21,483 calls in 36 years

2 December 2008

It’s been more than a week, and I still am saddened when I think of the loss of Phil Rounds. Ben Fleagle already did a better job than I did talking about it, and was closer to the loss. Right now, I feel pretty close, though. My thoughts go out to all in the Great White North.

And there are many who also appreciate the efforts of those who show how he was missed. Staff at the News-Miner did an excellent job with a several articles and an obituary.¬†While I’m at it, I’d like to thank Todd Shechter for several email forwards, Josh Zwart for the thirty second version of A-shift history and pumpkin pie, and my wife for her diligence on Facebook.

But I think the most impressive is this video. Taken by Carol Falcetta, it shows the procession down University Avenue in Fairbanks towards Phil’s memorial service. The music is very nice, and the video itself shows some small measure of the respect this man held. First of all, remember that every engine pictured represents an entire department that committed to sending a crew for this. Also, for those of you fire service folks out there, wait until the end and count the number of law enforcement. Try to imagine another firefighter getting that kind of help from cops.

We’ll miss you, Phil.

The Parting Glass

24 November 2008

I was always the awkward kid. The one who read too much and played too little; not strong, not brave, not confident. I was that kid well into my teens and if you watch me now, you’ll still see it occasionally. I don’t quite know how, therefore, I decided to be a firefighter: full-time for a few years, a volly for a few more, and now getting lost in the woods on a regular basis.

Maybe blame my roommate Myles, who talked me into taking an EMT class, or the instructor of that class, the incomparable Deena Thomas (nee Stout). Maybe blame Bud Rotroff, who made clear from the first Fire Science class I took with him that this was where serious people lived. But certainly, a great share of the blame can be laid on Battalion Chief Phil Rounds, who commanded respect for the University Fire Department from the first moment he entered a room. Ben Fleagle has written it already, all I want to do is lend my own voice to talking about a great guy I knew, who passed away a few days ago.
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In distinct contrast with the school cancellations for snow when I was a kid, I have now had a free day from work due to a hurricane. Of course, that merely frees me to go to another job where I will probably spend most of my time either waking up early to inspect the road to the summit or standing in the rain telling people that said road is closed.

We’re a pretty self-sufficient county, in general, and Harry Kim’s background in civil defense may be what makes him so good at the competent-yet-understated messages whose absence so plagues most of the U.S. during natural disasters. Granted part of our self-sufficiency results from our utter lack of infrastructure in many places (those of you who have been to my house can now start laughing). But still.

I have a suspicion that we’ll lose electricity and possibly phones for a while, but I’ve got enough propane to keep my ice cream and beer cold, and what else do you really need?

Fire behavior

7 August 2007

One of those things that you can learn a lot about and still not know all you need to. And now, according to a New Scientist article (behind the paywall), added to the list of ‘phenomena long classed as scientifically impossible despite robust observations by roughnecks.‘ Since I didn’t pay either, I don’t know how the rest of the article describes these incidents, but any experience involving a fully involved safety zone certainly sounds like something important to find out about.

Given the number of firefighters prone to confusing flashover and rollover, though, it is safe to say that there could be better study and education on the whole kit and kaboodle. I guess spending about twelve hours in the last two days inside a forty foot shipping container in high heat made me nostalgic for the times when finding myself in that environment meant there was live fire training going on.

Where I want to be

30 June 2007

I can only handle so much coolness at once. I ran across these conference proceedings about the confluence of chaos theory and disaster response a while ago, but didn’t have time to read. Nor do I now, and not least of all because I just found these conference proceedings about the uses of digital globe applications in environmental (and other) science outreach.

That’s a lot of reading.

The above quote is a standard in discussions about how science works, and a valuable axiom in some styles of problem solving. An interesting (and slightly worrisome) application of the old saw to politics is worth reading in a discussion about arms control at Nuclear Mangos.

Good information about nuclear weapons hasn’t exactly been a big issue recently, despite the prominence of North Korean test and the three big I’s of Iran, India, and Israel. That the discussion remains on the level of style over substance isn’t surprising in most media, there is one where I had hoped for better. I spent most of today in my biannual refresher course for first responder certification, and recently added to the curriculum is a chapter on terrorism, including nuclear bombs and radiological explosions (dirty bombs). Unfortunately, the information presented in the class was really no better than that available on (and heck, could have been written by the same shmoes who brought you) the Homeland Security (theater) site Ready.gov. The Federation of American Scientists have a pretty thorough analysis of the site’s shortcomings; they also run the site ReallyReady, to show what a complete one looks like.

My impetus for making this comparison is that it seems that information distributed through the official channels smells slightly of scaremongering rather than actual advice. While they are discussing some scary stuff, is the best we have really to “stay away from the suspicious site. . . until specially trained teams [arrive] with special monitoring devices”? I think we could be trusted with a bit more, but that is a quote from my first responder textbook.

I read in the Hawai`i Tribune-Herald today that one of the new County Councillors is calling for greater citizen involvement in disaster response through volunteer time and preparedness training. It is a funny coincidence, then, that there are already about 300 citizens of Hawai`i County who have put in a considerable number of volunteer hours in training for incident management and response for hazardous materials, emergency medical, wildland fires, search and rescue, and other such specialized skills. These citizens are volunteer firefighters in the twenty-odd volunteer companies of the Hawai`i Fire Department.

In a country where 80% of all firefighters are volunteers and the average value of one hour of volunteer time is about $18, and a county where growth is patently overwhelming almost all aspects of the budget and infrastructure, it would seem in everyone’s best interests to cultivate the established organizations and people who are poised to respond to emergency incidents and disasters of all sorts. Nationally, the class of rubber-meets-the-road first responders are overlooked in funding, training, and planning, yet they are frequently the ones who bear the brunt of responding to incidents. As Doug Carlson has repeatedly stated over at his blog about disaster response in Hawai`i, greater accountability is needed. That can begin by streamlining the mishmash of State Civil Defense, Federal Emergency Management Agency, County Civil Defense, Hawai`i Fire Department, Hawai`i Community College, and the plethora of other local, state and federal agencies responsible for employing and training first responders here on the island.

For an island which is expected to be able to survive unaided for one to two weeks after a major incident, we don’t seem to be able to talk to each other very well.

And don’t look to Big Brother for guidance. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ just reprinted the Federation of American Scientists’ analysis of the information available from FEMA at Ready.gov, and it isn’t good. Emergency response begins locally, and if you are concerned about it, drop by your local fire station and offer to volunteer. There’s sure to be something you can do.