Saturday, October 29, 2011

various and sundries

I would talk about a volunteer fire department in Pennsylvania that is facing a lawsuit for not making an aggressive interior attack on a furniture plant, but there isn't much to say that has not already been said. You can read about it here and here. If you really want to know my opinions about litigation against volunteer firefighters, click here.

My brother posted his Northern Lights photos. Here's a few.

The last one was taken nearly straight overhead. You can see more of his pics at his Facebook page (scroll to the bottom for the most recent Northern Lights pics).

I just got back from an overnight with my daughter and a passel of her friends at the cabin that Phillip and his buddies built the summer before last. In the evening we had a campfire. I dusted off a few of the stories that I plan to write someday (lots of good intentions, little progress), and reworked them for a fresh audience. In the morning I cooked a gourmet breakfast, which they inhaled (helps to take a long time cooking so they are starving). Here's a photo of the group for the file:

The kids thought roughing it in the bush was lots of fun. I found the experience to be much like my trapping days, only 30 years older. It's always fun to see kids have fun though, even if the joints and muscles hurt a little more than they used to.

To finish off, here's another recipe, hot off the press.

Indo-European Enchiladas
  1. Arrive home and put all the camping gear away.
  2. Crash on the couch, then realize that it's nearly dinner time and you haven't thought of anything to make (kind of like realizing that it's nearly Halloween and your column that's due the first week of November isn't started yet).
  3. Take a quick look in the fridge and find some leftover rice and ham that doesn't look like enough for four people (steps 1-3 are optional).
  4. Dig a package of tortilla's out of the freezer.
  5. Lay four of them on the counter.
  6. Spread a row of rice down the middle of each one, leaving space on the ends.
  7. Spoon a couple tablespoons of ham broth on the each row of rice.
  8. Slice the ham into thin strips and lay on the rice.
  9. Lay some sliced or grated cheese on top of the ham.
  10. Place a layer of chopped fresh tomatoes on the cheese.
  11. Sprinkle some spices on top (I used basil)
  12. Fold the sides of the tortilla over the rice, then fold the ends to make a neat package. Hold it all together with toothpicks.
  13. Give your wife a blank stare when she asks what you are making.
  14. Hope that she doesn't start asking questions because the element of surprise is important when serving unorthodox, invent-as-you-go meals.
  15. Turn on the oven. 350. Should have done this at the beginning.
  16. Bake them for about fifteen minutes, or until the cheese melts and the edges start to get crispy.
  17. Pull out the cookie sheet, spread grated cheese on each enchilada, sprinkle the spice or herb of your choice, and put back in the oven until the cheese melts.
By the way, here's why it's Indo-European Enchiladas. The tortillas make them enchiladas. The rice makes them Indian. The ham and cheese make them European. If I had just thought of that when Erinn asked me what I was making, I might have convinced her that this was a real recipe . . .

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I'm not superstitious. It wouldn't bother me to step on a crack in the sidewalk while walking under a ladder with a black cat under each arm on Friday 13th. And no, I didn't knock on wood after writing that sentence.

In spite of my fervent disbelief, I almost converted this past weekend. We were paged to a plane crash on Friday (it turned out that no one was injured). On Saturday we responded to a vehicle crash. On Sunday I mentioned to a friend that our calls seemed to come in groups of three, and in spite of my non-superstitious convictions, I half expected to get another page in the next 24 hours.

Monday morning the pagers went off again. A vehicle upsidedown in the water with someone still inside. What a way to perpetuate the myth.

We got to the scene and found two Good Samaritans standing on the shoulder, wet to the waist. They had witnessed the crash, waded into the near freezing water, got the door open and pulled the driver out. I guess if someone has to fulfill Upsala Fire Department's destiny, they might as well have the good luck to do it when a couple of quick-thinking MNR employees happen to be driving by. Thanks Kip and Dave. We owe you one.

I don't believe in luck either, by the way.
It's the Northern Lights season again. Not that the Aurora Borealis is fussy about the time of year, but our short summer nights offer fewer opportunities to see them. Last night was a particularly brilliant show, and was reportedly seen as far south as Atlanta and Memphis. If you missed them, click here for a video. My brother is a camera guy and captured some nice photos, which I'll share once they are uploaded.

Here's some Youtube footage from New York.

Folks in the Middle Ages thought the Northern Lights portended plague or war . . . but there was so much plague and war going on that anything could have been thought to portend them.

Far from doom and gloom, I have fond memories from my teens and early twenties of wandering around on winter nights staring at the dome of lights that extended from north to south, and east to west. I remember feeling like I was standing in a celestial cathedral, listening to a choir that sang in rythm with the flickering, quivering  light show.

This is supposed to be a good year for Northern Lights, by the way. I think it portends a mild winter. Hey, if I'm going to perpetuate a myth, I might as well perpetuate one I like.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Volunteer Pandas

The volunteer fire service is like a panda bear. It is black and white . . . and it’s an endangered species.

The world is full of people who live a pastel existence of non-extreme colours. Such people rarely do anything black (really bad) or white (really good). They get up, go to work, come home, have supper, watch a show, and go to bed . . . then do it all over again the next day. They don't make waves, they don't stick out like a sore thumb, they are just there. This isn't a criticism. On the contrary, we need these folks. They're the ones that make the world turn.

The volunteer service, on the other hand, is far from pastel. I wish I could say we were an all-white, do-no-wrong breed of people, but I know it isn't true. When volunteer firefighters are white, they are whiter than freshly fallen wilderness snow. When they’re black, they are blacker than a moonless night in the boreal forest.

The white portion of this panda-like service is by far the largest portion, but it goes mostly unnoticed. The black portion is far more attention grabbing. When we screw up, people get injured or killed . . . and whether it's civilians or our very own, the world knows that we failed.

NIOSH released a report last month about a firefighter fatality that occurred a little over a year ago in Ohio. It’s a black story if ever there was one. A self-made, pressurized water tank exploded, killing a young volunteer instantly. You can read a summary of the NIOSH investigation here. Topping the list of recommendations was this:

Fire departments should ensure that fire suppression equipment is properly designed and safe for its intended use and refrain from using self-made equipment that does not meet applicable safe design standards and practice.

Yes, we certainly should. The problem, as Adam Thiel writes, is that we are "can do," solution-driven people. We see something we need and we go for it. If we can’t afford it, we find something similar and retrofit it. If we can’t find something similar, we fabricate it. In a perfect world, public emergency services wouldn't have to beg, borrow, or steal to get equipment that meets applicable standards. But the world is far from perfect.

The scary thing about this black and white story is that it’s everywhere. It isn’t just a small department in Ohio. They just happen to be the ones in the hot seat right now. The panda is alive and well in many (if not most) small volunteer departments, in all its contrasts and contradictions.

The other scary thing is that innovation is often the lesser of two evils. We  convert a FedEx step van into a rescue . . . or we haul our equipment to the scene in the trunks of our cars and the backs of our pick ups. We use a street washer as a tanker . . . or we fight the fire with only a pumper, and spit on it when we run out of water. We wear fifteen year old breathing apparatus . . . or we go without.

I'm not advocating that we pursue a volunteer crusade to save the world at the cost of endangering our firefighters with unsafe work practices, but it reminds me of an old adage about freelancing on the fire ground. Establishing a strong incident command system is the best way to counter it. In a similar manner, the best way to prevent mickey rigging innovations is to provide fire departments with the equipment they need. Small communities are often unable to produce the dollars to do it, and outside help is needed.

I haven't even addressed the endangered species analogy yet, but it will have to wait. For now, I'll leave you with a story about Wisconsin firefighters successfully performing mouth to snout rescusitation on a dog.

Call it black or white, it's at least an example of firefighters stepping up to the plate to provide a service no one else is willing to give.

We are, after all, can-do, solution driven people.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The last course of the year is over. I could be sad because instructing is the second best job in the world (next to Fire Prevention Weeking with the school kids of course). I might miss raking volunteer firefighters over the coals each weekend, and I will definitely miss the old friends I've made among the instructors, and new friends among the students. But there is always next year. And Facebook.

I won't be sad though, because I have a weird thing about liking a couple days off every so often, and I won't miss the aches, pains, long days, and hotel rooms that go with instructing. I would make a worse workaholic than a criminal defense lawyer.

I didn't get any training photos with my lousy cell camera, or any other camera for that matter. If the students or instructors out there in cyberland have some that they'd like to see blasted across the Internet, let me know and I'll post them.

I tried to talk the weather gremlins into sending snow on Sunday, not because I like snow in October, but because I wanted Andrew from Toronto to have the full Northern experience. It didn't have anything at all to do with his gloating on Facebook about the balmy temperatures in Toronto last week. 

The gremlins didn't accommodate though (they seldom do), and except for a bit of rain, the weather held nicely until the drive home. Then it snowed in Upsala. 

It was just enough to give the landscape an icky pre-winter look . . . a sort of ugly hybrid cross between fall and winter. I'd say it was Karma for me wanting snow for Andrew, but I don't believe in Karma.

Speaking of snow and Toronto, Rick Mercer has a great piece on the subject. I've shared it before, but it seems appropriate to share it again in honor of Andrew and the last course of the year.

Here's hoping we have a very long Indian Summer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fire Prevention Week (without the rant on criminal justice)

Fire Prevention Week presentations make me feel like a grandparent. You swoop in, entertain the kids briefly, hype them up with gifts and handouts, then swoop out, leaving the teachers (or parents) to wrangle them back into some semblance of order. It's very satisfying.

Of course, as a side benefit it's gratifying to know that you are influencing a future generation toward fire safe behaviour (provided that the munchkins are actually listening). Some of the kids I'm teaching now are the kids of kids I taught when I first started. Now I really feel like a grandparent.

Of all my favourite things firefighters do, my favouritist are these Fire Prevention Week visits (yes, I know that "favouritist" isn't a word, but hey, it's my blog). It turns out that I'm not alone. Will Wyatt, over at FireRescue1 wrote an entertaining piece about the 4 Kids You'll Meet During Fire Prevention Week. The "I Can't Remember My Question" kid is by far the most prevalent in my neck of the woods.

Kidding aside, it is without question the most enjoyable hour and a half of my work year. I almost think I'd like to do it full time, but then I'd be the one trying to wrangle the kids back into some semblance of order. I think I'll stick to psuedo grandparenting.

On another firefighting topic, Firefighters1st has a new website now. You can check it out here.

We're teaching another recruit course for volunteer firefighters this weekend. Instructing is my second favouritist thing to do, by the way. I'll try to get some photos with my wimpy phone camera, but no promises. 

Speaking of volunteer firefighters, here is a video clip about a young woman who became a volunteer firefighter. I've  gone on the record as saying that we need advertising dollars to promote the volunteer service. Who knows, maybe someone is listening out there after all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fire Prevention Week, Criminal Justice, and other unrelated topics

I should begin this post with a sermon on Fire Prevention Week, but I'm confident that all of my learned readers will certainly test their smoke alarms, review their escape plans, tend their cooking properly, and dust off their fire-safe behaviours in memory of Mrs. O'Leary's cow without my exposition . . . so I'll talk about Bloomer Bomber instead.

You do remember Bloomer Bomber, don't you? (more commonly known as "underwear bomber"). Click here and here for news stories about his trial, which began today. In my January 10, 2010 post I rationalized why he was pleading not guilty. Now I'm trying to rationalize why a person smart enough to be a lawyer is defending him. Maybe Mr. Chambers read my post (if so I want a cut of his fees for the case . . .). Or maybe he's smart enough to know that lawyers who successfully defend guilty people can make lots and lots of money.

In the United States everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and all are innocent until proven guilty. Canadians hold the same values. However, you'd think a defense attorney would want some explanation of his client's innocence before taking on a case. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Mr. Abdulmutallab explained to Mr. Chambers how his pants accidentally caught fire during a Trans-Atlantic flight. Mr. Abdulmutallab might be able to pass as an insane radical, which would at least explain his thought process, but I doubt that Mr. Chambers can use the same excuse.

Now you know why I chose firefighting instead of law as a career. I'd have starved as a criminal lawyer.

Leaving the (alleged) terrorist and his attorney to sort things out, and moving on to fire stuff, my latest post at Canadian Fire and EMS Quarterly is up now . . . which reminds me, the deadline for the January column is approaching . . . and I'm not sure I have a topic yet. Maybe if I spent more time researching and less time bashing radical nutcases and their lawyers, I'd be better prepared. Don't worry Laura, I'll pull myself together and get 'er done just as soon as Fire Prevention Week is over.

Speaking of Fire Prevention Week, you will test your smoke alarms, review your escape plan, tend your cooking properly, and dust off the rest of your fire safe behaviours, won't you?

For more information about fire safety, click here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

various and sundries

The Crown has dropped half of the charges against Meaford. You can read more about it here. I hope the prosecuters come to their senses and drop the rest, and that no more firefighters will have to walk in those moccasins.

Tomorrow is the big day . . . or at least the medium sized day. Ontarians get to choose their next leader. I'm not in the mood to talk politics, so I'll refer you to my latest CVFSA blog post, which discusses a survey I sent to the candidates, and their replies.

Moving on to more pleasant topics, here are a few photos of the kids blasting off rockets the Saturday before last.

And here are some cranberries that Erinn and I picked the same day.

Sometimes you just have to enjoy the day and forget the rest.

Moving on to fire related topics, here's a video clip of a fully involved chemical plant in Texas.

You may have seen it already at the Fire Engineering or Firegeezer sites. It would be easy to make a self-righteous quip about proper positioning of fire apparatus, but the saying that you shouldn't judge until you've walked a mile in the other guy's moccasins applies here. I've fought some big fires, but I've never walked anywhere in those moccasins.

This post is wandering aimlessly, not unlike the way I like to wander in the woods this time of year. Sometimes you just have to enjoy the day and forget the rest.

While I'm wandering, I may as well give you my latest psuedo recipe:

Gyoza Meatballs over Rice
  1. Remember that your wife and daughter are gone for the day, which means you are on supper duty.
  2. Dig through the freezer and find two chicken thighs that aren't enough to feed you and your 16 year old son.
  3. Keep digging, and find a half a pack of ground beef that also isn't enough to feed you and your 16 year old son.
  4. Decide that the beef and chicken together would be enough.
  5. Invent a new recipe to prove that ground beef and chicken thighs can be eaten in the same meal.
  6. Put a cup and a half of rice in a pot, add three cups of water, some garlic, chopped ginger, soy sauce, and salt. Toss in the two chicken legs for good measure, and because you can't think of any other way to work them into the recipe.
  7. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes.
  8. Wonder if your 16 year old son (who is now starving) will forgive you if the meatballs you are about to make are inedible.
  9. Chop up a bunch of Chinese cabbage (about a quarter to a third the volume of the the ground beef). I used a food processor.
  10. Press out most of the liquid and set it aside (I used a cheese cloth, but any strainer would work). Stir some soy sauce and garlic powder into the liquid.
  11. Mix the chopped Chinese cabbage with the ground beef, then add soy sauce, some chopped ginger, garlic and onion powder, and salt.  If you have sesame oil, now is a good time to add it. If you don't it's fine, because you've already departed from the real gyoza recipe by using ground beef instead of pork. Mix well.
  12. Form the mixture into meatballs and fry them on all sides in a small amount of oil over medium heat.
  13. Add a bit of chopped ginger to the pan and fry.
  14. Turn the heat down and add the Chinese cabbage liquid mixture. Add a bit of water or broth if necessary.
  15. Cover and cook the meatballs until they are nearly done.
  16. Chop more Chinese cabbage, and part of a red bell pepper. Add to the pan and cover for a few minutes until the vegetables are bright and still crunchy.
  17. Thicken the sauce with cornstarch.
  18. Serve over the rice, with the chicken on the side.
  19. Breath a sigh of relief when your 16 year old son says you can make this meal anytime.
Note: this recipe is no substitute for real gyoza, but it is much faster and easier to make, (from start to finish, about 40 minutes). Ground turkey mixed with the beef works as well.

Wandering along to yet another unrelated topic, Erinn and the kids ganged up on me for my 50th birthday, and I found this when I came home from work.

I did briefly consider how un-chiefly I looked out there . . . but sometimes you just have to enjoy the day and forget the rest.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Various and Sundries

Now that I've offered practical solutions to a few of the world's most pressing problems, I can move on to lighter, happier topics. This blog is supposed to be the metaphoric equivalent to ice cream, after all.

(Side Note 1: If that last sentence mystifies you, check out my profile.)

We're hanging out in the fair town of Emo, Ontario this weekend, teaching the finer points of pumper operations. As always, fellowship with volunteer firefighters, who are the salt of the earth by the way, is one of my favourite occupations. Next to being home with my family, there are fewer things I'd rather do.

(Side Note 2: You can read my further thoughts on the salt of the earth here.)

Here are a few pics of today's events. Thanks to Dan from Fort Frances for the last one. It's proof that I actually did something today.

As you can see from the hints of orange leaves, autumn is creeping in on us.

I'm falling down on my blogger duties. I promised the Red Lake crew weeks ago that I would post pictures of their melted entry control tags . . . which were supposed to be handed over to an officer before entering the burn chamber. Here they are, for the record.

Speaking of fires, here's a video clip of a fire blowing the roof off of an ambulance. I know from personal experience that oxygen tanks hide in vehicles that aren't ambulances as well. One more reason to wear your gear and not assume that vehicle fires are routine.

Speaking of Meaford (and I was speaking of Meaford yesterday . . . weren't you paying attention?), Andrew from Toronto encountered two Meaford firefighters in courses he taught at Gravenhurst this year. Part way through he found out that one was on the RIT crew that rescued the two downed firefighters . . . and the other was one of the downed firefighters he rescued. They are both still active in the fire service and continuing on with their training.

Here is where I should jump onto my self propelled bandwagon and talk about how a volunteer firefighter that nearly died has chosen to continue training so he can continue helping others . . . and how we should support these people, not hammer them. I won't though, because I am likely preaching to the choir. And this post is supposed to be ice cream.

Speaking of Andrew, he's coming to Thunder Bay in a couple weeks to help teach a firefighter recruit course. Graham the Shark and Frank the Killer Whale will be there too, as well as Jason and DJ who don't have nicknames yet. Should be fun, especially since Aime the Rainman will still be in Europe, which guarantees that we'll have nice weather (btw, that's why the sun is shining so brightly this weekend. . . Aime is in Europe, where it's probably raining cats and dogs).

I bumped into an interesting link over at Fire Engineering today. It's a free training video for first responders who have experienced the death of a child while on a call. It was helpful to me and may be helpful to others, so pass the word.

To finish off this hodgepodge ice cream post, here is a shot of the Northern Lights, taken by my brother Paul a few nights ago.

You can see more of Paul's Northern Lights pics at his Facebook album (scroll to the bottom).

The Ontario provincial election campaign is drawing to a close, but since this is an ice cream post, I will refrain from commenting . . . for now.

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