Sunday, July 28, 2013

LifeNet 64 and LifeNet 61

LifeNet 64 touches down at Christiana

Christiana, DE -- LifeNet-64 descends to the pad at Christiana Hospital's Trauma Center outside Wilmington.  The crew was transporting a trauma code patient who was involved in a serious motorcycle accident south of Middletown, DE.  LifeNet-64, along with 2 other BK177's, is operated by Air Methods under contract with Christiana Care.  "64" is based at Georgetown Airport in Sussex County covering lower Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia. (photo: Lou Angeli)

N117J -- LifeNet 61's new ship
N117J has been placed in service as LifeNet-61 operating from Christiana Hospital in New Castle County, Delaware.  Medevac for Christiana is contracted to Air Methods of Englewood, CO.  The "new" ship is painted in the corporate colors of Christiana Care and includes the hospital's new circle "C" logo.  In the background is the reserve unit for LifeNet 61.
(photo: Lou Angeli)


Friday, July 19, 2013

Detroit Seeks Bankruptcy, Facing Debts of $18 Billion

"Things are bad here in Detroit. Very bad."

 by: Lou Angeli

DETROIT. MI (July 18, 2013) -- Once the nation's 4th largest city, the broken, and now broke, city of Detroit is asking for bankruptcy protection. How did this happen and what's it mean for Detroit's Bravest? Well a DC-based "emergency manager," Kevyn Orr, has petitioned a federal judge to allow him to take Detroit into the largest bankruptcy in American history. The media paints Orr as the man who views taking away pensions and health benefits as a broad based right, without any limitations.

According to Teresa Sanderfer, Secretary of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 344, "Things are bad here in Detroit. Very bad." She adds "And things will be getting worse before they get better."

During the past few weeks, Orr has been trying to persuade creditors to accept pennies on the dollar and unions, especially IAFF 344, to accept cuts in benefits. But talks have broken down and Orr has decided to take the city into bankruptcy.

In a New York Times report, Mr. Orr has said that as part of any restructuring he wants to spend about $1.25 billion on improving city infrastructure and services. But a major concern for Detroit residents remains the possibility that services, already severely lacking, might be further diminished in bankruptcy. 

What does Bankruptcy mean to Firefighters?

In a letter to members of IAFF Local 344, Sanderfer asks firefighters to remain solid and united.

"Just like we do on each shift, we have each other and each other’s backs." she wrote on the Local 344 Facebook page. "And with only that going for us – because our rigs and our equipment are falling apart around us – we’re surviving truly life threatening situations on the job every day."

City Council President Pro Tem Andre Spivey residents that they needn't worry about the impact of the filing immediately. "City services we provide will not be shut down," Spivey says. But he adds there will be challenges.

The unusual process of bankrupting a huge American city may take from 90 days to one year. Detorit has lost more than half of its population over the last 60 years. In 1950, it was the fifth-largest city in the country with a population of around 1.8 million. Today its population is estimated at just under 700,000.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

20 Years Ago: The Great Flood of 1993

St. Genevieve, MO

St. Louis, MO -- (June, 1993)  After 2 months of unending Spring rains, Old Man River finally rebelled. Runoff from storms in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois forces the Mississippi well over its banks. The same river that left behind fertile valleys after hundreds of previous floods, reclaimed the land with savage fury.  Along the Mississippi River in St. Louis, the waters were so high, that they nearly reach the base of the Gateway arch, 5 stories above flood stage.

In the aftermath, experts called it the most devastating flood in US history. During the Great Flood of 93, fifty lives were lost and property damage exceeded $40 billion, making it the third most costly US disaster ever. (as of 1993)

Weather forecasters blamed it on a stalled Bermuda high pressure system, but locals simply referred to it as bad luck. With floodwaters rising at a rate of 1 foot per day, The US Army Corps of Engineers were able to provide adequate warning to communities along each affected river. Some families were forced to evacuate -- others chose to relocate -- but many decided to remain and stand their ground.

In early July 1993, as flood waters crept into low-lying areas, many residents began a race against the clock. But holding back steadily rising rivers wouldn't be an easy task. To be successful, communities needed help.

During these early stages of the flood, hundreds of sandbagging operations were taking place throughout the St. Louis metro area. It was a scene that was repeated in communities throughout Missouri and Southern Illinois. In river towns all along the flood plain, citizens prepared for the worst.

Spanish Lake, MO

 On July 6th, I was given a long-term assignment with a simple mission statement – videotape and photograph the flood. But it wasn't long before word leaked that I had some disaster experience and I was drafted to serve as an aide to Captain Vince Wright (STLFD Squad-2).  It was my job to serve as a liaison between emergency services and FEMA as well as the Salvation Army.

I knew very little about the area, which extended from Hannibal to the North, to Cape Girardeau in the South, roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. FEMA provided me with a fire department Suburban, a few old ESSO maps and a cellular phone. I was told to report back on conditions in the field.

Everywhere I drove -- everywhere -- folks were sandbagging. Children, the elderly tourists -- anyone who could fill a bag and toss it onto the levee. On the first day it took me 14 hours to make my rounds. On the second day I was able to shave-off an hour. By the third day, I was assigned to tour the area in a helicopter.

From the air, the Great Flood lived up to its name. It was still early July, but it was clear to emergency personnel that within weeks the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers would overflow their banks in a very big way.

Chopper Pilot Rich Barkledge and I decide to make this our first stop, and he eases the unmarked Jet Ranger onto a landing zone prepared by local firefighters. Soon after we land, the leaders of this renegade band of baggers stop us cold dead.

"We need sand! We need bags! We need food and cool drinks!” And one final plea, “We desperately need porta-potties!"

Fire service and law enforcement were serving in their best capacity. Keeping the homes secure and the sandbaggers safe. If OSHA or NIOSH were here, though, they'd close this site down in a nanosecond. I made some quick calculations, and noted that the 1000 plus sandbaggers were working in polluted waters on a haphazard dam some 10 feet below the water line.

If a "blowout" were to take place, it would take at least 100 emergency personnel to make rescues and safely evacuate the area. I glanced over at the standby emergency team -- a 4-man engine company, 2-person medic unit, 2 deputy sheriffs, and a retired Salvation Army captain. I shook my head, and never allowed that thought to enter my mind again.

 Wall of Wonder
During the next few weeks, Spanish Lake was to be our "first" and "last" stop each and every day. Like so many, we were convinced that the folks here could hold back the river.

Building the sandbag wall was a monumental task: Hundreds of truckloads of sand were used to fill nearly 2-million sandbags. Medics gave out hundreds of injections to protect volunteers against hepatitis. Relief agencies served thousands of meals. It was a Wall of Wonder, with its own designer, a retired bridge engineer.

The town became the gathering place for international media. In fact, there were more satellite uplink trucks than dump trucks -- more camera crews than firefighters or police officers -- and enough still photographers that a local camera shop was selling film from the back of a rented van.

 There were volunteers from throughout the world, many devoting their time while vacationing in the Gateway city. One couple in particular, newlyweds from Bradford, England, had arrived directly from Lambert-St. Louis International. Another family from Auckland, New Zealand claimed a certain section of the wall for the folks down under. Everyone who worked at Spanish Lake signed their own bag, and that section remains as a memorial to all of the volunteers, who devoted their time and energy to holding back the 500 year Flood.
Three generations of the Scott family, who lived in these homes, kept a constant vigil around the clock. I know, they'd page me at 3 AM to ask for shovels, sand and bags. During the course of 4 weeks, I signed for tens of thousands of dollars in emergency resources, and this was just one location out of dozens.

Losing The Battle

But the floodwaters just kept rising and rising, and the wall couldn't be built strong enough or fast enough. Leaks developed, and the super saturated ground prevented volunteers from working safely. Finally, during the last week of July, the town's Fire Chief gave the order to abandon the effort

To say this was an emotional moment for the volunteers and families is an understatement. After 30 long days, time and hope had run out. No one questioned the decision, though. Instead, volunteers retreated to safer, higher ground, popped open beverages donated by the local brewery giant, and celebrated a victory of the human spirit.

A few days later the river won and floodwaters overran the wall, inundating the church and all of the homes. Over 6,000 people had come here to assist the Scott family, and each year, on the anniversary of the flood, the Scotts send out thousands of cards of thanks.

 Onto Other Problems

This scene was repeated every day for weeks. Grafton, West Alton, Potage des Sioux, St. Charles, Valmeyer – they were all inundated by flood waters, some 20 feet deep.On August 3rd, Captain Vince Wright, Pilot Rich Barkladge, and I were surveying areas downstream of St. Louis from the helicopter, which had become home.

I hear the pilot's voice through the headset, “Guys, we can make it in 15 minutes.”

 As news choppers circled, we dropped down to 100 ft. for a closer look. I stepped onto the skid, and shot that evening's lead national story. The levee had been breeched, and the 24 square mile island was filling so fast, that many residents were trapped.

 Along with a helo from USCG Station St. Louis, we began picking up trapped residents and flying them to the relative safety of the West levee, where the Army had set up an evacuation ferry. It didn't take long for floodwaters to fill farmlands and the town itself. Kaskaskia was gone in less than two hours.

We landed on Main Street to check businesses for any strays. No one in sight. But as we were about to lift-off, we noticed a lone woman with three Holsteins in tow. As was our routine, Vince tossed the coin. And as usual, I lost and got to stay behind.

As the crew lifted the farmwoman to safety, I led the cows to the safest (and highest) place I could find -- the Catholic Church. As we walked down the aisle together, all four mooing, I tied the bovine churchgoers to the main altar. The Coast Guard led them out a few weeks later. They survived the flood, but I doubt that they survived the slaughter house.

Later that day, while returning to the St. Louis Fire Department helipad, we watched as another levee had been breeched, and was quickly overrunning a nicely kept farm. As the owner sat on a nearby hill, he watched as the river swept away his home, furnishings, farm buildings and heavy equipment. I can never forget that scene, nor the lethal blow that Mother Nature dealt that man and tens of thousands like him.


Posted in memory of my partners during the Summer of 1993, Captain Vincent Wright and Pilot Rich Barkledge

Friday, July 12, 2013

An East Coaster's Guide to CAL FIRE

CAL FIRE Station - San Luis Obispo

The Nation's Largest Fire Department Isn't FDNY

SACRAMENTO -- The state of California is protected by 21 CAL FIRE Operational Districts. There are 803 fire stations (228 state and 575 local government), 39 conservation camps, 13 air attack, and 9 helitack bases.

The heart of CAL FIRE’s emergency response and resource protection capability is a force of nearly 4,700 full-time fire professionals, foresters, and administrative employees; 3,100 seasonal firefighters; 5,600 local government volunteer firefighters; 2,600 Volunteers In Prevention; and 4,300 inmates and wards.

To transport and support these forces, CAL FIRE operates over 1,095 fire engines (336 state and 759 local government); 215 rescue squads; 63 paramedic units; 38 aerial ladder trucks; 58 bulldozers; 5 mobile communication centers; and 11 mobile kitchen units. The department funds, via contract, an additional 82 engines and 12 bulldozers in six counties – Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Orange, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. From the air, CAL FIRE operates 23 1,200-gallon air tankers, 11 helicopters, and 13 air tactical planes.

CAL FIRE Super Huey, one of 11 Helicopters owned by the agency.
Helicopters, or rotary-wing aircraft, are used to transport firefighting hand crews into fire areas. They also drop water and retardant chemicals on fires.

 CAL FIRE Website 


Thursday, July 11, 2013

20 Dead, 30 Missing in Quebec Rail Explosion and Fire

Aerial view shows multiple car pile-up in Lac-Megantic, Quebec

Lac-Megantic, QUEBEC -- At least 20 people are dead and 30 missing in an oil train explosion in the province of Quebec, near the border with Maine. According to USA Today, "Quebec Premier Pauline Marois arrived Thursday to tour the site of Canada's worst railway catastrophe in almost 150 years, six days after a runaway oil train demolished the heart of a small town, killing 50 people in a fiery explosion."

The intensity of the explosions and fire made parts of the devastated town too hot and dangerous to enter and find bodies days after the disaster. Only one body had been formally identified, said Genevieve Guilbault of the coroner's office, and she described efforts to identify the other remains as "very long and arduous work."

Investigators are also looking at a fire on the same train just hours before the disaster. A fire official has said the train's power was shut down as standard operating procedure, meaning the train's air brakes would have been disabled. In that case, hand brakes on individual train cars would have been needed.

The derailment is Canada's worst railway disaster since a train plunged into a Quebec river in 1864, killing 99.

CBS Video of the Lac-Megantic Rail Disaster


Boeing 777 Crashes at San Francisco International

Firefighters, Police hailed in Asiana crash (from USA TODAY)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fire crews say they made repeated searches of the plane after an Asiana crewmember reported that four flight attendants were missing. They used the quickest way to board the aircraft - climbing up the deployed emergency chutes that passengers had used to get out of the cabin. While in the plane, they say, they had to extinguish fires and deal with fuel gushing from the plane's punctured tanks. (read the entire story)


Video of Firefighting Operations following Asiana Crash at SFO

One of 3 Striker 4500 ARFF Apparatus in service at San Francisco International Airport.
Response of a Career

SAN FRANCISCO -- The last major crash at San Francisco International Airport was 45 years ago when a Japan Airlines flight crashed on take off at SFO . The Airport itself is in San Mateo County, 13 miles from the city of San Francisco.  However the three ARFF stations at SFO are operated by the San Francisco Fire Department. SFFD operates 4 ARFF units (3 Striker 4500 apparatus and 1 Oshkosh 3000 ARFF rig), a multi agent tanker/tender, 2 Engine companies, 1 Truck company, 2 Paramedic units, a Command vehicle and 4 watercraft under the command of an Assistant Deputy Chief.  There are an additional 2 Oshkosh 3000 ARFF apparatus in reserve, ready to deployed by off duty crews.


Monday, July 01, 2013

Honoring Prescott's Bravest

19 Prescott AZ Firefighters Perish in Yarnell Wildfire

by: Lou Angeli

During my career, I’ve covered a number of wildland fire campaigns as a video and photojournalist.  One thing I’ve learned is that when Mother Nature whips a firestorm, she does so with a vengeance. 

This past Friday night a single bolt of lightning ignited a blaze, which spread rapidly amid high heat, low humidity and strong winds.  Within 48 hours it consumed the town of Yarnell, Arizona and 19 Prescott firefighters who were protecting it.

I have deep respect for the men and women know as Hotshots, specially trained professionals who are sent into harm’s way to fight these massive blazes.  There is nothing glamorous about their job.  No monster fire engines, no water – just shovels, axes, rakes and a few chainsaws.  Their work is backbreaking as they go about cutting firebreaks to deprive the fire of one or more of the fire triangle fundamentals.

News reports say that the Prescott Hotshots were forced to deploy their “shake and bakes,” emergency tent-like structures meant to shield them from flames after becoming trapped.  Did the fire overtake them? Were they unable to make it to their safe area?  Officials aren’t sure yet but  "something drastic" happened, said Dan Fraijo, Prescott’s Fire Chief.

“Who could not admire these men, who risked their lives to save the lives and property of people they would likely never meet, and lost their own lives in the process. “ an Australian firefighter wrote.  Selfless givers, they were absolute heroes, and deserve to be remembered as such.