The Albion Fire Department's annual fish fry -- which happens annually -- will be Wednesday, June 7th, during the Chain O' Lakes Festival. We're also having tenderloin again this year, for those of you inclined, although I can't imagine why you'd want to pass on the breaded fish. It's all you can eat, and you can't beat that unless you're a diet doctor.
I can't be there (I'll be helping to bread the fish earlier in the day, and it's one of those scheduling things where I can't do both). However, they tell me copies of Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With The Albion Fire Department will be on sale at the fish fry, for $9.95. That's our book about the history of the fire department: Proceeds from book sales, as with the fish fry itself, go to the Albion Fire Department's equipment and training fund.
So come and support your local emergency volunteers! It's from 5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at the Albion Fire Station, 210 Fire Station Drive, on the east end of town. (It's traditional, when a town has a Fire Station Drive, to build the fire station there.) Price for adults is $10, for children $6, with children 5 and under eating free.
Emily and I selling pre-orders of Smoky Days at the fish fry just before its publication.
Why we do it: Albion firefighters attack a training fire. I'm particularly proud of this photo, because I didn't die taking it.
It’s not workable to wear air packs at wildland fires, but you can usually stay out of the worst of the smoke if you’re careful. I wasn’t.
Sunday we responded to a fire that burned into a field and a pine woods. After getting the brush truck stuck (my 4WD success ratio sucks) I ended up in the woods, and underestimated the amount of smoke while working my way to the front of the fire.
It wasn’t too bad … except it appears that one of my many allergies is pine trees, and the smoke was from burning pine wood and needles. I spent all day Monday with a sore throat, raspy breath, wheezing, irritated eyes, and itchy skin. It was like watching a political debate. But I slept through most of it (the allergies, not the debate—well, the debate too), because that’s what Benadryl does to me.
So from a “routine” ground cover fire I got smoke inhalation, while another firefighter had singed hair, and a third a cut head. What lesson do we take from this?
You never know what’s going to go wrong. Not an original lesson, but still.
Not the same fire, Emily took this a few years ago -- I was busy both times.
Hopefully today’s rain will cut down on ground cover fires for awhile, and hopefully without severe storms. And hopefully without an earthquake, like Missouri just had. Worst case scenario: an earthquake during a forest fire, with a funnel cloud touching down to make a fire tornado. The scary part is that it could happen.
But remember, folks: Just because the ground is still wet doesn’t mean we can’t have ground cover fires. Dead foliage from over the winter dries out quickly, and until things green up later in the spring it can ignite easily—sometimes within hours of a rain. I’ve seen flames burn through a swamp, right over standing water.
In fact, fires this time of year can be even worse, because brush, grass, and fields still burn, but the ground can be too wet for four wheel drive brush trucks to reach the flames. Firefighters have to walk to the fire with hand tools, or wait for the flames to reach their positions close to the road. Waiting means the fire gets bigger, and there’s a chance it might reach and damage buildings or vehicles.
So don’t burn in windy conditions, have a cleared area around whatever you’re burning, and watch the fire until it’s completely out. If in doubt, don't do it.
|Not being in a burning building doesn't make it safe: Firefighters have suffered smoke inhalation, heat exhaustion, falls, burns, and being hit by vehicles at grass and field fires.|
|This photo is from a fire that endangered buildings on March 18th, near Long Lake Road and CR 175 N.|
This column did get printed in time for Fire Prevention Week—it’s just late getting online. But really, shouldn’t something like this be all year round?
Meanwhile, the new publisher has allowed me to write a farewell column for the newspapers I’m no longer employed by, so you’ll see this once more … maybe twice.
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
The National Fire Prevention Association would like to point out that, if your smoke detector is not working, it won’t work.
Sure, it seems obvious. But it’s also obvious that if sprinkler systems aren’t installed they don’t put out fires, safety belts that don’t get used aren’t safe, and people who stay in Washington, D.C. turn into blithering idiots. And yet we defeat sprinkler laws, don’t belt up, and reelect blithering idiots, so sometimes the obvious needs saying.
This is why we have Fire Prevention Week, which is a week during which we try to stress preventing fires. Fire Prevention Week is always nearest October 9th. That’s the historical date of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which took place in 1871, was indeed in Chicago, but really wasn’t all that great.
“Great” is a term used for fires that get so out of control that they get weeks named after them. The NFPA has devoted itself to keeping fires from turning great, and the best way to do that is to keep them from getting out of control. It’s counterintuitive, but they would not then be called “good”.
More importantly is to keep people from getting killed in a fire, which is the job of smoke alarms, which are just like smoke detectors except with fewer syllables. A working smoke alarm cuts the risk of dying in a fire in half. You don’t have to be Captain Obvious to see the value of that.
Here’s the fun part, though, and by “fun” I mean “tragic”: When talking smoke alarms, you always have to stick in the word “working”. In 23% of home fire deaths, there were smoke alarms—but they didn’t work. Why? Sometimes they were old or damaged, but usually the batteries were dead or missing.
“Honey, the batteries in the camera are dead.”
“I’ll just take some out of the smoke detector. Don’t worry, I’ll remember to put them back.”
Sure you will. Stop at the dollar store and get more for the camera, you schmuck.
But even if the batteries stay in, there’s no guarantee they’re working. Batteries go dead from time to time, and dead batteries lead to dead people.
Thus the idea of changing them twice a year, when Daylight Savings Time comes and goes. Whine all you want about springing forward and falling back (and you will … you will), but it’s a great reminder to put in a good set of working batteries. If the old ones are still good and you’re particularly cheap, put those in your digital camera. Sure, there’s a chance they’ll go dead and you’ll miss catching that UFO hovering over your house, but the little green men are going to steal your camera and make all the photos blurry anyway, so why bother?
In between changes, you should test your smoke alarm batteries every month. This is about the same rate at which a major celebrity gets arrested. If you’re really paranoid you can check them every few days, at the rate a minor celebrity gets arrested.
If the smoke alarm is more than ten years old, replace it. If you can’t remember how old it is, replace it. If you can’t remember how old you are, have someone else replace it. And yes, if it doesn’t work when you test it, replace it. Thank you, Captain Obvious.
There was a time when experts recommended installing a smoke alarm on each level of the home and outside each sleeping area. They now say to install one inside each bedroom, in addition to the others. By my estimation that would mean five smoke alarms in my house. If you count every room my dog sleeps in, that would mean nine smoke alarms, or more if you count each spot as a separate bedroom.
That may seem like a lot, but I’ve long had a suspicion that my dog smokes when we’re asleep. Have you ever seen hairballs burn? Not pretty.
Can’t afford a smoke alarm? Yes you can. You, put down that beer. You, put down that cigarette. You, put down that game controller. And you, put down that—oh, man. Dude, close your curtains! I can’t unsee that.
Yes, you can scrape up the money to save your life. I did a quick internet search, and found smoke alarms for sale ranging from twenty to less than five dollars. I wouldn’t necessarily go for the cheapest ones, but you can cover your entire home for less than the cost of that 20 inch flat screen TV you want to mount in your bathroom.
On a related note, you do not need a flat screen TV in your bathroom. We’ll talk electrical safety in a future column.
The editor of the newspapers I work for asked me for a fire service related article for our Fire Prevention Week insert last week, and this is what I came up with:
It’s not easy to say how a first generation volunteer firefighter like me got into the business.
I took some photos at the Albion Fire Department’s recent vehicle extrication training (it was 86 degrees!) and, naturally, posted them on the AFD’s FB page:
After three decades as a volunteer firefighter, I … hurt. A lot, especially when it’s cold. Recently I’ve been seen wearing a sling, to let my arm heal after I bent an elbow the wrong way. (I don’t really need the sling—it’s to keep me from reaching for stuff with my bad arm.)
Bob Beckley was already an old timer (or so my 18-year-old self thought) when I joined. He just hit his 40thyear.
Bob Brownell was just given his fifty year pin.
And that was because they missed the actual anniversary: He’s been a firefighter for 53 years. He was already doing the job for two decades before I walked into the firehouse for the first time, sucking on a bottle and wetting my pants. (Just kidding … I wasn’t sucking on a bottle. I left it in the car.)
Now, what else happened around 53 years ago? Hm. Well, 52 years ago, although I don’t actually remember it …
Holy cow. Bob Brownell has been fighting fires since before I was born.
And the rest of us still have to fight him for the friggin’ fire nozzle.
Maybe it’s a Bob thing. Maybe being a Bob gives you more energy somehow; maybe it’s one of those mystical names that keeps you young even longer than sleeping under a pyramid, or marrying Playboy bunnies.
Brownell would have started around 1961 or so. Kennedy was President. In Albion, our newest truck was a 1952 fire engine, the first engine I rode to a fire almost two decades later. It had a manual transmission with about 42 speeds on it.
And I’m tired?
( Now, Brownell is a transfer, which means he didn’t start with our department. What happened was, he started on a different fire department, wore all of them out, then moved to another one. Then all the young guys on that department got tired of him making them look bad, so he left there and came to us. You know those stories about immortal people who moved every few decades so people wouldn’t notice they aren’t aging? That’s Brownell. )