the only reason they join, they don't last long. Fighting fires can be fun for a few minutes, but then there's the overhaul and the mop up and the clean up and the roll up. You freeze in the winter and boil in the summer. It's dirty and smelly and unsanitary. You get to watch people bleed and cry and yell and scream. Yes, there are fun moments . . . but they are usually just moments. But hey, we do think it's fun sometimes.

I saw a video today of a couple off duty firefighters that saved three lives, and it definitely wasn't fun. It was fairly big news, but if you didn't see it yet, click here and here. I think we all hope we'd do the same, but I have to say, those guys had guts. Lots of good, old-fashioned courage. Wow.

I wrote reports today. Report writing is when you write about the fun things you did yesterday and last week (and for procrastinators like me, last month) for boring people to read tomorrow. I say boring people, not bored people. If they were simply bored, I could liven up the report to entertain them. But these folks aren't allowed to be entertained. You have to write things like, "Upsala Fire Department responded to a motor vehicle crash on Highway 17 with 9 firefighters and two apparatus . . ." Now if I really wanted to put soul into that report I'd write, "Some block-head tried to pass on a double yellow line and ran off the road to avoid getting smushed by a truck . . . " But no, we aren't allowed to be creative. Now you know why I blog. I'm not officially permitted to make fun of anyone, not even myself, so I do it unofficially. Right here.

Years ago there was a homesteader that published a country living magazine. He claimed that he always had fun. When he got bored of the office, he'd escape to the garden and play at farming. When the weeds got bad and he started taking agriculture too seriously, he'd go play magazine editor. Farmers write for fun. Writers farm for fun. He had the best of both worlds.

I decided to try that strategy. Maybe a little diversity was what I needed. The office was giving me claustrophobia so I set up a ladder in the truck bay and started painting, a job that I've been putting off for a year because . . . well because I hate painting. At least I tried.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I am just finishing my next article for the Fire and EMS Quarterly. No, I'm not going to tell you what it is about. If I did, you wouldn't enjoy it as much when it's published in October. You can read my July article if you want . . . click the link on the side bar, or click here.

Writing always gets me thinking, and the great thing about writing a blog is that you can read it almost as soon as I think it. Good writers taylor their article to the season it will be published in, not the current one. It's hard to get into the mood for Thanksgiving and Halloween when you've barely started enjoying summer, but that's what good writers do. I wrote the July article with a couple feet of snow still on the ground, and hockey season in full swing. I probably should have written about swimming and camping and Michael Jackson . . . but how was I supposed to know that the ice was going to melt and a famous pop singer was going to dominate news headlines for the whole month of July?

Fortunately, hockey is a timeless and seasonless subject, even in July. If you like hockey that is. If you don't . . . well, just read one of my other timeless, seasonless articles.

With modern technology, these worries are gone (except that I blog when I should write for the folks that have deadlines to keep). I can write about Michael Jackson when people are actually thinking about him (not that I want to want to write about Michael Jackson) and I can tell you my summer woes knowing full well you can read them before the lakes freeze.

Technology has it's drawbacks though. In some ways, it has actually increased our call volume. Take the cell phone for example. A lot of calls are phoned in now by folks whizzing by what they think is a crash scene without taking the time to see whether it's really a crash, or just someone stopping to stretch their legs. I wrote more about this syndrome in my April 26 and June 20 posts.

Then there's texting. I see it as the Jekyll and Hyde of technology. Many of my friends put it to good use, saving a small fortune in phone bills and staying connected. But sometimes the technology gets away on you. Click here and here for stories about texting teens that got carried away by compulsive communicating.

I used to get tendonitus from running a piece of technology called a chainsaw for eight or ten hours a day. Now kids get it punching buttons with their thumbs. Times have certainly changed, haven't they?

Friday, July 17, 2009


Living in the boondocks brings you into contact with nature occasionally. I've talked about this in some of my previous posts . . . if you want to read them, type "collision" in the search box. Sometimes the contact is nice, like when a mother grouse leads her family of chicks across the lawn. Sometimes it's sad, like the time a couple of loon chicks showed up in front of our house. We tried to return them to their mother at a nearby pond, but I suspect that nature took its course with them.

Sometimes we'd prefer to avoid the contact altogether. I had to deal with a small hornet's nest in our bike shed the other day. I have nothing against hornets, and I agree we should try to peacefully coexist with nature, but I really didn't want my kids having natural or unnatural contact with a hornet's rear end. I took a can of Raid to the nest.

Firefighters have to deal with nature occasionally. Usually it's in the form of a moose that had an unfortunate encounter with a vehicle. The moose always loses, and the vehicles and passengers often don't fare so well either. Here's a photo of a recent moose hit we attended.

If nothing else, it should be a good incentive to wear your seatbelt. Click here for a video of a fire truck crash in St Louis where everyone involved was glad they had their seatbelts on. The eight firefighters on board suffered minor injuries. Imagine what would have happened if they hadn't been belted in. Click here for more on the story. None of us plan these things, which is why you should buckle up everytime you get in the vehicle. You probably won't be running red lights - and we shouldn't be either, unless we stop first - but it's dangerous out there nonetheless. I could give you several examples every month to prove it.

Our Amkus spreader made it safely to Williamstown yesterday (see my July 8 posting). I guess my innovative, homemade packing worked. Now we have to wait and see how much it will cost to fix it. In the meantime, we have a good set of Hurst tools on the truck, which the Fire College generously loaned us, just in case someone does happen to need our services before our spreader gets fixed.

I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend. Drive safely everyone, especially between Raith and English River (our hundred kilometres of highway heaven).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


It's interesting how priorities change according to circumstances. Putting a banana peel on the compost pile seemed like a good idea to the neighbour girl the other day, until she found that a bear had already staked claim to the territory. Erinn values her pots and pans, and keeping them nice is a priority. But care for the roasting pan went out the window when she turned it into a crashing cymbal to scare the living daylights out of the bear. (If I had chipped that nice enamel . . . well, never mind.) The bear's first priority was filling his bottomless stomach . . . until a crazy lady and her daughter came crashing across the lawn. He hasn't been back, by the way, and is probably pursuing a safer career wrestling with timber wolves. Or bunjee jumping.

Emergency response is kind of like that. We like to prioritize things into neat categories. At a scene, life is most important, then the fire, and finally property. You'd feel kind of dumb saving a $1000 antique chair, only to find that grandma was dying from smoke inhalation upstairs. In first aid, we do the ABC's, which means airway, breathing, and circulation, in that order of priority. A nasty cut on the guy's hand looks like it needs immediate attention, until you realize that he's choking on a previously harmless chunk of roast beef he was chopping for dinner.

Everyday life gets prioritized as well. A few years ago I was doing something important (I can't remember what) when I should have been going to the dump. By the time I realized my priorities were catawampus, the dump was closed. Not a problem, said I to my better half. It's only one bag. I'll carry it the 200 yards from the gate to the pit. It seemed like a good idea until I got to the pit and saw the five black bears having dinner. Still not a problem . . . I see these guys every week . . . except that my car is usually two steps away. I chucked the bag in the pit, hoping yesterday's leftovers looked more appetizing than I did, and walked calmly away. I wasn't going to lose my nerve just because of a few bears. Dignity is definitely a priority, especially when your spouse asks how the dump run went. Bears rarely harm people, you know. Besides, being the educated person I am, I knew that running was the worst thing to do.

But you do occasionally hear about bears having humans for lunch . . . what was that noise in the bush? I quickened my pace a little. Still not gonna run . . . no need to panic, there's lots to eat back there. Is that black shadow in the bush moving? My pace quickened again. The sun was going down and the shadows were getting longer. Was that a footfall in the gravel behind me? I'm not a chicken and I can't out-run a bear anyway . . . just gonna calmly walk this last hundred-fifty yards . . . is it my imagination or am I being watched? I broke into a jog, then a flat-out, run-for-your-life sprint. Never mind the hero show. Don't bother looking back, it only slows you down.

As you can see, the bears didn't catch me (who says you can't out-run them?) and I lived to tell the story. Click here to see how a much braver guy handled his bear scenario.

Priorities. Self-preservation definitely trumped dignity, at least that time. Next time I'm late for the dump I'll be sure to take a couple pots - and Erinn - along. Then we'll see who's running.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


We've had lots of bears do lots of things in the eight years we've lived in this particular house, but yesterday was the first time they raided our compost pile. The pile is in a very shady area, back a few feet from the edge of the bush line. Laura, our neighbour's daughter, wanted to contribute a banana peel to help save the environment and advance the Beebe Flowerbed Cause, but as she approached she got a funny feeling that something was there. She called on my son to accompany her, and as they approached the second time, they saw a curious, black face peering out of the leafy shadows. The banana peel mission ended. Neither the environment nor the flowerbeds were that important.

Phillip burst into the house with the male solution to the problem. "Dad, get your shotgun!" Erinn suggested a kinder and gentler solution . . . the old pot and pan scare tactic. We opted for kinder and gentler, and within a few seconds, she and Vanessa were crashing across the back lawn telling the bear where to go and how to get there. I watched from the safety of the bedroom window, and gave occasional advice not to get too close. The advice wasn't heeded or needed. The bear knew he was outnumbered and vanished.

I thought my brother Paul had a good photo of a bear on his Eyefetch site, but I couldn't find one. Click here to see his other nature shots, then type "black bear" into the search box if you want to see other artist's photos of Ursus Americanus. He does have a photo of a local Upsala bear on the guestbook page of his knife making website. Click here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

don't make a moose-stake

Moose. The word itself conjures images of a massive bulk of muscle that no one wants to mess with. It's a nickname you'd give one of those six-foot-high, four-foot-wide football players that make up the brick wall of a defense line on Super Bowl Sunday.

The amazing thing is that these 1000 pound herbivores wander around the bush peacefully nibbling water lily roots and tender green poplar shoots, and normally wouldn't harm a flea. Until they step in front of a minivan travelling 100 km an hour, like one did the other night.

The Ontario government tried to raise awareness about the importance of avoiding such intimate contact with these largest members of the deer family. "Moose on the Loose" signs appeared across the region, and Upsala firefighters helped erect one about 25 km west of the village. Interestingly enough, the moose seem to like the sign. We've had three or four moose hits along that stretch of road, and an unknown number of near misses. One of them was our pumper on the way to a call, with me at the wheel. It was a stormy night a few years ago, and just as I passed the sign, a black blur caught my attention on the shoulder of the road. I missed him by a hand breath. A few minutes later we arrived at the scene to find a mid-sized car in the ditch with the roof peeled off. The car and the moose were both finished, but the driver got off pretty easy, considering he nearly had the long-legged, furry behemoth in his lap.

The other night when my pager went off, I wasn't surprised that the call was roughly 25 km west of the village. Another collision in moose lane. I'm beginning to wonder if we should move the sign closer to Upsala. I'm sure the moose would find it eventually, but at least the collisions would happen closer to home.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

the binge

Did you ever go on one of those cleaning sprees where you whirl around chucking stuff that has been accumulating dust for the past eight and a half years? I do occasionally in the fire hall storage room. Storage rooms are like banks where you invest your life savings of junk and knick knacks, hoping that they'll gain value with age. Things that you don't need right this instant, but you're going to need down the road. Or maybe they are things you might need someday but you aren't sure, so you tuck them in a dark corner for safe keeping. Or maybe you put them there because your practised eye saw hidden value that no one else could perceive, and you are waiting for just the right moment to bring the stuff out to your amazed friends and say, "See, I told you I'd find a good use for this someday."

Regardless of the reasons for pack-ratting, I occasionally go on a storage room cleaning binge. Some people are binge eaters or binge exercisers. I'm a binge cleaner. We all share one similarity. None of us are more satisfied, physically fit, or neat and tidy after the binge than we were before. Oh well.

All that to say that I went on a fateful cleaning binge in the storage room a few years ago. After chucking a truckload of invested junk that hadn't gained any interest in eight and a half years, I uncovered the large boxes that our extrication equipment had been shipped in, complete with custom-fitted high density foam. When you pay tens of thousands of dollars for equipment, you always hope the shipper puts lots of foam around it. Well, these boxes hadn't gained any value in the five or six years that I had been saving them, so the day of reckoning had come. With the full and fleeting satisfaction of a glutton consuming a gallon of butter brickle ice cream, I chucked everything into the pickup and hauled it to the dump. Sigh.

Fast forward to today, when I had to package up a broken Amkus spreader and ship it a thousand miles by parcel post for repairs. Click here to see one. It's a fifty pound hunk of aluminum and steel covered with knobs and points that would hazard any cardboard shipping container . . . unless the container was lined with custom fit, high density foam. I spent a few minutes pondering a scheme to dig through the Upsala dump looking for my boxes (which suddenly had had taken an astronomical increase in value), but decided that three years of the entire village's cleaning binges would take too long to sort through. Then I went on the hunt for packing material. Several hours later, the Amkus spreader was encased in a hybrid mix of spliced boxes stuffed with an assortment of cardboard, outdated training manuals (that I knew would come in handy someday) and two wimpy pieces of bubble wrap that had escaped the last cleaning binge by hiding in a useful-looking box. The whole thing was mumified in duct tape, with a neat shipping label for a finishing touch. Eighty dollars worth of postage and insurance later, it was on it's way to Williamstown, Ontario. The silver lining? It will get shipped back in custom-fitted, high density foam . . . which will be tucked away in the storage room (for a few years at least).

Sunday, July 5, 2009


It's been a quiet, relaxing weekend for me after a hectic, worrisome week. We started off with a bang on Monday night during firefighter training. Our one and only power spreader broke. We have a small hand spreader that we keep as a back up, but when you're faced with a person trapped inside a twisted tornado of steel, it's nice to have the extra speed and power that a heavy hydraulic spreader gives.

As I've mentioned before, we are far from help, so my first priority was to try and track down a replacement spreader. I spent the week on the phone calling people in Dayton, Montreal, Gravenhurst, and Williamstown. I followed leads on several used spreaders, and discovered that ours was going to take at least a month to get back in service. On Thursday, I secured a good hand spreader on loan that is much stronger than ours. On Friday, I got the loan of a complete set of Hurst tools from our good friends at the Fire College. Our tools are made by Amkus, and are basically the same as the Hurst tools, except that Hurst has a copyright on the famous name: Jaws of Life. If you ever get a chance to watch a crew tear apart a car limb by limb with these amazing machines, do it. Here is a training video that gives you an idea of how they work.

If nothing else, it will give you an incentive to drive safely. Extrication is ugly business.

Erinn and I celebrated 16 years of marriage this weekend. A great way to end a stressful week.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


I ran into a good friend at a restaurant today. He's a firefighter from Atikokan, and a building contractor by trade. He's also a fellow instructor for the Fire College. He's also a chef, trained and certified. He is talented in numerous other ways, but it would take several blog postings to list all the stuff he can do, and you'd probably think I was making it up, so I'll leave it at that.

Firefighters in this neck of the woods tend to be like that - talented in many ways. It's really helpful to have people like that around when you are out there fighting a fire or disentangling a human being from an inhuman snarl of metal. Especially when the closest help is over an hour away. You really need people on your crew that can solve problems with the tools they have on hand, by conventional or unconventional means. There isn't much room to say, "nah, I don't think we can do that." The person in the smashed car doesn't really care how we get them out, as long as we do it safely. You can read an article I wrote about variety in the fire service here.

Here's a picture I drew to make the point:
My friend was telling me about a couple of rescues they did recently on Hwy 11. Nasty business cutting people out of cars that have been playing tag with rock cuts and each other at highway speeds. If you ever travel these lonely roads, remember the volunteer firefighters. They live tucked away from view in small towns and villages across the country, but when you need them, they appear with the tools and know-how to get you into an ambulance and off to medical help. And they do it just because they like to.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Canada Day

We had our traditional Canada Day call out yesterday. For some reason Canada's birthday seems to be targeted by the fire/rescue gremlins, and they give us a disproportionately high number of calls on that day. You could write it off to the holidays attracting more travellers on the highway, and vacationers to nearby cottages, but some of the calls have been just plain weird. Like bark piles spontaneously combusting and cottages getting struck by lightning. Yesterday's call was more of a run-of-the mill, typical summertime vehicle crash . . . if you call someone's trailer breaking loose and running headlong into a tractor trailer run-of-the-mill. The tractor's driver-side control arm broke, dragging it into oncoming traffic and almost headlong into another tractor trailer. Everyone escaped with life and limb intact for the most part, and the vehicles took the brunt of the damage.

The strange thing is that I was cooking a nice Canada Day dinner for my family and thinking, gee, it's Canada Day and my pager hasn't gone off yet . . . maybe if I just keep my mouth shut, the gremlins will forget. Wrong. I guess gremlins must be mind readers.

Speaking of cooking, here's another recipe, hot off the kitchen range. Make sure you follow the steps in order:

  1. Look at yesterday's leftover roast beef and decide it isn't enough to feed your family of four (if it is enough, skip this recipe and just feed them the beef)
  2. Get the roast beef out anyway, and also the left over gravy
  3. Slice two chicken breasts into strips cross ways, and fry them in oil until they are lightly browned on both sides
  4. Take the chicken out of the pan
  5. Pour a little water into the pan and scrape the bottom with a flat lifter
  6. Add some tomato juice or tomato sauce (sauce is probably better . . . I only had juice.)
  7. Add the leftover gravy
  8. The sauce should be reddish brown and enough to cover the beef and chicken (later)
  9. Add some spices and herbs. I was feeling Italian, so I put in some fresh cut and chopped oregano and basil, some powdered garlic, a little mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. A little salt is good too. As usual, add everything to taste, a little at a time if you aren't sure
  10. Cook for a while (the time depends on how hungry your kids are). Longer is better. Tomato seems to be improved by cooking
  11. Add the chicken breast and roast beef, and stir in
  12. Cook a tiny bit longer. You shouldn't have to thicken it, but if you do, I suggest cornstarch mixed well with water first, add a little at a time
  13. Grate a handful of cheese (I used marble cheddar, but any cheddar will do) and spread it on top of the whole thing
  14. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of that
  15. Sprinkle some more oregano and basil on top of that, then cover for a few minutes with the heat off
  16. When the cheese melts, put the whole frying pan on the table and serve with linguine or spaghetti
  17. How much linguine to cook? If you can figure that one out, let me know.

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