Tuesday, January 21, 2014

12 Signs You're Dating a Lady Firefighter

  1. Every time she meets a kid her first question is “Do you know your families fire escape plan”
  1. Her favorite movie is “Always”
  2. When entering a hotel room she immediately checks the fire escape diagram, and looks out the window to note any complications to a window rescue.
  3. She hints that a few days in Indianapolis in April sounds great.
  4. The new issue of Fire Engineering arrived and you automatically plan a night out with the guys.
  5. She thinks its sweet that you downloaded a fire engine ringtone so you know its her when she calls.
  6. You've gotten used to her immediately noticing if every home you enter has fire sprinklers.
  7. Pink isn't her favorite color, but she wears it often and proudly in support of Breast Cancer Research.
  8. Candles in restaurants that have paper napkins and place mats make her nervous.
  9. When there's smoke in the distance she tells you what town its in and if its a woods or structure fire.
  10. The smell of smoke and two-stroke engines don't bother her.
  11. Every once in a while she turns her pager off, just for you.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dad, Can I Have a Pony?

Photo by Peter Van DorpeIt was a routine visit to see my dad. The bright sun streamed through his window, and the vibrant pink rhododendron blossoms were swaying in the brisk breeze. I chatted about what a perfect hay-drying day it was; how the crew would be happy with the 500 bales coming in that afternoon, and if the weather held we’d have another thousand in by the end of the week. Dad was known for his workingman’s handshake, so it was no surprise when he squeezed my hand really hard. It was a surprise when he didn’t let go for a few minutes, and when it did let go it was forever. 

I thought about not going to work the next day, but there was a project depending on me being there. I remembered dad always said, “If you say you’re going to do something, do it,” and, “There’s no excuse for not getting a job done unless you’re dead or in the hospital.”
So, I went to work promising myself after that one task I would take a week off. My co-workers arrived as usual, “Hi, how’s the coffee this morning?” and a variety of other greetings as they walked past. One friend, Mark, chatted a little longer that morning, “Hey Vicki, I want you to know you were right. We bought our daughter a horse and it’s the best thing we ever did.” He went on to talk about his daughter’s good grades in school and how she helped around the barn, but I didn’t hear much. I was lost in memories of my dad, the farm I grew up on and a long forgotten pony. Someday, when I can compose myself properly, he will know how much those words meant to me.

Photo by Vicki SchmidtAs a kid, I can’t remember not wanting a horse. We had cattle, but to me they were just odd shaped horses. I’d sit on the backs of the tamer cows and steers when they were tied in their stalls, and I remember trying to weave their short manes into braids like fancy show horses. One morning my dad was rototilling the garden and I was walking behind him picking worms and putting them into a can of dirt so we could go fishing later on. When he shut off the rototiller I asked if I could have a pony. He said, “Maybe someday.”

I ran into the house all excited and told mom, “Dad’s getting me a pony on Sunday.” Needless to say, the next few minutes were mass confusion, and by the end of the day I had learned my first lesson in disappointment: There is a big difference between “someday” and “Sunday.” That afternoon I lead a weanling calf into the barn, saddled it with a rug and a piece of rope, determined I was going to ride. A neighbor standing beside my dad and talking cattle commented, “You really need to buy her a pony.”

That week dad traded some work towards an old saddle he’d found in a friend’s barn and brought it home to me. I cleaned it up and thought I’d struck gold. The calves weren’t impressed, and the girth wasn’t long enough to go around the cows, but it was a saddle, and for some reason it didn’t bother me that I didn’t have a real horse to put it on. Sunday morning came and I woke to the cattle dealer’s truck grinding gears as it came into the barnyard to pick up calves. The sound of a whinnying horse bolted me out of bed and crashing down the stairs. There, standing in the pasture was not one, but two of the most beautiful ponies in the world.
Photo by Vicki SchmidtFor the next few days I brushed and braided their manes, cleaned water buckets and stalls, saddled the ponies and struggled to bridle them. I was too short, but eventually I got the job done. Within a couple of weeks I could actually climb up onto the smaller pony, named Dynamite, all by myself. Dynamite lived up to his name. Not only did I learn to ride on that pony, I also learned how to fall off, land on my feet and get back on. I learned that scrapes, bumps and bruises all hurt, but all eventually heal. Some leave scars, but even those fade with time. I also learned that just because you are nice to something doesn’t always mean it’s going to be nice to you. 

From that pony, my mom and dad and the land, I learned a few other valuable lessons as well:
Other beings will often help you find your way. The few times I explored trails and didn’t know where I was, my pony found the way back to a place I knew. He also taught me that sometimes it’s better to listen to his language and cross the brook further downstream. The waters may look calm, but sometimes others know what lies beneath is not safe. 

Make sure every being that touches your life has a warm and safe place to rest. Whether it’s a high spot of dry ground, the shade under a big tree, a softly bedded stall for your livestock or sharing your couch or spare room with a friend you haven’t met yet, humans and horses both do best with a good night’s sleep and an occasional nap. 

Share drinks with friends whenever you can. Morning coffee, afternoon tea or a cold beer after a hard day’s work all go better with friends. And, never ask your horse to drink out of a bucket or trough you wouldn’t drink out of as well. 

It’s OK to not forget, but do forgive and pay attention next time. Sometimes years pass before a lesson learned is realized. Life’s bumpy rides, broken bones, bruises and bucks are often caused by things out of our control at the time. The way horses and people are raised sometimes makes them want to kick you. Don’t take it personally, learn to read the signs and dodge the kick. Above all else, never kick back.

Photo by Vicki SchmidtA $50 pony is the best therapy for a kid. If your kid wants a pony and it’s not an option at the time, find one they can visit, brush and help care for: because there is nothing like the nuzzle of a pony to complement the love of a parent.

Written in memory of my dad, who never understood why I wanted horses, and in memory of my mom, who always did. Vicki Schmidt, Troika Drafts, Hebron ME http://www.troikadrafts.com

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Training with the Times

High-Tech Training Tools for Firefighters

Research & high-tech training tools help firefighters prepare for the modern firegroundBy Vicki Schmidt Published Monday, September 30, 2013 firefighternation.com

Chief training officers with any degree of awareness cannot ignore the writings of groups such as Compartment Fire Behavior Training (CFTB-US)ULthe National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the NYU-Poly Fire Research Group. These organizations, and many others, are offering some of the best online training for tactics for modern fires. These resources feature quick links to videos and are complemented with questions and testing to help ensure that the knowledge is entrenched and retained in viewers. Further, the programs are designed to meet the needs of both career and volunteer firefighters.

There’s no doubt we live in a technology-driven era. Fire research and the resulting recommendations are addressing the dramatic changes in tactics that have been driven by the building and construction industries. As chief commanders, instructors and training officers, we need to review our current curriculums and update our skill drills and our quality indicators (the criteria instructors use to measure and ensure a skill drill is done properly). We need to work with other officers to ensure that our standard operating procedures (SOPs) match the recommended tactics and direct the tasks that produce the safest, most effective outcomes.

Instituting the knowledge and implementing the recommendations from recent research does not mean abandoning what we know. Progressive instructors will use the technologies and recommendations to expand and enhance existing skills. As Steve Kerber from UL often states in his lectures, “As a whole, the fire service knows very well how to ventilate, but we do not know the what, where, when and why.” Fortunately, online training resources offer training officers the opportunity to present the “what, where, when and why” to their company officers and grassroots firefighters.

For those who have reviewed the recent reports from the UL ventilation studies, the most overt take-home message is this: Everything we do on the fireground has an impact on the flow path. While the phenomenon itself is nothing new, our level of knowledge about it certainly is. The synergistic effect of modern construction with a modern fuel load often leads to very dramatic and hostile fire dynamics. Air movement has always been one of the more abstract elements of the fireground. We rarely notice or detect changes in pressurization and interior air currents, or the impact of air movement, until we see or physically feel the result of the changes. Visual changes in smoke characteristics (volume, velocity, density, color) or a rapid rise in temperature felt through our protective fire gear signal the impending consequence of hostile conditions.

Fireground commanders with instilled wisdom or firefighters reacting on “gut instinct” may predict and react swiftly to dramatic changes and prevent a tragedy. But the changes can be rapid, volatile and deadly, especially to inexperienced or distracted commanders and firefighters. A moment’s missed action due to a change in smoke conditions or a change in temperature may lead to firefighters being caught in a flashover or a global collapse of the structure.

P.J. Norwood, the training officer and deputy chief at East Haven (Conn.) Fire Department, sees the new research as supporting tactics we already know, but tactics we rarely incorporate into our standard fireground strategies. “We all know and teach VES, but how many of us actually have it in our SOPs or consider it as a regular tactic?” he asks. More recent literature accentuates VES with isolation (VEIS) and closing the door, but this has always been a part of VES. “Recent research brings to light the added importance of isolation,” he adds.

While we often hear the phrase another “tool in the toolbox,” we need to realize that the fire service has a lot of tools—blitz attack, VEIS, foam and CAFS, to name a few. But like most craftsmen, we only use the tools we prefer. We have skills and tactics with which we are most comfortable and therefore use routinely. We utilize these skills because they have served us well in the past, but does that ensure they will serve us well in the modern fire environment? Again, the available online training can provide a fundamental foundation that allows your training officers to complement modern training technologies with field-based, hands-on training activities.

As a chief training officer, ask yourself, “Are there tactics we have that we’re not using due to skill level or comfort? Can we bring them to the forefront? Practice them? And see how they work to complement the new research?” Tools and skills that sit idle may fail to serve us when we need them. Rarely do we reach for every tool equally. But the new research suggests those “tools at the back of our toolbox” might merit the grasp, the perfecting of advanced techniques, and their incorporation into our SOPs

One indisputable fact is that the research from NIST, UL and many others is driven 100% by questions from fire departments, fireground commanders and firefighters who have an insatiable appetite for answers about the what, where, when and why related to their fallen brothers and sisters. The research was designed and conducted byfirefighters for firefighters. Furthermore, these years of research were funded, and continue to be funded, in part by the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, along with support from administrators at UL and NIST who believe in their staff.

Whether old school, new school or no school, as a chief training officer, make it your duty to bring attention to the new training opportunities. Bring that attention with honor and gratitude and on behalf of those who brought us answers when firefighters asked the questions “why?”

Suggested Links
Polytechnic Institute of NYU

Underwriters Laboratory, Research and Training information

Compartment Fire Behavior Training, resource pages

County of Los Angeles, Training Service Section

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Thursday, August 22, 2013

By the Light of the Full Moon

There's a kinda cute guy I've know awhile. He finally calls and asks if I'd like to do something Saturday night. He's a nice guy, sorta of citified, but says he thinks he'd like the country life. So I say “sure, what sounds good”. He says “its going to be a nice cool crisp evening with the light of a full moon”, then he asks, what sounds good to me. 

I think for a moment and reply, “Well, I have a swarm of honey bees I really need to move to a new area. That would be the perfect weather and amount of light. Would you like to help?”


Did I say something wrong?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mother's Things

Mother's Things

Mothers are amazing. I always knew that about my mom, who has been gone for six years now . A few weeks ago I found the courage to start going through some of the boxes of her things. They were stashed in an unused upstairs bedroom in my home soon after she passed away.

One box was tagged “Vicki's stuff”. I never knew it was my stuff, I just thought it was an old box that had been at the house. Some of her clothes were in that box and after all these years, they still smelled of the laundry soap she used. It was like she was there with me somehow. At the bottom of the box were piles of papers. Documents I'd written in college, report cards from grade school, lots of letters I'd written to her over the years, and a July 1982 issue of Firehouse magazine.

I suspect I left the magazine at their home on one of my visits. My mom was a nurse and told me several times how she thought she would have enjoyed being a medevac nurse. Mom enjoyed hearing about my activities as a volunteer EMT, and my dreams of being a firefighter too someday. The magazine was something she'd enjoy reading through as well. And she knew I'd be back to read it someday.

I know mom's going to be a medevac nurse on a helicopter in her next life time. I want to fly helicopters, so maybe I'll be her pilot. But either way, thirty one years later, we finally finished reading the magazine. Together. Thanks Mom.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Does Anyone Here Speak Fire?

My Chief is very old school. When I brought out the NFPA certified pink camo helmet I’d won at a weekend fire school he just about went over the edge. Gruff words followed “There will be no pink worn on this Department”. Having learned long ago how to dodge a chief’s bullet, I just smiled and quickly turned the subject to other things I’d learned that weekend. Knowing full well that after a few weeks of seeing the helmet sitting by my gear he’d say; “it’s probably OK to wear it”. He’s is a great firefighter, a wonderful big brother, and a very good chief. I’ve been his Training Officer for several years and I’ve come to realize. Chiefs are very much like my other fire students – give them the “why” to the lesson and the desired shift in attitude, skill, or behavior, often follows. 

The pink helmet stirred much less attention than a question from one of our Junior firefighters later in the evening “when is our next training on fire behavior?” I casually mentioned sometime soon, and went onto explain that from now on we’ll call it “fire dynamics”. There’s a big difference. Fire behavior has inherent limits to its definition, but fire dynamics involves the fire’s reaction to all the actions of every firefighter and every happening on the fire ground. My chief stopped dead in his tracks, turned and looked at me and said “when are they going to stop?”

In all honesty, I wanted to answer - hopefully never, but I knew what he meant. Today’s changes are a lot to absorb, especially for Chiefs and chief officers. Not only do they have a calamity of endless paperwork, regulations, codes, and political issues to deal with; research and science seems to be changing all the definitions, training needs, and tactics at the same time. I sensed my chief’s growing frustration with the challenges and told him not worry; we’ve got it under control. We have the science, we have the technology, and we have fire fighters excited to learn. (What more could a training officer ask for?) And one more shining star: our Department’s internet service is now up to speed and can serve our rural western Maine town with ease. YouTube video’s and webcasts are broadcast without interruption. It will take time to adapt to the knowledge but we can do it. We can now talk fire. We can bring it all right to our little department. We can address the challenges, explain the science, expand our skills, and practice a variety of tactics. I sincerely believe, there is no greater time than now to be a training officer and an instructor.

But all this said, I think I’ll wait until next month, after my Chief says it’s OK to wear my new helmet to break the news: someday soon we’re going to have a class on flow path control. “You know Chief, all stuff that we used to just call ventilation but now we know there’s more to it. We have to help them understand the difference between flow path control and tactical ventilation?” Once again, he’ll almost be over the edge, but along with being a great Chief he’s a great firefighter as well. He’ll adapt and overcome and in that gruff voice he’ll eventually say, “OK, I trust you know what you’re doing”. Did I mention what a great Chief he is?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Maine Fire Incident Reporting (MEFIRS) by County

This series of maps shows the Maine Fire Incident Reporting for fire departments 2009-2011. This is a draft project with ArcGIS Online and presented via Arc Explorer. Feedback and comments much appreciated. . .
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