Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More on the flu

The swine have gained a majority in their hostile takeover. Now Erinn has come down with flu symptoms. The kids are gradually improving, which is a bright spot in this gloomy story, but with Erinn down, three of the four of us are sick. The aggressively defensive strategy seems to be working for me so far, but none of us are out of the viral woods yet.

We will never know for certain if this actually was H1N1, but regardless of the name, it overran my family like a charging bull moose. Within a few hours of the first symptoms, my kids were burning with fever and aching all over. Erinn got the bonus of an unbearably sore throat. Headache, loss of appetite, and a deep, painful cough are also part of the symptoms. If anyone needs convincing that a vaccination is a good thing, talk to me.

You can get more facts about the flu, and Canada's explanation of why the vaccine contains thimerosal here. I was able to get my H1N1 shot today. Not in time to save me without an aggressively defensive strategy, but sooner than many others are getting it. There are some benefits to being a firefighter.

The nurse wouldn't vaccinate my laptop though, so I'll still have to watch out for digital swine flu.

On a lighter note, I started another blog, sort of. I don't expect to update it regularly, but when I do, I will post a link here. It's a blog of cartoons, some I've posted before, some I haven't. Check out the first installment.

On a more serious note, the jihadist movements in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan continue to defy reason. Obviously they are upset with Western interference in their countries. . . and I don't blame them for that. It's their tactics that I don't get. Here is what I imagine a friendly conversation between two Jihadists would sound like:

Taliban Jihadist 1: Hey dude, this American occupation of Afghanistan really sucks.

Taliban Jihadist 2: Yeah, it sucks in Iraq too. Especially since they got rid of the dearly beloved and wonderfully benevolent dictator Saddam. What are we going to do about it?

Taliban Jihadist 1: Let's bomb a market full of women and children. Killing and maiming a few hundred of our beloved countrymen goes right along with Benevolent Saddam's philanthropical beliefs.

Taliban Jihadist 2: Brilliant idea! That will show people how marvellous our Jihadist Utopia will be after these blasted democratic Americans go home. Speaking of democracy, are you running in the next election here in Pakistan?

Taliban Jihadist 1: Elections? Are you kidding? Why would we want to ask the people who should run the country? They always favour those wackos that want a stable and prosperous Pakistan. No sir, I'm sticking to my bombs, thank you very much.

And now they are trying to bring their Utopia here. You undoubtedly heard about the raid in Dearborn. These folks - Americans and Canadians - want an Islamist state in North America. It makes sense actually. Democracy has obviously failed. People here have food and homes and freedom. Why wouldn't we want an Islamic Utopia that saps the life out of it's citizens and catapults them back to the dark ages?

Monday, October 26, 2009


The flu has taken my home by storm, subduing both of my kids simultaneously. . . which is no easy task. I suspect it's the revenge of the digital swine flu gremlins. Or, to be politically correct, the digital H1N1 gremlins. I didn't think they had influence over anything outside of their virtual world, but perhaps I made one too many pig jokes and incited them to cross the digital barrier into reality. In any case, both kids have more than a virtual case of fever, chills, aches, and a-truck-ran-over-me-itus.

Before you go blaming any innocent pigs, I hasten to add that I have no biological (or digital) proof that H1N1 is the actual strain that they've caught. I did some research and found that it is the most common flu in Ontario, but that would hardly stand up as evidence in a court of law. So relax all ye swine, I'm not suing yet. But we are taking this home invasion seriously, regardless of what or who the perpetrator is. No flu is a cake walk (I know from experience) and it's doubly tough to watch your kids in misery. Not to mention the grim possibility of complications . . . from any flu - swine, chicken, turkey, it doesn't matter.

I don't like hysteria, but when when a news story about an H1N1-related death of a young girl appears on TV at the precise moment that your children are burning up with fever, it does tend to give one the jitters. Any flu that kills even one otherwise healthy child is no joking matter. The Ontario Ministry of Health has a non-hysterical information site on H1N1 if you want to learn more about how to protect yourself.

There was a time when I believed that once the flu weaseled it's way into your home, fate would take its course and everyone was doomed to suffer a week or so of shake and bake. This time, armed with level-headed information (that I've either ignored or somehow missed before) I'm being aggressively defensive. Wash your hands often, keep your hands away from your face, drink a lot, sleep a lot (now that's proactive), gargle in salt water often, take vitamin C, take Cold FX or one of it's competitors, and sickness can be held at bay.

I'm not a salesman, and I'm definitely not getting a commission, but the Cold FX thing really does work, at least for me. You can read a non-biased opinion here.

In case you're thinking "What about the flu shot," I probably will get one of those too, in spite of the controversy (no link for "the controversy" - you can Google it yourself). It would have been nice if the vaccine had been available a couple weeks ago, but hey, I'm sure the flu vaccine dudes did the best they could.

And in case you are wondering, "aggressively defensive" is an oxymoron. I'll keep you posted on how the tactic works.

Friday, October 23, 2009

a quick update

My email updates came through, so I'm assuming that yours did too. It seems that when I complain, the program works. Or maybe it just sends updates once a day, regardless of how often I complain . . . or post. Either way, I promise to move on to other topics, and I take back all the ugly things I said about the computer barons . . . for now.

I also tested the unsubscribe feature. It works, so you can subscribe without fears of being inescapably bombarded by my Canadian witticisms. You still need to beware of digital swine flu though. Here are tips on how to protect yourself:

  • avoid visiting sites hosted by pigs (otherwise known as swine)
  • wear a mask if you do visit a site hosted by pigs, and wash your hands after touching the keyboard
  • don't ever let a pig use your computer
  • if you do let a pig use your computer, always disinfect the keyboard afterwards and wash your hands before eating

I was told today that the pig farmers don't like the term "swine flu." Technically it's the H1N1 virus, so I guess they're right, but it's a lot easier to make swine flu jokes than H1N1 jokes. They are apparently afraid that we'll stop eating their product . . . but if there are any pig farmers reading this blog, fret not, I still love pork chops. And regardless of who is to blame for the flu, I still recommend disinfecting the keyboard after a pig uses your computer.

I had a revelation today at the wood pile: firewood and volunteer firefighters are similar in some ways. Up until last year, Upsalanians firewood of choice has always been birch. Further south, people prefer maple, or oak, or elm, or hickory, which are are far superior to our native birch, but which don't grow here because of our frigid winters. How's that for logic. The trees that make awesome firewood grow down south where they don't need it.

Since the demise of the logging industry, we've been reduced to burning spruce, balsam, poplar, and other inferior woods compared to birch. They aren't even considered burnable to those accustomed to the heat contained in oak or maple . . . but when it's -40 it sure beats burning snowballs.

So here's the analogy. Volunteer fire departments that actually have populations to draw from can afford to be choosy when recruiting . . . they choose the maple and oak volunteers and turn away the spruce, poplar and even birch ones. We get maple and oak recruits too, but when the pagers go off, a poplar volunteer sure beats fighting fires with snowballs.

Complaints, alcohol, ideologies, and other related stuff

I was going to complain about feedburner not working again, but decided that you have been patient with my grumblings long enough. However, I do need to tell you that it appears the sadistically evil computer barons might be at work again . . . or maybe they're all on holidays in the Bahamas . . . which might be a better explanation of why they aren't fixing their discombobulated program. Either way, I'm again unsure that the email widget is working. If you are getting your updates, that's wonderful. If you aren't, then you'll be blissfully unaware that I'm writing this until next month when you think, "I wonder why that lazy Beebewitz isn't posting any of his incredibly witty, highly entertaining, and astoundingly useful stuff . . ."

Andrew, if you are reading this from your inbox, stop laughing at me for a minute and send an email to let me know that at least someone is getting the updates.

The weather around here has been normal for October (more rain and snow) which makes a boring topic to discuss on a blog. If you are a weather geek, or if you are a sadistically evil computer baron checking my blog on your Blackberry from a Bahama beach, and thinking, "Gee, I wonder what the weather is like in Northwestern Ontario," click here.

Since the invention of alcohol, people have studiously endeavoured to find myriads of ways to abuse the stuff. They drink and drive, drink and fly, drink and hunt, drink and cook . . . the list ways to kill yourself and others goes on. These are the people that keep firefighters in business. Today I read about someone that found a new way to get into trouble with alcohol. Drink and Lazy-boy.

As bad as it is to drink and drive your armchair, driving under the influence of an ideology is worse. North America is a haven for people escaping slavery of various types. People come here for a better life, a freer life. I don't understand why they can't leave their ideological slavery on the other side of the ocean. Someday, when I'm King of the World . . .

While we're on the topic of ethical things, I should tell you that I'm a firm believer in bribery, especially when it's used to advance fire safety. I went to the school today to pass out Fire Prevention Week Contest prizes. The kids were supposed to check their smoke alarms, practice their escape plans, get their parents to sign a form, and bring it back to enter the contest. Today was supposed to be the absolutely final deadline to get the forms in. Every kid was guaranteed a bribe - I mean prize - of some sort . . . a T-shirt, a backpack, a Sparky doll, an Energizer Bunny, a ball cap . . . lots of stuff to pick from. It's pretty straight forward bribery . . . they do the fire safety stuff for me and I give them something cool in return.

The difficulty with all this is that I'm a wimp. I look into the sad eyes of the kids that didn't hand in the form for whatever reason (the dog ate it, mom used it for a diaper liner, aliens vapourized it . . . the usual excuses) and I crumble. Then, under the disapproving glare of the principal (who, because of her position has to believe in sticking to her guns), I give them another chance. Get it to me by next Friday and I'll use my chiefly influence to make sure you get a prize. I guess the cynics are right . . . a fire chief does have to be a politician.

By the way, if you didn't check your smoke alarms during Fire Prevention Week, do it now. For once I'm not kidding.

time to brag (cautiously)

Success! I received my first automated blog update today. Definitely time to brag very cautiously that I was indeed able to successfully install an email subscription widget. Not that I actually figured out what was wrong when it wasn't working . . . I think it just sort of fixed itself. All you computer whizzes out there with three year-old sisters who can install widgets blindfolded are giving each other knowing glances right now. Actually it was probably some secret fan (who is an undercover computer whiz) that fixed the problem for me on the sly so I would think that I did it myself. Or maybe the sadistically evil computer barons were intimidated by my threats to shut them down when I become King of the World. In any case, you can now get email updates on this blog by using the much-bragged-about form on the left side.

In case you are nervous about divulging your email address to the system for fear of contracting a digital form of swine flu, rest assured that you'll at least go down in good company. Upsala Fire Department and my instructor friend Andrew from Toronto agreed to be guinea pigs. If our computers start sneezing and coughing, I'll notify you with an immediate blog alert . . . which you won't get unless you're signed up for email updates. Now who is the evil genius.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Time to play hardball. I decided to ditch Feedburner altogether and go with the competition . . . except that I couldn't find the competition. Perhaps the sadistically demented evil genius barons eradicated them with their mercenary hit squads.

What. You don't believe they have hit squads? Of course they do. How else would they protect their market share from the sincere, good-hearted, small-time guys that just want to better the world with their user-friendly programs?

Although I didn't find the competition, I did find this web site that seemed to simplify the installation process. I ditched the original widget, (which partially satisfied my urge to destroy something) and used a different version which is less complicated for the subscriber. It's too soon to brag, but I hope it works.

There are innovators out there capable of good things. Check out the links on this site.

the sad saga of email updates

I tried clicking on my much-bragged-about email subscription link and am now getting a message that says "this feed does not have subscriptions by email enabled." That's computer lingo for, "you really weren't naive enough to think this thing works, were you?"

Okay, so I'm a digital dough brain, but everyone has to start somewhere. I decided to check out the Feedburner help site, one of those places where greenhorns like me can vent their frustration (without taking a hammer to their laptop), and condescending computer whizzes can offer insightful tips. The site was more like an Alcoholics Anonymous group for frustrated bloggers. There were plenty of problems, but no one seems to have any answers. "Feedburner Help" should be renamed "Feedburner Helpless."

I told you the digital world is monopolized by sadistically demented evil computer barons. They entertain themselves by reading through the self-help group postings. I can hear them now: "Hey Gizmo, did you see that thread about the email subscriptions? There were 372 posts, and no one figured out that we intentionally made that feature inoperable! What a bunch of losers."
Someday, when I'm King of the World, they will pay.

[update: the email subscription thing has been working fine for quite a while now. In your face, evil computer barons!]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If I were King

I'm still not sure if this email widget thing-a-majigy is working. I see I have some subscribers now, but I'm not sure if anyone is actually getting the updates emailed to their inbox. If you subscribed, and if you are getting the updates (or even if you aren't), and if you are willing to enlighten a poor html challenged, semi-Internet illiterate blogger, please drop me an email or leave a comment. I really want to be able to brag about successfully installing the feature.

In my October 15 posting, I bemoaned the fact that I can't fix all the world's problems (go ahead . . . you can say "Duh!" again). That got me thinking about the things I would fix if I was ever elected King of the World.

The first thing I would do (after ridding the world of hunger and disease, and vaporizing all ideologies that incite people to hurt, maim, kill, and otherwise harm each other) would be to invent a simple, user-friendly, glitch-free, inexpensive, dummy-proof, universally compatible computer software system. Then I would use my totalitarian, king-of-the-world powers to force all those sadistically demented evil barons that have a monopoly on the digital world to adopt it. That would fix the email widget problem.

Then I would get to the really important stuff. I would use my ultra-powerful despotic influence to brainwash people into wanting to support their local volunteer firefighters. For microscopic villages like Upsala, it would take the form of people waiting in line to volunteer. For elected officials and bureaucrats, it would mean turning useless rhetoric (like "we really appreciate our volunteers") into something usable (like dollars and cents). For communally deprived urban dwellers that don't have volunteer fire departments, it would take the form of an irresistible urge to send donations.

I probably wouldn't be able to eliminate fires and other emergencies. Even the King of the World has limitations.

If you think my world view is pie-in-the-sky, check out this one. It has been attributed to Robin Williams, but apparently that is untrue.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

wonky widgets

Just a quick note. All my bragging about the great accomplishment of getting an email widget installed on my blog was in vain. The widget is there, as you can plainly see, but it doesn't seem to be working. I subscribed with the fire hall email address, and the subscription part worked fine, but nothing seems to be coming through to my inbox. My html-anese obviously wasn't convincing enough to make it work. Here's where I would normally try the age-old Northwestern Ontario cure for frustration (don't force it, just use a bigger hammer) but smashing my computer seems unfair, seeing that the program is internet based. The kinder, gentler approach of doing more research is likely the best option. I'll let you know when it's fixed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

the html planet

People talk about html as though it were some kind of language, like Japanese or Greek. Never mind the language, it’s an alien planet from another solar system. Fortunately, sites like Blogger can translate html gobbledygook into English for techno-illiterates like me. Otherwise blogging would be something that I could only wish to do.

Delving into a foreign culture (like html) can be scary. You'd think it would make sense to do a little language study before embarking on the journey, but it actually increases the hazard. When I was in Japan, I heard about a missionary that ran aground when his superiors tried to launch him into oriental culture too soon.

"Take these pamphlets and pass them out to people on the street," they told him.

"But I don’t speak Japanese . . ."

"That’s okay, just smile and say, "Oyomi ni natte kudasai." (A very polite way to say, "Please read this.")

Sounds easy. Kind of like the help sites that I visit on the rare occasions when I do have to make excursions into the hostile land of html. They pretend to simplify things but believe me, the little bit of knowledge they offer can be dangerous.

The young missionary went about his duties, but was puzzled by the expression on people’s faces. Turns out he was saying, "Oyome ni natte kudasai," instead of "Oyomi ni natte kudasai." Only a slight deviation . . . except that it means, "Please become my bride."

(On a semi-related note, you can read my sage firefighter views on communication issues by clicking here.)

All that to say that I successfully installed an email subscription widget in my blog. Yes that’s right. I braved the inhospitable and foreign environment (interpreter and bodyguard in tow), and you can now see a link on the left side of this page near the top that says, "Subscribe to Beebewitz's Blog by Email." As you can see, I'm very proud of it (except that I'm not sure yet if it works).

When I first started in April, I had the delusional idea that getting this email widget would be a simple matter. You know, click a button and, voila, my devoted readers would instantly and painlessly have the option of getting my posts emailed to their respective inboxes. Not so. It took me nearly six months to even find the help file that explained the process. A word of warning is in order here. Don’t ever, ever believe the help file that promises you magical results by following a "few simple steps."

In theory, computer programs only do what they are told. In theory. If you're laughing or rolling your eyes right now, you've discovered the same reality that I have. They only do what they are told if you speak their language . . . because they most definitely haven't learned ours. You think you’re telling this digital monster to lie down and beg, but it starts to smoke and vibrate and utter unintelligible obscenities . . . a sure sign that something got lost in the translation. Then comes the error message that speaks in dark riddles like, "this program has encountered a fatal error and will now close." That’s your hard drive's polite computer lingo for, "You idiot! You nearly killed me!"

All you techno-geeks out there are thinking, "What’s all the hoopla about? My three year-old sister could have installed an email widget." Okay, I admit it, you guys are smart. But try crawling around blind in a burning building, or untangling a person from a mangled heap of metal that used to be a car.

What’s that you say? You’re a techno-geek firefighter? I give up. Some people are just too talented.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

weather or not

The Farmers' Almanac is calling for "bitterly cold and dry" weather this winter for our area of Canada. Bunch of gloomy, pessimistic, kill-joys. I'm still sticking to my guns and saying that we're going to get an awesome Indian Summer. My prediction is already coming true, actually. It was sunny and warm-ish today, and is supposed to be nice again tomorrow. Two days of nice weather may not qualify as Indian Summer, but it's a start. I'm also predicting a balmy winter, with just enough cold to make ice for the skaters, and just enough snow to keep the plow operators from slipping into bankruptcy. Farmers' Almanac says they base their predictions on a "carefully guarded formula" using sunspots and moon phases. I'm basing mine on a skillful blend of wishful thinking and optimism. We'll see who is right.

The weather is fun to write about, especially for chronic complainers like me. This year it has been especially accomodating . . . snow in late May, rain for most of June, miserable fall weather in July, and pre-winter temperatures during August. To top off a wacky season, it warmed up in September and we went water skiing. I should count my blessings though. At least I didn't have to worry about rocks falling from the sky.

In spite of my complaints about the weather, things could definitely be worse. The Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez lives in a tropical paradise, but was recently denied permission by her government to travel New York to receive a journalism award. Here is the story. If I had to choose between frigid freedom and sweltering slavery, I would take the freedom. Living under a repressive government that tries to muzzle you is paradoxically good publicity though. Yoanni's blog, Generation Y, gets a million hits a month. I'd love to get a million hits a month . . . but given the choice I still think I'd choose frigid freedom.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

to fix the unfixable (you're right . . . "unfixable" isn't a word)

One of my biggest complaints as an emergency responder is that I can't fix all of the world's problems. Go ahead and say it . . . "Duh!" . . . but hey, everyone has their hitches and glitches and weaknesses, and this is mine.

We firefighters respond to disasters of various sizes and significance. Some are fixable but many are not . . . and that bugs me. The most frequently occurring unfixable disasters in our area are vehicle crashes.

I classify vehicle crashes into two main categories - those that people walk away from and those that they don't. Most of the crashes we respond to fall into the first category, and are "fixable" thanks to modern technology like seatbelts and air bags. The crashes from which people don't walk away can be subdivided into two further categories: those that we extricate and carry to an ambulance (fixable) and those that we extricate and carry to a hearse (unfixable). It's this last category that sometimes gets to me.

At the scene of a fatal crash, I'm fine. No mental breakdowns, no emotional traumas. Just plain firefighter business. The person that used to live in that body is gone, and what's trapped in the snarled mass of metal isn't him at all. His troubles are over. I just focus on the technical aspects of the mission and don't think about the other stuff.

Afterwards though, the "I can't fix all the world's problems" syndrome sets in. It gets me when my guard is down, often in the middle of the night. I get thinking about the family that's left behind. The kids. The moms and dads. The death part doesn't get me. It's those that stayed behind in the land of the living.

Enough of these sappy, woe-is-me, search-your-soul, psychological gymnastics. The whole reason I got on this topic is because there is a guy out there trying to fix the unfixables . . . and actually making headway. Click here. Suspended animation outside of a science fiction novel seems ludicrous, but thankfully there are people crazy enough to pursue ludicrous ideas.

Remember DJ Harper, the young child that was rescued from a burning SUV last summer? Click here and here for updates on his long road to recovery. Now there's a story that came within about 30 seconds of an unfixable ending.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

more innovations and some irrelevant stuff

Speaking of innovations, Arizona has been experimenting with a modified version of CPR where you compress like mad but don't stop to breathe for the patient. Not your traditional CPR, but if it works who cares. Click here for a story about a guy that saved his wife's life with this new-ish method. If you haven't had CPR training, go get it. For once, I'm not kidding.

I hear that King Kong's bones are for sale. For those of you that have always had a burning desire to own them, click here.

Imagine an innovation that allows a firefighter to be right there when the fire starts, rather than arriving five minutes later when the room is fully engulfed (city departments) or fifteen minutes later when the whole house is engulfed (rural departments). The fire would be extinguished with a few short bursts of water, instead of a deluge that damages as much or more property than the fire itself.

Such a technology exists. Yes, this is old news, but people are taking a long time to catch on for some reason.

Ever wonder what the Americans think about us Canadians? Apparently they don't think about us much at all . . . click here.

And finally, it is now illegal to use a cell phone while driving in Ontario, unless it has hands-free technology. Don't plan on using your phone and driving in California either, especially if you are the governor's wife (whose husband wrote the cell phone law). Someone is sure to be watching.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

out of the box

The rough life of the out-of-the-box thinker. People have been persecuted, ridiculed, imprisoned and burned to the stake for taking a view other than popular opinion. Take Galileo for example. He spent his last years under house arrest because he believed the sun was the centre of the solar system. His story has a happy ending though. 342 years after his death, the pope pardoned him for his dangerous opinions. How touching.

Then there was this guy. Where would we be without him?

Although I'm not much of an innovator myself, out-of-the-box thinkers intrigue me, and the least I can do is cheer them on. The lucky ones get laughed at while they discover continents and invent things that society eventually adopts, like wheels and airplanes. The unlucky ones get laughed at then forgotten. Some of them still entertain us, like Rube Goldberg.

Some innovators are artistic activists like Liu Bolin. Click here to see more of his stuff. If I had half that talent . . .

Others hypothesize that if they can make you laugh you’ll remember their point better. Like these photographers in Montreal.

The fire service traditionally has a tough time with innovation and change. It could have to do with the word traditionally, but I think it’s deeper than that. Allow me to put on my philosopher cap for a moment.

Our job is predictably unpredictable. Statistics tell us that houses will catch fire, cars will crash, and cats will get stuck in trees (we don't do cats) . . . and that people will call us to fix their problems . . . and that we won't ever know for sure when the call will come. Experience helps us plan, but unpredictable means . . . , well, you can't predict it. Perhaps firefighters cling tenaciously to form and ritual in order to bring some normalcy to their careers.

Incidentally, I don’t ever recall a cat getting stuck in a tree in Upsala. I think they know we’d just leave them up there.

Click here to read my view on firefighter superstions and rituals. Here is the cartoon I drew to make you laugh and remember the point of that column.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

the cream of the crop

I need to go back and make a repair on my October 5 entry. One of my readers pointed out that I referred to the volunteers as not being the cream of the crop . . . definitely the wrong thing to say about a group of people who just gave up the better part of four days to run the gauntlet of firefighter training. My comment wasn't intended to demean anyone . . . actually I was trying (in my bumbling way) to compliment these folks. They toughed out some extreme conditions, even though many of them weren't in peak physical condition. Firefighter survival training is no picnic, career, volunteer, it doesn't matter. The impressive thing is these folks stuck it out.

Getting into a career department is no picnic either. I know. I gave it a shot last winter. I passed the written exam, then spent a few months preparing for the fitness testing by hauling an eighty pound pack up and down stairs, running on a rebounder, doing sit ups . . . and got as far as the shuttle run during the testing. I just didn't have the wind to do it. I could make excuses like . . . I was 47 years old (but they hired a 48 year old the year before) . . . or that I spent most of the night before the test fighting a fire in -30 weather (but that's what firefighters do for a living) . . . but the bottom line was, I didn't make it in . . . so when I talk about people not being the cream of the crop, I'm right there with them.

Volunteer departments in these parts often don't require their new recruits to pass the same physical tests as their career counterparts. I know my department doesn't. We can't afford to turn anyone away. Click here and here for a couple articles I wrote about how we recruit. We still get out there and do the job, often putting in longer hours and working with less people than our career counterparts who are protected by union contracts. I'm not bashing the career guys either . . . hey, I don't bash anyone. Poke fun, tease, and maybe even satirize, but never bash. We're all out there accomplishing our portion of the mission, and we might as well laugh at ourselves along the way.

Here are some photos of last weekend's training, compliments of Ian, who somehow managed to smuggle a camera past me. This first one is roof ventilation.

Next, here is a view of what it looks like inside after a lot of the smoke clears.

This is what it looks like before we vent. If the window wasn't open, the whole thing would be black . . . which would have been realistic but it makes for a boring photo.

That's me in the middle taking everyone's last will and testament before making entry.

Here they are, the cream of the crop, the survivors, the ones that made it through the weekend. That's me kneeling in the front with the funny hairdo.

And this is snow on October 10th. Sorry Graham, I stole this off your facebook page. I tried to ask permission, but you weren't talking to me.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fire Prevention Week

It's Fire Prevention Week. Actually, it's been Fire Prevention Week since Sunday, and I forgot to say anything. I guess I was too busy plotting a culinary revolution on the home front. Hey, my motives weren't that bad . . . all I wanted was despotic rule over the kitchen. If you are a new reader, you’ll have to check out my two previous posts . . . I’m not going to explain it all again.

In case you think I’m some kind of domestic tyrant, I cooked prime rib for dinner yesterday. A perfectly normal, average Canadian meal. Boring, but delicious.

By the way, did you know cooking mishaps are the leading cause of fires in both Canada and the US? Check out the NFPA site for lots of interesting and educational fire statistics. You can also visit the Fire Marshal's Public Safety Council web site for an Ontario take on fire safety.

Later today, I get to go to the school and hang out with the kids under the guise of educating them about fire safety. School visits are the highlight of my year. I like the kids, and they at least put on a good show of liking me. If you were a kid, and the fire chief showed up with cool stories, prizes, and a guaranteed 30 – 40 minute break from math and history, you’d at least pretend to like him too.

Kids can have an aversion to things that look too educational. My strategy is to get them having so much fun, they learn something in spite of themselves. If the education part of the day at least balances out equal to the fun we're going to have, then the day will have been a success.

If you have kids and they like Internet games, try this site and this one too.

Click here if you want to participate in the Great Canadian Fire Drill. And while I'm inundating you with a flood of information, I might as well give you this link as well. It is perhaps the most user-friendly site for fire safety tips.

And don't forget to test your smoke alarms! It is Fire Prevention Week you know.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Democracy rules, but I figured out a way to beat the system. Sort of. In case you think I'm planning a communistic takeover of Canada, don't flatter me . . . I'm talking about family politics here.

My neighbour (who is the deputy chief, and a fine, upstanding, non-commnunistic citizen) gave me two grouse yesterday. The kids, who like to eat grouse, were ecstatic. Here's where the "beat the democratic system" part comes in:

Me: Do you want to have grouse for dinner?
Kids: Sure, Dad, we love grouse.
Me: Fine then, I'll cook up the grouse.
Kids: You're such an awesome dad.

(They didn't really say that, but they were probably thinking it, at least until supper time.) I learned from experience to only give them enough information to gain the popular vote. No, it isn't cheating. There's nothing in the family politics rule book that says you have to give full disclosure. So I told them I was making grouse, and it was the truth . . . but I didn't tell them it was going to be my world-famous Vodka/Rum/Lemon Juice Marinaded Grouse Strips. In case you think this all sounds deceitful, consider the alternative. Here is how the conversation would have gone:

Me: Do you want me to make my world-famous Vodka/Rum/Lemon Juice Marinaded Grouse Strips?
Kids: Um, can you just cook it like, you know, normal Dads do?
Me: Aw, come on. Don't you want to try something different?
Kids: Nope. And you're out-voted Dad, two to one.

(They wouldn't really say that, but I would have lost the vote anyway) So you see, if I had gone with full disclosure, my famous recipe would have never been discovered. But creativity won the day, and now I have a recipe to pass along . . . for better or worse.

Here it is:
World-Famous Vodka/Rum/Lemon Juice Marinaded Grouse Strips
  1. Have a nice neighbour give you two ruffed grouse. Alternately, you can go out and shoot your own.
  2. Remember how tough and dry the grouse was last year
  3. Look on the internet for grouse tenderizer recipes, and pick one
  4. Realize that you don't have any of the ingredients
  5. Find an old bottle of vodka and an old bottle of rum on the top shelf
  6. Pour some of each over the grouse breasts (which you previously sliced into strips and put in a ceramic or stainless steel bowl). Pour enough in to cover the meat
  7. Add some lemon juice, just because
  8. Shake in some garlic and basil and whatever other spices you think your kids will tolerate
  9. Stir it around until all the meat is coated
  10. Put a tight lid on the bowl and hide it in the fridge so the kids don't suspect anything
  11. Let the meat sit for a couple hours, stirring occasionally (overnight is probably better)

I dipped the strips in an egg/milk mixture, then in a coating of bread and cracker crumbs with spices, then fried them in oil. You can add some parmesan cheese to the coating if you want.

I thought it turned out pretty good, far better than the dry, tough birds I've cooked in previous years. The kids were good sports about the whole thing, and even said they liked them. We saved a few for Erinn, and if she likes them I may even get to try the recipe again, with some slight modifications.

Speaking of food, you know things have gone from bad to worse when the experts tell you that eating lettuce can be dangerous. Click here. I take these revelations with a grain of salt. Do you know anyone that died of lettuce poisoning? I didn't think so.

Monday, October 5, 2009

more training

All good things must come to an end. We had a great weekend of training at the Thunder Bay and Region Protective and Emergency Services Training site (PEST for short). The students tied knots, rolled hose, cut through roofs, and ventilated buildings, along with the usual gauntlet of zero visibility, high stress, get-yourself-out-of-THIS-mess drills. A few secretly cursed us under their blacked-out masks, but I think they all went home with something worthwhile. Keep in mind that these folks aren't the hand-picked, cream-of-the-crop, crackerjack recruits that survive the elimination process to get into a career department. They're volunteers, in various degrees of physical fitness and stamina, and all but one survived the weekend. Quite impressive.

My latest article in the Canadian Fire and EMS Quarterly has been published. Click here for the web version. Speaking of technology (and I was speaking of technology if you read the article), a couple of university students put their heads together in 2007 and came up with a computerized glove that monitors CPR technique and tells if you are doing it right. Click here for the story.

I wanted to have another recipe for you tonight, but democracy got in the way. I asked the kids if they would rather have hamburgers and fries, or my original Canadian Curried Salisbury Steak. They voted for burgers and fries. I considered dissolving Parliament and establishing a dictatorship, but my reign would have been short-lived. Erinn is coming home on Wednesday, and the best I could hope for would be a Harper-version minority rule. We had burgers and fries.

I could still give you my recipe, except that it's just plain wrong to pawn an untried experiment on an innocent readership. Not that I flatter myself by thinking you actually try my recipes, but once it's in print, there's no taking it back . . . and even petty dictators don't want to be responsible for the indigestion of the proletariat. If you're really disappointed, and were counting on a dinner idea from me, you can type "recipe" into the search box and find some of my other offerings. Or there's always the take-out option.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Training. It's arguably the most important thing a firefighter does . . . other than put out fires and rescue people and get cats out of trees and . . . wait a minute . . . do firefighters really get cats out of trees? I say, leave 'em up there. For all we know, cats like being up in trees. We did do a sheep rescue once. But that's a story for a different day.

Back to training. If I could spend the rest of my working life (called career by normal people) training volunteer firefighters and avoiding my office, it would suit me just fine. Sure, the fire and rescue stuff is important, especially to the folks that have fires and need to be rescued. But ultimately, training is what gets the job done, and keeps the crews safe while they are doing it.

In my September 24 post I mentioned two Meaford, Ontario firefighters that nearly lost their lives in a fire earlier this month. What I didn't tell you was that these guys, and the crews that rescued them, had all been trained by top-notch instructors at the Ontario Fire College. One of them, Andrew Blair, is in Thunder Bay this weekend with four other instructors (including me) training volunteer firefighters at Thunder Bay's new state-of-the-art training site. The Meaford crew's testimony is that the training made the difference that day. One firefighter was dragged out without vital signs, and resuscitated at the scene. That's shaving things too close, but it's undoubtedly better to nearly die than almost survive.

The great thing about guys like Andrew is their adaptability. For many years we ran these courses in the field, using whatever facilities were available. It made for some creative training techniques, and compelled us to be flexible and innovative. Andrew's nickname is Etch, because we tell him his work plan is written on an etchi-sketch so he can wipe it out and remake it as whim or necessity dictate. Speaking of innovative people, click here for some researchers that got recognized for their out-of-the-box thinking.

If half the money spent on far-out studies were diverted to struggling volunteer fire departments, we'd have . . . well . . . the money isn't going to be diverted, so I guess we'll never know what we might have had.

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