Wednesday, September 30, 2009

indian summer?

I was wrong, and the Farmers Almanac was right. It snowed on Monday. Take that you blasted blackflies. Not that the snow hurts them any . . . they're sitting by the fireplace right now, warming their wings and waiting for Indian Summer. Incidentally, I still think we're going to get an Indian Summer. Some folks believe we've already had it, but the nice weather in September doesn't qualify. Indian Summer has to follow snow, at least in my opinion. The Wikipedia version is wrong on this one. Hey, this time I'm right - I've seen lots of Indian Summers come after lots of snow storms.

30 years ago, this was my favourite season. My brother and I, along with a few other people at various times, headed out each year to our trapper cabin on Seseganaga Lake. The cabin wasn't near as nice as the Seseganaga Lake Lodge, but it was warm and dry for the most part. We would stay from the end of September through most of December. It was a great way for a teenager to spend the fall and early winter.

You may have heard that Lucy died. That's Lucy from "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" fame. It appears that all those LSD rumours spread by the anti-Beatles lobby were wrong . . . just like my weather predictions. Maybe our venerated elders should have read the Farmer's Alamanac.

As promised, the recipe for Tim's Parmesan Garlic Basil Oregano Pepper Bread Sticks.
Tim's PGBOP Bread Sticks
  1. Decide that you need something to go with your potato soup
  2. check the cupboard to make sure you have some bread (a slice per person, or more if you really think you'll like the recipe. I used whole grain bread, but you can use whatever kind you like . . . Canada is a free country in spite of what the anti-public-health-care folks think)
  3. spray a cookie sheet with oil
  4. put the bread on a cutting board and butter it
  5. sprinkle on a generous amount of Parmesan cheese
  6. sprinkle on a bit of garlic, basil and oregano, then grind some fresh pepper on top
  7. slice the bread into strips with a sharp knife . . . if you do it carefully you won't knock too much of the good stuff off
  8. lay the strips on the cookie sheet, spacing out a bit
  9. oops. I forgot to tell you to set the oven at 350 degrees
  10. put the pan in the oven, then fret over the potato soup that you aren't sure is going to turn out (see previous post)
  11. don't get too absorbed in fretting over the soup, or you'll burn the bread sticks
  12. toast them until they are as crispy as you want them

I knew you were going to ask me how long. I really don't know . . . I was too busy fretting over the soup. Just check them frequently. Some people like them soft, some like them brown and crunchy, some like them in between . . . but no one likes them black.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

blackflies again

I complain a lot about blackflies, but I'm in good company when it comes to being bugged by bugs. First it was Barak Obama. Then the Pope. Someone will likely point out that spiders aren't bugs, but I say if it bugs you it's a bug, six legs, eight legs, it doesn't matter. After reading the Farmer's Almanac in August I was getting ready to complain about snow in the last week of September. Instead, I'm complaining about blackflies. We humans are never satisfied.

Did you know that if you took all the blackflies in Northwestern Ontario and lined them up nose to tail at the equator, they would wrap around the world 3.24 times? I made that up, but at least they would all be at the equator and not in Northwestern Ontario.

If you want facts about blackflies, click here.

Forty years ago I was in second grade studying environmental issues for the first time. It's funny, most folks didn't even know there was an environment in 1969. I remember a little flyer called "We Face the Seventies," which tried to educate us on how our actions now would impact the future. There was an article about what the world would look like in "The Year 2000." They gave us two options. On the one hand, they had people flying around in their own personal spaceships in a Utopian world of gadgets and gizmos. On the other, we had trashed the planet to the point that people could hardly live without wearing a gas mask. Both were about as accurate as an August Farmers Almanac prediction for the end of September.

A lot has changed since 1969, computer technology possibly being the most life-altering. I could have never imagined sitting on my couch with a laptop computer, talking to an audience that spanned every continent wirelessly, and instantly. Maybe my kids will talk to the world mind to mind, without computers. Farfetched? Definitely. Impossible? Maybe not. Click here.

Firefighting has changed as well. Houses contain more fuel (plastics, synthetics) and firefighters' gear has improved, which enables us to get deeper into trouble. Here is a US report about firefighter fatalities in 2008. Perhaps the most significant change is our awareness of the long-term heath risks connected with the crap contained in modern-day smoke. Firefighter training has steadily encouraged us to do more over the years. Possibly the message of the 21st century will be, "Just because you can go there doesn't mean you should go there."

Here's a recipe:

Spur-of-the-moment-Potato Soup

  1. Take out the leftover mashed potatoes from the fridge (a cup or two?)
  2. pour some milk (maybe 3 cups?) into a pot and turn the heat on low
  3. stir the potatoes into the milk
  4. sprinkle on some chopped chives and grind some fresh pepper into the soup
  5. add salt and garlic to taste
  6. put in a touch of ground red pepper
  7. cook for a little while, stirring frequently
  8. worry that it isn't enough soup for your hungry brood, and add another potato, peeled and chopped very fine
  9. worry that the potato you added won't finish cooking in time
  10. wish you had chopped the potato finer (note: steps 8-10 are optional)
  11. cook on low for a while, stirring often unless you like burned potato soup
  12. fret that the soup won't have enough flavour and add a couple slices of creamed cheese
  13. cook slowly and make sure the cheese all melts
  14. wish you had some ham to chop and add
  15. turn off the heat, add a half a cup of grated marble or cheddar cheese, stir in and let it sit for a minute or two
  16. sprinkle a little paprika on top, just because
  17. eat it with Tim's Parmesan Garlic Basil Oregano Pepper Bread Sticks.

You can have the recipe for the bread sticks next post.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

berries and blackflies

We picked a few highbush cranberries yesterday . . . another sign that fall is advancing and winter is nearing, and a nice diversion from our usual autumnly routines. No, "autumnly" isn't a word, but it sounds poetic. Not that I ever wanted to be a poet . . . but I'm off topic. Actually, my blogger spell checker says that "highbush" isn't a word either. I guess I'm supposed to spell it "high bush," but this is my blog and I make the rules. Besides, my WordPerfect spell checker said it was perfectly okay to spell it highbush. So there. HIGHBUSH. Now, what was my topic again?

I was going to tell you more about the blackflies (WordPerfect disagrees with my blogger spell check on that word too, by the way). They didn't totally ruin the cranberry expedition, but they definitely gave it their best shot. These pestiferous little devils seem to be increasing with the balmy, unseasonable weather. When I first stepped outside I thought, "Wow, what a glorious day." The illusion lasted until the first blackfly found me. I'm convinced they communicate through some kind of ESP or something, because in a matter of minutes a complete galaxy of buzzing, black insects was orbiting around my head. The emergency services could learn something about communication from these creatures. Screw the radios - tap into the telepathic connection of the blackfly.

I can see it now . . . the firefighters of the 22nd century . . . a fire occurs and hordes of responders descend from all directions, buzzing in on their transparent little computer wings, their commander telepathically giving orders to all 1,000,000 of them simultaneously . . . I think the overload of blackfly venom in my bloodstream has gone to my head. I'll stick to Motorollas.

Speaking of communication, check out my article on the topic by clicking here.

The moose seem to be on the move these days. Perhaps they're being chased by blackflies. We've been to three moose vs vehicle collisions in September, and when my pager went off at 6:00 AM this morning I thought it was going to be another one. The location was reportedly about 30 km west of Upsala, right in the middle of what I call Moose Lane. Playing tag with a moose is never a good idea, by the way. They really know how to mess up a nice car.

Once at the scene, we found it was tractor trailers playing tag with each other, a potentially deadly game. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but from the looks of the one truck, they missed a head-on collision by a few inches. That's never a nice way to play . . . it does happen sometimes, but you don't want me to tell you about it. We did see a moose in Moose Lane, but he apparently had other things on his agenda than smucking someone's car.

Speaking of dangerous stuff, two firefighters nearly lost their lives in Ontario this month. You can read about it here and here. By all reports, they are doing well now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

fall stuff

The leaves are turning. Not enough to really look like fall yet, but enough to let us know that summer is over, even though the nice weather is trying to deceive us into thinking it will last forever. I picked a bouquet of red, yellow and orange leafed branches and brought them home for Erinn to make a nice arrangement in a flower vase. Kind of a take-that, in-your-face, winter-doesn't intimidate-me gesture.

Along with fall comes the blackflies' last stand. Blackflies have their heyday in May (that rhymes), taper off by the first of July, then make a comeback in September and even early October if the weather is right. They aren't too hungry this year, which is good because I don't like being dinner, but they swarm like a plague of Egypt and make life miserable in this otherwise pleasant season. The silver lining is that we won't hate the snow so much when it comes in October.

I like some things about winter. The blackflies go away, and the ski slopes open up. Playing hockey is tolerably enjoyable, except that my son and his buddies skate circles around me now. Cross country skiing and winter cookouts are great fun, and Christmas brings a welcome break in routine.

The firefighter part of me doesn't like winter at all though, mostly because firefighters rely heavily on water, and water does funny things when the temperature drops to zero or -20 or -40 degrees. I spend a good portion of December, January and February hoping that nothing catches fire. I tried imposing a winter moratorium on all emergencies that require water, but no one listens to me.

From the moment our trucks roll out of their heated sanctuary in the fire hall, the elements are at war against their liquid cargo. If we can make a quick dash to the scene, take out the enemy, and dash back in an hour or so, things aren't too bad. But most times it isn't that easy. Often the hose can't be rolled after the fire is out . . . it has to be sort of folded and flopped into the back of a truck, then thawed out later at the hall. One time a few lengths almost had to stay at the scene until spring.

Enough of this gloomy hell-on-ice musing. It's still nice out and we're going to enjoy fall until the last red leaf is gone.

If you are still interested in the DJ Harper story, click here for an update. If you're new to this blog and aren't familiar with the story, click here and here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

training and prevention

It's over. The training part of the conference, that is. For two days we bashed windows and pried doors on cars and trucks. We sawzalled our way through steel walls and roofs, and moved all kinds of metal in all different directions. One instructor spent the whole two days teaching students how to demolish a car with an air chisel. If the students learned half as much as I did, the weekend was a smashing success.

Sometimes we put someone inside the car to play the role of the patient. Often it's an instructor. Twice today it was me. At first glance it looks like this poor person is missing all the fun, but don't be fooled. You get a unique, insider's perspective on the extrication process, with all the noises, smells, and anxiety that accompany it. If I'm worried about these people cutting off my ear with a sawzall, or snipping my toe with the Jaws, imagine what a real patient in a real crash feels like. Every rescuer should submit themselves to this experience at least once. Kind of like the cops having to be pepper-sprayed before they're allowed to use the stuff on anyone else. Well, maybe not quite like that, but there are parallels.

The person that breaks a tempered glass window hears some noise. The person inside the car hears an explosion. The guy cutting a post with the sawzall feels the vibrations running up his arms and into his shoulders. The person inside feels the whole vehicle shudder and quake enough to measure several points on the Richter Scale. If nothing else we learn a little compassion and empathy for the folks that we rescue.

Perhaps we should make a deal with the traffic violations people to have offenders assigned to participate in vehicle extrication training . . . as trapped patients. Some of these folks might benefit from a unique, insider's view of what it's like to have a car torn apart while you sit helplessly waiting for someone to strap you on a backboard. Hey, I'm serious here. It would be real, nitty-gritty education that isn't nearly as likely to put you to sleep as watching a video on drinking and driving. Just a thought.

Speaking of education and videos,
here is a short, slightly humourous clip on the benefits of sprinklers. Again, I'm serious . . . the ounce of prevention is definitely worth a ton of the cure, especially when you're talking about fire.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

the cure for stress . . . training!

I'm at a regional fire conference this weekend, doing my civic duty as a volunteer instructor. It's a great event with over 300 firefighters coming from all over Northern Ontario to learn and party with their friends (in that order of priority, of course). There will be all sorts of interesting courses, and possibly a few boring ones. Live fires, smashed cars, helicopters, waterbombers, and smoked up buildings will be the order of the day for many of the attendees. The rest will listen to the Fire Marshal, the Ministry of Labour, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and other eloquent speakers, who will elaborate on numerous topics of importance and interest. If you feel sleepy reading about it, just think of all those poor fire chiefs that actually have to be there.

I'm just kidding. A lot of valuable information will be transferred during these sessions, and all participants will hopefully take something useful home . . . something to help them be smarter, safer firefighters.

Have you ever gotten stressed out to the point where you just want to pulverize something? That's the time to take a vehicle extrication course, which is what I'm helping instruct this weekend. It's not every day you get to legally smash windows, rip off doors, air chisel your way through roofs, and turn hard-tops into convertibles. Vehicle crashes are violent events, and it takes a certain amount of violence - in a controlled manner of course - to undo the damage. The training is lots of fun. The real thing isn't so fun . . . intense and rewarding if you are successful, but definitely not fun.

If you aren't feeling stressed, and like quirky computer games, click here. The object of the game is to move the red block around without getting hit by the blue blocks or touching the black walls. If you can go longer than 18 seconds you are phenomenal, I'm told. If playing the game makes you want to smash something, come to Bucks Auto Scrapyard tomorrow. We'll have just the cure.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

pie in the sky

Someone told me at the beginning of my career that fire chiefs have to be politicians. . . suave, smooth, fast talkers that get their way by any means fair or foul. I didn't believe them then, and I'm not sure I do now, but I may be starting to waiver a little. My naive, pie-in-the-sky notions about always being nice and still getting the job done have systematically been blasted away, fragment by stubborn fragment, like clay pigeons thrown to the skeet shooters over the past 13 years. I'm still desperately grasping the last few crumbs of the pie and (even though none is left in the sky) trying to stuff what's left in my pockets and up my sleeves. As bad as it gets, I am obstinate enough to believe there will always be reasonable people in the world that will do what's necessary if I just ask them nicely enough. Yeah it's naive alright . . . but I'm hanging on to my pie.

The word "politician" has so many negative connotations, and I’ve had such fun bashing them over the years, I just can’t wrap my mind around identifying with that race of humanity. Perhaps the word "diplomat" is more palatable than politician. Real-world diplomats probably do their share of bureaucratic cloak and dagger stuff, but at least I envision them to be a cut above the average politician. In my imaginary, fairy-tale world, I see the Chief Fire Diplomat (that's me) blessing the community with inspirational visits (called inspections) in which I persuade skeptics and convert fire safety atheists (building owners), who gratefully use my wisdom and advice to make the world a safer place. "If only we had known, we would have done this long ago . . ."

I could start my own pie-in-the-sky restaurant.

In spite of my lofty aspirations, I'm not always a good diplomat either. Face it Beebewitz, it’s inevitable: a small percentage of the population will hate the fire chief. In fact, I think there is a Chinese proverb that says, "He who no one hates, doeth not his job." (I made that up, but it sounds like something Confucius would have said).

Click here for an article I wrote about customer service. Yes, it’s relevant to the topic . . . I wrote about blowing my top at a salesperson, and told a story about someone blowing their top at me. "He that maketh not fun of his neighbour (and himself) taketh life too seriously." Another non-Chinese proverb.

Click here for a cool video clip of a guitar duet like you’ve probably never seen before. No, it’s not relevant to the topic, but it’s a lot of fun to watch.

For any Obama fans out there, here is your big chance to get chummy with America’s top dog. You can live right next to him. Now I’m way off topic. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


It's a conspiracy. Mysterious buildings appearing out of nowhere, their purpose obscure, no one claiming them, no one caring about them. Except the fire chief. That's the conspiracy part. They (whoever "they" are) haul these derelict structures from who-knows-where, and prop them up on vacant properties just to taunt me.

The truth is, they know I can't do anything about it. Anybody can build anything they want anytime, anywhere, and I have nothing to say about it.

The Ontario Building Code has plenty to say about proper construction, but that isn't my ball of wax, so to speak. In a city like Thunder Bay, you have to traipse down to city hall and get a permit before you stick a shovel in the ground, or cut your teepee poles, or start piling blocks of snow to make your igloo. Upsala has no city hall, and no one to issue a building permit. Only a lunatic fire chief who paces around his office muttering about phantom, ownerless buildings.

Occasionally you do find an owner, usually in cases where he or she needs something from the fire chief. Like a fire inspection so another agency would grant a particular necessary license. Fire inspections are things that I can do, albeit unwillingly. The problem is the Fire Code hinges on the Building Code - if it isn't built properly to start with, a fire inspection is about as useful as a toothless beaver.

I approached the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing about this Building Code dilemma.

me: "Mr. MMAH Bureaucrat, does the Building Code apply to unorganized townships?"

bureaucrat: "Yes, of course. It applies to all of Ontario. It's the ONTARIO Building Code. (duh)."

me: "Who does inspections out here?"

bureaucrat: "Um, inspections? You mean building inspections?"

me: "Yep, those are the ones. Would you mind making the 20 hour drive from Toronto to do one for me?"

bureaucrat: "Not a chance." (not his exact words, but you get the drift)

me: "So the rules are in place, but you aren't going to do anything to enforce them."

bureaucrat: "That sums it up pretty well." (again, not his exact words)

It was an interesting and useless conversation. It makes about as much sense as the police saying, "Everyone pretty-please drive the speed limit out of the goodness of your heart, but we aren't going to give tickets unless you live in Thunder Bay."

Even with the collective Canadian conscience being as good as it is, you can imagine how well self-compliance works, speed limits, Building Codes, it doesn't matter. People will do it their own way unless someone makes them do it differently. My turn to say, "DUH!"

On a lighter, more useful and comprehensible theme, if you've always wanted to buy a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, now is your big opportunity. Click here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

It's still summer!

Boating, tubing, water skiing, fishing, campfires, sing-alongs . . . these are things you usually do in the summer. I guess it is still technically summer for a couple more weeks, but everyone in Upsala knows that fall starts on September 1st, if not sooner. But not this year. After a couple months of cold, rainy weather, it's beautifully warm and sunny, we are cramming summer into the first week of September.

Earlier in the summer, my in-laws gave us their old fibreglass speedboat, and we spent most of July trying to get the motor running (unsuccessfully), then searching for a used motor (successfully). We spent most of August trying to find a used set of controls, but with fall breathing down our backs, I bit the bullet and forked out the $500 for a new set last week. Phillip and I pretended we knew what we were doing, and (with a lot of advice from a friend) got the motor mounted and the controls connected last Wednesday. The weather was right, the boat was running, we borrowed a tube and a set of water skis, my in-laws came for a visit to celebrate with us, and it's been fast and furious since. Not bad considering that the boat hasn't been in the water for more than 20 years, and summer looked like it was going to end on August 15th.

Now you know why I haven't posted for a few days.

In my April 15 post I said that Upsala was one of the few places on earth where houses can burn to the ground and the fire department doesn't find out until days later. It's also a place where buildings appear out of nowhere. I was driving down the road one day with a friend from the Fire Marshal's Office, and we come across a large, multi-unit motel/outfitter camp/apartment building/I-really-don't-know-what-the-heck-it-is . . . type of building. "What is that?" he says. "No clue," I say. "You'd better find out," he says. "Good luck," I say (to myself).

After much searching and questioning, the best I could come up with is that someone from far away owned it, and was considering making an outfitter's camp for hunters and fishermen. I left a note on the door asking them to please contact the fire chief so we could make sure the building is safe. That was three years ago, and the building still sits there, unused, unfinished, unclaimed and unwanted, as far as I can tell. Only in Upsala.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

relatively dangerous

Everything is relative. Upsala has 17 firefighters on our roster, which should be enough for a small department in the boondocks on most days. However, I could have a hundred great people in the ranks, but if 97 of them are in Manitoba, or the Alberta oil sands, or at Ignace School, or vacationing in Timbuktu, I effectively have only three. Idealistically, I should try to bolster my numbers. Realistically, 17 is about as good as it gets.

Here’s where the relative part comes in. My 17 firefighters make up 8.5% of Upsala’s 200 residents. A community of 5000 would need 425 firefighters to match Upsala’s rate. Toronto would need almost 400,000. I’m not sure how many firefighters those cheapskates actually hire, but I’m quite certain it’s considerably less than that. Relatively speaking, we’re doing fine . . . except that fire doesn’t think relatively. A burning house in Upsala looks pretty much the same as a burning house in Toronto. So much for Beebewitz Einstein’s Theory of Relatively Speaking.

Fortunately, we have fewer fires than Toronto, so fewer opportunities to show how few firefighters we actually have available on most days. When all is said and done, we put the fire out in the end, the same as the Torontonians. Sort of. Okay I admit it . . . they save more houses than we do, but hey, they get more practice.

Things aren’t as bad as they could be though. At least we don’t have lunatics taking potshots at us. Check out this story.

Apparently even boondocks firefighters aren't exempt from wacko behaviour. Have a look at this.

Someone needs to offer a workshop on firearms etiquette. First lesson? You’re only supposed to shoot at people who can return the favour by shooting back.

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