Monday, November 30, 2015

Keep RV Fire Escape Clear

    Fires in occupied RV’s are rare, but as more and more RV’rs continue to extend the camping experience into winter months using propane furnaces or electric heaters that can be used when hooked to shore power or generators, fire hazards increase as well.
   Sticks and bricks homeowners have long been encouraged by local fire departments to practice regular Escape Drills in the Home (EDITH). Fire safety experts know that the feeling of sudden panic experienced while still in a half-sleep stupor can lead to bad judgments and reactions ending with tragic results.  I vividly remember a few incidents where we’ve found a victim who died only because they lost their way in the smoke and darkness or found an exit blocked.
   Applying this kind of detailed and comprehensive drill to an RV or small camper would seem like overkill, but some basic pre-planning and nightly preparation checks can both save lives and prevent injuries in case of a middle of the night fire.
   Though all RV’s and campers have several exits, some of them may be blocked temporarily at night being used as a sleeping area. Others may be blocked with other stuff relocated to accommodate a sleeping area elsewhere. In addition to the obvious need to keep your smoke detector operational, here are a few things to consider:

  • Keep all exit opportunities clear, or in the case of smaller Class B's or camper vans, be sure the person sleeping in front of an exit knows how to open it quickly.
  • Know where the proper lever or latch is located or if there is a corresponding locking latch that needs to be operated before opening.
  • Don’t block that latch.
  • Keep portable heaters away from anything that can burn, i.e. trash bin, laundry, bedding (even blankets or covers that may slide off of you overnight).
  • Is your fire extinguisher readily available and located at or near an exit? (Should only be used after everyone is outside anyway, but you never know.)
  • Anticipate people or pet movement overnight that might dislodge, topple or move flammable objects.
  • Add your own additional precautions unique to your situation here.    
   Every RV and camper environment is different, so precautions taken will differ as well. Take a few moments to inventory your own unique living and sleeping arrangements and then imagine how you’d quickly react in case of a fire in your unit.
    Firefighters refer to trailers, campers, RV’s and the like as “matchbooks” because of the amount of materials that can burn (called a “fire load”) contained in a small space. As such they are often extinguished, but rarely saved. While it may be easy to imagine how you’d put out this fire, or deal with that fire and so on, when it comes to the real thing actual reactions may be different.
    How to get the hell out quickly may be the only way to save your life.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

9/11 - Remember the Blood of Heroes

As a retired career firefighter I do the same thing each year as September 11th approaches. Recalling the horrors of September 11, 2001 and the loss of so many firefighters and first responders among the nearly 3,000 who perished, I see how the event itself seems to have dimmed in the collective memories of many in this country. Just within the past week, one TV pundit went as far as saying we all “over-reacted” to the event.

   I finally had the opportunity to visit Ground Zero in New York in 2011. For many firefighters, including the retired members like myself, such a visit is our own “pilgrimage to Mecca” -- forgive the ironic metaphor -- to show respect for the fallen. I was as surprised as my grown son who was with me was when I was unexpectedly moved to tears at one point viewing a display case showing the hundreds of patches from Police and Fire units from around the world. It epitomized and drove home the sense of brotherhood and family that first responders share, and how the survivors continue to honor their memory and ultimate sacrifice.

   Each year I share a link to a 9/11 memorial site that contains a moving video, “Remember the Blood of Heroes  offering a powerful visual and audio reminder to all of us of how we felt that day. It begins with a series of applicable quotes that lead to a moving and powerful payoff, one that I believe many Americans need to revisit from time to time.

   For me, every day after September 11, 2001 has become September 12th. I hope that instead of allowing the date to diminish in importance, dissolve through historical revisions, or depreciate in patriotic value, that we will continue to honor those who responded and those who perished during this attack on America and modern civilization as we know it.

   Please view the video, and share the link with others as well.

Monday, February 9, 2015

"We're gonna burn the witch!" - A Halloween Memory

   Many years ago there was a story in my home town paper about a neighborhood Halloween celebration that a few families tried to arrange that drew fire from others as for -- lack of any sensible definition -- "politically incorrect".  The celebration involved the ceremonial burning of a fabricated witch in effigy as part of the Halloween program. There were concerns of "Satanism", devil worship and all manners of religious paranoia that pressured the city to not grant permits for the event and essentially killing the idea.

   The story stimulated a twinge of nostalgia concerning my father Robert A. Ornberg, who passed away in 1958, who began the tradition in our hometown in the mid 1950’s.

   Dad was wondering aloud, I recall, just before Halloween how the neighborhood kids needed something else to do besides soaping his windows. Instead of planning to call the police every half hour, he contacted a few neighborhood and business friends and got to work.

   First he persuaded several local merchants and businessmen to donate various treats such as candy, ice cream, cookies, punch and a few toys for prizes. As an Advertising Manager for a local manufacturer, he was able to assemble a few 16 mm cartoons, a projector, a long extension cord and a large bed sheet. Others gathered what seemed like every empty cardboard box in the city, old newspapers and some old wooden skids.

   Then, on Halloween Eve, I remember peeking down into the basement as Dad meticulously assembled, from 2 by 2’s, bunched up newspapers, black crepe paper, cardboard -- along with a warlock’s imagination – the biggest, ugliest and scariest looking witch that a 7 year-old had ever seen mounted on a long wooden pole.

   Flyers had been hand delivered throughout the neighborhood for several days. On Halloween, hundreds of costumed kids with their parents gathered at the old Community House, located at a neighborhood park. There were games to play, treats to consume and prizes to win. As it grew dark, the sheet nailed to side of the small field house lit up with the images of Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. Then it was time for the parade.

   With Dad at the head of the crowd carrying the paper and wooden witch high overhead, the entire crowd followed Dad and the witch out of the park and marched through the neighborhood. Someone began the chant, “We’re gonna burn the witch! We’re gonna burn the witch,” a few times which quickly ignited the entire crowd chanting in unison as they moved from block to block. After snaking through much of the neighborhood we all returned to the park where the cardboard witch was propped up at the top of the large pile of cardboard and wood. With ample ceremony, and a fire engine and crew standing by nearby, the pile was put to the torch.

   The excitement that had been building all evening exploded in cheers and hollers as flames consumed the evil make-believe witch, and seemingly burning away all the ideas of pranks and youthful mayhem as well. Everyone finally went home feeling like Halloween was indeed a holiday.

   I know there must be a few other “kids” out there that remember this tradition as fondly as I do.

   Dad sure had a way of coming up with the right idea at the right time. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Major snowstorms bog down firefighters too

   Every time there’s a major snowstorm, folks empty out food stores stocking up for a few days of possible isolation, or hardware stores of all manners of snow shovels, blowers, and scrapers. It’s just accepted -- and expected -- that calling 911 will bring help “just in case.”  

   Fire departments prepare for such emergencies, but one old saying might be appropriately altered to read, “Snow happens.” No matter how much you try to prepare, a couple feet of snow, or extended periods of sub-zero temperatures are going to have an effect on how crews will be able to respond, perform and even wrap up afterwards.

   In one such blizzard in the Chicago area in 1979, a quickly developed SOP called for ambulances responding to medical emergencies to be preceded in traffic by an engine literally clearing at least passable tire tracks for the ambulance to negotiate.  It added time to any response -- time that can be crucial in a medical emergency -- but it at least help assure that the equipment would arrive rather than get bogged down in snow.

   Another challenge with a couple feet of snow falling in a short time is finding a fire hydrant. Major snowfalls, coupled with plowing activities, quickly buried thousands of fire hydrants under massive piles of snow.  Once the snow was over, a hydrant that was buried even as little as one inch was just as invisible as one buried in a 10 foot pile. In the event of a fire, searching for an available hydrant could prove devastating as a building burned with no water available.

   In our ’79 blizzard, all hands were called back on duty and all were assigned on a 4 hour out, 2 hour rest schedule to any available public works or non-emergency fire vehicle to dig out literally every hydrant in town.  Armed with a water system map and shovels, crews used a 6 foot long metal rod to locate hidden hydrants.  Guided by the water map, which showed the “general area” where hydrants were located, we stabbed here and there until feeling a telltale metal response and started digging. It took fire crews, on overtime, 72 hours to dig out every hydrant in town. Fortunately, no actual building fires were hindered by a buried hydrant.

   Sub zero temps offer still more hazards. The pumps on fire engines carrying their own water supplies would freeze up if not previously drained in severe freezing weather. If not, the pump could not...pump water.  Once drained, however, it would function but may take a couple of valuable minutes to prime before the pump could actually function.

   Fire streams created thick layers of ice on firefighting gear, sometimes making it near impossible to bend your legs or elbows until a fellow firefighter helped “break the ice” at your joints to allow greater movement.  After the fire, fire hoses froze in place and were impossible to roll up again. They had to be folded in large spaghetti-like spindly sculptures and loaded into the back of pickup trucks to be returned to the station to be thawed out and cleaned.

   And you can be sure that NOBODY ever stuck their tongue on a hose nozzle.