Saturday, October 31, 2009

Devils night in the "D"

A buddy of mine from another fire department met up with me and we headed for Detroit. The night before Halloween is known as devils night in Detroit. Back in the 80's and early 90's Detroit used to burn with arson fires. Today it is still a busy night but not like it used to be.

We stopped at a Fire bar for a beer to make our plan and to chat with some old friends. In the past when we have done this we would go to a firehouse and wait for them to get a call and follow them. We would chat with the crew when we arrived and told them what we were doing. They always seemed to welcome us with open arms. Firefighters come out from all over the country to chase DFD on devils night. Last night we met guys from Boston and Rhode Island.

Let me say that I love my Iphone. You can listen to Detroit fire online at, there is a link to it at the bottom of my blog. There is an APP called emergency radio for the Iphone. This APP allows you to listen to many departments from all over the country, So we were able to listen to DFD live on my Iphone. This made our night, we were able to go to more fires than ever before. We had a few good ones including a fire involving four structures. I was not very impressed when we arrived at an electric pole fire to see a firefighter spraying water on a charged pole that as arching and on fire. It scared us a little so we moved on quickly!

I would like to thank the Detroit Fire and Police departments. They let us watch them work their trade and they welcomed us to do it. We had a great night and didn't make it home till almost six AM. Can't wait to do it again next year. I have some more pics and will upload them soon, sorry about the poor quality of the one posted, I took them with my phone. JS

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Home invasion

We responded to an injured person yesterday that was attacked in her home durring an attempted robbery. Two men pretending to be flower delivery guys forced their way into her home after she opened the door for them.

The intruders had a gun and told the victim to take them to the safe in the home. When she refused they beat her over the head with a gun in front of her grandchildren.

Then they duct taped her and dragged her by her hair to the safe. She refused to give them the combination to the safe.

Not being able to gain access to the safe the intruders fled the scene. When police arrived they found boot prints outside the home. Neighbors also stated that they saw a panel van parked across the street for hours before the crime.

Our unit arrives on scene after the police cleared it for us. We treat the patient and transport to our local hospital. Our patient's vitals are stable, and she has a nice bump on the top of her head.

She is later released from the hospital. The police are currently investigating. This was just one of our runs that day. It was one of the busiest shifts I had in a long time. JS

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Dib (pick of the shift)

We arrive at the local senior apts to find an 86 year old female laying down in her lazy boy chair. She is on home o2 at 2 liters per min via nasal. Her resps are at 28 and labored. Patient has no history of copd but does have a history of chf, cad, esrd, and dm. Patient has no visiable adema. What would you do!

This is what we did. We moved the patient to our cot and then sat her up. Sitting her up seemed to help more than anything. We gave her an albuterol sulfate breathing treatment, this provided some relief. Next we placed our patient on high flow o2 via non rebreather mask and provided rapid transport to the hospital! Tell me what you think. JS

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, October 12, 2009

The test

I'm trying out a new app on my phone for posting to my blog! Hope you enjoy the pic of my brother and me! JS

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Katrina, FEMA, and freelancing

I have been wanting to write this post for a long time. I haven't until now because it shows some of my fellow firefighters in a negative light during the Katrina response. I try to be as positive as I can be on my blog. Taking the recommendation of my friend Bob, writing this post is more for me to vent about my experiences and anger than to entertain my three readers. Also there was a group of firefighters from another south east Michigan department that deployed to New Orleans that were not happy with what I did down there. These firefighters didn't speak highly of me after they returned home. They seemed to make it into a union issue; I was a union firefighter at the time. So maybe if one of them reads this it might set the story straight.

Let me tell you a little about my brief career with FEMA and the USFA. I started as a DAE (Disaster reservist) with FEMA a few years before Katrina. This was a position that my former Fire Chief helped me get. I was deployed as a task force leader in Florida for the response of hurricanes Charlie, Francis, and Ivan. I was also deployed as a community relation’s specialist for hurricane Dennis the following year, and just before I was sent to Louisiana I was sent to the Carolinas to do damage assessments after Hurricane Ophila. Then I received my position as Operations Chief of the Incident Management Team (IMT) in LA. This was a position with the United States Fire Administration (USFA). Later I served as the leader of this team before returning home.

When FEMA asked for volunteers from the fire service to respond to Katrina for a community relation’s mission, they were told that this would be non-operational type work. Yet many of the firefighters took it upon themselves to freelance in operational type roles. Some didn't know they were freelancing because they were just following orders from their task force leaders. These task force leaders were operating outside of there given mission and thought they were doing the right thing.

My IMT was tasked with being the liaison between the USFA and FEMA, and was responsible for all firefighters assigned to the LA theater, including New Orleans. That was about 2600 firefighters. This team was not put into place until 10 days after FEMA started sending firefighters to LA. Needless to say we had our work cut out for us just tracking down and accounting for all the firefighters in the field.

I worked out of the Joint Field Office (JFO) in Baton Rouge LA, however my supervisor was at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg MA. My point of contact in the JFO was Thad Allen's (USCG) chief of staff. I did not report to anyone in the JFO and that really bothered some other groups working in the JFO. It seems like in the federal government everyone has built their own little empire and is really hung up on their job titles. This often prevents any work from being done. This created a great deal of friction and hindered my team’s efforts many times.

While serving in this role I took a trip down to New Orleans to meet with task force leadership and try to get a count of how many firefighters were working in the area. I also wanted to make sure our firefighters were working the correct mission. Remember that these firefighter were supposed to be doing non-operational community relations type work. FEMA has USAR, DMAT, military and mutual aid fire agencies to do the operational work, and these groups were doing a good job. I had gotten wind that many firefighters from community relations were riding on firetrucks in some of the smaller communities around New Orleans and doing operational work. This might not seem like a big deal, but they got hurt they would not be covered by FEMA, and could open us up for a huge liability. Remember that everything I'm about to tell you about was for the good of these firefighters, and to make sure they made it home safe and sound.

I arrive in New Orleans at the disaster recovery center (DRC) and met with the task force leader. The task force leader was a firefighter from another Midwest City that came down as part of the 2600 from the USFA. He had been informed the day before that we would be coming down. He put on a really nice dog and pony show for us. He took us out into the field to meet with some of his firefighters. He had several hundred firefighters under his command. He had members of his staff take us out and show us what his firefighters were doing. We went to a red cross station to see his guys handing out water and mre's, then we went to a school where his firefighters were cleaning up the school trying to get it open for classes. We chatted with the firefighters and helped them work out pay issues and lodging problems.

While we were touring the school a squad leader come to me and asked if we could talk in private. So I went and talked with this gentleman. He told me that he had a couple of guys reassigned from him after an altercation on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. He gave their names and told me that they had been reassigned to a firehouse in Algiers to work as firefighters. He was also aware that nobody was supposed to doing operational work. I thanked him for the information and told him that it would be kept private. After seeing the school we were taken back to the DRC.

When we arrived back at the DRC I again met with this task force leader. I told him that I thought they were doing some good work and to keep it up. I asked him if he needed anything from me or my team, and that we would be happy to help any way we could. So I then told him that I had been hearing rumors that firefighters were working in firehouses and that this was not our mission. I asked if there was any truth to these rumors. He told me "no!". He did say that he had some guys sleeping at firehouses because of the problem with lodging, and I told him that was not a problem as long as they were not working in those firehouses. He told me that as far as he knew they were only sleeping there. But he seemed uncomfortable talking about this issue, and that made me think.....

After leaving the DRC in New Orleans I decided to make a stop at the firehouse in Algiers to check on the validity of this story... Guess what I found? That’s right, I found two firefighter from Texas, one had a huge black eye! Story confirmed! I showed these firefighter my ID and started a dialog with them. They were very helpful and this was the story they told.

A few days before they were walking down Bourbon St. and saw a guy shoving another guy on the street. Remember, at this time New Orleans was a closed city and the only people allowed in the city were military and government workers, and for some reason almost half the bars in the French quarter were open. They were entertaining all the workers there to help. Back to the story, These two guys decided to try and break up the fight before it got out of hand. As it turned out the guys shoving were also USFA firefighters. When they stepped in one of them was clocked in the eye by one of the guys shoving, but they managed to keep their cool and break up the fight.

The next day these two firefighters went to the DRC to make a complaint about the fight and a statement. They were told by task force leadership that they wanted to keep this issue "in the firehouse", and if they agreed they would be reassigned to a firehouse. They were then told to take their US Government car back to Texas and pick up their Bunker Gear. They agreed. After returning to New Orleans they learned that the guy that had punched one of them in the eyes was in fact the task force leader himself. However they had decided to let sleeping dogs lay because they liked their new assignment.

I told them that they were not supposed to be doing operational type work and that I had to investigate the issue. I told them that if they got hurt they would be on their own. I also told them to stay put right now but let me know if anything changed. I then gave them my personal cell number. I also informed them that after this was finished I could put them on my staff and get them away from that task force. They agreed and I was on my way back to Baton Rouge.

On my way back to the JFO I received a call on my personal cell phone from these 2 firefighters. They told me that they had just been informed that the next morning eight more guys from the task force were being assigned to that firehouse to work as firefighters. So the next morning I returned to the Algiers firehouse. As I arrived I saw the guy that had given me the tour the day before talking to 8 firefighter outside the firehouse. I walked up to him and asked if we could talk in private. He told me that he was following orders and that these guys were now assigned to this firehouse. I said ok, and told him that none of the USFA guys were supposed to be working in firehouses. I got in my car and started back for Baton Rouge again. Before I made it 20 mins down the road my government cell phone was ringing, it was our task force leader, I told him I would chat with him after I returned to my office and hung up the phone. He tried to call me many more times, even blocking his number in hopes that I would answer. He started yelling union shit at me, and how we needed to stick together as union brothers. I told him I was not working for the union right now (I was the union steward at home dept at that time) and that I was working for the USFA and that I would chat with him when I got back to my desk.

A few mins after my last conversation with the task force leader my personal cell phone was ringing. It was my 2 friends in Algiers. They told me that they were ordered not to talk to me or anyone else from the JFO and that the entire task force was being told the same thing. I said thanks for the update and kept driving. Before I made it back to the JFO my personal phone was ringing again. This time the 2 firefighter were telling me that they were already receiving threats from other members of the task force. I told them to pack their things and head for the JFO ASAP, and when the got there to tell security that they had a meeting with me. Our security was being done by Blackwater at that time, and they didn't screw around.

When I made it to my desk I had over a dozen messages on my desk phone from the task force leader. However my first call was to my boss at the USFA. I asked what he wanted me to do. The first thing he said was that we had to get all the guys in the task force out of operational assignments, he then told me that these guys were freelancing and should be sent home. I told him they where just following orders from the task force leader and shouldn't be punished, but we agreed that they needed to be reassigned to community relations functions. I then told him about the fight involving the task force leader on Bourbon Street and about my visit the day before. I told him how the task force leader was lying to my face about firefighters doing operational work, and about the 2 firefighter I met in Algiers and about the threats they were getting. He told me that the decision was mine on what to do with the task force leader, but that the recommendation from him was to send the task force leader home and call his Department Chief at the Midwest city Fire Dept and tell him what his firefighter was doing.

About the time I was finishing up my conversation with my boss the two firefighters from Algiers were arriving at my office. I had them write formal statements detailing the events of the past few days. Then I asked what they wanted to do. I told them I could have them reassigned to Alabama, or another part of LA, or they could stay at the JFO on my staff or they could go home. They decide to work in the JFO for a while then moved on to another part of LA.

Let me tell you that I was pretty pissed off for being lied to, for the threats against the 2 firefighter, and most of all for the freelancing being done by the task force leader..... After I had a couple hours to cool down I called the task force leader. When I called him, I told him that his services were no longer needed and that was to report to the JFO the next morning to be out-processed. I thanked him for his service during his time in New Orleans. He did not take it well and started yelling at me on the phone. He asked who my boss was, and I told him, but he didn't seem to want to call the USFA. I told him if he didn't come to Baton Rouge in the morning I would be forced to get law enforcement involved and his Fire Chief at home. I told him the choice was his. He did report to the JFO in the morning and I took his government issued property away from him, including his cell phone and told him to go the demobilization center to go home. He decided instead to try and see the Chief of Staff at the JFO. I walked past him outside the Chief of Staffs office and entered the office. The Chief of Staff and I walked out to get lunch and our former task force leader was trying to get his attention. He was ignored. I guess he sat outside his office for almost 2 days before Blackwater took him to demobilization. He finally went home having never seen the Chief of Staff.

I promoted the Asst. Task force leader to Task Force leader. I told him what he had to change and he complied. To my knowledge he served as task force leader for the duration of his deployment. I was told that the firefighters from another southeast Michigan fire dept were also assigned to firehouses in the New Orleans area. They were told that I made the rule that USFA firefighters were not allowed to work in operations. That was not true! I just didn't want anyone I was responsible for to get hurt and not be covered. I didn't want that on my chest. I hope they can understand that. I was just trying to do what I thought was the right thing. Shortly after this event I returned home and resigned my appointment with the US government. I was burned out. With all the bull shit going on down there it was really hard to get anything done without some kind of interference. I guess you could say I gave up, but I feel like I did my part for King and country. I spent over 3 months down there, 3 months of getting paid for 12 hr shifts but really working 16-18 hours a day seven days a week, 3 months of MRE's, sleeping in tents on a cot, and using porta-Johns, 3 months of ignoring my family, my job, and my union. It was just time for me to go home! My boss was very upset about my decision but I taught my Asst. how to do my job, and I was told that he did it well! Tell me what your feeling are on this post and Katrina. JS