Monday, December 17, 2007

Racial Hoaxes (within the Baltimore Fire Department ) and the NAACP

Guest commentary by:

originally published: Wednesday December 12, 2007

(Baltimore. MD) Last May, firefighters at a Baltimore , Md. , fire station came under scrutiny for displaying a deer with an afro wig, gold tooth, gold chain and a cigarette hanging from its mouth. Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, went ballistic, charging,

"There is now and has been a culture of racism and white supremacy within the Baltimore City Fire Department." As it turns out, it was a black fireman who dressed up the critter. Cheatham refused to apologize for his accusations of fire department racism, maintaining "there is now and has been a culture of racism and white supremacy within the Baltimore City Fire Department."

On Nov. 21, a hangman's noose was found at the fire station with a note, "We can't hang the cheaters, but we can hang the failures. No EMT-1, NO JOB." The noose and note turned up on the heels of an investigation into allegations of cheating on the test that emergency medical technicians must take for certification.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, a black, in a written statement said, "I am outraged by this deplorable act of hatred and intimidation. Threats and racial attacks are unacceptable anywhere, especially in a firehouse." Doc Cheatham said, "We're going to demand that this be handled as a hate crime. This thing really needs to end here in Baltimore city." The incident prompted a federal investigation.

Last week, Donald Maynard, a black firefighter-paramedic, confessed to having placed the noose, note and drawing depicting a lynching on a bunk in the firehouse. City officials said Maynard was recently suspended, prior to his confession, from the department Friday for failing to meet requirements for advanced life-saving training. A spokesman for Mayor Dixon said there would be no criminal charges filed.

In response to Maynard's confession, NAACP President Cheatham still blamed white racism, saying, "It really saddens us to hear that evidently things have reached a stage that even an African-American does an injustice to himself and his own people as a result of a negative culture in that department."

Doc Cheatham is a poster boy for demonstrating a much larger problem, namely that the once proud and useful NAACP has outlived that usefulness and has in some instances become an impediment to black progress. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black liberal-to-moderate Washington-based think-tank, reported that 88 percent of blacks favored educational choice plans. A Gallup Poll found 72 percent of blacks support school choice. The NAACP, acting as handmaidens for the teachers' unions, is solidly against school vouchers. A Gallup Poll shows 44 percent of blacks are for the death penalty and 49 percent against it, but the NAACP is solidly against it.

The major problems confronting a large segment of the black community have little or nothing to do with racism -- problems such as unprecedented illegitimacy, family breakdown, fraudulent education, crime and rampant social pathology. If white people became angels tomorrow, it would do nothing to solve problems that can only be solved by blacks.

But I'm somewhat optimistic. More and more blacks are seeing through race hustlers such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Doc Cheatham. An even more optimistic note is the financial decline of the NAACP. Declining black support is good evidence that the civil rights struggle is over and won. That's not to say there are not major problems but they are not civil rights problems.

Today, most civil rights organizations get their financial support from white businesses and foundations caving in to intimidation or seeking to sooth feelings of guilt. For them, I have a cheaper alternative, "Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon Granted to All Persons of European Descent," available at


Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of More Liberty Means Less Government: Our Founders Knew This Well.

Originally uploaded by Sully Pixel

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Extreme Weather Firefighting

By: Lou Angeli

(St. Louis, MO) -- REPOST -- As weather experts debate the effects of El Nino on North American weather patterns, the "B" shift members of St. Louis Squad-2 don't really give a damn. Winter is on them, and the simple fact of the matter is it's getting cold.

Cold weather makes America's most dangerous occupation even more hazardous. Statistics show that most serious fires occur during the Winter months, when homes and businesses are sealed tight, and supplemental sources of heat are being used.

Granted, a few areas of North America are "temperate" and experience consistent weather patterns throughout the year. But unless you're a firefighter in Key West, McAllen (TX) or Phoenix, chances are you've already noticed that hot, muggy days have been replaced by cold, windy nights. You've also noticed that fighting fires in below freezing weather isn't fun.

This year, Winter came early, and with vengeance to the Prarie Midwest. So much so that President Bush has designated areas hit by early Winter Storms as disaster areas. With temperatures hitting the single digits, and wind chills exceeding minus 40 below, serious fires have caused millions in damage, and claimed a number of lives.

Fighting fires in cold weather is part of everyday life for firefighters in the upper Midwest. This constant exposure to Mother Nature's brutal side has made on thing clear. The cold takes it toll - on personnel and equipment.

During the next few weeks, the Arctic cold will dip well into the continental US. And even though we know it's going to happen, Old Man Winter takes those of us in the lower-48 by surprise every time.

But It's A Dry Cold, Chief

Try telling that to firefighters in Indianapolis, who are accustomed to relatively stable Winter weather. Last year by mid-December, they were operating in the coldest air to hit the area since 1887. Just South of Indy, in Bargersville, Indiana, the town experienced 12 consecutive days of sub-zero weather. Years of training and experience hadn't prepared these Johnson County volunteers for this type of firefighting.

This season, fire departments throughout the central Midwest, are preparing for the same cold, with one major difference. Many have developed a contingency plan - one that stresses "firefighter safety". Generally speaking, North of the Mason-Dixon line, departments are better prepared for the hardships of cold weather. But when the alarm sounds, and the thermometer is stuck at zero, neither a firefighter's training nor protective gear can block out the effects of the biting cold.

Using Common Sense

Once on the fireground, firefighter safety becomes a primary consideration for command.While Engine Company members concern themselves with fighting the fire inside the structure, Support Company members are busy fighting the elements, working on icy surfaces and ladders.

Firefighting in cold weather still requires getting water to handlines and master streams. It's one of the most difficult tasks in Winter firefighting. In icy temperatures, leading offfrom a frozen hydrant or pond may waste valuable minutes. That's why it's important to pre-plan wintertime water supply operations.

In Porter County, Indiana, members of Center Fire & Rescue rely on large diameter supply lines and tanker shuttles to provide adequate water. Planning officers know that it's difficult enough to secure water under ideal situations. But when the weather turns cold, the job becomes much more difficult. So they're preplanned for the worse case scenaio, matching mutual aid companies with their own resources to get the job done. Mutual Aid also plays a vital role during "working" assignments, especially when one factors in firefighter rehab.

Important Cold Weather Tips

Fighting fires in cold weather isn't only uncomfortable for front line personnel, it's damaging to equipment as well. Here are some tips from departments around the country, that may prove useful during cold weather incidents in your area:
  • Avoid coming up DRY, by initiating a hydrant "Pump-Out" plan
  • Apparatus maintenance is crucial! Make sure that tire chains or other traction devices are available for all first-in units
  • Develop a "contingency plan" with the authority or agency responsible for road maintenance and service
  • Develop SOP's regarding "dry-pump" vs. "wet-pump" operations. Things to consider are response time, pump design and normal ambient temperature in the station.
  • Carry a supply of salt, sand or oil-dry to enhance footing and reduce the possibility of falls.
  • During heavy snowfalls, apparatus may be forced to operate "away" from the fire building.
  • Extra lengths of attack line should be added to preconnects to compensate for the additional stretch.
  • Following knockdown, when handlines are in standby, partially opened control valves will allow water to flow and prevent freezing.
  • Make sure that all waterways for monitors or deck pipes are dry, to avoid any freezing or clogging effects resulting from ice or slush .

    Follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding the cold weather use of SCBA. Don't allow water to seep into regulators or emmission valves.

    And finally, ensure that extra turnout gear is available, especially gloves. It's recommended that personnel wear layered clothing, rather than bulky articles.

Ours is a unique profession. As firefighters and EMT's, we're called upon to perform a number of important tasks, in a wide range of weather conditions. So whether we're working in desert heat - or arctic cold, our mission is always the same. . .to save the folks inside, and perhaps save their home.

By the way, wasn't the 4th of July picnic just a few weeks ago?


(1) NOAA
(2) US Weather Service
(3) Battalion Chief Edward Hojnicki


Friday, November 23, 2007

WTC Vets to Help Rebuild St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana

Newly-established emergency response team to assist Katrina’s forgotten victims.

St. Bernard Parish, LA (November 22, 2007) -- If you’re visiting the New Orleans area in early December, and you encounter some nice folks with foreign accents -- like Brooklyn and North Jersey -- chances are you’ve just met some heroes, the H.E.A.R.T. 911 Rescue Team. The New York-based emergency team will be in Louisiana working to rebuild parts of St. Bernard Parish, once a thriving middle class community of nearly 70,000 – that is, until Katrina came along.

The non-profit, volunteer response group is comprised of veteran police officers, firefighters and construction workers, all of whom served at Ground Zero during rescue and recovery operations following the September 11th attacks. On this special deployment, family members of victims of the 9/11 tragedy will be joining them.

Mission Possible
To fully appreciate the H.E.A.R.T. Team’s mission in St. Bernard’s, you need to understand how Katrina affected this quaint parish that borders New Orleans’ 9th Ward. In short, the St. Bernard’s was obliterated -- every home, every business, every government building wiped out. (read: The Backstory)

You’re probably asking yourself, “St. Bernard Parish? I don’t recall any mention of that community during coverage of the Katrina disaster.” You’re right; you never did see news reports from the parish, because the disaster in St. Bernard’s was never really covered. Instead, TV networks and news agencies chose to pick up racially motivated stories of government neglect coming out of New Orleans itself.

Two years after Katrina plowed through Louisiana, St. Bernard Parish is still very much like it was on August 30, 2005 -- a wasteland. That’s why the H.E.A.R.T. (Healing Emergency Aid Response Team) 911 Rescue Team chose the parish for its very first deployment.

The primary mission of H.E.A.R.T. 911 is to aid in disaster relief efforts around the world by organizing teams of volunteer rescue and recovery workers to help affected areas. While in St. Bernard’s the 50-member team will help rebuild homes and community facilities in the parish.

The H.E.A.R.T. 911 Commanders

"We learned a great deal working on the recovery effort following the events of September 11th and now we want to bring together our expertise to support the victims of other tragedies," said Lt Bill Keegan (PAPD-retired) who was the Night Operations/Safety Commander for the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) at the World Trade Center. He served at Ground Zero from September 11, 2001 until it closed on June 3, 2002.

Keegan heads the H.E.A.R.T. 9/11 Rescue Team along with Owen McCaffery and John Moran who held the same positions as Lt. Keegan at the site for the NYPD. The trio is joined by Tom Thees, whose financial background allows him to seek corporate financing for the team.

Their W.T.C. Rescue/Recovery experience has given the H.E.A.R.T 911 organization a unique overview of the coordinated and sustained effort needed to respond to a crisis.

"The experience of 9/11 left us with an overwhelming need to use what we've learned to aid in other disaster relief work", said Keegan.

The current team is made up of about 100 firefighters, police officers and construction workers who volunteered or worked on rescue and recovery on September 11th. In the event of another man-made or natural disaster, the team is ready and willing to help.

Bear Stearns Underwrites Inaugural Deployment

Unlike government run rescue teams, H.E.A.R.T. 911 is financed through corporate sponsorship. The team has been fortunate to have teamed with Bear Stearns Companies, Inc, a leading financial services firm which serves governments, corporations, institutions and individuals worldwide.

"We are honored to support an organization with such an admirable purpose," said James E. Cayne, chairman and chief executive officer of Bear Stearns. "We were all affected by the events of September 11th and it is wonderful to see that the lessons learned from the recovery effort of one tragedy will be translated into helping others in need."

You can join too!

H.E.A.R.T 911 is seeking additional, experienced emergency personnel to serve on this all-volunteer rapid response team -- regardless of location or affiliation. Personally, I think it’s an ideal opportunity for retired emergency personnel, as well as those who are training for an emergency services position. Enrolling is as easy as logging onto and clicking on “How can I help?”
A personal comment: It's been 2 years since Katrina wiped out St. Bernard Parish, and during that time the Parish Fire Department has cut half of its staff, and the remaining members still have NO Fire Stations to call home. What's the deal? If someone can enlighten me, please email me.

St Bernard Parish: The Backstory

Anderson Cooper, what were you thinking?

On August 29, 2005 St. Bernard was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The eye of the massive Category 5 hurricane passed over the eastern portion of the parish, pushing an unprecedented 25-foot storm surge into the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet ("MR-GO"). This surge was so powerful, and moved so quickly that it destroyed the parish levees. In just 15 minutes time, the entire parish was inundated. (1)

Most areas were covered with 5 to 12 feet of standing water as the storm damaged virtually every structure in the parish with the exception of only two homes. In many areas, houses were crushed or washed away from their foundations by the storm surge which ultimately submerged the homes.

See Google Map of St. Bernard Parish

I spoke to lifelong St. Bernard resident Benny Chappetta, a former government employee, musician and videographer. Benny was part of a skeleton staff who volunteered to remain behind at the Parish Government Center to handle emergency calls during the storm. His personal recollections of the disaster are detailed and vivid, and the video that he shot is that of a combat photographer, documenting the storm, the flood, destruction and death.

“I just couldn’t believe how quickly the water rose,” Chappetta told me during a phone interview. ”Within 20 minutes’, Benny recalls, ‘the (government center) parking lot went from a few puddles, to waves splashing over the roof,” of the 2-story structure.

Since Katrina’s visit to St Bernie’s over 2 years ago, Benny has lived aboard a cruiseship, under a tent and inside a FEMA trailer. Renovations to his house, which sat fully submerged for two weeks, are nearly completed, and Benny will soon be returning “home.”

But Benny Chappetta is one of the fortunate citizens of St. Bernard’s Parish. He held flood insurance on his home and was able to rebuild on his own, at his own pace. Others have not been so lucky. A great many parish residents who have chosen to return and rebuild continue to raise their families in 31-foot trailers. They hope and pray that someone will come along and offer assistance.

“It’s two years out from the storm,” says Parish Councilman Mark Madary. “These folks were made a promise and that promise has not been delivered.” Madary adds that those who are attempting to rebuild feel that they are no longer wanted, and that a sense of urgency is missing. (2)

Locals add that the delay in rebuilding the parish has to do with money that had been promised, but has never made it to the local coffers. Over 2 years after “the storm” the $116 billion that FEMA had allocated for reconstruction has not yet filtered down to many local governments. Why? FEMA says that assistance money must be requested by the state, but quickly adds that Louisiana has not made a specific request for St. Bernard’s Parish.

So, what does it take to get the attention of state government to recognize the urgent need in St. Bernard’s Parish? I thought to myself, perhaps a documentary. So I phoned the offices of Spike Lee, the award winning filmmaker whose HBO special “When the Levees Broke” won wide acclaim and huge audiences for the powerhouse cable network.

As the leading African-American filmmaker in the film industry, Lee’s focus was the area in and around the 9th Ward, a two square mile section of New Orleans that is joined directly to the 700 square mile St. Bernard’s Parish. During filming Lee was made aware of the situation in St. Bernard, but says he was unable to add that story to his Levees project, which already had hundreds of hours of interviews in the can.
So these days, when Spike Lee is asked if the Federal response to Katrina was racially motivated, he immediately refers to the plight in St. Bernard’s Parish.

“It's not just a black/white thing” Lee told HBO’s Bill Maher. “I think class has a lot to do with it, too.” Lee continued, “When I got to New Orleans, I was amazed to see St. Bernard's Parish got demolished just as much as the Lower 9th Ward -- but they (the networks) never showed St. Bernard's Parish on television.” (3)

When and if Spike Lee does a follow up to “When The Levees Broke,” rest assured that St. Bernard’s Parish will be somewhere near the top of his filming schedule.

(1) Wikipedia
(2) Video interview: YouTube
(3) HBO

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Race Once Again Rears Its Ugly Head in St. Louis

Promotion of Battalion Commander to Chief has STL African-American firefighters HOT!

St. Louis, MO (November 20, 2007) -- A veteran St. Louis firefighter is taking over as the city’s new Fire Chief, but during the initial stages of his term, Dennis Jenkerson may not be doing much firefighting. Instead, he'll be tending to an ongoing fight with African American members from his own department.

On Monday (11/17/07) St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced that Jenkerson, a 50 year old Battalion Chief, is replacing ousted fire chief Sherman George. Jenkerson is a 28-year veteran of the department and ranked highest during testing for Deputy Chief.

You may recall that Sherman George was removed as Chief of Department after refusing to end an embargo on the promotion process. Even though a federal court ruled that the tests did not discriminate, George wasn't convinced that the testing procedure was fair.

To support his position to deny promotions, Chief George cited a pending federal lawsuit, which alleges that tests to fill the ranks of captain and battalion chief were biased against blacks. In anticipation of the civil suit, George, an African American, placed a freeze on promotions. In the meantime, dozens of fire officers continue to serve in an "acting" capacity without the accompanying pay increase.
Mayor Francis Slay ordered the Fire Chief to lift the freeze, but George refused to do so. On October 1st, Slay demoted George to Deputy Chief and appointed an interim chief, Deputy Chief Steven Kotraba, to run the 700 man department. After his demotion, Sherman George resigned leaving an ice-cold environment in St. Louis fire stations and heated debates in City Hall.

In this city made famous by beer and baseball, African-American members are calling foul. Many claim that Jenkerson was promoted because he is white -- and has a personal relationship with Mayor Slay.

Racial issues have long divided the department which until a generation or so ago continued to operate with segregated companies. The segregation of white and black firefighters continues to this day with two unions representing department members, one for black firefighters the other for white.

The St. Louis American, a well-read weekly targeting African-Americans in Missouri, questions whether Jenkerson, a Battalion Chief, was even eligible for such a promotion. The paper reported that the City Charter held that only Deputy Chief Officers could be promoted to the rank of CFD (Chief of Fire Department). Officials disagree, saying that the Charter clearly permits the appointment of Battalion Chiefs to the top position. (1)

One white fire official chastised the newspaper saying, “Apparently your organization can only see things in black and white as it chooses to support candidates based only on the color of skin, not character.”

With the Charter issue out of the way, African-American firefighters quickly launched another attack on Jenkerson, citing the fact that he is under investigation by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for using city-owned equipment to do work at a private home.

That investigation deals with misuse of firefighting personnel and equipment. The complaint claims that Jenkerson ordered an on-duty group of firefighters to cut away a diving board from the pool of Louis Hamilton, a campaign advisor for Mayor Francis G. Slay. Slay acknowledges that he ordered Chief Sherman George to have the work done, who in turn ordered Jenkerson to follow through. Jenkerson says that he was simply following the orders of a superior officer.

While black and white firefighters trade barbs, Jenkerson says that the first order of business for his administration will be to revamp the promotion process, “making it more open and transparent.” Jenkerson will receive help because the city is restoring the job of assistant chief, a post to be filled by one of the five men also vying to be fire chief. (2) Leading that short list is Deputy Chief Charles Coyle, a veteran firefighter who had been the pick for CFD by African-American firefighters. (3)

It is interesting to note that the St. Louis Fire Department was the first municipal department to hire African-American firefighters way back in 1921. The city's first black fire officer was Claude Johnston, who during his career was promoted to Captain and served as an acting Battalion Chief. (4) All of this took place at a time when FDNY was only recruiting the sons of Irish and Italian immigrants.

Is anyone surpirsed? The Fire Chief serves at the discretion of the Mayor and in St. Louis, like every other major US city, politics plays a key role as to who is chosen to lead the fire department. Were politics involved in the appointment of Dennis Jenkerson? Sure! Did racial issues play a role in Mayor Slay’s decision? Perhaps. Read the St. Louis American, because they have an interesting take.

But this much we know. Jenkerson scored highest on the promotional test, and in a world devoid of race and politics, he is fittingly the best man for the job of Chief.

A personal note:

As a former St. Louisan and volunteer firefighter, I rode along with the St. Louis Fire Department on 50 or so occasions. Most of my time was spent with the officers and crew of Squad 2, the heavy-rescue that covers the northern part of the city.

The atmosphere in the 2 company station was like that of any other. Black or white, the firefighters at Squad 2 and Engine 21 were members of a special family. If there was racial tension, I certainly never noticed it. When the gong sounded, the men and women of the St Louis Fire Department responded with military precision. In fact, the only complaint I’d ever heard was from hoseteams, who joked that squad members would work their way to firefront only to “steal the nozzle” from the Engine Company.

I credit former Chief Neil Svetanics for handling the racial situation in St. Louis in a pro-active manner by promoting several African-American deputy officers. By doing so, he gave individuals like Sherman George a taste of what it was like to run a big-city department.

In closing out this blog entry, I’d like to recognize Captain Vince Wright, Squad Company #2. Vince had served in the Vietnam War as a Green Beret, returning to St. Louis to join the fire department. Vince was smart, articulate and a leader of men – he was also boisterous and had a flair for drama. I’m told by my friend Nick Morgan that Vince Wright passed away a few years ago, and my guess is that he’s probably serving with great firefighters like Ray Downey, Terry Patton, Joe Angelini and others aboard Heaven’s heavy-rescue. God bless you all.
(1) St. Louis American
(4) St. Louis Fire Department (History)


Saturday, October 27, 2007

In A Word: California’s Disaster Response Was "Smooth."

Commentary By: Lou Angeli

San Diego County, CA (October 26, 2007) – If you find yourself trapped somewhere during a major disaster – pray that you’re in California, because when it comes to disaster response and mitigation, no one does it better than emergency personnel in the Golden State.

It’s no secret that California is a hotbed for disasters. The potential for major emergencies like wildfires, earthquakes, floods and mudslides is high, perhaps higher than any other state in the nation. But other states experience serious natural disasters as well, and with the exception of Florida few are able to ride the wave without wiping out.

Some of my colleagues say that California was just lucky this time around. I say no way, because when the Santa Anas blow hard and the vegetation is tinder dry, it’s like joining in on a crap game in which no one’s brought the dice. There is no luck.

So why is the Left Coast better prepared to deal with Mother Nature’s nasty side? In a word – planning. Starting from the Governor’s office down to the smallest volunteer fire brigade, the state has developed contingencies for large-scale disasters.

Statewide Coordination and Cooperation

The state’s Office of Emergency Services serves as the Governor’s direct connection to all emergency services in California. When it came to this week’s wildfire disaster, OES is what FEMA wishes it could be -- an agency that is on the street within hours of a disaster, and well-organized under a common Incident Command System.

The response to the 2007 Firestorm wasn’t a knee-slap reaction but rather the implementation of a long-established plan that has long been administered by Cal OES. It’s a dynamic plan, one that is updated as each disaster is critiqued and recommendations made.

The current working plan was ordered by the Governor back in the Spring. Signed on May 9, 2007, Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order S-07-07 essentially instructed agencies like the OES, Cal Fire, the CDC and the National Guard to beef up their response capabilities. According to the order, additional OES strike teams were to be created, Cal Fire staffing was to be increased, better coordination between state agencies and the military was mandated, and a reciprocal firefighting arrangement was to be established with Mexico

The order also reaffirmed how the state’s automatic mutual aid system would function under the California Fire Assistance Agreement. S-07-07 was presented in such detail that the Governor even indicated a minimum staffing level for fire engines. (1)
Take Charge Governor

When the situation went from bad to worse, Schwarzenegger made certain that he was front and center. While flying to speak at a conference in Long Beach, he learned that a major evacuation was taking place in San Diego County. He diverted his helicopter directly to the firefront, where he took command as if he were a 30-year firefighting salt. (If it counts, he did play the role of a firefighter in a 2002 motion picture.)

Schwarzenegger launched each press conference by crediting the state’s firefighters, always making note of the dangerous conditions under which they were working. While agency directors tended to hour-to-hour operations, much of the Governor's focus this past week was on the plight of the evacuees, saying he didn’t want anyone to feel abandoned. He personally toured evacuation centers like Qualcom, where he conducted his own assessments, some of which dealt with the nitty-gritty.

“Do we have enough toilet paper, do we have enough toilets?" Schwarzenegger said at a press conference after his tour. "Do we have everything we need for the people here so they can stay overnight?"

So, without any ceremony, the title of Master of Disaster was quietly handed over this week from former New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The California governor’s handling of the 2007 Firestorm, and the state’s largest evacuation ever has brought him praise from around the World. Even ultra-liberals offered admiring remarks.

“How about Schwarzenegger…he was certainly in control this week,” said HBO’s Bill Maher on his Friday night broadcast. “It’s a shame that he can’t run for president,’ Maher added, “…he’d probably have my vote!”

During a satellite feed beamed to the participants of the conference that he was unable to attend, Schwarzenegger offered this explanation of the importance of his personal response.

“The most important thing is you jump into action as quickly as possible," he said. The public needs to see "that you are a hands-on governor," that you "take care of the firefighters" and feel the pain of people who have lost their homes. (

The Question of Early Aircraft Intervention

In an earlier blog I made note of criticism leveled against Schwarzenegger by Chief Chip Prather, the boss of the very large Orange County Fire Authority. Chief Prather, a well-known national fire administrator, chastised the Governor and the state for banning firefighting aircraft from the skies during the early stages of the fire.

Of course pilots and fire officials agreed that sending flight crews on low level sorties, buffeted by hurricane force winds, would have been a suicide mission. My suggestion at the time was that perhaps Prather was exhausted, and didn’t realize that he was speaking to a hastily assembled press conference – rather than his chiefs and crews at the command post. As it turned out, that was partially the case.

By Wednesday, reports, Prather had nothing but accolades for Schwarzenegger.

His "personal attention" to firefighters battling the blazes "is inspiring - knowing the guy at the top is there with them," Prather said at a news conference near Los Angeles.

FEMA goes 0 for 6.

On Thursday, the situation was still very serious, but sunlight was beginning to peak through the constant haze of chocking smoke. With the Santa Anas dying down, and tankers dousing the flames, firefighters were making remarkable progress. Many evacuees were permitted to return to their neighborhoods, and for those families who lost their homes, the process of re-establishing their lives was beginning.
Following the Katrina debacle, FEMA’s David Paulison promised better and more immediate response to large-scale disasters. His plan did, in fact, take place. The agency immediately deployed the Federal Incident Response Team (FIRST) out of Atlanta aboard a Coast Guard C-130. The advance team hit the ground running and began to coordinate emergency support for the thousands of evacuees at the Qualcomm shelter.

However, a quick visit to FEMA’s website reveals that the agency was taking credit for the hard work of others. The website suggests that FEMA had been coordinating the military response to San Diego County, which is far from the truth.

The military is a major presence in San Diego County, with some 300,000 of its personnel and dependants living there. Like any good neighbor would do, the NAVY, Marines, Reserves and National Guard stepped up to assist state government in the early stages, while FEMA was still watching the disaster play out on CNN.

Then there was FEMA’s fake press conference. Yes – like a parody from The Colbert Report, America's favorite federal agency staged a phony briefing on Tuesday with FEMA employees posing as legitimate members of the press. Real-life reporters were given just 15 minutes notice of the press conference, however for those who weren't able to make it, the agency offered a toll-free 800 listen-only line.

It's an unfortunate situation for FEMA. The good work that Paulison accomplished in the early stages of this disaster will never be remembered. The 5th Estate will scrutinize everything that the agency does from this moment on, regardless of its merit. And David Paulison, a good man with fine intentions, will take the fall and likely lose his position.

Lessons Learned

The campaign in California is still in disaster mode, so it's a bit early to be critiquing the operation. But there is one thing that I'd like to share. In my mind there are two ways to fix FEMA. Immediately turn the agency over to the US Coast Guard -- or sub-contract national disaster response to Governor Schwarzenegger’s Office of Emergency Services.


(1) OES

Friday, October 26, 2007

Firefighting Offers a Way Out for California's Offenders

Generally ignored by the media is the fact that 4,000 of California's front line firefighters are convicted felons.

by: Lou Angeli

San Diego County, CA (October 25, 2007) -- California officials have created a program that has raised some eyebrows, but has contributed positively to emergency response: inmate firefighters. The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has partnered with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CDF) and the Los Angeles County Fire Department to oversee more than 4,000 state inmates who fight wildfires in 10 counties.

During this week’s series of wildfire conflagrations in southern California, thousands of inmate firefighters worked side-by side on the firelines with municipal, state and federal fire personnel. Most are determined to repay their debt to society with the hope that their efforts will lead to a brighter future and possibly even an early release. (1)

During this campaign, 2,600 inmates have been deployed, most of whom are seeing action at one the largest blazes – the Harris fire. Some work for as long as 48 hours without a break.

Last year, California’s inmate firefighters worked more than 1 million hours fighting over 200 major fires. Like their professional counterparts, they carry out their duties in difficult and dangerous conditions. Time and time again they have been commended for their hard work, team spirit and fearlessness.

Working the difficult job of fighting fires is not without risk. In 1999 Inmate Firefighter Martin Stiles was working with a camp crew in Azusa, battling the Piru blaze in Ventura County. According to a Department of Corrections report, Stiles and his crewmates were constructing a fire break in the mountainous terrain of the Los Padres National Forest when he fell 150 feet to his death from a steep hillside.

"He was an inmate, but he died a firefighter," former CDC Director "Cal" Terhune said.

Work release programs (common in jails, less so in prisons) are a useful way to help prisoners remain integrated with society, and inmates who are typically bored out of their minds might relish any opportunity to avoid the mundane life that prisons offer.

“It's tempting to wonder whether California allows inmates to do this dangerous work because it attaches little value to their lives,” says T Chris in his blog entitled “The Politics of Crime.” (2)

But Chris adds, “It's reassuring to know that inmates at least receive training in firefighting before they're put to work.”

In California, only minimum custody inmates may participate in the program. To qualify, they must be physically fit and have no history of violent crime including kidnapping, sex offenses, arson or escape. Most have sentences of two years or less, 8 months of which will be spent outside the walls of the prisons in the camps. Both men and women inmates receive an intensive 4 week training course in firefighting and safety techniques.

In Georgia, Inmate Firefighters serve in the community firehouses among the civilian population. To date, 18 fire stations are staffed by inmates, who feel that the work allows them to make amends for their wrongs. Since 2000, they have handled more than 21,000 calls, according to a prison system report issued in August.

Firefighter Juanita Vega, is on the back end of her 10-year sentence for trafficking methamphetamine. Like the others, firefighting is now in her blood.

"I have a passion in my heart for firefighting." she says.

Cobb County Fire Chief Rebecca Denlinger, one of a handful of women in the nation leading a large fire department, said she believes firefighting will be a "life-changing experience" for (inmates) at Allendale Prison. (3)

In California, some say that the motivation for the inmate program appears to be related less to rehabilitation than to a shortage of California firefighters.

“Given the overcrowding in California's prisons,’ say blogger Tchris, ‘The state should consider an early release program for inmate firefighters who prove their value to society -- and communities should commit to hiring them after their release.”
Some released inmates make the transition to full-time firefighters, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Captain Bryan Lee. Lee, 37, has been fighting fires for 16 years as a civilian and is leading a 13-man inmate team tackling the Harris Fire.

"They're required to work hard, they're expected to work hard, and they do," Lee told a reporter from Agence France-Presse. Lee said he knew of one former inmate firefighter who had gone on to become a captain.

Inmate firefighter John Baxter has just 6 months remaining before his release. Although there’s no discussion regarding his specific offenses, Baxter feels that firefighting provides inmates with a sense of doing good after years of criminal offenses.

“I’m looking forward to returning home,” Baxter said. “These days I wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose.”


Author’s note:

During a break, I sat with one of the CDC Firefighters who introduced himself as Raymond. We chatted a bit, and during the conversation I asked the 23 year old from Compton whether Inmate Firefighters responded to structural incidents.

“No, we don’t!” Ray answered. “But I bet some of these guys would be great at forcible entry!”


(1) Agence France-Presse
(2) “The Politics of Crime” TChris
(3) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Author’s note:

During a break, I sat with one of the CDC Firefighters who introduced himself as Raymond. We chatted a bit, and during the conversation I asked the 23 year old from Compton whether Inmate Firefighters responded to structural incidents.

“No, we don’t!” Ray answered. “But I bet some of these guys would be great at forcible entry!”


(1) Agence France-Presse
(2) “The Politics of Crime”

(3) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mutual Aid: California Style

By: Lou Angeli

Poway, California (October 24, 2007) – As an East coast firefighter, it’s hard for me to fathom the size and scope of the firefighting operation in southern California. It’s even harder to accept that over 3,000 homes have been destroyed and thousands of others damaged. Hell, when we lose a single row home, we’re down on ourselves for weeks.

The wildfires here are intense, sweeping across tinder dry brush at speeds of 35 mph. Even small “spot” fires, ignited by flying brands, grow so quickly that they consume hundreds of acres in a matter of an hour or so.

The blazes that aren’t threatening homes are allowed to burn. Firefighting resources are better used in areas that officials refer to as the Wildland/Urban Intermix – that beautiful yet unpredictable place where man has chosen to live among the trees and animals.

That’s the dilemma here in San Diego County, and much of California, where homes, businesses, schools and churches blend into the hillsides and canyons. Like the vegetation that serves as the backdrop for these communities, structures are just another source of fuel when Mother Nature arrives in the form of a superfire.

Just East of the Escondido Freeway, Doug Haney, a firefighter assigned to a Central California Task Force, has converted his F-350 pick-up into a fire truck. Two colleagues join him: a 7-year veteran named Beth and a probationary fireman they both simply call “probie.” The trio has just loaded the black plastic pick-up bed with 500 feet of hose and nozzles that they’ve “borrowed” from a Poway fire station. Haney says that there aren’t enough engines or official vehicles to go around.

“We didn’t travel 300 miles to stand here in the parking lotand watch these homes burn,” the 20-year veteran complains as he tucks an axe and halligan under the hose.

Firefighters are resourceful by nature, and these three are no exception. Across the windshield of the blue/gray Ford, they’ve written “Firefighting Vehicle” in white shoe polish. In antcipation of a long day -- and night – they’ve loaded additional gas cans and a cooler filled with bottled water and snacks. Fuel for the truck – fuel for the crew. The makeshift firefighting machine has no pumps, no radios or GPS – just a few basic tools that firefighters have been using for hundreds of years.

As senior man, and the owner of the pick-up, Haney chooses where to respond by looking to the sky. The crew follows dark, black smoke because they’ve been trained to recognize that shade and color as burning hydrocarbons -- the types of things that one might find in homes.

Driving up the winding Bernardo Trails Drive, an area that has been officially evacuated, the crew is amazed to see how many residents have remained behind.

“Not enough firefighters – not enough cops!” Haney chomps from behind his unlit cigar.

As they ascend the two lane rural road, the smoke begins to thicken and visibility decreases significantly. Haney drops his speed from 50 mph to a safer rate of 20. The two other firefighters relax their tight grip on the dash. The probie touches the button to lower the passenger side window only to be greeted with a dose of 110-degree air.

"That's why we call him proble!" Beth jokes.

A few clicks down the road the rag tag engine company encounters an OES Strike Force whose members are taking a brutal beating. They are working to hold back a wall of flames that is rapidly moving toward a sub-division of high value homes. In a minute or so, the team leader will be forced to make a decision that is contrary to a firefighter's mindest -- and that is to abandon the position.

Haney edges slowly past a Class-3, wildland pumper as a red-helmeted Captain motions for the crew to proceed. Haney quickly sizes-up the situation and decides to make a stand on the downwind side of the sub-division. Not that downwind actually exists during a Santa Ana blow.

Firebrands rain down on the properties, igniting shrubs and fences, which generate enough radiant heat to light up the wooden siding. The flames quickly snake their way upward to the wood shake shingles where the wind-whipped fire instantly torches roofs -- then consumes the entire home from the top down.

The trio scan both sides of the lane for a viable structure – a house with limited exposed wood.
Beth points out a stone and stucco house covered by a terra cotta roof. Haney nods and guides the truck into the driveway. Even though the flames are marching up the canyon behind the home, the senior firefighter feels confident.

“I think we can make a save here,” Haney shouts over the roar. “Let’s just hope the hydrants don’t come up dry.”

With his cigar safely tucked away in the “firetruck,” Doug Haney dons his helmet, pulls down a yellow Nomex collar that wraps his face, and lowers his goggles to cover his irritated eyes. The others follow suit.

The probie grabs a hydrant wrench and the female end of the inch and a half, then hustles to a hydrant across the lane. With drill-like accuracy, he connects the hose and spins open the valve. In less than 30 seconds Haney is aiming the water stream toward burning shrubbery and trees behind the home. Beth is flowing a second line that she directs toward the home, hosing down anything that might surrender to the radiant heat. And it’s hot -- so hot that you can bake a potato in your jacket pocket.

Using a spade from the garden shed, the probie races around the home creating mini firebreaks, separating burning fuels from the structure itself. Along the way, he positions a garden hose between two decorative stones, locks it to the “on” position and aims the piddle stream at the wooden front door.

There’s no pump to maintain the nozzle's needed water pressure of 75 psi, so the two hosemen do the best with what they’ve got. Using only hydrant pressure, Haney and his female colleague must position themselves physically closer to the fire in order for their water streams to be effective.

Since exiting the air conditioned truck, the body core temperature of these firefighters has risen from normal – to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. So from time to time, Doug and Beth turn their hoses on one another to cool the super-heated air, which easily penetrates their lightweight, wildland firefighting gear.

In less than the time it takes to smoke a cigarette, the ordeal is over. The wildfire has moved through the neighborhood consuming everything in its path – that is with the exception of the two-story gray stone at the end of the cul-de-sac off Bernardo Trails Drive.

“Imagine what we could have done with a real fire truck.” Beth announces to no one in particular.

The probie reaches into the cooler only to find that the bottled water is warm, and the ice melted. He slips the plastic bottles in Doug and Beth's butt pockets, as they "mop up"– cooling down hotspots that may rekindle. The ground is still extremely hot, and you can feel it through insulated leather boots.

The same scenario is being played out by other firefighting teams working in dozens of communities throughout San Diego County. But what took place here, off Bernardo Trails Drive, is a testimony to the bravery and dedication of three California firefighters, working hundreds of miles from their first alarm district in the true spirit of mutual aid.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wildfires: Additional Firefighting Resources Needed

by: Lou Angeli

San Diego County, CA (October 24, 2007) -- While fire crews late Tuesday began to control some fires in Los Angeles county, officials in San Diego were concerned that the fires could march toward more populated areas along the Pacific Ocean.

A shift in the prevailing winds in the area late Tuesday, from the fierce but predictable Santa Ana winds, to more volatile western ones, also plagued firefighters.

The LA Times reports that by late Tuesday, the blazes had burned 420,424 acres -- about 656 square miles -- and destroyed 1,155 homes, making these incidents nearly as large as the fires in October 2003 that are considered the largest in California history.

CNN is reporting that nearly 1 million have been evacuated or displaced.

The blazes have killed six and injured at least 70 more. Thirty-four firefighters have been hurt, authorities said. Two firefighters were in critical condition, including a woman firefighter who had been burned severly and was placed in a medically induced coma.

San Diego Fire Department Battalion Chief Bruce Cartelli described scenes of "utter devastation" with hundreds of homes lost and "many hundreds" of others damaged.

“It's probably the worst significant event in my career of 36 years," Cartelli said.

"It will not end ... until it reaches the ocean or the winds turn around." (1)

In many areas, firefighters were no match for speeding flames and sought refuge in aluminum fire shelters or retreated in the face of burning hillsides. Strong winds made attacks from the air difficult.

The winds are so fierce that flames simply leap over firebreaks created by dozer crews. At one hot spot near Pamona, the fire hurdled an eight-lane interstate where firefighters had staged for a defensive stand.

“This is absolute bullshit” said one San Diego County municipal firefighter. “Had we been given air support earlier, many of the fires could have stopped dead in their tracks.”

A senior fire official agreed. "If we had more air resources, we would have been able to control this fire," said a frustrated Orange County Fire Authority Chief Chip Prather. "Instead we've been stuck in this initial attack mode on the ground where we hopscotch through neighborhoods as best we can trying to control things." (2)

The head of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection dismissed Prather’s claims. Ruben Grijalva said the fires, spread by winds that at times topped 100 mph, would have overwhelmed most efforts to fight them.

“We have 90 aircraft here,” Governor Schwarzenegger told ABC News. “And they can't fly because of the wind situation." (3)

Immediate Need: Additional Firefighters

Governor Schwarzenegger ordered the state’s corrections department to deploy more than 2,640 trained inmate firefighters to the southern California wildfires. The inmate strike teams’ deployments are being coordinated through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The OES is also coordinating the movement of strike teams from central and northern California. Each strike team is comprised of 15 firefighters, from various municipal departments, under the command of a Team Leader. The teams respond aboard OES engines that are placed strategically throughout the state.

Just last week, CalFire laid off it seasonal firefighting force of 1,400 employees. Those who are still available are being called back on a unit-to-unit basis.


(2) Los Angeles Times
(3) KGTV


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Half Million Californians Are Evacuated

Southern California (October 23, 2007 – 1512 hours) – Six thousand firefighters have been joined by 1500 National Guardsmen in an attempt to extinguish 19 massive wildfires in the area between Santa Barbara County and the Mexican border. Early this morning President George Bush issued an emergency declaration for the area with a promise of additional equipment and manpower.

Two citizens are dead, 16 firefighters seriously injured and half million Californians have been evacuated, with more mandatory evacuations expected. Five of San Diego's 23 emergency shelters reached capacity Monday evening. Others evacuees took shelter with friends or relatives.

Officials say that the fires have 340,000 acres, claimed 1300 homes with another 60,000 others threatened. The number and intensity of the fires have stretched California's firefighting resources to the limit, with one department reporting the "lack of resources [is] hindering suppression efforts."

Two of the largest blazes East of San Diego are expected to join later today to become a superblaze. Firefighters and equipment have been withdrawn from the area in anticipation of the combined fires. In Los Angeles County the Ranch, the Buckweed and the Magic fires -- are projected to merge in about 48 hours into a more than 80,000-acre fire, according to Roger Richcreek of the Angeles National Forest.

By mid-morning thousands of evacuees were taking shelter in
Qualcomm Stadium and other locations throughout San Diego. Marines began evacuating aircraft from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to other military bases in California and Arizona. The San Diego Wild Animal Park moved some animals to the on-site animal hospital for their protection

Officials have stated that they fear the inferno could become even more destructive than the 2003
Cedar Fire, considered the worst wildfire ever on record. During that blaze 50,000 citizens were evacuated, compared to the the current ten-fold number of 500,000.

-OES (California)
-San Diego County


The Perfect Firestorm

SOCAL (October 23, 2007 -- 0930hrs) -- As the Sun rose over Southern California on Tuesday, Wildfires continue to devastate a dozen counties. Nearly 350,000 people have been evacuated from San Diego county alone, and additional evacuations are expected.

According to the National Weather Service, the Santa Anas will continue to blow today, rendering any effective containment unlikely. 245,957 acres, or 384 square miles,are now burning with more expected. New fires seem to sprout up every hour and the National Interagency Command Center reported 19 new blazes over the past 24 hours.

In San Diego County, the Witch fire now covers 10,000 acres and is zero percent contained. This fire is one mile east of the City of Ramona, and all citizens have been evacuated. Further East, the 20,000-acre Harris fire is spreading unchecked. Strong winds are hampering suppression efforts. The blaze is threatening the Potrero CalFire station and structure protection is in place.
The San Diego Sheriff's Department reports that there were two arrests overnight for looting in the Ramona area. Two 18-year-olds were taken into custody. Sheriff's Lt. Mike McClain says that the deputies are on patrol looking for criminal activity in evacuated areas.

CalFire will launch a search and rescue mission today in the Harris fire scorched area to look for illegal immigrants who are lost or have been killed. The fire burned a rugged region criss-crossed by trails used by illegal immigrants. Several were discovered Sunday night injured with burns.

Further North the
Los Angeles Fire Department has assigned two Strike Teams of Firefighters to assist the Los Angeles County Fire Department in their battle against a brush fire between Agua Dulce and Canyon Country, California, twelve miles north of the City. The Agua Dulce Fire in Canyon Country is currently at 35500 + acres and is 20% contained. The fire is heading southwest to Santa Clarita.

Detailed fire suppression efforts can be found on the Los Angeles Fire Department’s twitter, which is regularly updated by the department’s communications specialist Brian Humphrey. Locations of major fires can be found on Google Maps.

Additional firefighting teams have arrived from southern Nevada to assist San Diego County firefighters who have been stretched so thin that many stations are unmanned. The Northwest is sending strike teams to help fight the Southern California wildfires. In all, 25 units are being dispatched from Oregon and Washington state.

Volunteer firefighters from the East coast are self-responding and airlines are offering discounted fares to firefighting teams.

The worst California wildfire of the past decade was the Cedar Fire in October of 2003, which killed 15 people and destroyed more than 4,800 structures, many of them houses, as it burned nearly 300,000 acres in San Diego County.

San Diego Fire Department Blog

The Santa Ana Winds -- Explainer

Santa Ana winds are a California firefighter’s nightmare. These blustery, dry, and often hot winds blow out of the desert and race through canyons and passes in the mountains on their way toward the coast.

The air is hot not because it is bringing heat from the desert, but because it is flowing downslope from higher elevations. As fall progresses, cold air begins to sink into the Great Basin deserts to the east of California.

As the air piles up at the surface, high pressure builds, and the air begins to flow downslope toward the coast. When winds blow downslope, the air gets compressed, which causes it to warm and dry out. In fact, the air can warm at a rate of 29 degrees Fahrenheit per mile.

Canyons and passes funnel the winds, which increases their speed. Not only do the winds spread the fire, but they also dry out vegetation, making it even more flammable.

Source: NASA

Monday, October 22, 2007

Deadly Firestorms Ravage Southern California

SOCAL (October 22, 2007) -- Dozens of wildfires are out of control in Southern California leaving behind major damage. One person is dead, hundreds injured and fire officials say that none of the firestorms have been contained. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency seven counties.

Today, a quarter-million San Diego County residents were ordered to evacuate as blazes ripped across dry brush and vegetation, fed by desert hot Santa Ana winds. At last report tens of thousands of homes are at risk of being destroyed.

One band of wildfires about 70 miles southeast of San Diego had already blackened 14,000 acres or 22 square miles and there are no signs that the wildfires can be halted.

Further North, along famed Highway One, out-of-control wildfires threatened thousands of Malibu area homes late Monday, as firefighters raced to beat back the blazes. 700 firefighters worked to protect hundreds of homes in several upscale communities nestled in the hills.
The fires, which covered swaths of drought-parched land, from the high desert to the Pacific Ocean. Some of the worst damage in Malibu, included a church, homes and a castle – all burned to the ground.

In many areas near Malibu, the fires were like flashbacks. Between Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 of 2003, 15 fires in many of the same areas killed 22 people, destroyed 3,640 homes and blackened 750,000 acres.

"It was nuclear winter. It was like Armageddon. It looked like the end of the world," Mitch Mendler, a San Diego firefighter, told the AP while he and his crew stopped at a shopping center parking lot to refill their water truck from a hydrant near a restaurant.

"I lost count," he said when asked how many homes had burned
Meanwhile, California officials appealed to fire agencies in other states for help.

As flames roared down on communities with amazing speed, firefighters complained that their efforts to stop them were delayed when people who refused to leave their homes confronted them.

In the San Bernardino Mountains, mandatory evacuations were ordered in several communities where 1,500 homes were threatened by two blazes that had blackened more than 600 acres west of Lake Arrowhead and in the Green Valley area.

At least one of the fires, in Orange County, was believed to be caused by arson, said Orange County Fire Authority spokeswoman Lynnette Round. It consumed about 8,800 acres was 30 percent contained.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Md. fire commision chairman arrested for theft

I've reposted this story from DelawareOnline.

By DAMIAN GILETTO, The News Journal

The chairman of a Maryland fire commission was arrested Thursday and charged with stealing more than $150,000 from the Queen Anne's County government, said the Maryland State Police.

Ted Jackson, 43, of Centreville, allegedly used his position as chairman of the Queen Anne's County Fire Commission to submit 14 written requests for supplies, said Lt. D. Boardman, a spokesman for the state police Centreville barracks.

An audit showed the orders, which were for six tents, 15 trailers, and 21 generators, were never purchased or received by the county, Boardman said.

The total of the orders amounted to $167,806, Boardman said.

Jackson was arrested Thursday and charged with felony theft and felony theft scheme, Boardman said.Jackson was released after posting $20,000 unsecured bond.