Friday, December 24, 2010

holiday edition part 2

According to my calculations, Ontario's economy has improved. Here's how I know: our call volume has rebounded like a kangaroo on a trampoline, which means that people are travelling, which means they have money, which means they have jobs. Pretty good, eh? Forget those costly economics reports and employment rate analyses. Just ask the Upsala fire chief how many times he rolled a truck this week, and you'll get a pretty good handle on the health of the nation.

Of course the increase in calls could be connected to the festive season. Not that people intentionally drive crazier during the holidays . . . there's just more of them out there, so there are more chances that people will do crazy things. It's all about statistics. I'm sure a report exists somewhere that says, "Ontario's driver insanity rate is 17.2 per 100,000," (or something like that). And chances are, those 17.2 people are going to drive through Upsala some time during the month of December. And at least a few of them will go in the ditch, or roll over, or hit a moose on the stretch between Raith and English River.

Speaking of vehicle crashes, here's a couple shots of the incident that that I mentioned in my last post.

The original incident was a tractor trailer fire. An OPP officer was helping out, and had just put an empty extinguisher in the back of his cruiser when another tractor trailer rammed it from behind. The officer got out of the way, but the cruiser was totalled. We were responding to the same tractor trailer fire, and arrived shortly after the mishap. I hate to say it, but I'm glad we didn't arrive five minutes sooner. The chances of someone getting hurt increase with the number of people at the scene. It's all about statistics.

Speaking of injuries, two Chicago firefighters died on Wednesday in a building collapse. Definitely the dark side of the holidays.

On another gloomy note, another volunteer fire department in northern Alberta has suspended service on Highway 63. The Alberta government seems to think it's helping the problem, but these folks need more than just advice about recruitment strategy. Someday when I'm King . . .

On a happier, you-can-help-save-the-world theme, let me remind you to vote for Horsefly Fire Department and help them win a Pepsi grant for a new fire hall. They've moved up to 14th place, and December 31 is looming. After you're done there, go to the CAFC site and put in a good word for volunteer firefighters. It only takes a minute.

Happy holidays everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beebewitz Blog Holiday Edition

Like everything else in this yin yang world, the holidays have both a bright and a dark side. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll offer you my sagacious views from last year. Click here and here.

On the bright side, in keeping with many years of tradition, the Upsala Fire Elves set up shop in my home to bag candy for the annual Christmas concert. Here they are, hard at work.

To prove that this isn't slave labour, here's a shot of me helping.

Each kid in the village gets a bag, complete with a fire safety message from the Upsala Fire Elves.

Here's a close up of the fire safety message, cleverly disguised as a Christmas card.

The graphics are pretty much the same as last year. Click on the picture to get a better view.

I like the bright side: give away candy, wish everyone a happy and safe holiday, and scatter subtle hints that "bright and happy" can quickly switch to "dark and gloomy" if holiday safety rules are ignored.

On the dark side, 7 tractor trailers came to grief in our response area this past month. The incidents may have had something to do with increased activity during the holiday season, or they may just been casualties of the Raith-Upsala-English River Force Field Effect (kind of like the Bermuda Triangle, but not as well known). Either way, the dark side has a bright side to it. Out of those 7 drivers, none needed an undertaker, and only one needed an ambulance ride. Considering what could have happened (and nearly did), that's pretty bright.

Another bright spot in the gloom: at the last incident a local police officer stepped out of harm's way just before a tractor trailer crashed into the back of his cruiser. You can read the story here.

The crash happened a few minutes before we arrived with three fire apparatus. I don't want to even think about what might have happened if the crash had occurred while we were setting up to fight the fire. I'll post more on this later.

Another piece for the bright side: you can help the Horsefly, BC fire department win a Pepsi grant to build a new fire hall. Click here, enter your login info (or start a new account) and vote. You can see Horsefly's web page here.

Hope you have a bright, sunny holiday. I'll try to post once more before Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The Israeli Air force might have shot a party balloon out of the airspace over one of their nuclear power plants today. They couldn't find the pieces to prove it though. I wonder why. We find lots of balloon pieces after our annual dress up party, but our ammo is darts, not air to air missiles.

I don't blame the Israelis for being jittery. There are lots of creeps that would love to hijack a plane and crash it into a nuclear plant. The fact that they scrambled a flock of jets in time to shoot down whatever it was before it floated away is quite impressive. I wouldn't want to be a hijacker in Israeli skies.

Speaking of terrorists, I'd like to blow a few of those email hijackers out of cyberspace, and I wouldn't even bother looking for the leftover pieces. A spammer sent me another hijacked email yesterday, using a different firefighter's email address. Nothing is sacred to these guys.

Back when I still believed in the effectiveness of email blocking (along with existence of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy), I noticed that a fire hall email copied to myself failed to arrive. I checked the junk folder and sure enough, the errant message was there. Further investigation revealed that a spammer had used the Upsala Fire Department email address for his felonious purpose, and when I blocked the sender, I blocked myself. The email server guy gave a virtual shrug when I asked how this could happen, and assured me there was nothing he could do about it. Spammers are as elusive as Osama Bin Laden. Someday when I'm King . . .

It's all part of a World Wide Web conspiracy hatched by the Evil Computer Barons, with help from the Anti Volunteer Syndicates (see glossary). I'm still trying to figure out why they formed the conspiracy. The fact that Upsala Fire Department was targeted supports my rickety theory that the AVS's were involved. They know I'm onto them. Combating these joint forces of evil might prove difficult though. Hitting an imaginary target is considerably more difficult than popping a balloon with an air to air missile.

Bottom line: if you get an email from Upsala Fire Department advertising Viagra, don't open it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the platform

When I am King of the World, I will outlaw muffin pans (after abolishing war, injustice, and famine, of course). Don't misunderstand: I have no quarrel with the muffins themselves. It's those allegedly "non-sticking" pans that drive me crazier than a squirrel on cocaine. They may be non-stick when you bake greased butter cakes with Crisco icing, but not muffins. I speak from experience. I dutifully take a turn coercing away the crusted residue that super glues itself into those 12 individual muffin cups. Steel wool - or anything more abrasive than a wad of Charmin toilet paper - is strictly forbidden, because you might scratch the useless non-stick finish. I repeat, when I am King of the World, I will outlaw muffin pans.

I feel much better now that my political platform is gaining definition. I even have my own slogan worked out: "Beebewitz for King! Down with the Muffin Panners!" Kind of catchy.

This next thing arrived in my inbox the other day:

"Hey there tim, I found this article that u might be interested in... it shows learning how to make cash on the inet. I quit my 9-5 a week ago because of how much excess cash ive been making during this 'recession' haha. Here is more infoo [link]." (Beebewitz disclaimer: I take no responsibility for spammer misspellings).

My normal reaction to spam is 'delete,' but this one caught my eye because it purportedly came from an Upsala firefighter. Something just didn't add up. I may have daydreamed about growing marijuana for a fundraiser, but there is no way on either side of eternity that a firefighter would ever resort to spamming. I donned my Beebewitz Detective Hat and analyzed the message. Here are my conclusions:

  1. The firefighter that owns the email address hasn't worked a 9-5 job since I've known him, so he couldn't have quit it to get rich on the Internet.

  2. The spammer isn't too bright. He doesn't know that "excess cash" is an oxymoron.

  3. The spammer is in league with those false-advertising, non-stick muffin pan makers. [Side note: I have no evidence to prove this last point, but they do seem to at least be birds of a feather].

Another thing to add to my King of the World to-do list: Confirm the link between email fraud and the muffin pan industry. And chances are, once I get poking around in the murky underworld of false representation, I'll uncover that nefarious network of evil anti-volunteer syndicates that you've heard me rant about.

Back to the real world, it's -37 out there this morning. For the Celsius challenged, that's -34.6 Fahrenheit. No matter what name you call it, that's too cold for comfort. Here's hoping that everyone keeps the vehicle on the road and the fire in the furnace.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Society calls

Vehicle crashes tend to be social activities. Travellers may not plan a mass exodus into the ditch within a couple hours of each other, but it often turns out that way.

Last night at around 18:30 we were paged to the standard "car in the ditch," which (as you know from a previous post) means someone was testing the 911 feature of their cell phone. We headed east as directed, then got an update page that said that it was actually west of town. The rescue arrived first, only to have the OPP tell them we weren't needed, but there was a second crash 10 km further west. 30 km later, dispatch informed us that the second crash was a phantom.

At 23:30 we got another call, this time for trucks leaking antifreeze and diesel fuel near Raith. We arrived to find that three tractor trailers had gotten very intimate with each other, and were now arranged in a tangled cluster across the highway. One driver was in the ambulance, but the paramedics weren't sure about the others.

During my reconnoiter to find drivers 2 and 3, I shined a light under one of the trailers. Thick, red stuff dripped from the other side. It resembled blood enough to make me hurry a little as I circled the trailer. The tractor had jackknifed hard cramming the passenger door against the side of the trailer. The driver side door was pinned shut by another truck. Driver 2 had the interior lights on and was moving around. He rolled down the window when I approached.

"Are you okay?" I ask.
"Yes, okay," he says in a thick Spanish accent.
"Do you need help?" I ask.
"No, no. No problem here. Quite comfortable, thanks."
"What's that red stuff dripping from your truck?"
"Ah, that. Yes, it is jam. I haul food."

I kept going and found Driver 3, who complained of a little pain on the side of his torso. I escorted him back to the ambulance to get checked out. Meanwhile, Driver 2 had climbed out his window and was walking around extolling the beauty of the stars, the crisp winter air, and the blessings of life in general. He pulled out his cell phone and showed me a photo of his wife. Then he told me how he saw the other trucks spin out of control ahead, and had tried unsuccessfully to avoid the collision. After coming to rest surrounded by trailers, he expected to get slammed by someone else. But the worst didn't happen, and he was very, very happy to be alive.

I busied myself covering the antifreeze on the road with absorbent (which was the reason the OPP called us), then went to check on the socialites who had unexpectedly gathered to spend the evening together. Driver 2 was sharing a cigarette with Driver 3. Driver 1 was strapped to a stretcher chatting with the paramedics. Three OPP officers joked with each other while they jotted notes and waited for an army of tow trucks to arrive. The party was just getting started, but I'm a social klutz (and had nothing useful left to do), so it was time to go. With a car in the ditch, a phantom, and a herd of tractor trailers tied in knots, it had been a crashingly social evening. But there was still a hundred kilometres of unused ditch for others to join the party, and we had to get back to the hall in case we got invited to join them.

On a semi related topic, Paul Combs has another piece of artwork done, and you can see it here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I've participated in lots of extrications, some orthodoxly correct, others heretically unconventional. I haven't yet rescued anyone from a car stuck in a tree, like these resourceful Pennsylvania firefighters did. And I hope I never have to. Fortunately the odds are against cars getting stuck in trees in our response area, unless of course, the flying car becomes commercially viable.

There are myriads of ways for people to get into trouble, which makes emergency calls as unpredictable as an Upsala autumn. To make matters worse, new ways are invented at a much faster rate than we can prepare. To help cope with this trend toward unpredictability, we establish Operational Guidelines, which are basic ground rules for response. OG's give us a semi solid base on which to stand in the quicksand of emergency scene chaos. Wear your protective gear. Don't freelance. Use only these specific knots, tied this particular way. We follow our OG's religiously. Sort of.

Safety is the number one reason to stick to the guidelines. The more dangerous the operation, the more pre-established rules there will be governing the response. Like these guys that dangle from helicopters. I'm only guessing, but they probably have a couple libraries full of OG's to learn before strapping on that harness.

Litigious witch hunting lawyers are another reason to stick to the OG straight and narrow. But in spite of all these incentives, we occasionally get ourselves into fixes that are not covered by any rule book. So if you ever travel across Canada in a flying car, do us a favour. Stay away from trees, at least between Raith and English River. I'd hate to think of all the rules we'd break getting you out.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Crossing the line

Firefighters obligingly respond to all manner of incidents, serious and trivial, sad and hilarious. Later, in the comfort of the hall or our homes, we shake our heads at the trivial or hilarious calls, but we never, never make light of someone's real or imagined emergency. The cat in the tree . . . the chimney fire that wasn't . . . the fiery head on collision that turned out to be a mere fender bender with a little smoke . . . were all in a day's work.

Of course it can be the other way around too, so the bottom line is this: if you think you are having an emergency, call us. In spite of my previous post on how not to dial 911, we don't mind arriving to find out that you've got it under control. We may be secretly disappointed that you didn't leave any of the fun for us, but we will be quick to say that you did the right thing by calling.

[Side note: this does NOT apply to motorists who speed by parked cars and dial them in as vehicle crashes. Remember the rule you learned as a kid crossing the street? Stop, look, and listen. Same rule applies to dialling 911. If you don't, we reserve the right to make fun of you. After we get back to the hall, of course.]

There are limits to our amicability. A lady in Pennsylvania definitely crossed the line when she set fire to her house because she was locked out and thought firefighters could let her in. She may not have realized what we do to doors. Some firefighters might have fancy lock picks, but many rely on the tried and true haligan bar . . . or a size 12 boot. We'll get 'er open alright, but the door will never be the same.

We don't always smash and crash our way in though. The rule is 'try before you pry.' I remember being reluctant to kick in a door at a cottage fire once. The seasonal residents were not home, smoke was puffing at the eaves, and none of the neighbours had a key. Time was definitely not on our side (it never is), so the size 12 boot was applied, the door frame split open and we knocked the fire down. Two minutes later a helpful neighbour showed up . . . with a key.

Speaking of fires, Pittgirl's husband's restaurant caught fire Wednesday morning. Pittsburgh is a long way away from Upsala, and it really has little to do with my blog, but Virginia Montanez is a talented blogger, and has helped raise thousands of dollars in support of sick kids. If there is anyone out there in bloggerland that lives close enough, she could use your help now.

On a less gloomy note, don't mess with firefighters!

epic fail pictures
see more funny videos

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Call

Next project: write a tutorial on how to dial 911. Not a reference volume that you haul around in a wheelbarrow, just a simple four step guide:
  1. identify the need for help
  2. pull out your trusty cell phone
  3. make the call
  4. give the dispatcher all the relevant information.
No one has trouble with steps 1-3. It's step 4 that makes me want to send people back to 911 kindergarten. Like the other day when we were paged to a vehicle in the ditch near Raith. No problem, we get these calls fairly regularly, especially since it's early in the winter, and people have forgotten how to drive in the snow (it doesn't help that last year we didn't really have winter at all. But I digress).

Experience tells us that those innocent words "vehicle in the ditch" can mean anything. Sometimes they mean a rollover. Occasionally they carry a hidden meaning of collision with an immovable object. One time they were code for head-on crash between two tractor trailers . . . and you don't want to know the rest of that story. Oft times, however, "vehicle in the ditch" simply means that someone slid off the road into the nice, cushy snow bank. Most anyone that drives in the winter knows what it's like. One minute you're headed down the road, minding your own business, and the next minute you're buried in a pillowy cloud of fluff. Embarrassing, but not life-threatening. In most cases, 1-800-TOW-TRUCK is the appropriate number, not 911. But lots of folks don't know that, because I haven't published my tutorial yet . . .

I understand that the average traveller isn't a paramedic, and isn't qualified to decide when a person needs - or doesn't need - treatment. No one wants to ask, "Excuse me sir, is your left foot normally turned around backwards?" or "Sorry to bother you ma'am, but were you born with one shoulder higher than the other?" You just don't ask those kinds of questions. If you suspect someone needs medical help, whip out your trusty cell phone faster than Wyatt Earp draws his six gun and dial 911. I'm cool with that. Even if you are in Raith, which is 50 km from Upsala.

But sometimes when the car is sitting comfortably in the feathery snow bank, and the occupants are walking around trying not to look embarrassed, it would warrant asking, "Hey dudes, are you okay?" before dialling the fateful 3 digits and dispatching a herd of ambulance, police, and fire vehicles. Especially when the snow bank is in Raith, which is 50 km from Upsala.

When our pagers go off with, "vehicle in the ditch," we have no way to analyze the situation. We can't second guess the call, because, as you now know, it could be nearly anything except a space alien's ship run aground (at least we can rule out one possibility). "Vehicle in the ditch" only means that our pagers went off, and we have to go find out what really happened. Dubious calls to Raith do elicit a fair bit of discussion, mostly because it takes 25 to 30 minutes to get there.

"It's probably just what the dispatcher said - a vehicle in the ditch."

"Maybe . . . but don't forget that time that the vehicle in the ditch was a full-blown extrication."

"Or that double fatal that came in as 'vehicle in the ditch.'"

"Yeah, but remember that time the guy pulled over to take a whiz and someone called it in as a 'vehicle in the ditch . . .'"

We'd like to blame the dispatcher, but that isn't fair. They pass along as much scanty information as can be pried from the caller.

"Fire Dispatch, what is your emergency?"

"Um, yeah, I saw a vehicle in the ditch somewhere between Upsala and Raith."

"Is anyone trapped?"

"Um . . . not sure."

"Is anyone injured?"

"How am I supposed to know? I'm not a doctor. Besides, I was driving 110 km an hour."

"Do you have any more details?"

"Yeah, it was a maroon 2006 Suburban with a 5.3 litre motor, tinted windows, and a roof rack."

"Anything else?"

"Um, yeah, it was between Upsala and Raith . . . or was it between Raith and Shabaqua . . .

And so it goes. Eventually we get there and find out what really happened. Chances are, the folks look at us all "Why the heck did a pumper, a rescue, a cruiser, and an ambulance all come blaring in when all we needed was a tow truck?" And we shrug and say, "Our pagers went off and we came . . . "

Maybe I should write a tutorial on how not to dial 911.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Unconventionally Thankful

I'm thankful that I'm not in jail. Like this Egyptian blogger was, until November 16. Blogging in Canada has its hazards, like tendinitis and cataracts, but prison is not usually on the list. I'm thankful for that, even though Canada's Thanksgiving Day was over a month ago.

While Egyptian bloggers get locked up for having an opinion, there are guys on this side of the world that should be in jail, but try to use their free country's laws to get out. Like this dude that built pipe bombs in his basement, just for fun of course. My friend Graham from Atikokan does odd hobbyish things like building laser guns out of CD players . . . for fun. Another friend, Andrew from Toronto, travels to Florida to see space shuttles launch . . . for fun. I blog for fun, and throw darts at photos of Stephen Harper for fun (just kidding, calm down). But those are comparatively harmless hobbies (unless you live in Egypt).

A person who builds pipe bombs for fun should at least have the decency to go to jail without a fuss, even if it was unsuspecting firefighters that found the bombs. Especially if his other hobby is growing marijuana . . . just for fun of course. I understand that our citizens should be protected from unlawful searches and seizures, but finding illegal items during a dubiously legal entry doesn't make those items any more legit. It isn't like the firefighters in question broke into the dude's house looking for bombs and only found a photo of President Obama with a dart in his nose (still kidding).

Legalities baffle me. When I'm King of the World, I'll be sure to appoint a Chief Vizier that has enough smarts to keep the bad guys in jail and the good guys blogging.

While I'm being unconventionally thankful in November, I appreciate that Black Friday hasn't made much of an inroad to Canada. I dislike shopping enough already without having to fight hordes of frenetic bargain hunters looking for the deal of the century. Of course even it it did come to Canada, there would still be the option of staying home and being thankful that Erinn is an expert deal-finder, even without Black Friday.

And to finish off the unconventionally thankful list, here is an article that says turkey skin has more good fat than bad. Now that's something for which to give thanks.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Various and Sundries

I like bizarre stories. Like this one about a guy that got Heimliched by an air bag. There may be better ways to dislodge a stuck raisin, but hey, a person with a blocked airway can't be choosy.

Speaking of first aid stuff, you might have heard that the CPR guidelines have changed yet again. This is the third or fourth change since I began teaching first aid, and I must admit, change is good if it means simplification. CPR is only required when someone is dying, and you can't expect anyone to remember 17 1/2 easy steps to life-saving under that kind of stress. Push hard, push fast is about as simple as it gets. There may be better ways to do the job, but again, a person without a pulse can't be choosy.

Paul Combs worked his magic again, this time weaving a Thanksgiving theme into a not-so subtle message about threats of budget cuts. You can see his handiwork here.

When I write, I sometimes get the urge to draw. I have less training at cartoonery than columnistry (or spellingistry), but it's a fun way to make a point. My October column prompted this next piece. Click on the picture to get a bigger view. You can see some of my other stuff here. Feel free to post any of them in your fire halls, or the grocery store poster board . . . or send them as Christmas cards to your local politicians.

Tim Beckett, president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, wrote a thought provoking piece on creating a united front in our efforts to gain more support for the fire service. You can read his article here.

I have been sliding down the slippery path of sarcasm in my writing, so it's good to know someone actually has positive advice to give. My January column (which you can't read yet even though I finished it last week) is a feeble attempt to reform my acrimonious methods.

Bashing politicians and bureaucrats is about as helpful as using a baseball bat to negotiate a better deal on your next car purchase. It might feel good to beat some sense into people, but it doesn't give the desired outcome. Not that I would know from experience. Honest.

(Maybe you should send your local politician flowers for Christmas instead of a Beebewitz Bashing card.)

The problem is that it feels like many small volunteer departments have a blocked airway, or are losing their pulse . . . or are trying to hold off an artillery barrage. And if they really are, they can't afford to be choosy.

(On second thought, send the card.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I have mixed emotions about snow. It's tough to downhill ski without the white stuff, so I guess I like it, but . . . on the other hand, snow means cold, and cold means icy roads and crazy drivers and call outs . . . and eventually it gets really cold, which means frozen hose lines and pumps and SCBA masks . . . ugh. The firefighter side of me hates snow. I once tried cancelling all fires between November and March, but no one listened to me. You can read about that and other weather musings here.

Snow. It has to come eventually, unless you live in Honolulu or Tahiti. The kids can't be mad that it came later than usual, because last year it didn't come until the first of December. The adults can't be mad that it didn't wait until December this year, because it often comes in October, or even September, so we got off pretty easy this year. There's no point in even the firefighters being mad, because snow always comes eventually, unless you live in Honolulu or Tahiti. Come to think of it, if I lived in Honolulu or Tahiti and it snowed, I'd be pretty mad. But I live here, and the weather seems to be about on schedule.

I celebrated the first major snow today by nearly ditching the pumper. I turned off the highway after a call out, and realized that I only thought I was turning. If you live in Honolulu or Tahiti and have never attempted a turn on an icy road, the sensation is kind of like floating through the air with no steering or brakes. Fortunately, I was going slow, and when my front wheels hit the soft snow on the edge of the road, they bit in and turned in the direction that I was vehemently commanding them to turn. My back wheels still thought we were headed for the ditch though, and looped around in a quarter donut before they too hit the soft snow and got the message that, yes indeed were were going to the fire hall.

You'd think that we would get more vehicle collisions in the winter than the summer because of snow, but it's actually the opposite. Lots of people drive off the road in the winter, but unless they play tag with a rock cut or each other (like the folks today), they usually get a nice cushy landing and only need a tow truck. The summer terrain is not so forgiving.

Highway calls are dangerous summer or winter. If you're up to it, you can read
a sad story about a 23 year old firefighter in South Carolina who died on Saturday. He was fighting a brush fire . . . but he was killed by a car. It sounds like he and another firefighter were off the road, but a collision on the highway sent a vehicle into the ditch, killing one, and seriously injuring the other.

When my guys are out there doing jumping jacks with stop signs to attract the attention of drivers in auto pilot, I think about the things that can go wrong. Thinking and planning is good, but the best fix is to get done ASAP and retreat to the safety of the hall.

On a happier note, Paul Combs has done it again, and you can see his latest handiwork here. I am still working on my latest sketch, but no promises on when I'll get it posted.

Whether you live in Honolulu or Upsala, drive safe. Your local firefighters will appreciate it.

Friday, November 12, 2010


To my readers, who are faithful, loyal, devoted, attentive, committed, affectionate, and staunchly supportive . . . um, I think I overdid the flattery a little. Anyway, to you guys and gals out there that read my stuff, I just wanted to let you know that I haven't been abducted by aliens or escaped to Switzerland with my barrels of blogging loot. The reason I missed posting on Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day in the US) is that I thought the deadline for my next article was November 22nd. Which is very delinquent when the deadline was actually last week.

Fortunately, my editor is a nice person and sent me a reminder email to see how the article was coming. Knowing that behind the nice words and pleasant encouragement lay a pile of hair pulled out by the roots because of deadlines looming on her end, I promised I'd have something by the end of this week. I didn't have the heart to say, [Laura, if you're here close your eyes] "Um, I haven't even really started the article yet, and I'm not even sure what my topic is . . ." [Okay, you can open your eyes now]. I did in fact have a couple of thoughts that were simmering way down deep in the idea pile, so I scraped off the sawdust to let in some oxygen, and poof! an article flamed into being. That's why we call it Spontaneous Combustion I guess. Anyway, that's where I've been.

You can see Paul Combs Remembrance Day artwork here.

You can't read my newest article (which hasn't quite cooled down yet) because you have to wait until January. You can read my 9/11 post from last year here. If you really are faithful and loyal and devoted (yada yada), you've probably already read most of my other articles. If not you can find one on the sidebar. And as a consolation prize I may have a couple cartoons of my own to post soon.

Stay tuned, a chaotic week is nearly over, and life will soon return to normal, whatever normal is.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

cashless society, and other unrelated topics

The G8/G20 summits didn't cost a billion plus dollars after all. They only cost 857 million. I feel so much better. But I wonder what they did with the extra couple hundred million that they thought they spent . . . because if they really didn't spend it, I know who could use it.

Think about it. If it really had cost 1.13 billion (like they thought it did), the money would have been all water-under-the-bridge, that's-the-cost-of-doing-business, and we-needed-every-last-penny. It wouldn't have been, "Oops, we're over budget, so sorry we can't pay some of you guys that helped out." The money would have been there. Which means the extra money is still there. And why should we just let it rot in some Ottawa bank?

Except that none of the money was ever really there, I'm told. We just borrowed it all from the Chinese. So much for my brilliant plan to fund volunteer fire departments.


Phillip and his buddy chopped a large section of inch-thick ice off the lake yesterday and hauled it up to his friend's house . . . to use as a platform from which to take shots at the hockey net. If you didn't grow up on skates, you can't fully appreciate the agony these boys go through during freeze up. Their last ice hockey game was in March. They've spent the past seven months trying to mask their addiction with skateboarding, cabin building, soccer, work, and anything else that might crowd out pucks and nets and one-timers from their hockey-crazed minds. They even play road hockey occasionally.

Now that the lakes are freezing over, real hockey is once again within their grasp . . . if it just wasn't 12 degrees above freezing during the day. So while the rest of us rejoice in Indian Summer, the hockey addicts chop out a chunk of the lake. I'm not a hockey addict, but it must be something like an alcoholic trying to quash his craving with fruit punch.

The good news - or bad news, if you are an Indian Summer addict - is that winter will come. It always does.


Here's another recipe:

Oriental Orange Marinade (for steak)
  1. Get out a package of steak (I used two top sirloins, about the size of a dinner plate each)
  2. Check to make sure your spouse isn't looking (if your spouse is okay with risky cooking experiments, you can skip this step)
  3. Put the following in a food processor: a couple thick slices of peeled orange, a couple leaves of Chinese cabbage, a clove of garlic, a couple tablespoons of fresh or frozen ginger root (I keep some in the freezer pre-chopped), a couple tablespoons of soy sauce, and a half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
  4. (side note 1: Ad lib the measurements if you want. This isn't a science experiment)
  5. Chop the mix in the food processor until it turns into a thick, pulpy marinade
  6. Realize that your spouse is frowning over your shoulder
  7. When she asks what that stuff is, pretend it's a secret recipe. When she asks what's in it, try to distract her. When she refuses to be distracted, admit that you are making an experimental marinade, and you're fairly certain it won't explode like nitroglycerin when you apply heat. When she says it looks disgusting, and that orange goes with chicken, not beef, meekly concede your position and offer to abandon the project. When your 15 year-old son intervenes and says, "Aw Mom, just let him try it," offer a compromise: one oriental orange marinaded steak, and one boring old regular marinaded steak.
  8. (side note 2: if you don't have a 15 year old son, or if he isn't a risk taker, you may be out of luck)
  9. Make a boring old regular marinade with equal parts of soy sauce, mustard, and Hoisin sauce, then mix in some garlic powder, onion powder and basil.
  10. Put the steaks in glass or porcelain contains (I used casserole dishes)
  11. Spread the marinade on top and pierce the meat with a fork. Don't be shy - tear it up good and deep so the marinade can penetrate
  12. Flip the steak and repeat the process so that both sides are covered
  13. Briefly consider not piercing the boring old regular marinaded steak so that it won't be as tender as the experimental one. Then allow your altruistic side to triumph. You have nothing to prove. Honestly.
  14. Let the steak sit in the fridge overnight, then flip it, cover again it with marinade, and pierce it again for good measure
  15. I let mine marinade in the fridge for about 24 hrs in total. Longer is probably better.
  16. Grill them both, making sure that you don't overcook either (even though you'd like to turn that boring old regular steak into shoe leather. But you have nothing to prove. Honestly.)

When your spouse cautiously tries the oriental orange steak, and admits that it's more tender than the boring old regular steak, graciously accept the comment without any hint of smugness. Because you really had nothing to prove.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the funding pot

More good news! The "Make Pot Legal" referendum failed in California. The BC economy is saved. Now that the bottom isn't going to fall out of the market, I can reconsider growing marijuana as a fund raiser for volunteer fire departments after all.

I'm still kidding, by the way. Not that it wouldn't make a lot of money for volunteer fire departments, at least until we got caught. It pumps billions of dollars each year into BC alone. Speaking of pot and firefighters, I'm sure you've seen this clip, but just in case you haven't . . .

And speaking of firefighter funding, the federal government provided $125,000 in emergency management funding to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Stephen Harper must have read my nasty remarks about government indifference toward the fire service, and now I suppose he expects a pat on the back and a vote at election time. $125,000 is a lot of money . . . except that when you split it between the 5000 fire departments in Canada it works out to $25 per department. That's about a quarter tank of diesel fuel for one of my trucks, but I guess it's a start. But still no pat on the back.

In spite of all that, I'm sure the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs will put the money to good use. Some of them are volunteer fire chiefs after all, and used to making do with crumbs. And this could be the tip of the funding iceberg that is bound to crash into the Titanic ship of government apathy someday. And then we can all sit down to have a piece of pie in the sky. And still no pat on the back for Stephen Harper.

Side note: I know icebergs don't crash into ships. Ships crash into icebergs. But you have to admit, it at least sounded like a cool analogy.

Paul Combs has a new cartoon up now. You'd think a small volunteer department like Upsala would be exempt from paperwork headaches, but it ain't so. Just look at my desk next time you drop in for a visit.

You'd also think that 5000 Canadian fire chiefs diligently doing their paperwork would keep the pulp industry booming. But that ain't so either. At least not in this part of the country. And with people moving to find jobs, and mills shut down, the marijuana industry looks more attractive all the time.

I'm just kidding.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Various and Sundries

Good news! You can call your kids from Mount Everest now. That's exciting, but I have one teensy, weensy issue: I still can't call my dispatcher on the long, dead stretch of highway between Raith and Upsala. Or the longer, deader stretch between Upsala and English River. Somehow, life just isn't fair.

Not only does Mount Everest have cell service, it has 3G cell service. That's incredibly and amazingly wonderful, awesome, and inspiring . . . except that I have no clue what 3G cell service is, or at least I didn't until I went to Wikipedia and found out that it's third generation cell service . . . which I guess means that my grand kids should use it . . . except I don't have any grand kids. Um, yeah, anyway, congrats to all you 1400 annual hikers, and sorry to all you 2500 folks that drive through Upsala every day.


If a trip to the Dominican Republic appeals to you, check out Dave Carroll's site (you remember . . . the United Breaks Guitars, and Everyday Heroes guy). More accurately, if you know an emergency responder that would enjoy a trip to Dominican, go to Dave's site and write a story about them. They might win the trip, not you.

Speaking of Dave, I had this brilliant idea that he could do a witty music video about volunteer firefighters. You know, something about calendar fundraisers where people toss toonies at you in the Canadian Tire foyer like you're a street beggar, or firefighters trying to phone their dispatcher on that dead stretch between Raith and Upsala . . . while some over-funded rich kid talks to his mom from the tippy top of Mount Everest (do I detect a little bitterness here?).

I waxed bold and sent Dave an email, and was pleasantly flattered that he emailed back right away. Being a nice person, he said the idea would be fun. Being a realistic person, he also said that he was very busy with the Everyday Heroes project, but would keep it in mind for the future.

My brothers and I like to jam around on guitars and banjos and mandolins . . . maybe we could do the video ourselves . . . . except that it might be hard to fit Raith and street beggars and dead spots and Mount Everest all into the lyrics of a song about volunteer firefighters. And the clincher . . . we don't know how to make a music video that anyone would want to listen to. I guess we'll just have to hold out for Dave.


The BC economy is facing a possible crisis: California will hold a vote in a few days on legalizing marijuana. If it passes, it could cost BC 20,000 jobs. Hmmmm. Legalizing an illegal drug in the US will severely impact a legitimate Canadian province because this illegal drug is BC's biggest cash crop. I'm not sure why, but this seems as odd as the rich kid phoning his mom from the top of Mount Everest while volunteer firefighters play street beggar at Canadian Tire. I'd almost say lets grow pot as a fundraiser, except that the bottom is going to fall out of the market.

I'm just kidding. Don't call the cops.


Paul Combs has a new cartoon out. I'd like to be addicted to federal grants, but money has to be injected into the bloodstream of the fire service for the narcotic to take hold . . . and so far they are shooting up everyone else under the sun, like the Mount Everest cell phone brats . . . not that rant again.


Pittgirl from That's Church tried out firefighting for an evening. You can check out the story here and here.


I love it when talented people do stuff that draws attention to the fire service.


Another recipe: Roast Greek Tomato Chicken
  • Ponder your dislike for dry white meat. If you like dry white meat, find another recipe.
  • Find three chickens in the freezer and decide that's two too many.
  • Thaw the one of chickens. Alternately, you can just use a fresh whole chicken.
  • Separate the skin from the breast. Don't tear the skin.
  • Chop a plum tomato and mix it with a couple tablespoons of Greek and feta dressing (any oil and vinegar dressing should work . . . but then it won't be Greek tomato chicken).
  • Stuff the tomato/dressing mixture between the skin and the chicken breast.
  • Pin the skin back together with toothpicks because you didn't follow step 3 very well.
  • Rewind to step one and set the oven to 475 degrees.
  • Put salt, pepper, and garlic on the chicken.
  • Put the chicken in a roaster pan and roast for ten minutes without a lid.
  • Keep an eye on the chicken. If the top of the breast looks like it's burning, it probably is.
  • Side note: at this point your smoke alarm may go off. If it does, push the hush button. If it doesn't, check the battery. If the battery is dead change it (this is a firefighting blog, not a cooking blog, you know).
  • After ten minutes (sooner if it's burning) cool the oven to 325 and put the lid on the roaster.
  • Roast the chicken until it's done.
  • Carve the legs, then the breasts. If you carve the breasts carefully, the tomato stays in place.

Erinn said it was the moistest white meat ever.


I love blogging. Where else can you write a whole disjointed page of oddities and get away with it?

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's the Hurry?

People hate to stop. The common goal of the human race is to arrive ten minutes ago. Get in their way, or (shudder) stop them, and you find that hell hath no fury like a person delayed.

That's an overstatement. Not everyone will bite your head off if you park your fire truck in the middle of the road and tell them that they must wait until air ambulance lifts off before they can proceed. But there are folks that would drive right through the chopper's rotors if you'd let them.

I don't blame travellers for freaking out a little when they see red lights and a line of cars forming ahead. There are no alternate routes out here in the peripheral edge of the universe. If the crash is a fatal, that line of cars might be ten kilometres long before it starts moving again. But whether it's five hours or five minutes, people hate to stop.

This human aversion to delay is not confined to the Trans Canada Highway. It applies to everyday city life as well. In an effort to sell more calendars, we set up at the exit of Canadian Tire last Friday and tried our hand at huckstering. I didn't do a formal survey, but I'd say 80-90 percent viewed our mercantile road block as a bothersome hindrance to the mission of arriving ten minutes ago.

Side note 1: In case you were wondering, 'huckstering' is indeed a word. At least, Blogger spellcheck says it's a word, so it must be.

Add 'salesman' to the list of things at which I am not good, along with inspector and investigator. Fortunately, Neebing Fire Department contributed a top notch huckster (I mean salesman) to the effort. If I had been alone, it would have gone something like this:

"Excuse me sir," [who is trying to whisk by without making eye contact] "You wouldn't want to have pity on a poor fish-out-of-water like me and buy one of these $20 calendars, would you?" Then, [to the back of the guy's head as he vanishes into the parking lot] "I didn't think so. $20 does seem like rip off for a measly calendar . . . but when you consider the good cause . . . Excuse me ma'am, you wouldn't want to have pity . . ."

Instead, it went like this:

"You sir! You'd love to support your local volunteer firefighters, wouldn't you? And what a deal it is . . . a raffle ticket for $2 or a calendar for $20. Or . . . [in a confidential tone] we'll give you a special deal . . . both a ticket and a calendar for $22 . . ."

The calendar crusade continues on the 30th. Armed with this new revelation that people don't like to stop, we'll lay spike belts this time. That should at least slow 'em down.

Side note 2: The fact that an emergency service resorted to hawking calendars for money somehow seems ethically wrong. When is the last time you saw a cop hawking calendars for a new pistol? I feel an article coming on. Oh, and by the way, I was kidding about the spike belts.

On the semi-related topic of customer satisfaction, here's a video worth watching.

You can check out Dave Carroll's whole trilogy of "United Breaks Guitars" here. For one of my customer service stories, click here. When you are done, check out the next video, which is Dave's tribute to emergency responders.

BTW, Dave served as a volunteer firefighter, which makes him a great person as well as a great musician.

I thought I had hit the jackpot when I found a politician who was willing to provide tangible support to the volunteer fire service. Finding a talented musician is even better. People actually listen to musicians. Now if Dave could just be persuaded to do a music video about volunteer firefighters having to sell calendars (and running bingos, and raffles, and bake sales, and car washes), we might actually get people to stop and listen.

At least for a minute or two.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Simply complicated

My Twitter gadget is broken. At least that's what Blogspot tells me. I feel very Internetishly incompetent. Everyone else has cool buttons that work when you click. I have links and pictures and windows, but very few buttons. Now I have one less, because Blogspot recommended I delete my Twitter button because it was broken.

When I clicked the "why-is-my-gadget-broken" link, Blogspot told me that I was a stupid cyberly illiterate caveman, and don't blame them for the broken gadget. It didn't exactly use those words, but whatever it said in Internetese only heightened my virtual insecurity. You can read about my other widget woes here. So for now, if you want to follow me on Twitter, you have to do it the hard way. Go there and search for Beebewitz. [update: I found a couple of Twitter buttons that acually work, so now you can follow me AND tweet my posts. At least until the buttons break again]

Side note 1: I think it was really the cyber gremlins that broke the gadget, but Blogspot won't likely acknowledge that possibility.

Side note 2: if you are a spelling freak, you may find lots of misspellings in this blog. I used so many non-words that I may have missed a few accidental misspellings while sorting through the spell check.

A word of advice. When the instructions say a process takes only "a few easy steps," . . . . beware. This is true in the real world as well at the virtual one. Take the infamous ink cartridge for example. The instructions say filling them is a piece of cake . . . a walk in the park . . . as easy as installing a Twitter gadget on your blog. I could sue for false advertising.

After years of trial and error (more error than trial) I filled an ink cartridge today. By now you'd think I would know to don a full hazmat suit before cracking open a bottle of that deadly stuff. The white bathroom counter looked like an American flag that ran through a meat grinder. The only reason there wasn't yellow mixed with the cyan and magenta was that the cartridge didn't need yellow. I did win in the end, but only after prolonged and deadly battle.

Speaking of Twitter, I'm still trying to figure out what it's all about. Facebook is more my speed . . . find friends, invite them, and enjoy a nice, ambiguously virtual relationship. It doesn't require talking, and links easily to my blog. And it is friendly even to members of IIA (Internet Illiterates Anonymous). The perfect social networking experience for the virtually challenged.

Social networking is like an Internet Amway. Making friends is like buying and selling. You get to know the products (or people), and purchase (or friend) the ones that suit you. That's Facebook, Amway style. Twitter, on the other hand, focusses on following, which is like sponsoring . . . where the real bang for the buck comes. It's like an Amway where no one cares about the product, but everyone wants to earn capital by following, and especially being followed . . . . which is like sponsoring. Being followed is the key to Twitter success.

I'm sort of getting the hang of it, I think. I take excursions into Twitterland, which are more like marathons of reading through hundreds of tweets that make no virtual or unvirtual sense to me. I finally find one that turns my crank and click follow. If I was looking for a get rich quick scheme, Twitter is not the answer. Come to think of it, Amway never turned my crank either.

I'm not giving up on Twitter just yet. Those eight followers were hard won. Well, at least a couple of them were. And you never know, I might just hit the jackpot someday.

On a happier, more successful note, check out the "popular posts" section at the bottom of the page. It lists my ten most viewed posts to date. The links work, and it only took a few easy steps to set up. Really.

I love the Internet. Sometimes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Plan

The Plan: Appear at Queens Park with this demand: "Budget a few hundred million for volunteer firefighters (you yahoos) or my henchmen will vote you out faster than you can say HST."

The Problem: every politician knows that my "henchmen" are imaginary. And even if by some miracle I could rally to the cause every acquaintance I know, our united front would be about as scary as a herd of rabbits picketing the local wolves' den.

Side note 1: I probably wouldn't actually call them 'yahoos.' I'd just think it . . . which is equally rude, but less satisfying.


Erinn visited the fire hall the other day. She eyed my office and said, "Promise you'll hire a cleaning person for our house if I ever drop dead." I can see her point. I don't want my kids living in between a conglomerated scramble of boxes, books, folders, and unfinished paperwork either. So, I promised.

Every messy person has an excuse. Here's mine: I'd do better if the evil anti-volunteer syndicates didn't take up so much of my time. But Erinn doesn't understand that. Or maybe she does understand, and knows that they will always take up my time, and therefore I won't ever be a tidy, organized person.

Besides, tidy, organized people are less efficient and less productive. Honest. I read it on the Internet, so it has to be true. Here's proof. And did you know that penicillin would never have been discovered if Alexander Fleming hadn't been a messy person that left an old, mouldy Petri dish laying around?

I love the Internet.


Our venerated leaders know that the volunteer service isn't a voters' Garden of Eden that bursts with political support, so they pause for a few seconds to thank us for saving Ontario a billion dollars, and then gallop off to greener pastures like health care and unemployment and homelessness.

So here's Plan B. Instead of calling them yahoos, lets threaten that the greener pastures will dry up if they ignore us. Health care will languish because of dwindling first responders. Unemployment will soar because of damages to business establishments, due to insufficient firefighters. Homelessness will increase because more houses will burn down.

The only problem is that the politicians will want facts. Darn.


I'm not a totally hopeless slob, you know. I do wash the trucks once in a while, and sweep the floors occasionally. And a few times a year, I attack the clutter in my office with the fervor of a Tasmanian Devil on a caffeine high. I just have other priorities that cut in on the time I allot for janitorial and organizational duties.

And did you know that tidy, organized people are less efficient . . . um, I used that argument already.


Moving on to Plan C . . . I could concede that health care and unemployment and homelessness are indeed valid issues that require lots of money. I could acknowledge that our country owes gazillions of dollars to the Chinese (who don't care a fig about volunteer firefighters). Instead of threats, I could talk to my local MP like the civil, semi-organized person that I am, and educate him on the issues we face, and maybe, just maybe he'll try to help. He might tell me that the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs is lobbying for a $3000 tax credit for volunteer firefighters, and he'll see if he can light a fire (figuratively) under someone to get the legislation moving.

Side note 2: Go to the above link or click here for a page that will give you the opportunity to support this initiative. It won't cost you anything but a few minutes.

He might even say that he'll work on a private member's bill in support of volunteer firefighters at the federal level. He won't offer much hope that it will be passed, but he'll say that it will at least bring the issue to the forefront and possibly lay ground work for a successful bill in the future. And he'll definitely say that I should go after those provincial politicians as well (who are not of his party) and hold them to account. They are the ones that have the real ability to help.

For the record, I did have the above conversation with MP John Rafferty, along with several other fire chiefs. While the outcome wasn't a cheque in the volunteer bank, it was at least more productive than calling all politicians yahoos. I think.

MPP Bill Mauro is next on the list, but I haven't been able to secure a meeting with him yet. He's probably busy dealing with health care and unemployment and homelessness. I may have to work on a Plan D.

To finish this unorganized post, my latest article for Fire and EMS Quarterly is available over at Firefighting in Canada. Click here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Game

Choosing between an honest politician and a self-centred one should be a no-brainer. I think. Except that sometimes the honest politician can't deliver, no matter how noble the cause. And sometimes the self-centred politician can deliver, no matter how selfish his motives. All you have to do is convince him that your cause will get him reelected, and your wish is his command.

That's why I'm no good at political mind games. I'd still pick the honest politician, just because.

By the way, if you wonder who these honest or self-centred politicians are, wonder on, because I don't know either. No one does. Not that it matters much. Politics is a convoluted, contorted labyrinth of hidden agendas, ulterior motives, and mystifying power plays that have little to do with right and wrong. Put simply, it's complicated . . . and I don't do complicated.

Politics is like money. It's a necessary evil. Someone has to run the country, and that "someone" happens to be the guy or gal that we elected. The one that convinced us that they could be our genie in the bottle.

Until a month or so ago, my subconscious attitude was that politicians were a luxury we could live without. We could fire the whole lot and never miss a beat, except for the terrible quandary of figuring out what to do with all the money we saved. Everyone else in the world already knew the awful truth that our flawed democratic system was better than the alternatives of outright anarchy or dictatorship. But the price of democracy is a shenanigans game that can be goofier than a barrel full of monkeys. The bottom line is that you must play the game if you want to get anything from our government. Ugh.

Side note: The Canadians elected Harper, who we don't like. The Americans (or more properly, United Statesians) wish they hadn't elected Obama, who they do like. Such is the conundrum of politics.

When I'm King of the World, I will simplify things. Are you a small-time chief of a volunteer fire department? Do the mice in your hall outnumber the firefighters? Just tell me what you need, and I'll wave my magical King-of-the-World sceptre. Trucks and equipment and cash will appear. People will line up at your door, begging to volunteer. And after the dust settles, we'll all have pie in the sky for dessert.

But I'm not King of the World. And even if I was, some complicated politician would weasel his way in as my Chief Commissioner, or Lord High Vizier, or whatever kings of the world call the guys that manage their affairs. And undoubtedly this guy would be a wet blanket that would urge me to spend the national treasury sensibly on mundane things like education and health care, leaving only crumbs for the volunteer firefighters. And things would be about the same as they are now.

It's time for us firefighters to shed our distaste for things political like a snake sheds its skin, or a politician sheds his promises after the election. We must learn to play the game, especially since my bid to become King of the World is about as solid as a mouse running for king of the beasts. We must show our politicians that it is in their interest to look out for our interests. If we can't do that, we must at least hoodwink them into believing it is . . . because our interests truly are our citizens interests. And promoting our citizens' interests is the whole reason we started this game of democratic representation.

At least I think it is.

Monday, October 11, 2010

kinetic thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn't just a day to my family. It's a three-day weekend into which we try to cram as much kinetically frenzied activity as possible before collapsing in a heap on Monday night.

Side note: For the thousands and millions of American readers who are wondering why I'm talking about Thanksgiving in October, today is indeed Canadian Thanksgiving. Yep, that's right. We eat our turkeys in October. You can read why here.

Friday evening, Phillip and I went for a ramble in the bush to hunt grouse. Grouse hunting is a sensible way to break into a busy weekend. You get to enjoy the bush without having to exert yourself too much. Grouse are usually smart enough to keep an alder or tree between them and the hunter. They're also dumb enough to think an alder or tree will keep them safe . . . unless you spook them, then they fly. Hunting grouse involves a controlled, careful type of walking that is just perfect for enjoying a fall evening, but not strenuous enough to to be considered exercise. Our hunt was semi successful. Phillip shot one and spooked another. That was Friday evening.

Saturday, I chainsawed a door out of logs for the cabin the boys built last spring. Chainsawing doors into existence is definitely considered exercise, by the way. The cabin now has four complete walls, a mostly completed door, half a window, and 99% of a roof. Not quite ready for winter, but getting there. As a bonus, Phillip shot another grouse that happened to wander along at just the wrong time. We got home in time to help cook a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for a passel of Phillip's friends. Then we watched the Leafs whip the Senators 5-1. That was Saturday.

Sunday we took the same passel of friends on a hunting/fishing combo hike through the bush to a lake that was one of my favourite hangouts as a teenager. Hiking through a mile of fields and forest, and slogging through half mile of spongy swamp to a boreal paradise is definitely considered exercise too. On the way, Phillip spooked two more grouse. At the lake we built a campfire, roasted marshmallows and bannock, and pretended to fish for a while. I say "pretended" because if we had really been fishing, we would really have caught something. Really.

Here's one of the pretend fishing expeditions.

And here's Vanessa enjoying a piece of Canadian Shield.

And here's a very real, and quite traditional marshmallow roast (also on the Canadian Shield - I didn't want to write a campfire-turned-into-forest-fire blog entry).

After the hike, we went to my brother's place for another campfire, this time with bannock, marshmallows and hot dogs. And stories. Lots of old (and mostly true) trapline stories from our reckless younger years. And that was Sunday.

Today, which is the real Thanksgiving Day, we celebrated by sleeping in until 11:00, then eating lots of homemade waffles with wild blueberry sauce. Erinn is now reading her book. Vanessa (who is industrious) finished her homework and went out to play. Phillip (who is usually industrious) stated he was going to do his homework, them promptly fell asleep in the armchair with the dog in his lap. Too much kinetic pre-Thanksgiving fun I guess. And I'm sort of blogging. Not real blogging, where I grapple with the titanic forces of evil that align themselves against volunteer firefighters. Not even semi real blogging, where I tell you about our peripheral edge of the universe fire department. This is holiday blogging.

Lest you think that we are hopelessly untraditional, or even sacrilegious, I haste to assure you that we will enjoy a somewhat traditional Thanksgiving dinner this evening with my parents and lots of friends.

And that will be Monday.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fire Prevention Week

It's Fire Prevention Week. Chances are you knew that already, but I had to say it as a kind of due diligence, do-my-duty, tell-the-world-to-be safe, firefighter public education thing.

Usually around this time of year, we get a proclamation in the mail that uses a lot of fancy words like "Queen Elizabeth the Second" and "Commonwealth" and "Right Trusty and Well Beloved," along with excessive use of the word "Whereas." All that rhetoric to say (in common English), "Dudes! Listen to the firefighters and be fire-safe, at least for a week, will ya!" You can read a really and truly authentic Fire Prevention Week Proclamation here.

With that piece of semi useless trivia out of the way, I can tell you that Fire Prevention Week is one of my favourite times of the year. I could spend the rest of this post telling you how much fun I'm having visiting schools and doing public education, but I decided to issue my own proclamation instead:
  • WHEREAS I did such a good job last year telling you about my Fire Prevention Week activities
  • AND WHEREAS my 2010 Fire Prevention Week activities aren't a lot different than my 2009 activities
  • AND WHEREAS I don't want to bore you with unnecessary details
  • AND WHEREAS I have a perfectly good link to last year's post right here . . .
. . . I will refrain from telling the story all over again.
Ironically, the following headline hit the news this week of all weeks: Firefighters Watch as Home Burns to the Ground. That's pretty lousy publicity for an organization that enjoys a reputation for selflessness and dedication. Public opinion, however, is skewed by misconceptions. It's like looking at your hand under water - you sort of see it but you sort of don't.

I have sympathy pains for the good folk of South Fulton, Tennessee, because Upsala is an island of fire protected area in a vast sea of unprotected no-man's land, populated by moose and bears (who rarely need us) and cottagers and loggers and travelers, (that regularly need us). Sometimes we go to these out-of-bounds incidents, and sometimes we decline. In our case, it's largely about timing and location. There isn't much point in driving thirty or forty minutes to put water on some ashes, especially if it's winter and the fire won't spread. On the other hand, we've driven a couple hours to perform a vehicle rescue.

Money is another issue. Our local residents pay for service. Their insurance companies know that they pay for fire protection, and offer them a rate based on our rural suppression capability. If our units are in Timbuktu fighting someone else's fire, and a house burns in our response area, the insurance company will likely request a friendly meeting in court to exchange accusations for cash. So every time the pager goes off for a fire or crash outside our response area, we have to make a decision based on the skimpy information provided to us: Can we get there in time to do some good? What will happen if we don't go? Do we have enough firefighters to leave someone home in case Armageddon happens while we're gone? I wrote an article about one such call which you can read here, along with my logically radical solution to fix the chronic dilemma we face.

As always, I have an opinion about controversial subjects like firefighters standing by while the house burns. Apparently, so does the rest of the world, including the fire service, the town council, the neighbours, and the stray dog on the corner. My opinion isn't a lot better than the rest though, since I am looking through the same twisted fish-eye lens as the others. Suffice it to say that when we do fight a fire outside our area, the owner - or owner's insurance company - gets a bill for the service. Which is sometimes paid, and sometimes not. And you know how much I don't like to think about money.

BTW, you can read Billy G's take on the story here (scroll down to the second story).
All this talk about boundaries and liabilities and billing makes my head hurt. Firefighters are supposed to come when you call, do their job, shake your hand, and go home (in between visits to the school for Fire Prevention Week).

Someday when I'm King of the World, things will be different.

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