Thursday, November 15, 2018


 One of the goals of my book, 10-24: A Firefighter Looks Back, was to highlight some of the changes from when I first joined the department to when I retired. This month it’ll be 22 years since I hung up my helmet, and I’ve found that my images of the fire service today are still dominated by those in 1996. A bit dated, I was recently reminded.

    It struck me while having a conversation with my son who was an ER nurse in Dallas. We were talking about how TV shows cast an unrealistic image of EMS procedures and challenges. “Like that one medical show showing the seriously injured patient on the bloody gurney in ER and the family members right there within the drawn curtains interrupting and questioning every move,” I said. “Ridiculous,” I added to punctuate my disbelief.

   “Actually, Dad, there have been studies showing…” he replied offering a well studied and reasoned approach to improving patient care with some relatives in the ER alcove during treatment. “Hmmmmm,” I said while reeling in my know-it-all, been-there-done-that attitude — at least for this conversation, that is. That’s when I did an updated recount of the date today, and dates back when I was in the trenches. It was now well over two decades since I was on an EMS call.

   Monitoring fire service blogs, Twitter feeds and related industry news feeds, I failed in some cases to realize that much of our futuristic equipment predictions, proposed treatment practice improvements and high tech resources are currently in use. What were previously “you know what they oughta do” wishes are now in use saving lives of citizens and first responders as well.  

   The thing that hasn’t changed in all these years since my first response in 1971, is that stuff changes. And like most things, the good changes survive and are built upon, and the bad changes eventually sentence themselves to obscurity.

   And old fire dogs like me continue to watch, judge, pontificate a bit and hopefully learn. 

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Thursday, August 23, 2018


"10-24: A Firefighter Looks Back" goes missing.

   For some reason this last month, CreateSpace and Amazons’ finely oiled machine goofed up — for reasons unknown to me, and without notification — and I learned a month or so of no book sales was the result of some “computer glitch” which removed my book for any listings, and placed it back in a production process awaiting my review and action. This had already been done back in 2013, but for some reason needed another round of approvals and OK’s before re-listing.  After some grumbling and clicking a few appropriate check boxes, my book is available again, just like it had been for nearly 5 blanking years already.

   Since I’ve never been responsible for a “single solitary glitch, mistake, error or slight oversight of any kind in my entire life” (wink-wink) I decided to be generous and not make a big deal and continue to feel CreateSpace and Amazon do a great job.  

  “10-24: A Firefighter Looks Back” is back and available again, in both paperback and Kindle versions. Sorry if you clicked on one of several reference links I have active and came up dry. Some links below that offer a path to the book:

www.ornberg-com - Personal website

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Check for a key before using a fire axe

   A friend and I were having a discussion on management techniques and lifestyles and how they’ve changed over the past several decades and discovered that we both had distinctly different styles. He was a retired executive, having risen through the ranks of a successful business eventually reaching top management before retiring.  I had a slightly different path, ranging through a basically blue collar environment through the Army, 26 years as a career firefighter, topping off my work experience as a business association executive director and marketing business owner.

   He approached a potential obstacle or threat by first evaluating the situation, exploring possible actions and potential results, and perhaps trying to benefit by the input of a committee or task force before final implementation.

   I generally approached the problem by taking a fire axe to it.

   Both have their obvious good and bad results depending upon the urgency, scope of impact, and consequences after the fact. 

   In fact both methods have their place and best used as a combination of both when opportunity or necessity allowed or required. What we agreed upon finally though, was that only experience helps us make those choices, and only maturity and self confidence allow us to deal with the eventual success or failure. I've learned that I can accept a claim of “I told you so!” from anyone that is equally comfortable with admitting, “OK, I was wrong,” without pointing at mitigating causes or influences.

   We once responded to a report of smoke inside a building, finding the main doorway to the small six flat locked.  Just before my trusty axe completed the first half of a hefty swing a nearby civilian yelled out, “Wait! I have a key,” saving the door from destruction and me from a lot of embarrassment.  That’s when I learned to always quickly check for a key first, a practice that now serves me when dealing with business obstacles, lifes' speed bumps, politics, news reporting, and other challenges.

   Sometimes it turns out there is no key, or — sorry to stretch the metaphor a bit further — I find somebody must have changed the lock when I wasn’t looking.

   Besides, that axe is getting a lot heavier!

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Earn your own hero “strutting rights”

It happens every year. Twice a year as a matter of fact. 
    Spring and Fall are great opportunities to take a few moments and replace all the batteries in the smoke detectors in your home.  Besides being the most safe way to keep you alerted in case of a fire, it also helps you avoid that irritating “beep” noise that drives you nuts when a battery gets low. — You know, the beep that has you standing in the middle of the room listening to determine its origin, only to reposition yourself elsewhere to catch the next mysterious beep? And then again, until you find the guilty detector, and so on.
    Changing the battery — for those of you who may not already be experienced — is as simple has untwisting the smoke detector from the mounting, opening or sliding open a little plastic door, and pulling out the existing 9 volt battery and replacing it with a new 9 volt battery.  (There’s only one way to plug it in.) Then replace the battery into it’s appointed area, and remount the detector. Press the Test button and that’s all there is to it.
    Well, afterwards you could also quietly strut around the house in your own “hero” mode for a bit, because you’ve actually earned the right. Especially if there’s a fire overnight and your freshly and full powered detector lets you know in time to get up, and to get out. Stand tall at the window with your fists on your hips gazing heroically out into the future and reflecting on your selfless act of heroism.  You can even say out loud, “It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!” whether anybody hears it or not. Hey, it’s YOUR special time!

    Oh, and by the way, if you do it this weekend, (Nov 5, 2017) it’s a good time to set your clocks back an hour too!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

MY Total Eclipse of 2017

NASA/MSFC/Joseph Matus
   After months of pre-planning and a few last minute destination changes as the weather in some areas became  “iffy” at best, I eventually wound up in Glendo, Wyoming for an ideal viewing area.  Ideal for me was somewhere in the direct path of the eclipse that I could also stay overnight in my small van-sized RV the night before. I also avoided the historic traffic jams that followed later that night and the morning of August 21st.

   As mid-day approached and everyones’ cardboard viewing glasses appeared in hand, I was a solitary viewer in a cleared field populated by many other RV’s and tents.  I, along with many others, stood a half mile or so away from the larger concentration of other campers and day viewers lakeside along the large Glendo, WY reservoir.  The town of 205 swelled to an estimated crowd of 300,000 — all of whom united as one happy family to see what they could see. With well over two minutes of totality the only criteria was looking UP, so everyone had a front seat position.

   For me, “Totality” had much more meaning that just full coverage of the sun by the moon. Totality included the entire on-site experience complete with my whole world going dark, temperature and wind dropping 20 degrees, a full 360 degree beautiful sunset along the entire horizon surrounding me, the appearance of a couple of planets and stars at mid-day, and the shared oohs and ahhhs and sporadic emotional outbursts of cheers and applause as each component of totality unfolded.

   The initial partial coverage included several minutes of a sunny day seemingly unaffected by the moons’ slow passage across the sun, beginning with a small bite which then grew to quarter, one-half and three-quarter crescent until only a small but bright sliver of light remained. Even at this point daylight, though dimmed slightly as if an overcast day, still ruled everything in sight.

   Then, with a bright instantaneous flash at about 7 or 8 o’clock position on the sun’s circumference, the sun was blotted out by the moon -- creating a black color I’d never seen before  -- just barely corralled by a bright corona of blazingly silver light with varying glowing streaks of linear solar plasma reaching out thousands, if not millions of miles into space. I noticed about a minute into full coverage, as I strained to adjust my aging eyes to better focus on the suns’ corona and watching for a prominence or two, that I started to see multiple images.  This, the sight I had traveled over 1,000 miles to see unobstructed was now being refracted by the beginnings of a tear welling up in each of my eyes.  A quick swipe across each with the upper sleeve on my polo shirt and I was back in business.

   I was surprised by the lack of colors, as I was expecting to see bright yellows along with the white light of the sun. Yet here and there along the outer edge, I noticed slight splashes of reddish orange as if the edge of the sun was bubbling.  This, I learned later, were prominences of solar plasma exploding out away from the sun, only to collapse downward again.

   Just an instant before the moon began to release the sun and return daylight to us all, a short ripple of light appeared at the suns’ 2 or 3 o’clock positioned revealing what has long been called “Baileys Beads” as a smattering of sunlight spilled through mountain ranges and canyons on the edge of the moon. Then a bright flash in the same area, creating the “Diamond Ring” effect,  signaled the end of totality and a return to the safety glasses as the moon crept slowly across and away.

   Visually the experience far surpassed any of the professional and scientific images that I’ve seen since the event. There’s something they always miss compared to when the image gathered by the human eye works in simultaneous harmony with the human heart and imagination.  I get goose bumps just typing this or explaining it, something I learned is shared by most who have experienced totality in person.

   Another total eclipse crosses several US states in 2024.  Whatever it takes, be there!


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Make mine an "Old Style" for awhile

   I’m Johnny Come Lately with news of how Old Style has again issued a run of specially designed cans sporting the a Fire Service axes and emblem and more. It’s a fundraising effort where Old Style will donate 20 cents from every commemorative case sold to four fire related charities. Though initially issued 3 or 4 years ago, this most recent effort will last through August of this year or while supplies last.

   What also caught my eye was that the program was extended to include my now home state of Wisconsin and Indiana as well.  Part of the company’s Midwest Bravest program, over $45,000 has been raised. Donations are earmarked for the Ende, Menzer, Walsh and Quinn Retirees, Widows and Children’s Assistance Fund, the IPPFA Remembrance & Survivors Fund, the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation and the Professional Firefighters’ Union of Indiana.

   Supplies of Old Style seemed scarce nearby my home in Wisconsin, but a recent drive down to Illinois allowed me to pick up a case — for souvenir purpose only, of course. Ahem….

   Nice going, Old Style!! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

HELP! I've fallen and can't get up! Down and helpless on the Washington coast

"This is bad. This is real bad," I thought.

Once I started to see more clearly after slipping between a few huge driftwood logs on Ruby Beach in far northwestern Olympic National Park, I felt my head to see if there were any knots or bumps from slamming my head on one of the logs. I finally sat up as a woman passing nearby moved my way asking, "Are you OK?"

Sitting there feeling around for my glasses I said, "Not sure, but I think so." I found my glasses sans one lens. "Crap," I said feeling around for something smooth and shiny among the rocks and stones. Finding the missing lens and popping it back in place I could finally both see and focus on my situation. I made some motion to try and push myself up to sit on one of the logs, and found that my right foot was just laying there, still attached of course, but angled sharply to the right.  It didn't take any of my 26 years of EMS first responder experience as a retired Des Plaines, IL firefighter to know my ankle was broken, and badly. Revelation number two sunk in then, with the realization that I was stuck on a beach 2000 miles from home near the furthest northwestern point in the continental US, 40 or so miles from any medical help, and no cell service at all. Zero bars, once just an inconvenience, became extra scary to this clumsy near 70 year old stranded and crippled on the log strewn shore.

The woman who saw me fall, I learned, was a young woman visiting from Ireland. As she sat and stayed with me also finding her cell phone of no use, a young couple came over from another direction, asking if they could help. I said yes, I'll need to contact 911 or the Park Service and pointed to my ankle. Trying not to wince, the couple realized my situation was severe immediately. The young man took off up the path to the parking area seeking assistance as his girlfriend occupied another log, literally becoming one of two helpful and watchful bookends keeping me company as we waited for help.

Over the next 45 minutes or so, the young man returned twice to check me out and returned to the lot watching for help to arrive. Finally, I saw the telltale EMS t-shirts on two men and one woman carrying medical bags and equipment. They were EMS workers attached to the Forks Community Hospital some 40 miles away, and immediately began checking me out from head to toe, gathering vital signs and doing a comprehensive survey of my condition.

I identified myself as a retired firefighter and that I'd done a self survey as well, to which they politely acknowledged but continued to professionally do their own anyway. Soon they expertly removed my shoe -- carefully without cutting the laces since I told them they were brand new shoes I bought to help calm my wife's concerns about me tripping or falling somewhere -- and splinted my leg from thigh down in an inflatable splint. Then the wait began as more National Park Rangers were called for to assist moving me from the beach and up the winding and climbing pathway to the waiting ambulance in the parking area where I had left my small van-sized RV.

After about an hours' wait — the National Park covers a lot of territory in the Olympic Penninsula — several more Rangers arrived and I was transported via a large single wheel attached to a basket in sort of an oversized wheelbarrow with 3 or more rescuers on ether side. After a 40 mile trip north back to the EMS crews' home base to Forks Community Hospital in Forks, WA, I was finally wheeled into the emergency room where I was examined, x-rayed and treated by the most friendly, professional and sincerely caring ER staff and Doctors I'd ever encountered. Sure, I was probably expecting a more industrial-type, assembly line experience like some more busy and overloaded ER's I've seen over my EMS years, but the up to date and current facility was matched by all the personnel I encountered. It was not the "Mayberry Clinic" I expected, though the kind, sympathetic and friendly treatment was almost idyllic.

Slowly, as I was scheduled for surgery that evening, panic began to arise as I considered my plight: So far from home, traveling alone, having just been told I'd probably need 6 weeks or so until I could even think of driving.  I had a sizable investment in a modern and well equipped RV van sitting alone in a lot 40 miles south still at Ruby Beach and no plan or idea of how I would get myself, much less my RV, back home to Wisconsin. I finally made the inevitable call home to my wife who, up til now, figured I was happily still taking photos along the west coast.

I won't go into a detailed account of the conversation, but I made the call, assuring her I was in good hands and receiving excellent care. I would call her after surgery, still several hours away, and the surgeon assured that he would also call her once surgery was done. I began my wait for the trip to the OR as I was prepped and situated for the reduction and surgery that would follow.

"Is there any way I can secure my RV down there at Ruby Beach?" I asked the admitting doctor in the ER.  He pointed to a fellow standing in the doorway.  "A couple of guys from Maintenance said they'd be happy to help," said the Doctor. I handed over the keys to a friendly middle-aged guy who assured me he knew where the lot was at the beach and that two of them would head out now and bring it back and leave it secure in the hospital lot. When he returned the key just before surgery, they both refused any kind of payment. "Just wanted to help out," they said, adding ten-fold to my faith in mankind overall.  I was overwhelmed by their help and effort, and then my cellphone rang.

My wife had called my oldest son in Dallas, Texas area where he works as an ER Nurse at a hospital in Plano, TX.  "Your son is making arrangements to fly out from Dallas to Seattle, rent a car and drive from the airport to Port Angeles, WA then hop on a bus to the hospital.  He will be there late tomorrow afternoon to drive you and the RV back home."

Over the next several days, my wife and family became my strength and sole support. At that moment, however, for the first time in my adult life, after years of responding to emergencies of others, I felt all the panic start to fade away and my eyes started to tear up for a few transitional and eye-opening moments. Laying there so far away from home, alone, injured and awaiting surgery, I realized that amidst the pain and worry, that I was both the luckiest man in the world and the world's proudest father.

And that Forks, WA rocks!!

Epilogue: Surgery went ok, resulting in a metal plate and a few screws to repair my broken ankle, and was splinted to keep it immobile for my several day trip home for follow up by my own Doctors. My son showed up as promised the next day. What followed were 4 days of a road trip where my son drove all day, then schlepped me in and out of motels and saw to my needs, subtly watching for any signs of difficulties associated with my ankle or surgery.  That trip could be a whole separate story on it's own, but I'm going to keep that within family and selfishly save those warm memories for myself. Oh, and no more solo distant hiking adventures so far away. Ever!