Friday, December 24, 2010

holiday edition part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beebewitz Blog Holiday Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the platform

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

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

This next thing arrived in my inbox the other day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Society calls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010


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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Crossing the line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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