Friday, July 22, 2011

The prophet has spoken

In my CVFSA post (you still didn't click that link?), I talked about fire departments being viewed as stop gaps when no other help was available. Yesterday I read this piece about a Florida crew that rescued a horse from a swimming pool. Two days ago we were paged to a tree on a hydro line in no-man's land because we were closer than to the incident than the provincial agency responsible for the area. I must be a prophet . . . or maybe a sage. 

I see it now. Upsala will become a firefighter mecca to which wisdom-seeking responders will make pilgrimage for enlightenment on herding honeybees and helping horses. We'll discuss CPR on pythons, and the finer points of cat rescue. We'll ponder the enigma of politics and the bane of bureaucracy. I'll build a cabin by the lake to accommodate these covert conclaves, and I'll lay a helmet conspicuously upside down on the porch, so the faithful can leave donations before they return to their selfless stop-gapping lives . . .

Okay, so I'm not a sage, and I merely state obvious truths that everyone already knows. It would be nice to have a cabin by the lake with a donation helmet though.

I am leaving Saturday for a nine day trip to Ava, Missouri (you can read about my last Ava experience here and here). I may be able to post while I'm gone, but don't count on it. In the meantime, you can read some of my previous posts, like the one on my experiences with pets, and another about democracy in the kitchen.

Both of those are listed in my Top 289 Most Popular Posts, by the way.

Okay, so I've only written 289 posts.

See you in August, if not sooner.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I saw a cartoon once of a horned devil muttering and fixing a flat tire along the pot-holed road to hell. His sidekick was saying, "What did you expect when it's only paved with good intentions?" My road to posting over at the Canadian Volunteer Fire Service blog has been pretty pot holey since I started a few months ago, which proves that I did have good intentions. I said that I would post once a week, but it's been more like once a month. Anyway I did finally get a new post up today. You can see it here.

Speaking of honeybees (ha, you didn't click the link and read the blog did you - if you had, you'd know what I was talking about) I heard on CBC the other day that elephants are terrified of them. Here's an article that talks about it. Scientists are experimenting with honeybee walls to protect farmers' fields. Nothing to do with firefighting, by the way.

Speaking of things that have nothing to do with firefighting, if you are interested in attending the world's largest robot conference, click here.

I think the July heat is getting to me.

If you are really set on reading a serious view about the fire service, here is an article that says retention of volunteer firefighters is suffering. In the words of Gomer Pile, surprise, surprise, surprise. Of course, if you had read my blog post over at CVFSA, you would have read my serious view about the fire service. Now I'm nagging. It must be the heat.

Speaking of heat, here is an article and video of a very close call explosion in England (bet you clicked that link - everyone likes a good explosion, especially when no firefighters get hurt).

Speaking of heat again, Ontario is getting it's turn at hot dry weather, and forest fires. They are burning a ways north of here, so they aren't a threat to our community, but there has been lots of low hanging smoke in the area the past few days. If you want an official report about the situation, click here. On second thought, if you really wanted to read something official, you wouldn't be hanging around my blog.

Speaking of smoke, I would have had a cool photo of the sun rising in the smoke this morning at 6:30, but I couldn't get my camera phone to work. I must of jinxed myself when I said I had it figured out.

Speaking of jinxing, I don't believe in it, which is why I decided to take the pumper for its weekly run last night during training. The truck goes out once a week, if we don't get a call. I've found for some reason that if I take it out early in the week we usually get a call the next day or so. If I take it out later in the week, we don't. Just a superstitious fire service thing. Anyway, as I said, I don't believe in jinxes, so I took the truck for its weekly run, then went the extra mile and blabbed to everyone that I didn't believe in jinxes. This morning at 5:00 our pagers went off. It was a tractor trailer in the ditch, and was just enough of a call to keep the legend alive.

I still don't believe in jinxes, by the way. You can read about it here (better click the link if you don't want seven years of bad luck . . . oh, never mind).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

the rest of the story

A longer version of the Bell story is that last fall, MNR informed me very politely that they were going to tear down the old forest fire watchtower in Upsala. Normally I don't care a fig about MNR's watchtowers, except that this one housed our paging equipment, and provided a nice perch to mount the antenna . . . and no one else on tower hill was willing to share their towers. MNR asked me to consider what other options we might have, and said they'd get back to me in the spring.

To shorten the long story yet again, I spent the winter procrastinating in hopes that they might change their mind. They didn't though, and when they came back in the spring, they said the tower was definitely going to be torn down in June or July or August, which gave me a nebulous deadline (kind of like someone telling you it's your call when you are scatterbrained and need them to order you to do thus and so).

Fortunately, the situation had developed to the point by now that it could be considered an emergency, which helped motivate me to find a solution. After a few false starts, we met a nice local fellow who happened to own a tower in a different location that was slated to be torn down, and who offered to donate it to the cause instead (how many guys do you know that have spare towers kicking around?). There was hydro at the location, and all I had to do was hire a couple reckless guys to climb the tower and hang our antenna . . . and then I had to get the Bell guy to come move the line before the nebulous deadline. Which brings us to last Thursday, which was one of "those" days.

The story has a happy ending, because the Bell guy did come out on Friday (fourth attempt) and made the switch. Our new tower/antenna combo performs even better than the old one. Our truck radios can now receive pages along the whole 100 km stretch of highway that we cover, increasing our range by about 25 km in either direction, and decreasing our reliance on smoke signals and carrier pigeons.

The other part of the happy ending is that Sasha is feeling better, even though she's hopped up on prednisone and Robaxin . . . or rather because she's hopped up on those drugs.

I'm headed to Missouri for a week next Saturday. I hope to post again before then, so stay tuned . . .

Thursday, July 14, 2011


It's been one of "those" days. Erinn and Vanessa stayed with her mom in Thunder Bay last night, leaving Phillip and I to fend for ourselves . . . which wasn't too hard since I like to cook, and what else do two guys need but a couple square meals a day? A few culinary duties was not enough to make it one of "those" days.

I was supposed to meet the Bell technician who was going to move the phone line for our paging system to a new location today (a long story). This was my third attempt to connect with him before the unspecified deadline to have the paging equipment moved, after which I will be in trouble if it isn't done (part of the long story). I was anxious, but it was still not enough to make it one of "those" days yet.

Our dog Sasha was acting a bit off yesterday, and I suspected back trouble, which has been a recurring problem for the past 9 months. The plan was for Erinn to bring home some meds to help her through, but this morning the dog was very obviously in terrible pain. When I touched the side of her head, she let out a yelp/howl/squeal like I've never heard before, and I thought, "Oh crap, it's her damaged tooth that finally abscessed." One of "those" days had begun.

I wasn't sure it was the tooth, so in true scatterbrain fashion I went to work. After all, I had no car to take her the hour and a half drive to the vet's office, and the Bell guy was coming sometime, and there was that unknown deadline . . .

I didn't get any work done. It's funny. Actually it isn't funny at all. I can manage all kinds of difficult and nasty emergency calls, and only be a little scatterbrained. Afterwards, I suffer from Scatterbrained Syndrome for a while if it was ugly, but that's par for the course, at least for me.

When it comes to domestic emergencies though, I'm a hopeless case. I kept wondering when the Bell guy would get here and how late the vet's office was open and whether an abscessed tooth was fatal and how would I feel if the dog died and who cares about an emergency paging system anyway . . . my dog is in terrible pain . . .

I called Bell. They patched me through to the technician, to whom I explained the dilemma. He offered to put me first on the list, and said he could be in Upsala by 11:00. I said okay and hung up. Then I called Erinn and dumped all my scatterbraininess on her. She couldn't do much to help, and said it was my call.

[Side note: when you are scatterbrained, you need someone to say, "Thou shalt do thus-and-so or fire will fall from heaven and consume you." Saying, "It's your call," doesn't have the same effect.]

Thirty minutes later I called Bell again and cancelled the appointment. Screw the unknown deadline. Screw the whole 911 system.

Then I called the vet and made an appointment for 2:00, even though I had no car. I called my parents, who graciously offered their van. I told Phillip he could fend for himself for lunch. Nothing like a little decisiveness to make a scatterbrained day better.

I didn't hit a moose on the way to town, and the appointment went well, except that Sasha nearly bit the vet's hand off when he touched her ear. He said there was nothing wrong with her teeth or ears, and that it was indeed her back that was causing the pain. He didn't say I was a scatterbrained idiot for thinking it was her tooth (modern vets are nice like that). He administered the appropriate drugs and I went to the lobby to wait for a prescription. When the nice lady called my name, I scooped up my poor pet and went to the desk.

"That will be [such and such] dollars," she says. I didn't care about the amount, I just wanted to get out of there and drive the hour and a half home. All I had to do was pull out my wallet . . . my wallet . . . my right hip pocket was empty. This was really one of "those" days.

"Um, this is really dumb," I say in true scatterbrained fashion. "I was sure I had my wallet. My wife is somewhere in town and I can phone her cell . . ."

"What's that black thing in your left hand," the nice lady asks with a smile.

"Um, yeah that'd be my wallet," I say, hoping the room full of calm and collected pet owners hadn't noticed. "It's been one of 'those' days."


It's evening, and Sasha is sleeping peacefully, after about 30 minutes of scatterbraininess that undoubtedly was a side effect of the drugs. I have no such excuse for myself.

The Bell guy might come again tomorrow. Erinn is definitely coming home tonight. "Those" days eventually do pass.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Non-expertly challenged

I divide the world into three ambiguous categories:
  1. those that know everything about a few things
  2. those that know something about a lot of things
  3. those that know nothing about anything
It's tempting to relegate computer geeks and nuclear physicists to the first category, and a percentage of politicians and bureaucrats to the last. Finding myself firmly entrenched in the catch-all middle category however, I lack the necessary qualifications to pronounce any such judgement, so I will refrain.

There are advantages to not being an expert at anything, not the least of which is that you can say whatever you feel like and no one takes you seriously.

On second thought, I'm not sure that meets the strict definition of "advantage."

What I meant to say is that people are less likely to challenge an amateur opinion (if it is stated as such from the beginning) which broadens the range of topics upon which a blogger can safely opine without opposition.

That sounds weak-kneed. I'm still not sure it's actually an advantage.

Anyway, while we are on the subject of things on which I'm not expert, I had a chance to practice my very rusty Japanese the other day. Masahito Yoshida is a world traveller who is crossing Canada on foot. When I heard he had arrived in Upsala I walked out to meet him. We chatted for five or ten minutes, me stumbling around with the limited Japanese I could remember after 20+ years, and he in the English he had picked up along the way. I didn't get a photo, but you can visit his blog here. There is a fuller account of his world travels here, the only drawback being that the site is in Japanese.

Continuing the theme of non-expert things, here is a video of some West Virginia firefighters rescuing a kitten with a leaf blower. Erinn saw the video and suggested that perhaps the kitten went down the pipe to escape the firefighters. I'll have to add leaf blowers to my list of dubious cat rescue equipment.

On a slightly different note, my July column is up over at Canadian Fire and EMS Quarterly.

Along the lines of "to be or not to be" an expert firefighter, Vince MacKenzie from Grand Falls Windsor, Newfoundland writes a thought-provoking article about volunteer firefighters and standards. It's a topic that no one wants to talk about, but everyone needs to face.

And finally, to finish off this decidedly non-expert post, here is another recipe:

Tim's Rice Melange
  1. Dig out the leftover steak from a few evenings ago.
  2. If you don't have any leftover steak, use chicken or any other cooked meat you can find.
  3. Chop it into bite sized pieces and set it aside.
  4. Find some Chinese broccoli, Chinese cabbage, a red bell pepper, and a few baby carrots.
  5. Back up five steps and combine two cups of rice with two cups of chicken broth and two cups of water.
  6. (Side note 1: if you don't live an hour and a half from town, or if you don't think you're going to want the other two cups of broth before your next town trip, use all four cups instead of water).
  7. Put the rice on high heat, and add some garlic powder, onion powder, a little curry powder, some crushed ginger, a little salt and a shot of soy sauce.
  8. (Side note 2: Stop challenging my nebulous measurements. I TOLD you I wasn't an expert.)
  9. Cook the rice like you normally would (bring to a boil, turn low, cook for 40 or so minutes yada yada).
  10. When the rice is done, back up to step 4, chop the broccoli and Chinese cabbage. Then . . .  
  11. . . . ponder what to do with the carrots and bell pepper. Here's the problem - one of your children doesn't like them cooked, but the dish needs the colour. You have two options: 1 - Chop them big so the kid can pick them out easily. 2 - grate them fine so the kid doesn't notice them so much. Option 1 is problematic because if you break the cardinal rule of making your children eat everything on their plate, the downward spiral to family chaos begins. I bet if you studied it out you'd find that Charles Manson didn't have to eat his bell peppers as a kid. Option 2 is risky because kids are smarter than we think.)
  12. Side note 3: Not wanting to bail my kids out of jail in 10 years, I chose option 2, except that I didn't have much luck grating the bell pepper, so I chopped it into fine pieces instead.
  13. Now that we've settled that problem, saute the Chinese broccoli and cabbage in a cast iron pan or a wok until they are bright green but still crisp.
  14. Add the meat (which should be already cooked), and the bell pepper and carrot.
  15. Add a bit of soy sauce to the mix and some garlic powder and fresh basil. Ignore the kill-joys that say basil doesn't belong in a dish with curry. Fry a tad longer.
  16. Add the rice to the pan and heat, tossing everything together making sure everything is hot, then serve.
  17. Gloat over both your kids cleaned plates after the meal.
Now you know why I call them psuedo recipes.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rocket's Red Glare

No, this isn't about the American national anthem. I needed an excuse to post a photo from our Canada Day fireworks show to prove that I finally figured out my camera phone . . . and "Rockets Red Glare" makes a cool title.

It's been a long time since I went to grade school in the States, but I still remember this:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The meaning behind most of those words was lost to my elementary mind, but I do remember wondering why the nation was invisible. I did feel the pride and patriotism that was woven into the fabric of American society, at least in that era. My first writing success was an essay entitled, "What America Means to Me." Even at the ripe age of 6, I knew the buzzwords about liberty and freedom and oppression . . . and I took the five dollar prize for the essay contest.

[side note: One more dollar added to the prize gave me enough cash to pay my half of a used bicycle. My parents paid the other half. The American Dream was beginning . . .].

The volunteer fire service could use a dose of old-time, American-style loyalty to a cause . . . our cause, specifically. Chad Sartison touches on this idea in his recent blog post over at Firefighters1st. He questions whether volunteer firefighters have the same sense of brotherhood as our career counterparts. It's a thorny pill to swallow, but I have to agree. Many of us live in isolated areas, which contributes to our polarized points of view. Help is far away, and our perception is that the outside world can or will do little for us, so why should we care about anyone else. This disengagement between departments is a deep and complex problem that I've mulled over for many years. As usual, I'm long on problems but short on answers.

It isn't that we don't like each other, or that we don't care. It's just that we also like our jobs and families, and we care about all the other responsibilities that crowd into our lives. We do have a connection. Volunteer firefighters stop by the hall from time to time on their way across Canada. Friends call when they think you might be having a bad day. The connection is there. It just needs to grow stronger.

On the topic of making a connection, Laura King revisits the Brantford Expositor's article about "Killed in the Line of Duty" in her Firefighting in Canada editor's blog. You may remember I took issue with Chris Brennan's skewed perspective on the subject . . .  and I am glad to see that I wasn't the only one that thought the columnist was off base. You can sift through a pile of letters to the editor here, and see my response that finally got published (mistakes and all). Try Googling "Chris Brennan" "Brantford Expositor," and most of the first page of hits will be people criticizing his ill-thought out logic. The fire service came together on this one because it is an issue that touches us all, career and volunteer, urban and rural. It even caught the attention of our friends in the US. Billy G's Secretlist was where I first encountered it.

A rule of thumb in our democratic village is that people won't get involved unless they are mad. Our town meetings prove this principle on a regular basis. In November the residents vote on the fire, recreation, and local services board budgets. We get about the same attendance as you would expect for a town study group on the book of Leviticus . . . unless people are upset about a change in the budget. Then the whole village turns out. That's only happened once or twice in the past 15 years, and fortunately no one was mad at me, which is the only reason I'm alive to tell the story.

Did I ever tell you that when small town politics get vicious, it's like refereeing a free-for-all between a tornado and a hurricane?

Fortunately, our inner craziness is strictly reserved for really desperate situations, or for losses of game seven in the Stanley Cup finals (sorry Vancouver, I had to rub your nose in it one more time). While this slow and steady attribute is a great strength, it can work against organizations like the volunteer fire service that are facing extinction unless radical change is introduced.

I cannot see into the future, but I fear that unless we are successful in persuading our country - and even our fellow volunteers - to stand up and speak out on our behalf, we will face even more difficult times in the next few years.

The Prophet of Doom has spoken. I can hear the collective Canadian yawn as they switch the channel. I guess I just haven't made people mad enough yet. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

In Vibert's Field the Lupines Blow

In Vibert's field the lupines blow . . .

Erinn and I went for a walk yesterday to catch a piece of summer before it vanishes, and to gather a bouquet of the lupines that blanket Upsala like marijuana on a Colombian plantation (where did that come from?). I believe  Vibert's field holds the Guinness World  record for the most lupines squeezed onto a single piece of real estate (I made that up). My imagination says that Flanders Fields look like this, only with poppies instead of lupines.

Here's a shot of Erinn feeling the pulse of this thriving jungle (where's Waldo?).

On the way home, we took a shortcut through the cemetery, which is also a burgeoning lupine paradise this time of year. While Erinn meandered through the flowering thicket, I surfed the tombstones. I love words and things that are old, and while Upsala cemetery is small, it has enough words and old things to keep me occupied for a while. Yeah, it's weird. A fire chief wandering a cemetery brooding about the history of his village. Give me a break though. The whole Flanders Fields thing had made me all reflective and Oprah-like again. But I digress.

One headstone stopped me short: "Cecil Taylor 1934-2010."

It's almost impossible to die in a small village without the whole place knowing that you're gone. Cecil had moved away during the last years of his life, but it was a rude shock to see his name on a headstone. A notable citizen had passed away, and I had to wander the graveyard to find out.

In 1987, a group of intrepid Upsalanians banded together to form the Upsala Fire Protection Team, with the help of the provincial government. Cecil was selected - or forced at gun point - to be the first chief. He was crusty and sarcastic, but led the department with a steady hand in its infant years. His garage housed the first equipment: a 1977 tanker, a portable pump, some long boots and coats and a few hand tools.

Cecil was an electrician by trade, so he knew his way around building construction, and was the logical choice to oversee the construction of Upsala's first fire hall in 1990. The work was completely done by volunteers. We followed his terse orders, laughed at his wry humour, and avoided his wrath as best as we could. You can see a couple photos of that era on the Upsala Fire Department Facebook Group page.

Volunteer fire chiefing is a tough assignment, and Cecil only lasted four or five years. A young officer took the helm, and Upsala's first chief left without fanfare, and very little acknowledgement of his contribution. 

Here's a shot of Cecil, with some of the government officials he antagonized during his tenure (the little guy holding the key is now a captain on our department).

Cecil wasn't a hero. He wasn't a charismatic leader. He had plenty of flaws like most of us that lead volunteer fire departments. When the pitchers in life hurl their curve balls, however, someone has to grab a bat and step up to the plate. Cecil might not have ever hit a home run, and he may have even struck out occasionally, but he took a job that no one else wanted, and did it to the best of his ability.

One of the last times I saw Cecil, he was hunched over our breathing system control box with pliers and a screwdriver, many years after he had left the department. Halton Hills Fire Department had generously donated the unit, but we had to replace the three phase motor with a single phase. It would have cost hundreds of dollars to bring an electrician out from Thunder Bay to rewire the control box, so I phoned Cecil. His wife was ill, and he had a lot of things on the go, but he brought a worn canvass satchel full of tools and did the job. When I suggested he give the fire department a bill for his services, I thought he was going to slug me. He stuffed his tools back in the bag, gave me a glare, and disappeared out the door.

Cecil passed away in November of last year, again without fanfare. He is buried in Upsala next to his wife Kay, who served as a volunteer dispatcher from the beginning until 2004, when 911 came to Upsala.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Rest in peace Cecil. You'd be mad if you knew I was writing this post, but if I don't blow your horn, who will?

May we keep the faith.

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