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.
Okay, I was kidding about the baby: He just wanted to complain that the Congressional Dining Room coffee had gone cold. Still, he made a basic mistake that led to a delayed emergency response: He tried to dial "nine eleven". In an effort to get the word out that the number for 911 is "nine one one", Congress declared the second full week in April to be National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. (They declared the third full week of April to be Teething Baby Awareness Week.)
Indiana made that same declaration in 1999, and this year April 9-15 is that very same week. That's why, being a public safety telecommunicator myself, I tried to take that week off.
I mean, it was my week, right? Daiquiris in Hawaii for all dispatchers! But it turns out emergency dispatch centers have to be manned 24 hours a day, something they didn't tell me when I signed on.
(Okay, it's possible they did tell me that. It was twenty-five years ago--and while I haven't slept well since then, I have slept.)
I call myself a dispatcher because "public safety telecommunicator" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but the longer term is more accurate. In bigger dispatch centers, one dispatcher might take 911 calls, another might page out ambulances, a third radio police, a forth may be dedicated to fire departments, and so on. In a smaller dispatch center (like mine), the dispatcher might do all those.
He might also enter calls into the computer, do other computer work like arrest warrants, stolen vehicle calls and missing persons reports, run licenses for traffic stops, and take business line calls. He might empty the trash, make coffee, and operate the security doors for the county or city jails. He might set off the local tornado sirens (hopefully during tornado warnings). He (actually, I think most of them are she) might enter missing person and Amber Alert reports into national databases, try to talk down suicidal people on the phone, or talk somebody through doing CPR on their loves ones. He might have to do any combination of the above at the same time.
So "dispatcher" doesn't really cover it.
Part of the time you don't really need all the people who work in a dispatch center. The rest of the time you need three times as many. Sadly, no one has yet come up with a way to predict which time will fall at which--well--time. But there are certain ways to tell if it's going to get busy:
If you just heated up your meal.
If there's a full Moon, regardless of what the research "experts" say.
If some moron just said, "say, it's been quiet tonight".
If you just realized your bladder is screaming at you to take a break.
In the emergency services, breaks are just an obscure theory. They're best taken at the dispatch console, with a microwave nearby. My record for reheating soup is eight time, but hey--I'm a slow eater, anyway.
When 911 calls you away from that already lukewarm chimichanga, it might be to help someone whose little toe has been hurting for three days. Or, it might be that you're about to become the very last person someone ever talks to. Not knowing is a large part of the stress.
I'm told the average career length for a 911 dispatch is 7-10 years, give or take. If you do it longer than 10 years, you qualify as legally insane. I've done it for more than twice that long.
In that time, some of the really serious stuff is actually the easiest. Your house is on fire? Send the fire department. You're having chest pains? Send an ambulance. Many of my least favorite calls come in on the non-emergency line, and start with "Can I ask you a question?" In my business, there's a fine line between "question" and "complaint", but either way it's bound to end up being one of those head scratchers.
There's also the fact that many 911 calls aren't emergencies, and sometimes business line calls are.
So yeah, I think it's great that people in this job get a week of their own--they earned it. You know what I still want to celebrate Public Safety Telecommunications Week with? That's right: a vacation.
But I can wait a little longer for that ... maybe take it on a weekend, in the summer ... during a full Moon.
"Bingo!" You've won! This is so much more fun than when you and your buddies got drunk and had that nose hair plucking contest!
And here's your prize. Powered by D-cell batteries, it's three speed, in brilliant white plastic--real plastic, not that fake stuff. You look at it, puzzled. Is this some kind of back massager? And then the realization hits you:
You've won a sex toy.
Well done, sir (um, or ma'am)! Your Valentine's Day gift-giving dilemma is over.
That's how they roll at the Hometown Volunteer Fire Company in Schuykill County, Pennsylvania. Their idea of "hometown" appears to be at odds with what I would imagine. But like any volunteer fire department, the Hometown Fire Company has the ongoing challenge of finding enough money to stay in operation. The good news is, they appear to have hit the jackpot, or rather the bingo: Naughty Bingo.
Naughty Bingo night is March 11, and I know you're interested. I assume it'll be held at the fire station, which is already chock full of talk about nozzles, hose, pumpers, and squirting of various sorts. And you thought a hose bed was just for hose.
Hometown tried it for the first time last year, reasoning that their supporters were getting tired of all the old fundraising tropes. I mean, you can only have so many fish fries, pancake breakfasts, porkburger sales, chicken ... mmm, I'm hungry. Where were we?
Oh, yes. They decided to try something new, and it brought in a standing-room only crowd from several counties in two states. (New Jersey. Go figure.) Just 160 tickets were sold, and they were snapped up faster than a leopard-skin whip at a San Francisco clearance sale. Do they make leopard-skin whips? Wait, don't tell me.
The firefighters, already well known for finding 'em hot and leaving 'em wet, were understandably concerned about community reaction. But everyone seems to love the idea--maybe because it beat raising taxes. Really, with fund raisers it's already a small step from sex toys to bratwurst. "Now remember, this is silicone: Don't try to put it in a bun. Wait, let me rephrase that ..."
The real question people should be asking themselves is: Why should emergency responders have to spend enormous amounts of their time begging for it? Money, I mean? If there's one area that should be fully funded, this is it.
Maybe every government department should have to do fund raisers:
The parks department could set up a lingerie football league.
The water department can host wet t-shirt contests.
And, of course, the street department would have ... street walkers.
Until that time comes, it seems to be mostly small fire departments that need to get a stiff shot of cash by raising funds. If they have to do that, then I say let them do whatever gets their finances up--we've already had racy firefighter calendars of both sexes, so maybe this was the next logical step.
And if Naughty Bingo is here, then strip poker can't be far behind. I'd better start working out.
I started out as a jail officer, and after a few years moved to dispatch: first on second shift, then on a swing, and finally to thirds, where I've worked ever since. In fact, I've worked there for so long that in a few years I'm qualified to retire at full pension; although that's not going to happen until I'm selling enough books to pay the difference (and insurance). In fact, I've actually done this job for longer than anything else in my life, except parenting, firefighting, and breathing.
They gave me a really nice certificate, which will go on my office wall:
That's me in the middle. All three of us in the photo are volunteer firefighters in addition to being members of Noble County Communications. On the right is my direct supervisor, John Urso. If we had a ladder truck he'd be a truckie: tall and hard headed. He's so tough, Chuck Norris goes across the street to avoid him. His glare has made dispatch trainees literally melt. And guess who has to clean it up? Yep: me. Third shift vacuums.
On the left is Mitch Fiandt, who's been there so long his employee number starts with a minus. When Mitch started dispatching, he had to alert the police by ringing the nearest church bell. He'd call out the fire department by starting a signal fire, which if you think about it is pretty ironic. On the fire department his area of expertise is apparatus operation, but he's had trouble getting used to those newfangled internal combustion engines.
I know what you're thinking: "Mark, can you make fun of age after hitting the big two five?" Well, at my age it's all I can do. All I can say is that when I started out, we didn't have computers in dispatch or in fire trucks. Now I've got a computer in my pocket, and it even makes phone calls.
Other people have on occasion suggested I write a book about my experiences in the emergency communications.
Not while I'm still employed.
I turned in the list of Albion firefighters from throughout our 225 (or so) year history … or at least, all the names I could find after a fairly exhaustive search. They’re to go on a plaque that will be displayed at the fire station.
I came up with 197 firefighters. I’m sure there are more, but it’s become a game of diminishing returns—at the moment I just don’t have time to pour over microfilms of 100 year old newspapers in the hopes of stumbling across one name (although that does sound kind of fun. I’m strange). A wintertime project maybe, depending on how my writing time goes. I hope there will be some light bulb moments out there, and more people will send names in.
Meanwhile, I also compiled AFD fire chiefs, and even managed to fill in some holes that were in my original list, published in Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights. Here’s what I have:
ALBION, INDIANA FIRE CHIEFS
1887-1888 A.J. Denlar
1888-1894 William E. Worden
1898 J.O. Russell Jr.
1904 Edward A. Kunkle
1913-1916 Charles Callahan (resigned 5/1/16)
1916-1930 John Gatwood (nomination approved 6/5/16)
1935-1952 Harry Campbell
1952-1954 Byron K. Smith
1954-1959 Harry Metz
1959-1963 Robert Beckley
1963-1969 Al Jacob
1970-1971 James Applegate
1971-1973 Edward Moorhouse
1974-1975 Terry Campbell
1975-1981 James Applegate
1982-1993 Larry Huff
1994-1997 Bob Beckley
1998-2001 Kevin Libben
2002-2008 Gregg Gorsuch
2009-2010 Brad Rollins
2011-2012 Tim Lock
2013-2015 Steve Bushong
2015-2016 John Urso
2016-present Brad Rollins
I never did get around to posting all my photos from Albion's ALL-IN Block Party ... and I also haven't been able to spend much time at the fire station lately, So I'll make up for it by combining the two, with a look at the Albion Fire Department's booth at the event (which you may remember happened in late June).
If you're in Noble County tomorrow afternoon, don't forget to stop by and fill yourself up with all you can eat fish and/or tenderloin! It's a great fund raiser and a way to show support for local volunteer firefighters. Also, it tastes good.
There's a chance I won't be there due to personal stuff I can't talk about. (Maybe they'll keep back some fish for me?) But if I'm not and you don't have a copy yet, ask for another AFD fund raiser, our book Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With the Albion Fire Department. There's a box or two laying around up there, and it's also a great fund raiser for the department.
The Chain O’ Lakes Festival is a big week for the Albion Fire Department, as always:
The all you can eat fish and tenderloin dinner is Wednesday, June 8, at the fire station (which is, not shockingly, on Fire Station Drive). It used to start at 5 p.m., but my information is that it starts at 5:30 this year—and that is some darned good fish, so it’s well worth another half hour.
That’s ten bucks for adults and $5 for kids 4 and up—and free for kids under 4, so if you’re really, really short you could try putting on a Power Rangers t-shirt and see what happens.
Meanwhile, the AFD puts in a big appearance Saturday at the Chain O’ Lakes Festival Parade, which kicks off at 5 p.m. And there’ll also be horses, so for all I know it might kick off literally.
But that won’t be the highlight of the day, not this time. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the fire station will be hosting an apparatus from another fire department: the New York City Fire Department. FDNY’s Rescue 4 is one of five rescue trucks at ground zero on 9/11, and it’s touring the country as part of the Remembrance Rescue Project. This is awe-inspiring, emotional, and very cool—please stop out to see it. You can learn more about the project at http://remembrance.co/.
The Albion Fire Department has decided to honor its past and present members, by displaying in the firehouse a plaque with all their names. I’m talking all their names, from our entire 125 (or so) year history.
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
You probably think the US Congress, our nation’s legislative body, comes up with some really crazy laws and makes insane, or at least dumb, decisions.
You’d be right.
However, they’re not the only ones. Across the world, there are laws, rules, and regulations that are just a bit … strange. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t make sense, but they’re definitely attention grabbing. As we hit once again the dog-days of election season (November-October) let’s take a look at some.
Speaking of dogs, there was a time when dogsleds were the only way to get around in Antarctica, a place perpetually frozen. I know what you’re thinking: Couldn’t we relocate America’s Capitol to there, and let all that hot air thaw it out? Well, no. First, it wouldn’t be such a good idea to thaw Antarctica. Haven’t you ever seen The Thing?
Second, Antarctica doesn’t belong to the people of the USA. Of course, these days neither does our Capitol.
Sorry for my dogged political jokes. My point is it’s a good thing powered equipment came along, because it’s no longer legal to have dogs in Antarctica, something the dogs are no doubt happy about. Why? Because it’s illegal to have any non-indigenous species in Antarctica. After all, look at the bad things that happen when non-native species are introduced to an area. Hordes of dogs could destroy the entire continent’s ecosystem.
If hordes of dogs would survive down there.
Just the same, I support this, for the sake of penguins and … um … fish.
Speaking of politicians, there’s one thing that will keep you out of political office in the great state of Tennessee. Well, two things – you have to actually live in Tennessee if you run for election. I doubt they’d take to carpetbaggers, either … you hear that, Hillary Clinton?
But back to the point: It’s illegal in Tennessee to hold elected office if you don’t believe in God. Discrimination, you say? Maybe, but it’s also illegal to seek public office if you’re a member of the clergy. Or if you’ve ever had anything to do with dueling, such as setting up a gun fight between a preacher and an atheist. And yet, for all that, they don’t have trouble finding people to run for office.
What do we take from this? If you’re an atheist in Tennessee, you don’t have a prayer.
Yeah, I went there.
Let’s go back a ways – say, to 1403. About that time some people in Wales rebelled against the King of England, Henry IV, who was just half the man Henry VIII would be. Being a king, Henry naturally enacted a law allowing his subjects to, well, hang any Welshman they found within the rebellion-hotbed city of Chester, in northwest England.
Furthermore, Henry added, he wanted to keep his subjects both entertained and skilled at fighting. So, he allowed them to shoot at any Welshman within arrow distance of the town.
It wasn’t nice; it’s just the way things were done back then. What makes this law remarkable is that … wait for it …
It’s still a law.
So if you live in Chester, and you own a crossbow – go for it, dude! You’re all good.
Maybe the Welsh should do what Sao Paulo, Brazil, does. Over 41 million people live there, making it one of the largest provinces in the world. Why so many people?
Maybe because, by city ordinance, no one living in the city of Biritiba-Mirim within the province is allowed to … stop living.
It’s a tough rule to enforce. I mean, how do you punish people who break it? The death penalty?
Turns out the rule was made to protest to a national law, something we Americans can understand. The country as a whole prohibits new cemeteries in environmentally sensitive areas, and Biritba-Mirin sits on a major water source. The city has run out of cemetery space, a grave situation, although … do you really want to feel like you’re drinking your ancestors?
For now, if people break the rule in Biritba-Mirin and pass away, they end up sharing a crypt with another body – or they end up buried under local sidewalks. So either you’re on a party line to the afterlife, or you feel like someone’s walking on your grave.
Back in England, there’s also one place where it’s illegal to die: the House of Parliament. Why? Because anyone who kicks the bucket there is automatically entitled to a state funeral. Imagine some loud American tourist standing there in his Hawaiian shirt, who suddenly chokes on a ham sandwich and – as they say – bites the big one. Yeah, they gotta give him a state funeral.
It’s also illegal to wear a suit of armor inside Parliament, but I’m picturing them repealing that rule and sticking the dead tourist in one, so he doesn’t look out of place during the festivities.
But at least you can chew gum. In Singapore, they’ll cane you for that. The place is a little … uptight.
Finally, here’s my favorite somewhat odd law of them all, not because of its oddity but because I can relate:
In New Orleans, it’s illegal to curse at firefighters.
The idea is that while a firefighter is, say, running into a burning building, or doing CPR on a heart attack victim, or extricating people from a wrecked car, he’s probably stressed enough. He doesn’t need, “Hey! You’re a lousy firefighter, you @%#&!”
So be nice to firefighters. For all you know, they may have just adopted some poor unemployed Antarctic dog.
This unemployed Antarctic dog was recently adopted by a Welsh firefighter.
I wasn't able to get them to easily transfer onto DW, but I have a few photos of yesterday's fire on my blog:
Some photos from yesterday’s fire on my blog … a bad day for everyone.
I’d like to ask everyone to considering spreading the word about two books that raise money for worthy causes:
All the proceeds from sales of Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century or So With the Albion Fire Department go to, yes, the Albion Fire Department. We’re expecting delivery of a pumper-tanker in about a month, so the money could help equip the new truck, or help with any number of other expenses. Our fire department history is illustrated, but is still only $9.95 in print—and like all our books, can be ordered directly on my website:
There are copies at the fire station, the Brick Ark Inn, and the Noble Art Gallery, and it’s also available for $2.99 on Kindle:
I’d like to give the fire department a nice Christmas present of a check for this year’s sales, and I hope both history buffs and firefighting fans will get something out of Smoky Days.
Half of the proceeds for my humor-adventure novel, The No-Campfire Girls, go toward the upkeep and continued operation of Camp Latonka, Emily’s former Girl Scout camp in southeast Missouri. It’s only $5.00 anywhere good books are sold—well, anywhere this good book is sold—and just 99 cents on Kindle:
The main character in The No-Campfire Girls is Beth Hamlin, a major supporting character in my novels Storm Chaser and The Notorious Grant, who also has a story of her own in my collection, Storm Chaser Shorts. You don’t have to read the others—The No-Campfire Girls is a standalone—but if you have, you know she’s the type who loves a good challenge and is never boring.
If you care for Scouts, firefighters, firefighting Scouts, or just a good cause in general, please: Purchase, review, retweet, repost, tell a friend, tell other camps/troops/firehouses, or maybe tag the book titles on a passing boxcar. I would suggest waiting until the boxcar comes to a stop.
For the first time since I can remember, I didn’t get an article in this year for Fire Prevention Week. But since there’ve been attempts to expand fire prevention into a whole month, I thought I’d repost this piece from 2013:
There, I feel better. And here’s some slightly more seriously fire safety information from a much more serious source:
I got to break things with an ax at a structure fire Wednesday afternoon. (A small outbuilding.)
But then I broke the ax.
Good thing they don’t take that out of a volunteer firefighter’s pay. They don’t … do they?
I’ve been away from the computer lately, for vacationy stuff. It was refreshing and usually fun, and we even managed to get out of the area for a week—not exactly a relaxing kind of a trip, as I’ll detail later.
Sometimes fun is sitting on a beach with a good book; sometimes fun is clamboring into caves and hiking to waterfalls while researching a good book. Don’t worry, there’ll be photos.
I’ve been neglecting my blog terribly, which isn’t a good thing for a working writer. Recently I read writers should put a “selling” post on their blog and social media only once every six posts or so. That makes sense: Why read someone when all they ever talk about is how often you should read them? By the way, you should read me often.
Sometimes it’s hard to control that: Such as earlier this month, when I had a book signing, and later next month, when I have a new book release as well as some appearances. But ordinarily I think it’s a good idea, if you want people to think your writing is entertaining, to write entertaining stuff.
I’d look just like Captain Obvious if I was just a bit slimmer.
Some blogging experts (can you get a degree in that?) believe your blog should be narrowly focused. If you’re a tree frog expert and keep your posts all about tree frogs, you’ll soon be followed by hundreds, if not thousands, of tree-frog entheusiasts, right? And whether you submit your book about tree frogs to a publisher or go independent, having a following of tree-frog lovers ready to buy your book is a huge advantage.
But I’m a person of eclectic, if low-brow, tastes. I don’t have one obsession alone unless it’s writing, and if I write only about writing doesn’t that bring me back to the original problem? The only thing my interests really have in common is humor, and sometimes not that.
So here’s an idea: rotating through various subjects, in addition to talking about the writer’s life. Not necessarily on a specific day, but mixing it up so there’s something for everyone, and when appropriate loading some humor into it. Some possible topics include entertainment (Hey, I still watch some TV) and the possibly related book/movie reviews; emergency services (‘cause I’ve got that firefighter/911 dispatcher thing going on); photography (pictures make everything better); history (we’re releasing a humorous history book next year, which will make my third history related project); local/Indiana stuff; politics (if I can stomach it); and … I don’t know. What else?
So what do you think? As always I have to think about what will sell the most books, but above all I have to be funny, or entertaining … or maybe the word is interesting. It turns out a proper blog is a lot of work.
When Roger Lawrence tagged me for the Versatile Blogger Award, I thought I’d done that before. So I looked back and sure enough, I was nominated by Rosanne Dingli – in 2011. Here’s Roger’s post, in which he tells 7 fun facts about himself:
The man once cussed out Cary Grant—I can’t outdo that. Since it’s been four years since my time around, I thought I’d put my original answers here for those who’ve come along since, and see if there’ve been any changes along the way. I’m not going to tag anyone—because I already have:
1. Last year I got my 30 year pin as a volunteer firefighter (I joined on my 18th birthday), and this year made 20 years as an emergency dispatcher. (Ahem … I hit 35 fire years this July 14th.)
2. I have Seasonal Affected Disorder: Winter quite literally drives me crazy. (But stupidity also drives me crazy, and that happens all year ‘round.)
3. My fiancée is half my age – and twice my maturity. (Married! But she’s still more mature.)
4. I can’t stand America’s two great drinks: coffee and beer. (Earl Grey—hot.)
5. It took me over three decades from the moment I first ventured into fiction writing as a child to getting my first novel published. (Now I kill myself trying to get a new book published at least twice a year.)
6. My humor column, Slightly Off the Mark, was named after a line in a newspaper story about a bowling league. (And it’s not related to the comic strip “Off the Mark” by Mark Parisi, which is very funny.)
7. I was known throughout my school years for being painfully shy. (At least, by those who knew I was there. For those of you who watch “The Middle”, I was a mix of Sue Heck, the invisible geek, and her brother Brick, the bookworm.)