Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Times Have Changed…Maybe Not

I recently came across a fascinating historical document.  The rules and regulations for the Los Angeles Fire Department from 1901 are, in many respects, not much different than those in place in many departments today, a century removed.  One major difference was apparatus propulsion, the turn of the century still being what we view as the romantic era of the horses.  Contrary to the opinion of the third generation, his father (me) and grandfather had no actual experience in the horse drawn days.  After reading the policies relating to the care for the diesel engines of the day, one wonders if the brothers then viewed them with the fond nostalgia we do.  The rules show the importance of the animals was paramount

RULE 13.

SECTION 1. Horses shall be fed not more than four quarts of grain and about twenty pounds of hay daily, and twice a week shall be fed a bran mash.

SEC. 2. Hours for feeding horses shall be 6.30 A.M. and 4.00 P.M., and must be watered at least thirty minutes before feeding time.

SEC. 3. Horses shall be thoroughly groomed every morning, their hoofs picked out and cleaned, their manes and tails washed with soap and water once every week and thoroughly dried after washing; the sheath shall be washed every two weeks. Grey or white horses may have stains sponged off with warm water and soap, but must be thoroughly dried immediately. White legs may be washed in the same manner, otherwise the legs must never be washed. Washing horses is strictly forbidden, unless by permission of the Chief Engineer, and then only with bucket and sponge.

SEC. 4. On returning from an alarm, horses' mouths and nostrils must be sponged out, and may be given a few swallows of water, and, if warm, must be scraped, rubbed dry, and blanketed. Sweat should be removed from around the eyes and under the tail with a damp sponge. Horses must never be given grain while hot after a run or exercise.

SEC. 5. Teasing or annoying horses, or teaching them tricks is strictly forbidden.

SEC. 6. Horses shall be exercised daily within three blocks of the house, for a period of not less than one-half-hour, hitched to the apparatus (Sundays excepted). In wet weather the horses shall be exercised without the apparatus.

SEC. 7. A bucket must not be used to catch the horse's urine in, nor shall they be taught any like peculiarities. If a horse is staining to urinate, straw should be shaken under him. The stall should be washed out immediately and all manure must be removed immediately.

SEC. 8. If a horse is injured or shows signs of sickness the commanding officer of the company must be notified at once.

SEC. 9. Horses must be treated kindly, taught by kindness to come promptly to their place and perform their part of the service without the unnecessary use of the whip. The unnecessary use of a whip by any member will subject the offender to suspension or dismissal.

Morning check-out, washing rigs, changing fluids, filters, adding fuel, waxing (grooming); reporting mechanical problems or accidents—maybe things haven’t changed much after all. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Upcoming TV Appearance on PA Live!

I will be appearing Friday, July 27th on PA Live on WBRE Channel 28 with Dave Kuharchik and Monica Madeja to talk about "Fire Men."  Tune in at 4:00 PM....

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cats, Bats, and Stubbed Toes

We’ve all heard the stories of people visiting Emergency Rooms for stubbed toes—this is real—I have personally responded on an ambulance call for a person with a stubbed toe.  The fire department equivalent, again real, is the stereotypical cat stuck in the tree.  My father had the best response I’ve ever heard when the dispatcher would call with a report from a citizen of a feline atop a sapling.  “Tell the caller we’ve never seen a cat skeleton in a tree yet.  When the kitty gets hungry enough, it’ll come down.”  End of discussion.  Other animal control calls for squirrels or bats in houses get filed in this miscellaneous category. 

Less amusing was a recent incident I heard about where a citizen broke a fire truck windshield; literally beat a spider web of cracks in it with his bare hands, because the fire department couldn’t make his power come back on after a storm. 

What some members of the public fail to remember at times is that it costs money every time a fire truck turns a wheel.  Fuel, wear and tear, and indirect costs like insurance are all part of the equation every time a piece of apparatus moves.  That’s the mechanical side; more importantly there is wear and tear on people too.  Ill maintained and malfunctioning alarm systems are the bane of our existence.  No fine or penalty seems sufficient after the third straight night of a false alarm at the same place at 3:00 AM. 

The unnecessary, abusive, and downright strange calls continue to make up more than their fair share of any department’s call volume.  You have to go, though, ‘cause that’s what we do. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Portable Radios: A Sarcastic History

I have seen an evolution in portable radios which goes from the Paleozoic to Bill Gates.  One of the first portable radios I ever used was a single channel RCA model about the size of a squished loaf of bread, but weighing considerably more.    Unless you had hands the size of a linebacker, it took two to actually use the thing; one to hold it and the other to key the transmit button.  The next generation was a four channel Motorola, two of which we didn’t need, slightly bigger than a brick and about the same weight.   They were damn good radios that took a licking and kept on ticking.  Extension microphones came next which put the most important parts of the radio on your collar, the speaker and the mic itself.  All you had to do is turn your head, mash the button on the side and talk. 

Initially, only Chiefs had portables, then company officers, and now everyone.  The rapid expansion in radio availability turned the fire ground from a nice quiet, pleasant place, into a cacophony of noise, squeals, screamers, and those that loved the sound of their own voice.  Eventually, most places establish communications policies that reined in the worst offenders, but you can still hear the white noise in some areas. 

Interoperability became the next buzz word, with the so called need to be able to talk to the world, and as the size of radios decreased, the channel capacity increased until the hundred channel radio became ubiquitous.  Most of these units would live, die, and be replaced with the next latest and greatest model without ever having used more than ten percent of the channels they contained, but it was critical to have the secondary fire police channel of some department three counties away that you had never, in the history of the department, ever run with. 

Now the radios will talk to you, Siri-like, although they won’t answer questions –yet, or tell you where to get a good pizza on the way back to the station (hint, hint Mr. Motorola—just kidding).  The radio lady, Sophie I’ll call her, tells you what channel you’re on.  Good thing, cause it’s not like I can remember who or what is on channel 63. 

The extension mics have started to grow also, and now are almost as big as the radios they are attached to.  Speaker and mic button aren’t enough now; volume controls and a mayday alert, all of which supposedly can be worked by gloved hands in the dark.  Good luck.  Makes me wonder why we need the extension mics anymore—just attach the radio to the collar.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but the complexity has reached the level that I pine for the days when you didn’t need an electrical engineering degree to use a portable.   Maybe, just maybe,  RCA will start making radios again.