Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cold Turkey

To all of you hard-core Beebewitz Blog addicts, sorry about the withdrawal symptoms you've suffered during this seven day dearth of posts. I hope you haven't crumbled under your craving for eccentric firefighter trivia, or traded me in for another nutty blog spot.

On the other hand, if you were blissfully unaware that I was derelict in my unsworn duty to post at least twice per week, let's pick up where we left off, and hope that the Blog Gestapo (who insist on disciplined consistency) are on holidays.

Things may improve, now that the spring training rush is over. Last weekend we held the last course at the Thunder Bay Protective Emergency Services Training Centre (affectionately called PEST). It was bittersweet, but mostly sweet. My desire for an occasional weekend off has finally trumped the enjoyment of training volunteer firefighters. Some people may be wired to work seven day weeks, but not me.

I spent yesterday morning carefully avoiding the heap of papers that has turned my desk into a leaning tower of Babel (mixed metaphors again). After lunch, the secretary gave me more papers to add to the heap. Last night (or rather, very early this morning) a passing motorist hit a moose, causing a three vehicle crash . . . and adding more papers to the heap. I snatched the luxury of sleeping in a couple hours this morning, then half-heartedly attacked the Tower of Babel. I didn't conquer it - in fact, I only knocked a few shingles off the roof - but the secretary was happy that I chose her papers for my initial attack.

I celebrated my success by mowing the fire hall lawn, which was knee high in Indian paintbrush. By the time that was finished, it was happily too late to make another assault on Babel, so I packed it in for the day. Perhaps tomorrow will be more report-friendly (except that the tanker needs an oil change, the June training schedule needs to be written, the air compressor is acting up, the rescue vehicle has a burned out low beam . . .).

This evening we were invited to a Wii party, hosted by some friends to celebrate the visits of a number of ex Upsalanians and their kids. After a couple hours of virtual hockey, tennis, dance, and motorcycle games, Erinn read my mind and told me to go home and blog. Incidentally, you may not suffer withdrawal symptoms when I don't blog, but I do.

John Rafferty is coming to Upsala for our Canada Day fireworks display. There are plenty of other places where he could see a better show, be eaten by fewer mosquitoes, and shake more important hands, but for some reason he chose our fair village.

He's definitely an impractical kind of guy . . . which is probably why I like him.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Agreeable Disagreement

I don't claim to know everything, which is why this is strictly an opinion blog. I'm not a ram-it-down-your-throat, this-is-the-way-it's-gotta-be kind of guy. I'm a here's-my-opinion, take-it-or-leave-it kind of guy.

Mind you, I do hold some pretty strong opinions. If you ask about my thoughts on terrorism, or sore-losing rioters, or volunteer fire departments hanging onto cliffs by their fingernails, I'll give you an earful. Or I guess it would be an eyeful if you are reading my blog rather than listening to my rant.

Occasionally I meet someone who disagrees. It's only occasionally, because most of the people I rub shoulders with have no connection to Al Qaeda or Stephen Harper or the Stanley Cup. Differences in opinion aren't always bad, however. In fact, sometimes they are enlightening.

A few weeks ago Frank the Killer Whale (aka: Fort Frances Fire Chief) said that while he didn't disagree with my view on volunteer fire departments (at which point I sensed a variant opinion developing), the fire service problem encompassed more than just volunteer fire departments. I look at Fort Frances Fire Department, and I see expensive trucks, career firefighters, and lots of nice equipment. Frank sees the career portion of a composite department pared to the bone, and an expectation to do more with less.

Even those closer to the centre of the universe aren't exempt from the squeeze. The Toronto Fire Department is facing a 10% budget reduction for 2012. It's hard for a small-time guy like me to comprehend 37 million dollars being only 10% of an operating budget. That money would keep Upsala Fire Department going for about 435 years . . . but then, Upsala responds to about 35 calls a year and Toronto responds to over 140,000. The point of all this is that a little disagreement broadened my perspective to include the whole fire service, not just a piece of it.

Speaking of Toronto Fire Department and perspective, Peter Sells wrote a piece on live fire training over at Firefighting in Canada. While I didn't completely agree with his point of view, I'm smart enough to know that I'm not smart enough to argue with Peter Sells. The retired Toronto District Chief knows more about training than I could possibly learn in 435 years. That didn't stop me from giving my two cents though. You can read the article and several comments (including mine) here

Not all disagreements are agreeable. A columnist from the Brantford Expositor wrote a criticism of what he calls a "hullabaloo" about funerals for line of duty firefighter deaths. "Disingenuous" and "Self-indulgent" are among the charges that he lays at our feet. My blood was boiling by the end of the article (which you can read here), and I lost no time in typing a response to the editor. In view of the recent deaths and subsequent funerals of two volunteer firefighters in Listowel - of which the writer must have been aware - the article was rude and insensitive. My letter to the editor didn't get published, but you can read two others here and here.

Lest you think that I'm a completely disagreeable person, let me hasten to tell you that the Fire Within likes me, and asked me to write a piece for their new blog. You can read it here. Incidentally, they also asked Peter Sells (whom I almost never disagree with) to write a piece as well. For the record, it's a double honour to be included in a Fire Within venture alongside of Peter.

To finish off this agreeably disagreeable post, here is a video that I found at Firefighter Close Calls that shows a near disaster during ventilation. For any students that have taken OFC training, this is why we insist on using a roof ladder during ventilation operations.

That may be just my opinion, but this time at least I'm in good company.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Various and Sundries

It's bad enough that an American team won the Stanley cup in game seven, but a Canadian riot in the street after the game is like pouring gasoline on a burning building. "Sore loser" is the worst insult you can hurl at a sports lover. Here's my advice to the handful of idiots from Vancouver that made international news: in the future (after you get out of jail, where I hope you landed) keep your infantile attitude locked up in the privacy of your home.

Leaving the badly tarnished Cup, and even more badly tarnished city behind, I'll move on to the good news: I borrowed a smaller wetsuit for the second day of water rescue training in Fort Frances, and was relieved to find that I wasn't as big a wimp as I thought. It was really nice to swim in the Rainy River without becoming hypothermic.

I'm still combatting my one-eyed phone, so I can't show you the photos I took of the training, but I did borrow a couple of pictures from Fort Frances firefighter Bob Whitburn's Facebook page. The first one is the Fortuna connected to a moveable control point. This rig would normally be used in faster current, but the conditions that day were not obliging.

Here's a shot of the guys on shore working the rigging.

The trip home from Fort Frances was uneventful until I arrived in Upsala Sunday to find a line of traffic developing on the east end of the village. In Upsala, a traffic line on Sunday afternoon can only mean one thing: vehicle collision. It turned out to be a triple fatal involving a young couple and a baby. I've extricated lots of living and dead people in fifteen years, but this was my first time to cut the seatbelts off of a baby's car seat. Enough said about that.

My biggest concern after the incident was sanity of my crew, and especially the group of young folks that have joined our department. Phillip joined in January, and this was his first major collision. It wasn't my idea of breaking a rookie into the world of vehicle extrication. We kept the younger members on a hose line for fire protection during the worst of it, but no one walked away from that scene unscathed.

We invited a CIS team to come out Monday, and my hat is off to these two friends that made the 300 km round trip to help us out of a tight spot. They wouldn't even accept a donation to offset their travel costs. Mike and Merv, thanks. Just thanks.

On Wednesday after lunch our pagers went off again, this time for a truck fire east of Upsala. Phillip and I responded with his buddy Matt in the pumper, and in true Upsala style, we were paged about a minute down the highway with an update saying that the call was west, not east. We turned around, and I started to tell the boys to relax, the trucker would probably have put the fire out with an extinguisher already . . . then I looked at the horizon. The fiberglass cab on a tractor trailer makes an impressive smoke plume when it's fully involved.

We got another update saying that a fuel tank had exploded and there were reports of injuries. I had a brief flashback to a fiery fatal crash years ago, took a deep breath, and asked the two young fellows next to me if they were prepared for the worst. They said they were, but the doom and gloom reports turned out to be false. The only thing that died in Upsala on Wednesday was the cab of the truck. The driver was unharmed, and we saved most of the trailer.

It's a shame that our small crew can't afford a person on the camera at the beginning when things are exciting, but water on the fire trumps photos for the record. Here are a couple shots taken after things calmed down a little.

I hate to admit that while the trucker was having the worst day of her life, we were in therapy. The boys said they felt better having done something "useful" with their training. I reminded them that recovery extrication is a useful service as well, but I had to agree that putting water on fire is much more agreeable than some of the other jobs we do.

My son Phillip knows that fishing is a less destructive therapy for CIS, so he took to the lake yesterday. The proverb goes, "Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime." I say, teach your son to fish and you'll feed your whole family, plus give him memories of a lifetime. Phillip's buddy called me yesterday saying I'd better get over to the lake with a camera. I was expecting a fish, but not quite this fish:

Of all the happy moments I've spent fishing with my kids, this was definitely a highlight, even though I wasn't there to see him and his buddy Brad nearly sink the boat landing it. And as a bonus, we will eat fish tonight.

I still have more to say about Toronto budget cuts, training, and other fascinating topics, but duty calls. My desk is full of unfinished reports.

Report writing is the worst way to de-stress, by the way.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The land of the blind

"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." A dude named Erasmus is reported to have said that about 500 years ago, but the quote is still oddly true enough to appeal to my quirky personality. It may not have much to do with firefighting, but indulge me while I attempt to conjure up a connection. 

On the way to Fort Frances yesterday, we stopped by several microscopic fire departments that were even tinier than Upsala (I didn't realize that was possible). I've driven countless times by these halls that are tucked into the Canadian wilderness like wild strawberries in a spruce thicket . . . and never noticed that they were there. Only a tiny fraction of the travelling population has any clue that they exist. Their equipment is a hodgepodge assortment of pumps and trucks and tools, acquired by a skillful blend of pierogi sales, flea markets, and sweet talk to the provincial government. Their volunteers are hard-working folks that steal family time to train, and drop their lives when the pager goes off.

Here's the connection to the one-eyed king. At first glance these departments don't look like much, but if you get into trouble in their domain, they are undoubtedly the only help you will get . . . which makes them lords of their wilderness response areas. Sure, a half a million dollar pumper full of state-of-the-art equipment and a paid crew on-the-ready would be nice, but if your car is burning, or your cottage is threatened by a wild land fire, you will be happy to see that pick up truck roll up with a portable pump and a couple of trained volunteers. You might even feel the urge to bow in grateful homage to these wilderness monarchs.

Here's another connection. The Harper government kept its promise to include a $3000 tax credit for volunteer firefighters in the newly tabled budget. I've made no secret of my opinion that this is a nice gesture, but not nearly enough to fix small departments that are strained to the breaking point. However . . . it is a nice gesture from a federal government that has historically ignored the volunteer service. Stephen Harper may be a one-eyed king, but he rules in a land of the politically blind.

This is a weird post. I just finished comparing a group of dedicated volunteer firefighters to a one-eyed king. Then I turned around and elevated Stephen Harper to the same level as these dedicated volunteers. It's obviously approaching midnight, and I'm blogging when I should be sleeping.

I'd better shift gears and talk about something less mind scrambling. I had a lot of fun when we did the ice rescue course in Fort Frances last April, and I was looking forward to helping with the water rescue piece here this weekend. I even went out and bought a wetsuit for the occasion. My enthusiasm quickly waned when I got out in the river and realized the suit was too big, and that I couldn't stop my teeth from chattering. Wetsuits are only warm if they are tight, apparently. I ended up having to bail out early, and then spent the rest of the afternoon watching from shore while everyone else paddled the Fortuna and did various rescue maneuvers in the river. It was like being in the penalty box during the Stanley Cup finals, except that hockey penalties are only two minutes. The moral of the story is that a one-eyed wetsuit is useless.

Wow. This is getting weirder by the minute.

I tried to console myself by taking photos with my new phone. The crews were too far out for a decent shot though, and I still can't figure out how to get the photos out of my camera and into my computer. Add a one-eyed camera phone to the list.

My mother has been teaching piano over the winter, and her students (including Vanessa) performed a recital last week. After they were done, my parents played a few duets for the group. They were pieces that my dad either wrote or arranged in his own unique style. Here's a clip of them playing a duet he wrote many years ago, and which brought back pleasant childhood memories. It's a little glitchy because I'm still trying to figure out my one-eyed camera, but most of the oddness was written into the piece with the careful deliberateness of an eccentric composer.

After they were done, I went up and told my mom how much I enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Then I said something like, "Growing up on music like that explains the way I turned out," to which she replied, "What's that supposed to mean?" I think she knew what I meant though, because it was her birthday, and her card from my dad contained this Ogden Nash poem:

More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That’s how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than a gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That’s how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oathes,
That’s how you’re loved by me.

If you still don't understand why I turned out the way I did, at least believe that I had a lot of fun growing up.

I have more thoughts about the training we did in Red Lake, the budget cuts that Toronto faces, and the world in general, but they will have to wait, seeing that it is now after midnight, and tomorrow I hope to try the river again if I can get a different suit. Even a one-eyed blogger (who, by the way, is king of his own domain) needs his sleep.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


I envy bloggers that have the ability to post daily, or even multiple times daily. I will be one of those bloggers someday . . . just as soon as I get the paperwork off my desk, and the training records filed, and the lawn mowed, and the reports done, and the trucks washed, and . . . um, yeah, don't hold your breath unless you are Houdini or Karoline Mariechen Meyer.

I did manage to get another short post in over at the CVFSA blog. If the link doesn't take you directly there, click on the blog link on the right side of the home page. Now that I'm on first name basis with Oprah and Dr. Phil, I'm trying to add Stephen Harper to the list. Relationship building with the Prime Minister is a tough challenge though, especially when you publicly question whether he has a conscience. Still working on my Mother's Day resolution to be kinder and gentler.

I should have time to post here again this weekend . . . but still no promises.

Friday, June 3, 2011

An In Between Post

Now that I've single handedly conquered Oprah, Dr Phil, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, I can get back to solving the problems of the world. Or at least I can get back to opining about the problems of the world. I'd like to think that they are one and the same, but that's probably a little delusional.

I'm in Red Lake this weekend. If you've never been to Red Lake, don't feel bad. This is my first trip, and I've lived in Northwestern Ontario for more than 30 years. I saw a sign that advertised the most northerly 18 hole golf course in Ontario, which tells you a little bit about how long it took to get here. Not that the golf course is much of an attraction for a club klutz like me. I played my first and only golf game last summer with Erinn on our way to Rossport last summer, and if our aim was a record high score, we probably succeeded. The only problem is that I'm told the goal is to get a low score in golf.

You can see more about our Rossport trip here.

I am up blogging when I should be sleeping, which is normal practice when I travel, so I will leave you with a link to a video on how not to train. Hopefully there will be time for an update on volunteer firefighter training before the end of the weekend, but unlike Stephen Harper, I won't make any promises.

Enough of the bleary-eyed satire. Time to hit the hay.

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