Friday, February 26, 2010

Olympically Crazy

I have to bask for a brief moment in our newest gold for Canada, this time in men's speed skating team pursuit. Canada may not own the podium, but we own the most gold medals, and have the Olympic record for the most gold won by the home country. Maybe, just maybe we'll add to that record today. For my son's sake, I hope we do. Hockey is the one Olympic sport where silver isn't much of a consolation prize to a red-blooded Canadian.

Now that I'm done acting like a very un-Canadian braggart, I can tell you about my one and only semi-serious disagreement with a cop at an emergency scene. It was during a vehicle fire, in the middle of winter, the middle of nowhere, and the middle of the night. The dispute was about how much of the highway I could commandeer. I wanted the whole Trans-Canada highway . . . all two measly lanes of it. When you have guys wearing SCBA (which blocks peripheral vision), shrouded in smoke, and working inches away from tons of steel rocketing past at 110 km per hour, it seems reasonable to claim both lanes. The officer that arrived a few minutes later disagreed, and ordered my vehicles off the road. I made sure that was really what he wanted, then moved the trucks, like the good, respectful fire chief that I am. Then I told my guys to pack the stuff and head home, leaving the officer his highway, and a partially extinguished car fire.

As you can see, I don't have much stomach for argument. The fire was mostly out, it was -35, and I frankly didn't care about a smoking hull of steel sitting on the shoulder. I heard later that the tow truck operator had to finish extinguishing the vehicle part way back to the garage.

Later, I paid the officer a visit to salvage what was left of a long history of peaceful cooperation. He explained his views - my scene set up had not been by the book - and I explained mine. There still wasn't much point in arguing, but I think I did make my point clear. If we can't reach an agreement about something as important as scene safety, we're gone. No hard feelings. Like one of my bushwacker friends used to say, "Don't go away mad, just go away."

Just to be clear, this was an isolated incident, and we do continue our long history of peaceful cooperation. Sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand (or in this case, the snow).

The moral of this story for cop or firefighter or paramedic, is that we have to protect our people from careless drivers . . . or just plain crazy drivers. No one wants one of their people to end up as a hood ornament.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

of crazy sports and cops

I videoed enough footage of our school ski trip to keep you watching for a week or two, but since this is supposed to be a firefighting blog, I cut it down to four minutes. If you are a devoted parent, relative, or friend of one of the kids in the video, you will be riveted to your computer screen and begging for more by the time the video ends. Even if you aren't wearing rose coloured glasses, you might still enjoy the show if you like the Nutcracker. If you don't like the Nutcracker, you are out of luck, but hang in there, the video gets more exciting halfway through.

For the record, cameras don't do justice to the bigness of this country. Or the steepness of the hills. I lost my feet trying to inch down to a favourable location to shoot some clips, and turned into a human bobsleigh before I was able to dig in enough to halt my slide. A parachute would definitely have come in handy.

Speaking of crazy rides, Canada won gold and silver in the women's bobsleigh event yesterday. I don't think we own the podium as much as the powers-that-be prophesied, but we are doing a respectable job nonetheless.

And speaking of respectable jobs, Canada nailed Russia last night in hockey, much to the delight of my son and his buddies. I camped out in the bedroom editing my soon-to-be-world-famous video, but I knew about every goal that Canada scored. And so did the neighbours. And so did anyone within a kilometre radius of our house. If the Upsala fans didn't win a gold medal for enthusiasm, they sure came close.

The boys congratulated each other most of the way home for being Canadian and having shares in such an awesome hockey team. The only somber moment was when they realized they'd have to go back to watching the Leafs after the Olympics. Don't misunderstand - against all reason, they are dedicated Leafs fans . . . but it sure is nice for them to root for a team that wins more than occasionally.

If you don't understand the hype about hockey, you have to realize that in a place like Upsala, it's perfectly sane and normal to get excited about ice and pucks and skates and slap shots. There isn't a whole lot more to do here in February. Or March or January or December. Most of the boys' free time is spent slicing up the rink and perfecting their wrist shot. The day the ice melts is a sad day for the young and reckless.

And finally talking about firefighting, a Montecito, California battalion chief was arrested and handcuffed for blocking the highway at a vehicle collision response last week. This type of altercation is rare, and will stay that way I hope, but you gotta wonder what is going through a cop's mind sometimes. With smashed vehicles all over the road, unknown injuries, and a certain amount of chaos, firefighters need a safe place to work . . . which means claiming at least part of the highway. I have my own story about a disagreement with a cop (no, I didn't get handcuffed), but it will have to wait.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Giant

The letter "D" is bad news when describing ski hills. Drop of Doom, Devil's Dive, Descent of Danger . . . if you see any of those names when you get off the lift, find a different slope. Names that start with the letter "G" indicate a less radical ride, but are still crazy. Like Giant and Gargantual. If I were permitted to stay in my comfort zone, I would choose hills that start with the kinder, gentler letter "S" - like Sunbowl and Sissies Slide - but skiing with young people keeps a guy from getting entrenched in mediocrity.

The "D's" and "G's" hold an irresistible attraction to young skiers. Take the Giant for example. The first time I skied it, I felt like I was falling out of an airplane. I quickly learned not to hesitate at the top . . . there are times when it is expedient to act without thinking. Once I conquered it, I was all "been there, done that, don't need to do it again" . . . and started easing my way back into mediocrity. Until my 11 year-old daughter arrived on the ski hill.

No young skier can be satisfied unless they have done the Giant. On Friday, I knew I could stall no longer, and being the semi-courageous dad that I am, I told Vanessa we'd do it together. In the back of my mind there was a faint and vain hope that one shot would cure her, but when I caught up at the bottom, she greeted me with an exuberant "C'mon Dad! Lets do it again!"

It doesn't help that those ski patrol guys with the cool jackets and backpacks do the Giant all calm and slick and smooth. I think they have an unfair psychological advantage contained in those backpacks. You probably thought they carried brandy or hot chocolate or first aid supplies. I say they've got a parachute hiding in there.

The ski patrol thing intrigues me, and I've thought of signing up. On top of getting a cool jacket, it would put my first aid skills to good use, with a bonus of giving quality ski time as well. Of course, that would mean eventually facing the Devil's Dive. Maybe once I've had my parachute training . . .

Friday, February 19, 2010

skiing . . . dial 911!

The first intermission . . . from the Beebe's skiing saga that is. We hit the slopes yesterday and today, and the kids have crashed safely in their beds and I nearly crashed in the living room, but decided to Facebook and blog instead. I took video footage of a few skiing highlights, but used a borrowed camera . . . which I returned like a responsible citizen . . . before getting the clips copied into my computer. As a consolation prize, you can see some nutty Pittsburghers skiing in their new winter wonderland. (Thanks to That's Church for the clip). Hopefully I'll have some of my own to post soon.

Speaking of crashes, we had a few over the course of the ski trip. I crashed four times . . . and three of those times were on flat ground. The fourth was when I got tangled in Vanessa's friend's skis while disembarking off the lift. Kind like playing Ice Twister on skis. Thankfully, no paparazzi were close enough to document the event. Phillip took a nasty spill when he mis-judged a jump and tumbled face-first into the snow. Fortunately bruised faces are cool for teenaged, daredevil skiers.

I sort of implied in my last post that I had an opinion about charging a fee for false alarms . . . so here it is. If the fee gives building owners incentive to maintain their alarm systems (which would reduce alarms going off for nothing and firefighters being dispatched for nothing), I say nail 'em with the fee. If it makes people waffle and worry about fees when they should be dialing 911, I say it could be counter productive.

Andrew from Toronto, who is a real firefighter from a real department, probably has a valid opinion about this. Next time I see him I'll see what he thinks.

Speaking of dialling 911, there is a new-ish method of CPR out there now, which may save lives (as long as you dial 911 to get the paramedics rolling ASAP, instead of waffling and wondering if you'll get billed for a false alarm if you revive the guy).

I still have to teach the 30 compressions/2 breaths method because bureaucracies change at the speed of snails crawling backwards uphill in February (that's really slow), but I suspect the no-breaths method will be adopted by all eventually.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

30 years, Haiti, and the Halfpipe

Thirty years is a long time. Thirty years ago, owning a personal computer was pretty much a dream for the average dude on the street. Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan was President and Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister. Thirty years ago today I was a skinny 18 year old kid, standing up as my brother Paul's best man. Yes, Paul and his wife celebrate their 30th anniversary today.

You can read a quick history of the computer here, and visit my brother's guestbook to congratulate him here. You can see a photo of his skinny 18 year-old best man . . . uh, never mind.

Congratulations Paul. May you have another 30 or 40 or 50 years to make knives and enjoy your grandkids and great grandkids and great-great grandkids.

Beware, Torontonians, next time you dial 911. You could get a bill if it is a false alarm. I'm never short on opinions, but I am short on time tonight, so you'll have to take a rain check.

Virginia Montanez is on a mission again, and again it's about orphans in Haiti. If you are an American and can help in any way at all - even just writing a letter as a voter - please visit her site.

Just finished watching Shaun White spiral down the halfpipe. Who says man can't fly. My only regret? He's not Canadian.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympically Valentine

Canada received a gold medal for Valentine's Day. Not a big deal I guess, except that it was the first we've won on Canadian soil . . . ever. So I guess it is a big deal. Click here to read about Alexandre Bilodeau, and his older brother Fredric - who skis even though he has cerebral palsy. Canada now has two gold medals. Maelle Ricker just won the women's snowboard cross moments ago.

Another fine Canadian named Robertson came within a half a snowboard of winning gold yesterday. An American, Seth Wescott, put on a marvellous performance to snatch the gold at the last second. I'm looking forward to the halfpipe snowboarding on Wednesday, even though I think those guys and gals are completely bonkers, and I'm jealous that I can't snowboard like that, and it isn't fair that they get all the fun while I have to sit and watch and, and . . . yeah, I really like watching those crazy nut cases on snowboards.

The consolation prize is that I get to chaperone a school skiing trip later this week, which means pretending I'm a good-hearted volunteer, when in fact I'm ecstatic that the other dads don't ski so I get to spend all four glorious days with my kids and their friends. Wow. Life is good sometimes. When you stand at the top of the Giant, and the sun is shining, and the snow is white, and the view extends across the valley and Lake Superior to Sault Ste Marie (now I'm exaggerating), you remember why you like winter, and you're really glad you didn't pack your bags last month and move to Tahiti like you wanted to. Wow again.

Phillip, who also has been watching the insane Olympians, tells me about the jumps and flips and other stunts he plans to perform starting Thursday at Loch Lomond. I gently remind him that a broken leg on day one would really put a damper on the other three days, and he says he'll save the crazy stuff for day four. How comforting.

I will try to write an occasional update in between watching crazy Olympians and emulating them on Loch Lomond. I may even have a photo or two to post. Maybe.

Speaking of good-hearted volunteers, Pittgirl over at That's Church tells a story in her February 15 post that won't make Olympic headlines, but that is heroic none the less. It's a story about five weddings and two young ladies, and hope for a small part of Haiti. Read it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentinely Olympic

Valentine's Day is just around the corner. My earliest Valentine's Day recollections include constructing wheelbarrow loads of cards for my 30+ classmates in elementary school. The best recollection is of being allowed to eat candy in school. The years have matured me, and I only give one card now (to Erinn), but I still enjoy a little chocolate on Valentine's Day . . . and the day before . . . and the day after . . . and any day of the year, for that matter. It doesn't even matter if it's heart shaped.

Click here to read up on the origins of the holiday, including a story about the guy who supposedly ran foul of the law by marrying couples undercover.

Then there is the modern-day saga of people celebrating the day undercover in Saudi Arabia. Apparently Saudis could get into big trouble for giving their sweetie a red rose or a red card or a red anything this weekend. Religiosity is intimidated by the strangest things.

The Olympics is just around the corner too. Click here to read about how Canada plans to get it's fair share of gold.

Erinn and I used to make an annual un-Olympic skiing getaway to the slopes near Thunder Bay. One year we decided to try snowboarding instead. Several hours, and many bumps and bruises later, we limped to our hotel room and switched on the television. Olympic snowboarders corkscrewed their way back and forth on the half pipe in defiance of gravity, sensibility, and human sanity. They say that boarders sometimes get in trouble for smoking marijuana, but I think that's unfair. You'd have to be high to try those stunts.

Everyone is entitled to an interpretation of what constitutes insanity. I think snowboarders are nuts, even though I like to watch them. Other folks think firefighters are totally bonkers, and frankly, I have to agree sometimes. But we firefighters get to have an opinion on what constitutes insanity too.

A friend from another department told me about a fire call he responded to where an improperly installed wood stove had burned a hole in the floor of a mobile home. After the fire was out and things settled down a bit, the owner wanted to nail a piece of plywood over the hole and relight the stove. And people think firefighters are crazy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Of Whisky, Brandy, and Other Such Beverages

They succeeded! The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust crews successfully retrieved seven crates of hundred year-old whisky and brandy left frozen in the Antarctic ice by Sir Ernest Shackleton. That's some pretty cold booze. And even though I don't like brandy or whiskey, it is a fascinating piece of irrelevant trivia worth mentioning.

I used to experiment a little with alcohol . . . in the kitchen as an ingredient. One recipe used a marinade with either whiskey or brandy in it, and (if I remember correctly) soy sauce and chili powder as well . . . some kind of cowboy, home-on-the-range style beef. I don't remember liking the dish too well, so, true to form, I remade it. I chopped up the leftover beef, added sausage, and made a sauce out of the marinade - with some East Indian spices to spruce it up - and served it over rice. I told the kids that my newly invented dish was called Cowboy Curry. They ate it dutifully, and I never made it again. I think I may have lost the recipe, and I doubt that the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust crews will take up the cause of locating it, so you are spared having to read it.

Most of my encounters with alcohol have not been worth repeating. If you haven't read how the beverage dislikes me, click here. If Andrew or Graham (my fellow instructors) ever start blogging and offer their version of any alcohol story involving me, don't believe them.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

barber chair and weather trivia

A friend's 10 year-old son asked me the other day if I knew what a barber chair was. I was instantly transported back 15 years to another planet, and another age in time. No, I wasn't a hair stylist . . . I was a logger.

If you google "barber chair," you'll get a couple hundred thousand hits, mostly about those chairs the hair cutters use. If you add "logging" to the search, you'll get about half the hits, and most of them will refer to the botched felling phenomenon that has injured or killed many loggers, and scared the wits out of countless more. I speak from experience . . . at least the scared out of your wits part.

When a tree is notched improperly, or it's very cold and the tree is frozen, or it's under tension, or the logger is napping on his feet, the tree can split up the middle instead of breaking at the hinge. The butt rockets into the air and becomes a flailing, rocking, smashingly dangerous weapon. Click here for a picture of an innocent looking barber chair. Don't be deceived. It can fly as high as ten or 12 feet, and roll backwards, forwards, or sideways, and take out any hapless logger in range. Sometimes it leaves a wedge-shaped piece of wood on the stump that supposedly looks like the back of a barber chair. It also ruins a perfectly good log.

The young fellow who wanted to know about barber chairs offered me a number of helpful suggestions on what to do if the mishap occurred. I listened patiently, then gave him some good advice . . . advice that I followed myself a few times, and which I now offer you. If you ever encounter an imminent barber chair, run like a bat out of hell. Or a scared little girl. Or whatever analogy you want to use. Just run fast.

There. You've had your Useless Logging Trivia update. I was going to blather on about the uniqueness of each trade's terminology, and launch into a discourse on firefighting words and phrases, but I will spare you. Firefighter terminology is about as fascinating as an exegetical study of Biblical genealogies. Join a fire department if you want to know about the lingo.

At the risk of awakening the weather gremlins and jinxing our mild temperatures, I'm going to once again make fun of the Farmer's Almanac's forecast of a bitterly cold and dry winter. My counter prediction of balmy weather (based on a a skillful blend of wishful thinking and optimism) is being vindicated on a daily basis.

We did have a few weeks of -30 temperatures, but that was in early January, so it doesn't count (don't bother asking why - I make the rules on this blog). The east coast is getting all of our foul weather this year. In fairness, the Farmer's Almanac did predict a nasty snowfall in mid-February for that region.

I could get all apologetic and offer insincere condolences to the folks buried in snow, but I'm not going to. Hey, no one from Tahiti or Toronto (sorry Andrew) feels sorry for the Upsalanians when we get nailed by the Arctic Tasmanian Devil. For those of us who choose to dance with a northern climate, we must certainly expect to pay the winter weather piper upon occasion.

As a firefighter, I'm thankful that the piper is playing a moderate tune this year. Now if we can just get him to do something about those blasted blackflies in May . . .

Friday, February 5, 2010

quick on the draw

Brian, over at Switch 2 Plan B just finished a seven part series on dumb 911 calls - people calling ambulances and fire trucks for runny noses, insomnia, headaches . . . serious stuff if you're a hypochondriac. If you haven't visited Switch 2 Plan B recently, it's worth having a look.

In Upsala, we have the opposite problem. People here are pretty self reliant, and usually don't call us unless all hell breaks loose. It's the passersby that are the problem, especially since the advent of cell service a few years ago.

Like the time we got called to a vehicle crash, reportedly two tractor trailers, head-on in a rock cut. Bad stuff. We boot down the highway, all psyched up for the crash of the century, and when we get to the spot, all we find are ruts in the soft shoulder. Turns out a trucker pulled over too far and got stuck, so another trucker nosed in close to pull him out. A passerby sees the two trucks nose to nose ("head-on"), pulls out his cell phone without slowing down, and dials 911. In his rearview mirror, he sees that the trucks are sitting next to a rock cut. And so, the false alarm of the century is born.

Click here for another one of my stories about a not-so-good Samaritan that was quick on the draw with his trusty cell phone.

Then there was the time that we were paged to a tractor trailor vs pick up, head-on, and vehicles on fire. We've done enough of these to know that's a bad combination. Our response area covers 100 km of highway, so we usually have plenty of time en route to imagine every possible scenario. Halfway there though, we got a cancellation page.

"How can you cancel a head-on with vehicles on fire," I ask the dispatcher.

"I don't know, but ambulance is on the scene and they said they don't need you," she replies.

I'm not hell-bent on going just for the fun of going, so we turned around. Later, we found out that the pick up had stopped too close to the edge of the highway, and a tractor trailor had clipped its front bumper (the head-on part of the page). A small smolder had started in the engine compartment (the fire part of the page), but was quickly put out with a fire extinguisher.

Another time it was the classic "vehicle in the ditch," which experience tells us can mean anything from the apocalypse, to someone pulled over having a nap. This time, the vehicle was sort of in the ditch . . . and the owner was spitting nails angry when we arrived. "I need a tow truck! Why did you bring a *%$#@ fire truck?! "Um . . . because I'm a firefighter," I say, "and my pager went off and it's 5:00 AM, and I would have been happy to stay in bed . . ."

Some folks seem to think we do this stuff for kicks.

Brian makes a good point in the last entry of his 'dumb 911 call' series. Firefighters and civilians die every year in collisions involving fire apparatus. A 54 year old man died in Vaughan, Ontario earlier this week in such a collision. It's dangerous enough just driving down the road. You add lights and sirens and adrenalin and vehicles that don't yield and cars that appear out of nowhere, and the game gets infinitely more dangerous. The moral of the story is, call if you need us - we're happy to come - but be a really good Samaritan and get the right information. If nothing else, you might help some poor firefighter get a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Special Report: Groundhog Day

I hope that you enjoyed a spectacularly cloudy Groundhog Day yesterday.

You know the tradition right? If it's sunny on February 2, the groundhog sees his shadow, gets scared, and runs back down his hole . . . which results in six more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy, he doesn't see his shadow, doesn't get scared, and spring comes. You can read about the origins of the tradition here. If you are fanatically infatuated with groundhogs, you can read a detailed history, including a statistical analysis of this ancient forecast method here. Based on that article, I think the fuzzy rodent has a better record than Environment Canada.

Incidentally, the burrows of our Upsala groundhogs were so clogged with snow and ice yesterday that they wouldn’t have been able to get out and make the prediction if their furry hides depended on it. If they could get out, I would hope for sunshine on February 2. It would be wonderful to have only six more weeks of winter.

There is a debate raging (or at least smoldering) about the humaneness of keeping groundhogs solely for the purpose of making this annual prediction. My personal opinion is that it’s a pretty good gig – who else earns a living by getting out of bed one day a year and making a forecast that no one believes?

Speaking of weather, the days are getting slightly longer now, but the sun doesn't seem to be getting much stronger. Here's a shot of an Upsala sunrise at a quarter to nine. It looks like it's frozen to the horizon.

The sun supposedly burns at 5000 degrees Celsius. It was -25 C here this morning. Somewhere between there and here, 5025 degrees of nice, warm solar energy was lost.

Speaking of lost things, most people have an item in their life that they chronically misplace. For some, it's their car keys. For others it's their glasses or wallet or purse. For me, it's stick notes.

Stick notes keep me on Life's straight and narrow. They are stuck in my day planner, in my pocket planner, on my desk, on the wall . . . there is one stuck on the phone handset right now . . . they are everywhere. For a person that chronically misplaces his brain (or at least his short-term memory), it's a cheap fix. If I could run a vehicle extrication or a structural fire with stick notes, I would.

A problem arises when the all-important stick note pad gets misplaced. I could put a stick note on the file cabinet telling me where the rest of the pad is, but I've developed a simpler fix . . . I buy them in bulk and just dig a new pad out of the drawer (I should write a how-to book about my organizational skills . . . Tim's Top Ten Tidying Tricks).

If you've been reading, you know I'm not an organizational guru, but my conscience does occasionally awaken enough to motivate me to clear off my desk. Today was such a day, and after filing a few months of reports, training records, government correspondence, and eviction notices (just kidding) I found . . . five stick note pads.

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