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.

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