Sunday, January 31, 2010

Beaches, Marvin the Martian, and other related topics

If you live in Upsala, and you want to lay on the beach in January, expect to make a loooong trip. That was my comment when I heard that some friends who are vacationing in the Dominican Republic said the weather is great but the trip took forever.

Of course you could lay on the beach right here in Upsala if you really wanted to. There are a couple of beaches in the township . . . as long as you don't mind scraping away a foot of snow, and wearing a parka over your swimsuit. Swimming is out of the question though, unless you bring an axe or chainsaw to hack through a couple feet of ice on the lake.

Speaking of warm, beachy places, one of my captains got a telemarketing offer for a free trip to the Bahamas last week. That isn't unusual in itself . . . the phone lines are clogged with scam artists offering something for nothing. The strange thing was that it came through his pager. I kid not. His pager went off, and out comes this message offering a free trip to the Bahamas. If I didn't firmly believe that it was a fluke, I'd say they've gone off the telemarketing deep end . . . except telemarketing is already way off the deep end.

Of course it could be a conspiracy. The telemarketers know that we all have caller ID, which gives us the option to ignore their calls rather than pick up. To avenge their plunging revenues, they've hacked into our paging system, and now have us firmly by the short hairs. Firefighters can't very well ignore their pagers.

Speaking of telemarketers, Phillip was bored the other day and answered one in his very best Marvin the Martian voice. Here's a rough rendition of how it went:

Telemarketer: Hello, could I please speak to Mr. Beebe?
Phillip: (very nasal and Martiany) He's not home. This is Marvin the Martian.
Telemarketer: Um, oh, I see . . .
Phillip: Are you calling about my Elludium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator? I ordered it months ago!
Telemarketer: Er, no, um . . .
Phillip: You make me very angry . . . very angry indeed.
Telemarketer: I think I've got the wrong number. 'Click.'

There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Speaking of Marvin the Martian, you can get a truck load of useless (but fascinating) trivia about his origins and career here.

Wow. A whole, complete blog entry of nothingness. If we don't get a call out soon - even a cat in a tree (though we don't do cats), I fear the lengths my imagination will take me . . .

On a completely different and sobering note, child abductors have big imaginations too. My niece from Anchorage shared this news item through her facebook page. If they are doing this in Anchorage, they could do it anywhere. If you have kids or friends that have kids, pass the word around.

There. One useful piece of information in an otherwise barren outer space of blogspot drivel. I feel better.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

the reason

In my last post I said something about firefighting being a weird mix of bright and black. The bright is when you help someone . . . in my case it's usually on the highway, and it ranges from an encouraging word to a full-blown extrication. The black is when you can't help someone . . . again, in my case it's usually on the highway, when a person is beyond help. Sometimes the black times come at fires as well. And the black is even blacker when it affects a neighbour or friend.

Then there are the gray times. The blah, boring, in-between times when no one needs us. We get a lot of those around here, and it seems like more than usual lately. That's when I spend my days alone, checking trucks, checking equipment, cleaning, doing paperwork, planning training and pub ed activities, and feeling very, very useless. Sometimes I go on a cleaning binge (you can read about that here) and sometimes I go on a paperwork binge (you can read about that here and here). Ultimately, nothing fixes me until the pager goes off again.

A lot of firefighters volunteer because they have their eye on a position in a career department. Others join because they love the rush of the call . . . the sirens, the ride, the fire, the rescue. Still others join simply to help their communities. My brother Paul is one of those. If his pager never went off, he wouldn't mind , but when it does, he's always there and ready.

I didn't join for any of those reasons. I joined because our volunteer fire department posted a full time position. Upsala was tired of burning out fire chiefs and I was tired of being a bushwacker. It was a match made in heaven. My job description includes janitor, secretary, maintenance man, renovator, painter, trainer, the list goes on . . . along with fire chiefing.

It didn't take long for the emergency response side of the job to grow on me though. After all, that is the reason we train and maintain a fire hall and do truck checks and (ugh) the paperwork and clean (double ugh).

Someday they'll invent houses that don't burn and cars that don't crash and cats that don't get stuck in trees (we don't do cats). Until then, firefighters will do their stuff, whether it's black or gray or bright.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

sad. happy. life.

Once in a while firefighters mess up, and a crew in Cambridge, Massachusetts messed up on Tuesday. A hose came off their truck on the way to a call, and killed an 82 year- old woman. It wasn't the first time a fire truck lost a hose - I have my own personal experience - but we need to make it the last time.

Firefighters are supposed to be the good guys. Just look at the polls that rate various occupations. Firefighters are right up there with school teachers and nurses and angels. If we wanted to hurt people we would have joined Al Qaeda.

The first sad thing about this story is that someone died before their time. The second sad thing is that a good crew of firefighters has more trauma to add to their already bulging backpacks full of traumas. The third sad thing is that a gaggle of blood-thirsty lawyers will pad their wallets picking the whole incident apart for the next couple of years.

There. I got the sad stuff out of the way.

On a happier note, check out this piano acrobat. If you watch Ellen, you may have already seen him (he only does acrobatics in the first piece).

While we're on the topic of my favourite Youtube music clips, click here for a guitar duet like you've never seen before (unless you saw it in my September 15 entry).

Here is one more that I was able to embed:

On another happy note, That's Church blogger Virginia Montanez is back in action, and now has a second blog - slightly tamer, but just as fun - under the alias of Pittgirl.

In the kaleidoscope of feelings that we call Life, everyone chooses their own colours to fly under. I usually pick bright, happy feelings, but sometimes the black, dark stuff gets right into your face and you can't escape it. Earthquakes that destroy huge portions of humanity. Freak accidents that ruin people's lives.

Being a firefighter is a strange mix of black and bright . . . but I'll try to reserve this blog spot for the bright . . . most of the time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Did you notice? I made some changes around here. I'm not one of those guys that has to rearrange the furniture once a week to satisfy my uncontrollable urge for new scenery, but I do believe change is good for the soul once in a while. Especially after you've carefully considered all of the options, which I've been doing for about eight and a half months. For you observant folks that know I've only been blogging for nine months, you're right . . . what took me so long? It's a combination of technological handicap and pure, unadulterated indecision. Be that as it may, change is here. If you don't like it, you have three options:
  1. complain (it might not do any good, but if you really hate the new layout, it's worth a try)
  2. get used to it (hey, people adapt to new blog templates all the time)
  3. offer some artistic advice to my creative director (he's pretty busy fire chiefing and instructing and freelance writing and blogging, but I'll definitely pass the message along)
In case you are wondering why the new 'Categorically Speaking' section is such a disastrously confused mess, it's because I had no clue that the labels I attached to each post actually served a useful purpose. I figured out yesterday that a list of categories is not reserved for clever bloggers . . . I can have one too, in spite the evil computer barons' best efforts to keep me in the dark. So I triumphantly created my very own, and named it 'Categorically Speaking' (just to spite the evil barons who want everyone to call it something boring like 'Labels'). Then I realized that all of those heretofore useless labels each became its own category . . . and if I had condensed them, there wouldn't be so many categories (like firefighter, firefighting and fire service). I'll speak to my layout manager and he'll streamline it as soon as possible . . . but he's also very busy fire chiefing and instructing and freelance writing and . . . you get the idea.

The long and unseasonable mild spell is over, and winter is back. The good news is that the hockey rink will be in service again, which will keep the boys busy, and reduce the chances of them wanting to build a bigger, crazier sled jump. And I can postpone my search for the tropical paradise called "Healthy Balance" (see my last posting, or click the tag "healthy balance" in Categorically Speaking).

Rescuers pulled out a 35 year old Haitian that had been trapped for two weeks. Call it luck, call it a miracle, call it a fluke . . . I'm sure he's calling it salvation.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Polar Extremes

None of us want to see a kid break his or her neck. Especially not our own kid. On the other hand, none of us like to see a wimpy kid that's afraid of excitement. Especially not our own kid. Somewhere on the Parental Planet, between the North Pole of Recklessness and the South Pole of Paranoia, is an equatorial island called Healthy Balance. If you ever locate that tiny tropical paradise, email me the GPS coordinates.

My teen aged son and his two cohorts made a jump on the sled hill last week. When Phillip assured me that it wasn't "too big," I instantly felt myself swing toward the South, but being the level-headed, firefighting dad that I am, I decided to at least go have a look. As I feared, his version of "not too big" was slightly smaller than an Olympic ski jump . . . you know, the kind where they hurtle straight down at 300 miles and hour, then rocket straight up, three miles into the air. So, what did I do? I helped him put some finishing touches on it, and reminded him that a broken leg would put a severe damper on skiing in February.

To prove I'm not exaggerating, I've included some shots his buddy took of Upsala Olympic Sled Jumping. First, here is cohort 1 on the starting ramp.

Here is Phillip, approaching the jump.

And here he is on the brink . . .

. . . and now he's flying through the air. In case you are wondering, this is Free Style sled jumping . . . which means you make up the style as you go.

This is Cohort 1 making the leap.

Cohort 2 landed somewhere near the Manitoba border.

I repeat, if you find those GPS coordinates, email them to me.

Speaking of crazy people, I found the Los Angelos dog rescue video.

In case you were wondering, guys that dangle from helicopters are the same ones that built Olympic sled jumps when they were kids. That guy's dad probably phoned later to congratulate him, and subtly remind him that a broken neck would put a severe damper on water skiing in February.

I think they water ski in California in February.

Just one more thing on heroes. Promise.

While we're on the topic of heroes, the plane that Captain Sullenberger landed in the Hudson River last year is up for auction. I considered making a bid, but I don't think it would fit on my coffee table.

This is a good example of a guy just out doing his job, staying trained, living prepared, never expecting to land an Airbus on a river in Manhattan. Lots of bush pilots around here land on water all the time, but their planes have the unfair advantage of a set of pontoons. Captain Sullenberger did what he knew how to do, and there are 155 people walking around today that are very grateful.

There was some discussion on That's Church about whether Virginia Montanez fits the strict criteria for "hero." She didn't land a plane on the Hudson, she didn't risk her life in the rubble in Haiti, and she didn't even get to accompany the BRESMA orphans to Pittsburgh. But she did what she knew how to do, and 54 Haitian orphans are very grateful.

Heroes aren't appreciated by everyone. The rescued party doesn't even always appreciate the heroic deed. Like this German Shepherd in California. If the poor, misguided dog had known and understood the facts, he probably wouldn't have tried to bite the firefighter's arm off. I guess we should give the same benefit of the doubt to Pittgirl's detractors.

On a completely different note, some friends gave us a Wii as a Christmas present. In December, I bemoaned sitting in front of a digital fireplace (you can read the post here if you missed it the first time). Now we play tennis and baseball and bowling and boxing with digitalized opponents. The good thing is that I can score 210 in bowling, as opposed to about 63 in a non-virtual bowling alley. You gotta wonder though . . . I'm getting in shape playing imaginary tennis and boxing against a computer . . . how will those virtual muscles stand up the next time I have to pull a real-life fire hose?

Digital fire places, digital sports . . . what will they think of next? Probably something dumb like a digital journal for fire chiefs to ramble about heroes and technology.

Wait a minute. Isn't that called a blog?

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A word about heroes and heroism.

What the @#%& do I know about heroism? Very little. But, like everyone else, I get to have an opinion, and here it is.

Virginia Montanez (aka: Pittgirl), is taking time off of her blog to recuperate after a nail-biting week negotiating and haggling and badgering and informing and worrying every possible ally who could assist in getting the BRESMA girls and their orphans out of Haiti. You can read up on the story at her blog, That's Church. She says she's not a hero. I disagree. offers a long list of definitions for hero. Here are some of them:
  1. someone who fights for a cause
  2. a person who rules or guides or inspires others
  3. someone distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength
  4. someone who is idealized for possessing superior qualities
  5. a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose

For the record, Pittgirl scores at least 99% on the hero scale. A feisty fighter who guides and inspires with exceptional courage, and is idealized [by her many followers] for her superior qualities and nobility of purpose.

Perhaps I'm blowing this up into a bigger deal than it really is. If you ask the two girls from BRESMA (heroes in their own right) and 54 orphans though, I think they'll disagree. Last week they weren't sure if they would live or die. This week, they are safely in Pittsburgh. There are many, many heroes that played a part in their deliverance, and Pittgirl is one of them. Never mind the miniscule faction of sour pusses that try to detract from what happened. Pittgirl played her part well, and won in the end.

Haiti will need heroes long after the TV cameras are gone. People that have the focus to change the small part of the world within their reach. You may have read the starfish story, but if not, click here. That's my kind of heroism.

Out here in boondocks Upsala, our heroism is limited to cutting folks out of smashed cars, dumping water on fires, and trying to stayed trained and ready, knowing that our moment of 'heroism' may never come. Perhaps that is the essence of heroism: faithfully doing your part whether anyone cares or not. That's Pittgirl to a T.

“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs"

(attributed to both Malcolm Forbes and Minnie Richard Smith)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

various and sundries

The heartbreak in Haiti continues. Relief is coming from all sides, but the nightmare is only in its infant stages.

Virginia Montanez reports that the two young women from BRESMA orphanage are safe in Pittsburgh now, along with at least some of the Haitian children they care for. You can read about it in her blog, That's Church. Kudos to Virginia for spreading the word far and wide. I suspect she had a bigger hand in this than we know right now . . . hopefully we'll eventually hear the whole story.

You can find a list of registered charities that accept donations for Haiti at this CBC web site. A small donation may seem pointless in the face of so much disaster, but real people are out there doing real work saving real lives. Pick an organization you trust, and even a small amount of real money will help.

On a different note, a radio interview with a Pakistani rock and roller caught my attention the other day. Salman Ahmad is trying to change the world one note at a time. The fact that the extremists and hardliners hate him makes me like him even more. You can check out his book, "Rock and Roll Jihad," here.

You may remember that I made a counter prediction to the Farmers’ Almanac forecast of a bitterly cold and dry winter (read the post here). I’m winning, at least for now. The snowplow operators have avoided bankruptcy (barely), there is ice for the hockey players, and the temperatures have been in the single digits below zero (centigrade) during the day. We did have a few weeks of "bitterly cold and dry," but they don’t count. I’m an advocate of living in the present, especially if the present makes me look right.

Speaking of winter, some British cops got in trouble for sled riding on their riot shields. I’ve sled ridden on barn shovels, plastic vapour barrier, and metal roofing, but this is a new one. Hey, if no one was throwing Molotov cocktails, and I had a stack of unused shields laying around, I’d have done the same thing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


It's difficult for me to get into the nutty mood usually required to write a blog entry when the world has come to an end in not so-far-away Haiti. In keeping with my irrational personality, I'd like to be there helping fix an unfixable problem, but instead I'm sitting here in boondocks Upsala doing very little. I can offer you a link to a page that lists places you can contact to help . . . not much, but the best I can do. You can read about two bloggers' progress getting help to the Haitians here and here.

Politicians are negotiators. Firefighters are fixers. When people are dying, you need to cut through as much negotiation crap as possible and get the fixers on the scene pronto. All governments seem to have trouble with this, I guess because they're run by politicians instead of firefighters. The flip side is that if the fixers aren't coordinated and directed properly, their ability to fix is impaired or destroyed. Negotiation and politicking are necessary even for agencies dedicated solely to emergency response (like fire departments), but they must be done in the quietness of a boardroom and not dragged onto the fireground to be effective. Click here to read more of my views on politics.

Fire departments exist for emergency response. Governments exist to run countries, so emergency response is not as much a priority as it needs to be at the moment an earthquake strikes the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

Bureaucracy is the bane of fixers, and is undoubtedly one of the impediments hindering the response to Haiti right now. My January article talks about the pros and cons of this necessary evil . . . you can read it here, and see the cartoon I drew to accompany it here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My blog roster

I prefer to write about things that are funny or absurd, and the earthquake in Haiti is neither of those . . . but it happened and I can't ignore it. Scientists have apparently been warning for years that an earthquake was coming to that area, but being warned is useless unless you have the resources to prepare. Kind of like being tied to the railroad tracks then being told, "There's a train coming!" The Red Cross is among those sending aid. You can click here for information on helping out.

When I started this blogging escapade in April (yes, I'm still a rookie blogger) I began hunting for other blogs that turn my crank. With all the gazillions of bloggers orbiting in cyberspace, I thought it should be easy to ride the Google spaceship to other galaxies and find lots of nutty firefighters that liked to laugh at the world and at themselves, but it didn't prove to be so. I had to widen my horizon, but even then, it has taken me this long to add a half a dozen sites to my blog roster. Here they are, along with my opinion about each, for what it's worth.

Gerry's Oakville Blog
If you like a tangled hockey/humour mix, you might enjoy this one. Gerry isn't slapstick hilarious, but offers plenty of honest, homegrown Canadian wit. The only relation this blogger has to firefighting is that he is my Fire and EMS Quarterly editor's husband. Gerry gets first mention because he was the first blog that I started following, and he is very consistent. He also took the time to share some helpful hints to help me get started.

Switch 2 Plan B
If you've been reading my stuff, you know that this is my most recent addition to the blog roster. Brian is a firefighter (much more than I'll likely ever be), is not too wordy, and definitely likes to laugh at the world and himself. My kind of blogger for sure.

That's Church
I stumbled across Virginia Montanez's blog last summer when she made headline news by losing her job because of her blog. She had been writing incognito as Pittgirl, and taking sarcastic aim at pigeons, politicians, and anyone else caught in the crossfire. When she went public, she was fired from her day job. That's Church quickly became my favourite blog, even though I don't understand half of what she's talking about because her theme is Pittsburgh, which is light years away from hillbilly Upsala. If you are afraid of raucous irreverence, this is not the blog for you. She is passionate, nutty, and often hilariously funny. May you write on for many years Virginia.

Note: Virginia is working right now to get help for some friends that run an orphanage in Haiti and are in a desperate, life-threatening situation. One advantage to being a hugely successful blogger, is that you can get a personal message out to thousands of people, and possibly move immovable mountains. She's moved more than one in the past, and I hope and pray she can move this one too. That's Church.

Generation Y
My following Yoani Sanchez's blog is proof that I'm not a total, superficial goof. She's a Cuban on a mission to tell the world about the darker side of repression in her island paradise. Humour and tyranny both capture my attention, in a yin/yang kind of way. Generation Y is the dark side of the equation. Yoani has been beaten, harassed, threatened, and banned from travelling . . . all for speaking her mind.

Dave's Political Satire
There should be lots of good satire out there with all the goofy politics that deluge the world daily, but this is the only one I've found so far that I like. Again, not slapstick funny, but definitely a good read. He doesn't post often, but it's usually good when he does.

Woppy Jawed
Retired Chief Richard Gasaway is the first firefighter blog that I found. His first post was a little funny, so I started following him. Subsequent posts were thoughtful, if not humourous, and I've kept him on the list. He doesn't post very often either.

So that's it. I'm still on the lookout for more, but as you may have gathered, I am fussy about my reading.

I have another Mutual Aid meeting tomorrow. You can read my views on Mutual Aid meetings here and here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

criminal justice and other mad ramblings

Speaking of the 'Upsala Hydrant,' I didn't tell you where it originated . . . because I can't remember where it originated. I think it might have been Lorne Ulley's Innovations column that he used to write for Firefighting in Canada, but I'm not totally sure. It would have been a lot of years ago, because I've been using the idea for a lot of years. I will gladly give credit where credit is due, as soon as I find out to whom it is due.

Excuse me while I make a totally uneducated ramble on criminal justice. I know that in free counties, people are innocent until proven guilty. I know that having a bomb in your underwear doesn't prove that you wanted to blow up a plane on Christmas Day. And I know that things aren't always what they seem . . . but . . . it still seems a little odd that this dude pleaded not guilty. I'm talking about the guy who was in court Friday for trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane and murder at least 289 people in the process. You can read the article

There could be a perfectly sane and logical explanation why he has to drag this through the US court system (aside from wanting to have a global platform to spew his extremist views). I always like to see things from the other guy's perspective, so let me give this one a try:

Bloomer Bomber is not guilty because:
  1. He didn't know he had a bomb in his underwear. (Perhaps Osama bin Laden did his laundry that day.)

  2. He knew he had a bomb in his underwear, but it was his mom's fault. She didn't teach him not to play with fireworks.

  3. He wasn't playing with fireworks . . . he was transporting them for an Al Qaeda New Year's party, and got the dates mixed up.

  4. He needed extra cushioning on his tush for the long Atlantic flight, and his extremist buddies convinced him that Pentaerythritol was perfect padding. The spontaneously combustible chemicals were just a heart warming added touch.

  5. He honestly believed all of the above to be true, which would make him stark raving mad, therefore not criminally responsible.

I should be this guy's lawyer.

Back to a more comfortable and boring topic. The weather has gotten milder and is supposed to stay that way for a week or so, with highs between -6 and 0 (21 and 32 for the Fahrenheit-minded). If anyone was thinking they really must have a fire this winter, now would be a good time.

I'm going to impose another 'recipe' on you (Note: I use the word 'recipe' loosely, much like I use the word 'hydrant.' I don't know much about either). (Second note: if you really dislike my intrusions into the culinary world, I won't mind if you skip to the last paragraph).

Unconventional Shepherd's Pie

  1. Dig out the leftover prime rib from last night's supper and decide that it would be a shame to serve it as "boring old leftovers." (Note: this step is essential. Otherwise you'll just heat up the leftover meat and potatoes and a new 'recipe' will never be born).

  2. Put the leftover gravy in a pot and add water. Turn on medium heat and stir for a bit.

  3. Taste the gravy and frown because you watered it down too much.

  4. Add some soy sauce (I prefer Kikkoman), garlic, salt, and pepper.

  5. Taste the gravy and frown again. Add some Chinese noodle seasoning (leftover from lunch . . . chicken flavour was what I had, but any would work . . . msg is a pretty universal flavour fixer). Beef base would work as well. Taste the gravy and allow yourself a very small smile.

  6. Boil some potatoes (this step is not required if you had enough leftover from last night. For that matter, if you had enough gravy leftover, you could omit the last several steps).

  7. Combine the boiled potatoes with last night’s leftover mashed potatoes. Add garlic, grated cheese, Parmesan cheese, milk . . . and salt and pepper. You can put some butter in as well. Never mind measuring, just add everything to taste (hey, I warned you this wasn’t a real recipe).

  8. Mash the potatoes. If they are too stiff to spread easily, add a little more milk.

  9. Chop up the prime rib.

  10. By this time the gravy should be done (if you didn’t burn it). Taste it one more time to make sure it has enough flavour (a little Worcestershire Sauce might help), and thicken if necessary with a mixture of cornstarch and water.

  11. Mix the gravy and meat, and put it in a casserole dish. If you can’t see the meat, you’ve probably drowned it in gravy and should take some out.

  12. Spread some frozen corn on top of the meat.

  13. Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the corn.

  14. Sprinkle some paprika on top, just because.

  15. Bake at 350 until it bubbles. Cover if necessary to keep the top from burning.

The kids said this was my best Shepherd's Pie ever . . . which means it was awesome, OR it was mediocre and my other Shepherd's Pies were lousy, OR they just wanted to make me feel good. Erinn is the Shepherd's Pie Queen, by the way.

I should really leave this cooking tom-foolery and write about some earth-shaking event that is rocking our hamlet. Let’s see . . . perhaps the Mayor is involved in a scandal . . . nope, we haven’t got a mayor. Perhaps the OPP uncovered a terrorist cell in downtown Upsala . . . except we don’t have a downtown, and the terrorists can’t even find Upsala. I’ve got it. A local bush pilot tried to blow up his ice fishing customers by planting a bomb in his underwear. He wanted to make a statement to the world about . . . about . . . I’m not sure why he would want to do something so ridiculous. Oh well. That story idea is taken already anyway.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Upsala Hydrant, Yemen, and other unrelated topics

Water shouldn't be an issue when you live in a fishing paradise. However, we've never been able to persuade the Upsalanians to only have structural fires next to one of our many lakes and creeks, so we have to do what's called a tanker shuttle. Actually, that's what you call it with multiple tankers. We call it "haul with our one and only tanker like water is going extinct." The nearest back-up tanker is an hour away, so there isn't a lot of point calling for help. My rule of thumb is that if we can't knock the fire down with the water contained in the pumper and tanker, the building is burning to the ground.

In hydrant-less hamlets like Upsala, water is especially problematic this time of year. If the tanker guy has to shovel a path from the road, then scrape a foot of snow away so he can claw through a couple feet of ice before he can even connect a suction, the guys at the fire are bound to be left hanging for a long time. Not good. So I use what I call the Upsala Hydrant.

'Upsala Hydrant' is really a misnomer, because it didn't originate in Upsala, and it isn't a hydrant, but I call it that anyway because it sounds cool. It's a plywood tube, lined with blue styrofoam, and a styrofoam lined plywood lid on top. You chop a hole in the ice, stuff the tube in the hole, wedge snow and slush around it to freeze it in place, then put the lid on and bury it in snow. Voila! You have an Upsala hydrant. Here is what it looks like installed.

The water looks dark because I installed this one by a culvert in a swampy creek. Fire doesn't care if you use smelly, murky swamp water to extinguish it.

Here is what the "hydrant" looks like with the lid on:
The reflector post helps us find it at 2:00 am after a blizzard.

Here is the buried hydrant. (notice I didn't use quotes this time . . . I'm convincing myself that this really is a hydrant . . .).

Once a week or so, you dig it up and break the skim of ice that forms on the water. The temperatures ranged between -18 and -36 C (0 to -31 F) this past week, and when I dug this one up yesterday, I was able to break the ice with my shovel.

An alternative to the Upsala Hydrant, is the Modified Upsala Hydrant. I installed one of these yesterday too. You chop a hole in the ice (and wish you had done this before the ice was 18" thick), lay a piece of plywood over the hole, and bury it in snow. It doesn't work quite as well, but still better than nothing at all.

On a completely unrelated topic, Obama said the other day that his administration didn't realize until now that Al Qaeda in Yemen is interested in attacking America. I thought it was a no-brainer that every Islamic radical is interested in attacking America . . . and any country that isn't radically Islamic. I can be forgiven for my ignorance though. I live in Canada, and I don't have a global intelligence network feeding me information.

On yet another unrelated topic, a guy in Barrie, Ontario was ticketed because he was driving while intoxicated. That isn't completely unusual, except that he was driving a snowblower. I guess it is more dangerous than driving an armchair under the influence. You can see my posts on that unrelated topic here and here.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Olympic Winter

Bears and chipmunks are smarter than they look. They stuff themselves all summer and sleep all winter. Talk about the good life. But I guess in fairness, we have to compare our lot with the less fortunate critters out there as well. Every time I see a raven or a whiskey jack when it's -40 I wonder how on earth they keep from freezing their wiry little legs off. Come to think of it, I did see a one-legged raven a few years back . . .

Upsala gained an eensy, weensy, tiny, molecular spot in Olympic history today. The Olympic Torch visited our fair hamlet on it's way to Vancouver.

Here is the Olympic van.

And here is the Torch runner. If she looks cold, it's because it's -25 C (about -13 F).

Here's the guy freezing his buns off waiting for the relay to arrive.

Here are the school kids and villagers cheering the runners on with a frozen rendition of "Oh Canada," (while the bears and chipmunks slumber cozily in their dens). Very patriotic, very Canadian, and numbingly cold (did I say the bears were smart, or we're stupid?).

And here are the distinguished torch bearers, pausing to absorb this profound moment in Upsala history. If those shadows seem long for 12:00 noon, it's because we are on the edge of Central Time Zone, so by the sun's time it's only 11:00. You can see the fire hall on the left, solemnly observing the gala affair.

I may be making a big deal of this, but it isn't every day that Upsala gets included in an Olympic-sized event. We've never been one of the top ten gotta-see spots in Canada, surprisingly enough. Or the top fifty or the top thousand or the top million. People drive through Upsala, not to it, and they're usually going somewhere else far away. So it was nice of these folks to stop and say hi.

You may remember my Spur-of-the-Moment Potato Soup (September 26 post). I've added a few innovations that may or may not have improved it. For the record, here is the original "recipe" (I use the word in a generalized sense . . . I don't really know how to cook properly). The additional innovations are listed after.

Spur-of-the-moment-Potato Soup
  1. Take out the leftover mashed potatoes from the fridge (a cup or two?)

  2. pour some milk (maybe 3 cups?) into a pot and turn the heat on low
  3. stir the potatoes into the milk

  4. sprinkle on some chopped chives and grind some fresh pepper into the soup

  5. add salt and garlic to taste

  6. put in a touch of ground red pepper

  7. cook for a little while, stirring frequently

  8. worry that it isn't enough soup for your hungry brood, and add another potato, peeled and chopped very fine

  9. worry that the potato you added won't finish cooking in time

  10. wish you had chopped the potato finer (note: steps 8-10 are optional)

  11. cook on low for a while, stirring often unless you like burned potato soup. It should thicken up a little.
  12. fret that the soup won't have enough flavour and add a couple slices of creamed cheese
  13. cook slowly and make sure the cheese all melts
  14. wish you had some ham to chop and add
  15. turn off the heat, add a some grated marble or cheddar cheese, stir in and let it sit for a minute or two
  16. sprinkle a little paprika on top, just because (don't stir it in)

Here are the innovations:

  1. Add a little leftover beef gravy (that your family doesn't know you put in - sometimes it's okay to keep secrets) don't put too much in . . . potato soup should be white not brown
  2. Chop and add some venison garlic coil (if you don't have a generous neighbour that gives you venison garlic coil, any other kind should do. This does not eliminate step 14, 'wish for ham')
  3. Add a touch of curry powder.
  4. Eat with Erinn's heavenly cornmeal muffins

My kids say this is one of their favourites now . . . especially Erinn's muffins. No, I'm not giving you the recipe for those . . . they probably can't be reproduced by anyone else. As a consolation prize, here is a link to a cornmeal muffin recipe I've never tried. If that recipe turns out to be lousy, and someone really wants to try Erinn's, here's the deal: post a comment asking me for the recipe and I'll dig it out and include it in my next blog entry. Otherwise, you're on your own. Or you can try my Parmesan Garlic Basil Oregano Pepper Bread Sticks (September 30 post).

Side note: the bears and chipmunks don't get to eat potato soup and muffins (unless you feed them, which you should never do), so maybe their 'good life' isn't so good after all.

firefighters and erratic rationality

I should be working on my next article for the Fire and EMS Quarterly . . . that would be the rational thing to do, seeing that it's due in 17 days and the skeletal outline is not much more than a skull, a femur, and a tibia . . . but firefighters, freelance writers, and residents of Northwestern Ontario are not famous for their rationality. I'm all three of those things, so I'm writing in my blog, which makes no money and is a lot of fun, instead of the article, which makes a little money and is a little fun. Following that thread of logic, I wonder if JK Rowling had no fun at all. You know . . . no money = lots of fun, a little money = a little fun, train loads of money = no fun.

Go ahead and say it. My logic = my rationality.

Just when you think firefighters have encountered every kind of bizarre situation possible, you find out you're wrong. Take these guys in Utah for example. I've rescued dogs, cats, sheep, and cows. I have a friend that did CPR on a fish. I'm sure other firefighters have helped gobs of weird creatures. This is the first time I've heard of anyone resuscitating pythons. Next thing you know, someone will want me to do mouth-to-mouth on a rattlesnake.

In Ontario, and probably most of the firefighting world, firefighters are excluded from the "right to refuse dangerous work" legislation that applies to the average employee. The lawmakers figure you knew that crawling into burning buildings was nutty when you signed up, and once you're at the scene and the job needs doing, it's kind of too late to reconsider. I'm just glad that the nearest rattlesnake is in the Winnipeg zoo . . . 560 km away and too far for a Mutual Aid run.

I'm not much into politics or world affairs, and I don't use much blog space talking about them, but when I read about wackos going on the warpath because their religious feelings are hurt, it gets my goat. I may be a wacko occasionally, and I might be considered religious by some, but it's the warpath thing that really bugs me. My advice to these folks? Be crazy, be religious, and learn to laugh at yourself.

The "experts" on blogging say it doesn't matter how often you post as long as you post consistently. I have a kind of half-way (sort of maybe partly) consistent habit of posting a couple times a week. Today, I've invaded cyberspace for the third time in four days. All that to say, don't be deceived into thinking I'm going to change my erratic ways and start writing daily. Sorry, I know it breaks your heart, but it just ain't gonna happen. As you can see, I'm a stickler for good grammar too.

I'd better buckle down and put some meat on that skeletal outline of an article. Even erratic bloggers have rational bills to pay.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

2010 is a significant year in the 21st century. It's the first year that we get to shorten by saying "twenty-ten," instead of the cumbersome "two-thousand ten." No one says "twenty 0 nine" or "twenty o eight," always "two thousand nine (or eight)" . . . at least among people that I discuss dates and years with. I'm not quite sure why . . . we say nineteen o eight, and our grandchildren will undoubtedly say "twenty-one o eight, if the human race still exists in 2108. Language, like all living creatures, develops in ways that aren't always logically explained.

I found a new blog the other day, written by Brian Cieslak, a firefighter from Riverside California. I found him while stumping around the Technorati web site, and liked the couple entries I read in his blog, so now I am a tentative follower.

You may have gathered that I'm not much into 'normal' firefighter blogs. There are gazillions of firefighter blogs that say things like, "Timbuktu FD responded to a 4 alarm fire on 999th street at 23:07 . . ." They contain volumes of cool and useful information, but they aren't fun to read. They're turnip green blogs instead of ice cream blogs (see the About Me section in my profile, which isn't really 'about me'). Turnip greens are fine and good and healthful, but I get plenty during the week from the Fire Marshal and the Ministry of Health and the dispatch centre and multitudinous other worthy places . . . and I have to read those, so when it's blog time, I want ice cream. All that to say that if I start detecting turnip greens more than occasionally on Switch 2 Plan B , you won't see my dirty white helmet on the followers' list anymore.

Then there's Virginia Montanez's blog, That's Church. It's highly entertaining, and full of useless information . . . definitely an ice cream blog.

Speaking of Technorati (which I was about two paragraphs ago), I think I finally entered the proper information and got my blog into their system. My "claim" is still "awaiting review" - they have to make sure I'm worthy to be listed in their directories - but at least I'm not getting those "you idiot" messages from them anymore.

I fear I've turned into a superstition basher. Four times yesterday I said, "It looks like we're going to have a perfect December," meaning that we've had no calls. Every time I said it, people gave me a look that meant, "Shut up, idiot! You'll jinx us!" I thought to myself, 'I'm gonna go for broke this time and really test this jinx theory out,' . . . so I said it three times, then once more just before midnight to rub it into the faces of all those roving fire gremlins out there looking for a chance to jinx me. I guess Upsala is so far out in the boonies that even the fire gremlins can't be bothered with us. Alternately, the recession has settled in and traffic levels have dropped to the point that we didn't get our customary holiday vehicle crashes in December. In any case, I believe that this is the first December with no calls since I started 14 years ago.

I just checked the weather report and we've got -35 degree weather coming. Go figure. One mention of milder weather and, wham, we get nailed with the arctic again. I guess the weather gremlins are paying attention, even if the fire gremlins aren't.

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