Saturday, September 7, 2019

13th Annual Berlin Firefighter Combat Challenge®

Dateline: September 6 & 7, Potsdamer Platz, Berlin

Over 300 firefighters from 11 countries descended on the visitor center of Berlin for two great days of racing. 

Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Poland, Slovenia, UK, Iran, Italy, Luxemburg, and Belgium were represented in the most impressive of walk-ons. 

But, the races were even more impressive. Under the management and direction of Mike Weikamm, Berlin Fire Brigade, Individual, Tandem and Relay racers took to the course and performed admirably for thousands of locals and tourists.

Friday’s weather could not have been better; nearly cloudless skies with an ambient temperature hovering around 70°F. Saturday, while overcast, saw temps in the mid 60’s. So, overheating was not an issue. 

Two videos are available for your viewing pleasure. One of the multiple sub-90-second runs, and the Relay Championship between Slovenia and Lion’s Den Germany. 

An update to this post will take place once the final results have been posted on the Official website



Sunday, September 1, 2019

Our Salute to Tommy Sadler at the Nebraska State Fair, Grand Island

Our competitors recognized the late, great Tommy Sadler on Saturday, August 31, 2019, after the competition with a push-up fest and salutary comments. Here’s a nice piece by the NBC local affiliate.







Friday, August 16, 2019

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Firefighter Combat Challenge®

I’ve addressed this topic before, and it’s time to revisit the implications of the DCMA for our background music playlist. Every artist that wants to make a living through their music has been afforded protection by Congress under the DCMA.

Meaning, that every song that you hear on the radio or TV is protected from piracy. Like it or not, the original artist, songwriter, producer “owns” their original work. Or can sell the rights to another agency.

When we play music in a public place, we are obligated to report and pay a use fee. As you might imagine, this can not only become expensive, but confusing since there are many agencies representing the millions of tunes available for downloading through a host of servers.

While we do not proffer our soundtrack as the reason for attending the Firefighter Combat Challenge®, it does add a certain ambiance to the show.

The consequences of violating the DMCA can be very expensive. Fines levied can be in the thousands of dollars, notwithstanding the fact that morally, it’s theft.

So, if you hear someone complaining that we’re playing “unlicensed” music [royalty-free tunes in the public domain], kindly explain that we don’t make the laws and ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

We have been recruiting garage bands, looking for exposure, offering free use of their repertoire. If you know any musician that would like to donate sports-appropriate tracks, have them contact Rob O’Connor.

We’re always happy to provide a platform for budding artists.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Retro-Reflective/Fluorescent Material Color and Pattern Choices

One of the most underrated safety devices on emergency vehicles may well be a retro-reflective/fluorescent tape. It is always visible, requires no electrical power, adds negligible weight and is highly cost-effective.

The retro-reflective portion works only at night and is energized by oncoming lights from other vehicles. The fluorescent portion works only during daytime (from dawn till dusk) and is activated by the ultraviolet rays from the sun.

While the retro-reflective/fluorescent products are available in many colors, several stand out from the rest. The most visible colors, day and night, are yellow and lime-yellow, with lime-yellow having the safety advantage because of visual impact.

When considering chevron pairs, offering a contrast to lime-yellow is the red stripe. The result is lime-yellow, offset by red, is the most visible and safest of the chevron color choices and offers superior attention-getting responses. This fluorescent lime-yellow and red chevron pattern should be used on all emergency vehicles that use chevrons, regardless of service branch.

Why not white? While white can be measured as reflecting light, it does not have the brightness of lime-yellow or yellow. White does not attract attention. Pairing red and white in a chevron pattern is not as safe as the lime-yellow/red choice.

Around the clock, the fluorescent lime-yellow/red chevron choices are the highest rated. And either day or night, those tape applications that are free of dirt are most effective.

Picking patterns

In addition to the selection of color, the patterns selected are of prime importance. The large-area chevron pattern on the rear is the standard but more attention needs to be paid to the overall patterns on the sides of vehicles. While logos are popular, they do not provide enough visual information relating to the outline of the vehicle.

Especially at night, it is important to use enough retro-reflective material to offer a general outline of the sides of the vehicle. This gives a high level of information to the oncoming driver. Currently, a civilian driver sees a horizontal band along the beltline, and this is insufficient, even if it exhibits ribbon-like artwork, emblems or EKG waves.

Emblems, logos, images and company insignia are all fine as long as they are not used as a replacement for the outline tape.

By providing additional material horizontally along the upper and lower edges of the cab and chassis, the outline of the vehicle becomes apparent. They do not have to be solid lines but rather can be segmented. Our brain can add in the missing details to make it appear complete.

Why is tape color, rear chevrons and overall vehicle tape outline so important? They provide the oncoming driver with additional visual information, both day and night, in fog and smoke, and weather-induced poor visibility, because it improves reaction time. This provides for a safer driving and accident-avoidance response. The importance of improved reaction time should not be underestimated as is a vital component of emergency vehicle highway safety.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

God is Watching...

The children were filling their lunch trays at the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school.  At the head of the food line was a pile of apples upon which a nun had posted a note reading: “Take only one.  God is watching.”

At the opposite end of the table was a pile of chocolate chip cookies and a second note, this one posted by a fourth grader, reading: “Take all you want.  God is watching the apples.”

Friday, July 5, 2019

Anybody Recognize any of these Guys?

This is a photo taken at our 2nd World Challenge Championsihp, inside the Reunion Arena in Dallas, commensurate with the annual meeting of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. The date is sometime in the fall of 1993.

We're trying to track down the people in the photo, some of whom are deceased. If you recognize anyone, send me their name and position in the photo.

Challenge Event Staff, 2nd Year (1993), Reunion Arena, Dallas Texas

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Sugar substitutes: Is one better or worse for diabetes? For weight loss? An expert explains



Jamie PitlickAssociate Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Drake University

Wandering through the grocery store, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the numerous brands and health claims on the dozens of sugar substitutes. It can be particularly confusing for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes who must keep their blood sugar in check and control their weight.

With the growing diabetes and obesity epidemic, there has been increasing awareness around the use of added sugars in foods. The most recent edition of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that added sugars should be kept to less than 10% of the calories consumed, which turns out to be roughly 270 calories per day.

This is because “added sugars” add sweetness or flavor but add very little nutritional value. Because of this trend, the food industry has embarked on a quest to find or develop the perfect substitute to replace sugar – with the same taste and none of the calories that lead to weight gain.

As a pharmacist who is also board certified in advanced diabetes management, I talk to patients every day about blood sugars and ways to help them take control of their diabetes. They often ask me whether the perfect substitute to sugar has been found. The short answer is no. Here is the long answer.


Many artificial sweeteners are available at the grocery store. Zety Akhzar/Shutterstock.com
Sugar alcohols
Sugar substitutes can be categorized into two main groups: sugar alcohols and high-intensity sweeteners. The sugar alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol and maltitol. High-intensity sweeteners include saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), sucralose, neotame, advantame, stevia, and Siraitia grosvenorii Swingle fruit extract (SGFE).

Sugar alcohols are often found in toothpaste, chewing gum, and some “sugar-free” foods. They are carbohydrates with a chemical structure that resembles sugar, but also the components that make them an alcohol. They are about 25-100% sweeter than sugar and have a similar taste. But here is the catch: They are not calorie free. Most have between 1.5 and two calories per gram. Now compare the calorie count to sugar, also known as sucrose, which has four calories per gram – twice as much.

Which foods have a low glycemic index and are better choices for those trying to control their blood sugar. Irina Izograf

Although sugar alcohols contain fewer calories, they will still increase a patient’s blood sugar, especially when eaten in excess. When compared to sugar, the effect is less dramatic though. This is because of how these molecules are processed in the body. We measure this using the glycemic index.

The glycemic index is a reference to how quickly a food is broken down and absorbed. The higher the number, the more quickly the food breaks down and the faster the sugar goes into the blood. Sucrose has a glycemic index of 65; whereas sugar alcohols, like xylitol, have a glycemic index of around seven. This means that sugar alcohols are harder to digest, and cause a slower and lower increase in post-meal blood sugars – which is typically better for people with diabetes. Because sugar alcohols are harder for the body to break down though, some of them remain in the gut, and if a person consumes too much they may experience digestive complaints like gas, cramping and diarrhea.

Here is the other downside to foods containing sugar alcohols: They often have higher quantities of fat or salt to make up for the lower sugar content.
Artificial sweeteners

High-intensity sweeteners, are zero- or low-calorie alternatives to sugar. They are made from a variety of sources, and are 100 to 20,000 times as sweet as sugar. Some leave a bitter or metallic taste behind. Two newer substitutes – stevia and SGFE – come from plants and are at times referred to as “natural” substitutes.

According to the American Diabetes Association 2019 guidelines, the use of high-intensity sweeteners may decrease calorie and carbohydrate intake. However, you cannot replace these “free” calories with calories from other food sources, you will lose or the benefits on blood sugar control and weight loss.

Researchers have seen this in some of the studies on high-intensity sweeteners. Some of the trials show no difference or even a possible increase in weight. But in other studies where intake of food is better regulated and patients don’t replace these free calories with other high-caloric foods, the weight loss is maintained.
The takeaway

All sugar substitutes are labeled as food additives and are under the regulation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The latest trend has been labeling some of the sugar substitutes as “derived from plants” or “natural.” That does not necessarily mean that these are safer or more effective in blood sugar control or weight loss. If it is used in excess, side effects such as bloating or diarrhea may still result.

Several concerns by researchers have been raised about high-intensity sweeteners – saccharin and aspartame – and cancer. To date, the National Cancer Institute has concluded that there is no clear evidence that any of the high-intensity sweeteners is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

As a pharmacist specializing in advanced diabetes, I talk to patients every day about how to control their blood sugar level and their diabetes. There are three main ways to do that: medication, increased activity and diet. The last two are probably more important in the long run.

If diet and activity level never change, it is really hard to help patients bring their blood sugars down. Medication after medication will likely have to be added. With this comes the potential for side effects. So if I can persuade patients to make changes to their diet, like switching to a beverage with a sugar substitute, it makes a huge difference in helping to control blood sugars and the dose of medications.

The overall focus for diabetes management should be on reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods. If you can switch one of these sugar-sweetened products to a food that has a high-intensity sugar substitute, that is better. But best of all is consuming food and drinks that are not highly processed and do not have added sugars.