Wednesday, June 24, 2020

We're baaaaak!

In case you just woke up from a CV-19-induced coma, the world as we knew it is not likely to return anytime soon.

Flattening the curve has occurred if you examine the national data. But there are outbursts in varying spots. And for as many states as there are, there are differing protocols.

In an attempt to salvage the season, this memo will describe how we’ll run Challenge events as safely as possible. Canceling the season was not an option.

What we know about the pandemic continues to morph; and yet, we still don’t know for certain a lot about this virus. Testing is not reliable and there’s no vaccine. Wearing a cloth mask of any sort has been determined to be the best and most effective method of avoiding contact along with social distancing.

People with co-morbidity (meaning other unrelated health issues like obesity, CAD, etc.) are at higher risk for contracting the virus, showing symptoms and death. Males seemingly are at greater risk. Kids not so much. Older individuals are at a much higher risk. Physical fitness comes with benefits.

The virus dies in sunlight. And infection outdoors is very unlikely. Close proximity is a risk factor as micro-drops of liquid from speech travel about three feet during normal conversation. Sneezing is the worst as it can propel droplets up to 25-feet.

Historically we have stringently adhered to NIOSH regulations for sanitization of the 3M | Scott Air-Pak. However, it was decided that to completely avoid any appearance of risk, we would wear the Air-Pak but not don the facepiece – until such time as the “All Clear” signal sounded.

In order to get our 15 events in during this calendar year, the finals will be pushed back. We can’t say when the season will end at this time. For individuals who wish their time to count for qualification as a member of the Lion’s Den, you must bring your own 3M | Scott Air-Pak. If you’re prone to falling down at the finish line, we might want to have your own catchers.

It is crucial that the Road Crew take all measures to avoid exposure; this means masks and shields during the event. Also, being compressed into small spaces during this blitzkrieg requires the observance of all of the rules for reducing exposure.

The logistical support for the minimalist tour precludes filling bottles. No merchandise will be sold on-site as well. Venues in most locations will be at fire academies and not open to the public. The economics of this season requires scaling costs way back. In consideration of the reduced overhead, registration fees have been also scaled back to $25 for individuals, $30 for tandems and $50 for relays and $75 for a full team.

The pace at the Challenge will be staggered to avoid the perception of gatherings with a requirement that competitors assist with resetting the course between runs. Times will count towards the GNC award category.

You may run your race without a mask. Clearly, attempting to move >250 liters per minute under heavy exercise while wearing any type of mask is a daunting task. The beauty of the Air-Pak is that it can deliver tidal volumes that support maximal exercise.

A few facts about the Air-Pak and our associated history with the product. Going waaaay back to my role as a backstep firefighter (and yes, we did ride on the tailboard), the cylinders were made of steel and weighed ≈45 pounds. (Yeah; we were real men back then- not). Rarely, these cylinders would explode during filing, sending shrapnel in all directions. Carbon-fiber reduced not only the blast risk but dramatically reduced weight.

But the biggest improvement came with positive pressure- in the mid-1970s. No longer did you have to suck the air out of the bottle; you were no longer “regulated” or “governed” to a submaximal work rate.

The weights of the Air-Pak have changed over time. The backpack frame and accessories have also morphed. What has not changed is the weight of the compressed air gases as a function of the PSI rating. But, more and more air has been compressed as the cylinders have been made more robust and stronger. Nominally, a full tank carries 3.6 pounds of air. Bigger competitors use more air but are out on the course a shorter period of time. Typically, in the 30-minute bottle, half of the air supply is exhausted.

All of this is to say, we have not controlled for, or attempted to standardize the Air-Pak weight over our more than 25 years of association with Scott. You’ll be running in the state-of-the-art system this season. The harness and associated parts will be slightly heavier. It is what it is.

Many of you elect to turn on the by-pass. Never a speed merchant myself, I’ve always felt that the regulator delivered what I needed. No one has run out of air during the six-minute requirement to finish.

I hope that this information is helpful. You’re welcome to ask questions in person, via email or giving me a phone call. I look forward to joining everyone in Florida for World Challenge Championship XXIX. The specifics of an exact date and venue are still in play. You’ll know when we know.

For obvious reasons, this news piece is longer and a lot more detailed than our typical post/email/blog. We’re attempting to predict the unpredictable. So, there may be changes based on new information, regulations, vaccines, testing, or whatever.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Innovative edge-finding AR eyepiece lets firefighters see through smoke

Nobody is at their best in a fire. Firefighters may be a rare breed in terms of their willingness to venture into a deadly blaze, rather than running away from it. However, no matter how brave firefighters may be, there’s no doubt that a fire represents an incredibly physically tough scenario which severely limits mental and physical capabilities. Could cutting-edge technology be used to lend a helping hand?

“When you’re inside a structured fire, it’s difficult to see because there’s smoke everywhere and your senses are impaired,” Sam Cossman, CEO and co-founder of Qwake Technologies, told Digital Trends. “It’s difficult to think because you’re in such a stressful situation, which can cause cognitive function to decline and lead to bad decision-making. And it’s difficult to communicate. If you’ve ever been in a fire you’ll know that it’s like standing next to a freight train. It’s extremely loud and dynamic.”Qwake

To help, Cossman and his colleagues have developed a smart helmet device called C-Thru, a head-up display which fits over one eye within a regular firefighter’s breathing apparatus. This augmented reality feed presents them with a video stream taken from an on-board thermal camera. It then uses some smart artificial intelligence image recognition to show the outlines of objects and people in green; giving the firefighters the ability to see what they’re doing even in the smokiest of rooms. In the process, the team believes that it has created a next-gen first responder tool that harnesses cutting-edge tech to solve a major life-threatening problem.

While firefighters have long carried thermal cameras, these have been handheld devices with small displays that require their users to look away from the scene directly in front of them to be able to use them. That problem would be removed by the use of the hands-free C-Thru device.Sample footage showing the difference between what firefighters see with and without Qwake's C-Thru HUD Qwake

“We’re taking complex information from an environment that could potentially be hazardous or life-threatening, and extending your natural abilities with the use of sensors,” Cossman said. “We then display that sensor information with brain-friendly intuitive cues that could help you get the information you need right when you need it. That is the core underlying goal of our platform.”
A background in extreme exploration

Thirty-eight year old adventurer Cossman said that the impetus for his work at Qwake started half a decade ago.

“My background is in extreme exploration,” he said. “For many years, I’ve been guiding scientific expeditions into remote locations. [In 2015,] we were working with the government in Nicaragua to develop an early-warning system that leveraged A.I. to predict volcanic activity.”

“We started to wonder what would happen if we … [provided] all of them with it — and then connected them.”

The project involved Cossman and others descending 1,200 feet into Masaya, an active volcano in Nicaragua. There, they installed sensors that would allow researchers to measure information such as temperature, humidity, pressure, and carbon dioxide in real-time.

“We couldn’t see where we were going inside this gas-filled crater,” he continued. “I was looking for a tool that would help myself and my team to navigate more effectively in that environment.”

Online, Cossman discovered a concept developed by a Turkish industrial designer named Omer Haciomeroglu. “It was touting the promise of similar functionality to [what we’re creating in 2020], but it wasn’t yet real,” Cossman said. “He and I started looking at what it would take to make it real.”Qwake

Today, Qwake has a team comprised of various researchers from different backgrounds. There’s a neuroscientist, a computer vision expert, a NASA rocket scientist-turned-career firefighter, and more. Cossman says that it is the “art of cross-disciplinary thinking” that has led to the project developing to its current point. It has also seen it expand its ambitions far beyond the limited use-case Cossman originally planned to use the technology for.
First responder tech

The C-Thru system isn’t just about providing firefighters with hands-free thermal vision. The headsets will also make it easier for firefighters to communicate with one another on the job, transmitting data to one another in a way which is far more advanced than the simple push-to-talk radio communication they previously used.

“We started to wonder what would happen if we didn’t just provide one firefighter with this augmented reality tool, but all of them with it — and then connected them,” Cossman said. “That’s when we started realizing that what we were building wasn’t just a vision assistant for one person but an entire visual communication platform, where people would be able to use a whole new visual language to transmit directional cues between parties.”Qwake

Qwake isn’t the only high-tech initiative seeking to help out firefighters. Since 2013, engineers at Italy’s IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia have been working on a robot called Walk-Man, which is designed to serve as a robot emergency responder which could assist human firefighters. Walk-Man can locate the position of fires, walk toward the blaze, and then activate a fire extinguisher. It can also collect images from its environment and send them back to a human emergency team, who can use the data to analyze the situation and guide the robot. Once both this project and Qwake’s C-Thru tech are ready for prime-time, it’s easy to imagine a combination of both being used to transform the way that fires are fought in the 2020s.

When it comes to C-Thru, Sam Cossman said that he is “not at liberty” to yet share all the details about the project, including its exact release date. Nonetheless, he noted that, “We’re looking at 2021 as general availability for this product.” Provided that it lives up to its potential, this could turn out to be a game-changer for the brave men and women firefighters who put their lives at risk on a regular basis.

It won’t come a moment too soon!

Monday, June 1, 2020

A nurse went to New York to work on the front lines — and to find the firefighter who saved her life over 36 years ago

Deirdre Taylor is pictured outside her home in Alexandria, Va., as her family looks on from behind the door. Pugliese, 75, had never had someone track him down to say thank you before, he told The Post on Wednesday.

The former Marine became a New York City police officer for several years before switching over to become a firefighter, working the SoHo neighborhood until he retired in 1996.

For decades, the Daily News front-page article hung in his office, surrounded by all his fire department and Yankees memorabilia.

How could he forget Deirdre? “I’ve had her picture on my wall for 24 years,” he said.

Saving her life was the highlight of his career, he said. He remembers the day clearly. He and his fire company were fixing a broken pipe in SoHo on a frigid December afternoon, when a man came running up Wooster Street, right up to Pugliese, yelling that there was a fire.

Pugliese followed him, taking off at a sprint. The man guided him to the sixth-floor apartment where thick smoke was billowing out, and Pugliese went in. He called out for anyone inside, before finding an artist’s studio engulfed in flames.

Taylor’s mother was crying, “My baby! My baby!” Pugliese remembered. He quickly helped her out of the room before returning on his hands and knees, crawling through the burning studio and blinding smoke for about six feet, when he felt the child.

She was unconscious. He carried her to the living room, where he gave her mouth-to-mouth to bring her back. He rushed down the six flights of stairs to get her to an ambulance, when to Pugliese’s relief, she woke up and started to cry.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Pugliese said, “and thank God we were there.”

Pugliese, who now lives in Spring Lake, N.J., later received a medal of valor for Taylor’s rescue, in a ceremony that is among his most prized memories. He said he dreamed about it as recently as two weeks ago — just as Taylor was trying to track him down.

Taylor’s first two weeks in New York were overwhelming, as she and her colleagues intubated patient after patient struggling to breathe, “something I’ll never forget,” she said. During her time off, she tried on one occasion to go to the firehouse where Pugliese worked, only to find a sign on the door discouraging visitors due to COVID-19.

But finally, last week, Taylor caught a break. A group of firefighters came to the ER to deliver the medical staff pizzas for dinner, to show their appreciation. Taylor followed the group to the ambulance bay, explaining that she was trying to find a likely retired fireman from Ladder No. 20, and did they have any suggestions on how to start?

One of the firemen gave her a phone number to connect her with the fire chief. She called when her shift ended in the morning, explaining her mission to find Eugene Pugliese once more, and bracing herself for bad news.

“Oh, Gene?” the chief told her. “He stops by the firehouse all the time.”

“My heart literally skipped a beat,” Taylor told The Post. “I couldn’t believe it. I really didn’t think he was still going to be around. I really thought I was going to hit a dead end. He said, ‘Yeah, I have his phone number in my cellphone.’ ”

The chief phoned Pugliese right away. Less than an hour later, Taylor’s phone rang.

“It’s Gene Pugliese,” he said. “I’m the firefighter who rescued you that day.”

Finally, Taylor told him what she had been meaning to say.

Taylor said she could only describe the moment as surreal. Pugliese asked if her hair was still blond. It was. He told her the story of the fire, and she told him the story of her life afterward. They learned they had plenty in common. Both were die-hard Yankees fans. Both spent time in the military, Taylor as an Army helicopter pilot in the Connecticut National Guard, Pugliese in Vietnam.

After the call, Pugliese said, “I cried for the rest of the day.”

Pugliese said that learning that the toddler he saved all those years ago is now an emergency room nurse on the front lines of the pandemic has been all the more powerful to him because a former colleague at the firehouse recently died of COVID-19. The battalion chief who died, Al Petrocelli, was the one who nominated Pugliese for the medal of valor award, Pugliese said.

Taylor and Pugliese would have liked to meet in person, but Taylor said it’s too risky given that she is in contact with COVID-19 patients every day. They hope to find a way to meet in the future.

“It’s a shame there’s no baseball,” he said. “I’d love to go to a Yankees game with her, once this has subsided. I’d love to meet her children. I’d love to meet her in the fire station.”

Sunday, May 24, 2020

James Mattis: Let’s honor the fallen by protecting our fragile experiment in democracy

A soldier places a flag in front of a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day in Arlington on Thursday.
A soldier places a flag in front of a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day in Arlington on Thursday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
On Memorial Day this year, we may be keeping social distance from one another, but that cannot detract from the sense of closeness, the sense of community and the sense of shared sacrifice that we feel for one another on a day when we come face-to-face with the human cost of freedom.

What do we owe our fallen and their families on this day? Remembrance, for sure, yet we also owe a keen awareness of what they fought to defend: this great big experiment we call America.

The Founders — most of whom were military veterans — knew that the nation they were forming was an experiment, a test of the idea that people could live together and rule themselves, guided by the spirit of cooperation. The Constitution they devised was itself hammered out among those willing to compromise, giving birth to this experiment.

Upon being elected the first U.S. president, Gen. George Washington at his inauguration said, “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

In his wisdom and humility, Washington saw the daunting challenge of keeping our experiment alive, and the role of American citizens in proving to the world that people didn’t need a king or a tyrant: We, the people, could rule ourselves.

Following the nation’s rugged birth, this radical idea has periodically needed defending by patriots, many of whom have given their lives and whom we honor on this day.

Those include the Union soldiers who gave their last full measure to hold the nation together and cast out the heinous practice of slavery, imported from the Old World, that had been a defect since America’s birth.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s short address dedicating a military cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863, he exhorted his listeners to resolve “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln knew he had to say it out loud: This republican form of government could, in fact, perish — unless we fought for it, unless we dedicated our lives to living up to its ideals, unless we were willing to compromise with one another, while working always to improve the fairness of life for every American.

Nearly a century later, President John F. Kennedy — a World War II veteran — echoed that message in his 1961 inaugural address when he said we must be ready to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship . . . to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Generation after generation of patriots have given their all to keep this precious legacy alive. That is why we gather every year to pay our respects to those who went down swinging to protect and defend our Constitution and our way of life.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines serve a country that, even in its most raucous times, is worth defending. They swear to do so at their personal peril, signing a blank check to all the American people, payable with their lives.

Our veterans have learned the hard way, having lost buddies in battle, that this nation has no ordained right to exist. America’s freedoms do not stand unassailed. Dictators and authoritarians look with fear on our freedom, our experiment, our republican model — a model that has long served as an inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere.

We are most indebted to our veterans who fell, and their families, for the survival of this experiment. They can never be fully repaid, but we begin to do so by respecting one another in this land of boundless possibilities, because those who faced down danger and paid the price on our behalf deserve no less.

Many of us enjoy America’s freedom by an accident of birth, yet we all live free in this land by our own choice. It is our responsibility to show respect and genuine friendship to each other as fellow citizens — including those with whom we sometimes disagree — by unifying around our radical idea. That is how we can meet our ultimate responsibility: to turn over to the next generation a republic in better shape than we received it.

Those who fell while wearing our nation’s cloth in defense of freedom, and the Gold Star families of their survivors, paid an everlasting price. Every American owes them a commitment to keeping vibrant the experiment for which they died.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Early Challenge Trivia

The very first Challenge was held at the University of Maryland’s Fire Rescue Institute (MFRI). It was a fitting location since the facility served as the site for the original research (1976-6), funded by the predecessor to FEMA, the NFPCA (National Fire Prevention and Control Administration). Blissfully, the name was shortened to NFA and absorbed into FEMA by the time we started the national program, known by its current title.

The year was 1991. Five of the political jurisdictions in the greater Washington, DC SMA (statistical metropolitan area) participated. Montgomery, Prince Georges, Arlington, Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria were represented by five-person teams.

I recruited a bunch of my fire service buddies to serve as resetters and course officials. We used the drill tower and the first Keiser “slammer”- a prototype that was 9’ long with a painted tray. One Stanley shot mallet, in black rubber had to last for the entire duration (barely).

All of the props excepting the Keiser were provided by MFRI. It was an understatement to say that this was a learning experience. For example, there’s a huge difference in the durability of fire hose, by brand.

Competitors were fed into the tower on a shotgun-style of start. When one firefighter exited, another entered, with each followed by an official with a stopwatch. There were no banners, music or announcer. But there was a group of spectators who cheered wildly for their favorites.

About midway into the event, Jimmy Jarboe, a lieutenant from my department, the City of Takoma Park saw the looming problem of a competitor being lapped. The dummy we were using weighed 175 pounds - the same weight as the current Simulaids Rescue Randy®.

Jimmy sprinted to the pickup line for the dummy drag and took the place of the vacant mannequin. Just this past week, Jimmy, now Fire Chief, and I reminisced, with some laughs about the event.

We had coverage from the now-defunct Fire Chief magazine and the CBS affiliate WUSA channel 9 - all of which would be leveraged for DuPont Nomex and Kevlar taking the show on the road for the first two years.

Ben Barksdale, presently the fire chief of Orlando was there, and continued his presence for over 20 years.

Fire Chief James E. Jarboe, Takoma Park Station Montgomery County MD
The Original “Rescue Jimmy”

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Firefighter Combat Challenge: Not Just about Fitness

By Jason Martino
Palm Beach County Fire/Rescue

The Firefighter Combat Challenge is not just about fitness. It’s not just about getting into shape for a competition that revolves around the tasks associated with the fire service. It’s not fake firefighting or firefighting for people who can’t handle the real thing. I heard those words several times over the 7 years, as I competed in the FFCC with my team from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and Local 2928.

What it is about, is dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, training, brotherhood, and family. It’s about getting the best tricks of the FFCC passed down to you from the ones that competed before. Sound familiar? It should. It’s exactly the same thing that is done in the fire service.

It all came together for me when I attended this year’s Orlando Fire Conference. I was sitting toward the front of the conference room listening to both Chief Bob Hoff, Chicago Fire Dept. (retired), Asst. Chief Carol Stream (IL) FD, published author, Chief Rick Kolomay, and Carol Stream (IL), another published author. All were speaking about how they viewed leadership in the fire service. They spoke about how everyone has a story, and how those stories could and should benefit the people who come after you. They shared personal stories about what happened to them along their careers, and how they learned from one another.

It wasn’t until they showed a video of the 1985 Chicago Bears, (Super Bowl Champs), that something clicked within me. It was a video that portrayed their passion for the game, as well as how they worked together as a team. The hours they spent training, as well as their dedication, sacrifice, and teamwork in addition to the brotherhood and family foundation they had. I’ll ask you again, sound familiar?

All of this started to sink in over the next few days of the conference. It was one of those things that you think and talk about at these conferences, over a couple of beers. The way I approached the FFCC was the same way people approached the fire service. The fire service is set in dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, training, brotherhood and family. The very same values I used to describe the FFCC.

For me it rang true 2010, when the FFCC team I was on won the National title, as well as the World Championship title. It was the first time in the history of the FFCC that that had occurred. It was only possible because of the values mentioned about that ring true in both the FFCC and the fire service. It also happened due to the people that had come before us and passed down their advice and experiences.

My fire department had a team in the early days of the FFCC, and they were good. They had won medal upon medal and accomplished so much. They were doing more than winning in those days, they were laying the foundation and contributing to the history of the Palm Beach County Local 2928 FFCC team. They were making mistakes on the course and learning from them. They would take those mistakes, readjust things and put them into practice. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but all along the way they were laying the tracks for us new guys. Passing down their knowledge and the gold nuggets they learned along the way. As the older guys started to step aside, the young guys took over the team.

Just like in the fire service, when the older guys retire, the young guys take over. Like the fire service, the new guys take what the old guys pass down to them and put it into action. That’s exactly what we did. We took the advice of the old guys and how they took on the FCC, and put it into action.

Not everyone can be a firefighter, as it’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. However, if you can cut it, it is the best and most rewarding job in existence. I don’t say this lightly when I say that you should be in shape to do this job. You don’t have to be in FFCC shape, but you need to be in good shape to do the job properly.

The FFCC is the same way, not anyone can do it. You have to be a firefighter to compete. It doesn’t matter if you’re a volunteer, paid, forestry, aircraft, or industrial firefighter. All that matters is that you are a firefighter and you are in good shape.

The first time you run the whole course, you’ll know what kind of shape you are in. Just like the first time you run a fire in full gear, breathing compressed air, pulling a line or hoisting some tools, you’ll know what shape you are in.

The fire service changes over time, and so did the FFCC. As we got closer as a team, we became brothers. We trained, we had dedication, and our families sacrificed time away from us so we could train and compete. We had guys on the team that specialized in some components of the FFCC. We had Mac, the technical guy. He knew where we should place our hands on the rail as we ran up the stairs, and how we should use our weight to come down the stairs faster. We had Lee, who knew about products. He suggested which compression pants we should wear, and had input on our diet. We had Aaron, our logistics guy, who made sure that everything from hotel rooms to the entry fees were taken care of. We had Jacques, he was the old man of the group, (senior Jake). He had been around with the older guys, but stuck around a few extra years. He had advice from earlier experiences in years past, and he was constantly pushing us. So much sometimes, it was aggravating. And then there was me. The liaison between the team, the Department and the Union. I was also the spokesman, (PIO) of the group.

I could go on and on about what each of us put into our FFCC team, but it had the same components of the successful Chicago Bears team of 85, as well as the same components of a successful fire company. A successful fire company has guys that are utilized in the area that they are best in, as well as what is best for the company. A successful company is dedicated, they sacrifice if needed, they understand the need for teamwork and training. They understand and “GET” brotherhood and the importance of family. Not just the family at the firehouse, but the family we leave behind every morning.

Just like I didn’t want to let my brothers on the FFCC team down, I didn’t want to let my brothers down at the firehouse. Just like any successful fire company, times change and people get promoted or take other assignments. The same was true with our team.

Although we don’t compete in the FFCC anymore, we all have moved on to different types of challenges in our life. Some have started a family, some are studying for promotion, and others are off serving our country. As I reflect on our FFCC memories it makes me smile to know what we accomplished together. But just like any successful fire company we all have great memories and have new friends from all over the country. We stay in touch and get together every now and then. If any of us need anything, we are all there for each other. The success of our team is a good example of what a successful fire company is comprised of.

As I see it, my FFCC team had all the components of the successful 85 Bears, as well as a successful fire company.

For those who told me along the way that the FFCC was fake firefighting, I say you are wrong. Dead Wrong. 

Stay safe, train hard, stay dedicated.
Captain Jason Martino

Monday, April 27, 2020

Members of Previous Generations Now Seem Like Giants

Victor Davis Hanson:

Many of the stories about the gods and heroes of Greek mythology were compiled during Greek Dark Ages. Impoverished tribes passed down oral traditions that originated after the fall of the lost palatial civilizations of the Mycenaean Greeks.

Dark Age Greeks tried to make sense of the massive ruins of their forgotten forbearers’ monumental palaces that were still standing around. As illiterates, they were curious about occasional clay tablets they plowed up in their fields with incomprehensible ancient Linear B inscriptions.

We of the 21st century are beginning to look back at our own lost epic times and wonder about these now-nameless giants who left behind monuments that we cannot replicate, but instead merely use or even mock.

Does anyone believe that contemporary Americans could build another transcontinental railroad in six years?

Californians tried to build a high-speed rail line. But after more than a decade of government incompetence, lawsuits, cost overruns and constant bureaucratic squabbling, they have all but given up. The result is a half-built overpass over the skyline of Fresno — and not yet a foot of track laid.

Who were those giants of the 1960s responsible for building our interstate highway system?

California’s roads now are mostly the same as we inherited them, although the state population has tripled. We have added little to our freeway network, either because we forgot how to build good roads or would prefer to spend the money on redistributive entitlements.

When California had to replace a quarter section of the earthquake-damaged San Francisco Bay Bridge, it turned into a near-disaster, with 11 years of acrimony, fighting, cost overruns — and a commentary on our decline into Dark Ages primitivism. Yet 82 years ago, our ancestors built four times the length of our singe replacement span in less than four years It took them just two years to design the entire Bay Bridge and award the contracts.

Our generation required five years just to plan to replace a single section. In inflation-adjusted dollars, we spent six times the money on one quarter of the length of the bridge and required 13 agencies to grant approval. In 1936, just one agency oversaw the entire bridge project.

California has not built a major dam in 40 years. Instead, officials squabble over the water stored and distributed by our ancestors, who designed the California State Water Project and Central Valley Project.

Contemporary Californians would have little food or water without these massive transfers, and yet they often ignore or damn the generation that built the very system that saves us.

America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moon shot today? No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years.

Hollywood once gave us blockbuster epics, brilliant Westerns, great film noirs, and classic comedies. Now it endlessly turns out comic-book superhero films or pathetic remakes of prior classics.

Our writers, directors and actors have lost the skills of their ancestors. But they are also cowardly, and in regimented fashion they simply parrot boring race, class and gender bromides that are neither interesting nor funny. Does anyone believe that the Oscar ceremonies are more engaging and dignified than in the past?

We have been fighting in Afghanistan without result for 18 years. Our forefathers helped to win World War II and defeat the Axis Powers in four years.

In terms of learning, does anyone believe that a college graduate in 2020 will know half the information of a 1950 graduate?

In the 1940s, young people read William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck. Are our current novelists turning out anything comparable? Could today’s high- school graduate even finish “The Good Earth” or “The Grapes of Wrath”?

True, social media is impressive. The internet gives us instant access to global knowledge. We are a more tolerant society, at least in theory. But Facebook is not the Hoover Dam, and Twitter is not the Panama Canal

Our ancestors were builders and pioneers and mostly fearless. We are regulators, auditors, bureaucrats, adjudicators, censors, critics, plaintiffs, defendants, social media junkies and thin-skinned scolds. A distant generation created; we mostly delay, idle and gripe.

As we walk amid the refuse, needles and excrement of the sidewalks of our fetid cities; as we sit motionless on our jammed ancient freeways; and as we shout on Twitter and electronically whine in the porticos of our Ivy League campuses, will we ask: “Who were these people who left these strange monuments that we use but can neither emulate nor understand?”

In comparison to us, they now seem like gods

Victor Davis Hanson:

Monday, April 13, 2020

The debt reckoning has finally arrived

Robert Samuelson, the Washington Post 

We finally have a plausible answer to a question that has haunted U.S. government for more than half a century: Why should we bother balancing the budget?

The answer, as practiced by political leaders of both parties, has been: We shouldn’t. It’s too hard. Spending has to be cut or taxes have to be raised. These steps are unpopular. Meanwhile, the benefits of balancing the budget seemed negligible or nonexistent. Why bother?

This was, we should know now, the wrong answer. The right answer — meaning what we should have been doing since the 1960s — is balancing the budget in good times and tolerating budget deficits when the economy faces a recession, a major war or some unforeseen ­catastrophe.

Instead, we found excuses to justify expedient policies: spending more and taxing less. What we conveniently overlooked was the need to preserve our borrowing power for an unknown crisis that requires a huge infusion of federal cash. Because the amounts are so large and the need so pressing, massive borrowing cannot be avoided.

The reckoning has finally, though inevitably, arrived. Since 1960, the federal budget has been in the black only five years (1969 and 1998-2001), and each of these tiny surpluses arrived courtesy of a fleeting economic boom. The coronavirus pandemic is moving the debt into unknown territory, greater than the borrowing undertaken to fight World War II. In 1946, the federal debt held by the public was 106 percent of gross domestic ­product.

Already, existing deficits would bring that total to nearly 100 percent of GDP by 2030, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, if all costs are covered by borrowing. In 2019, the existing federal debt held by the public was $16.8 trillion. Let’s assume that the total cost of the rescue will be $4 trillion, about half of which has already been approved by Congress. This would add about 18 percent of GDP to the existing federal debt.

Most economists seem to assume that these immense amounts can be easily borrowed. Debt denominated in other currencies (the euro, the yen) is unattractive. And low dollar interest rates will keep down the costs of servicing the debt, say economists.

“Until now, the debt has involved few adverse side effects. Interest rates seemed largely unaffected. Deficits don’t seem to have “crowded out” private investment. There haven’t been crippling runs on the dollar on foreign exchange markets. Just the opposite: The dollar has been “strong,” reflecting its role as the premier global currency, used to conduct trade, make cross-border investments and provide a “safe” asset against political and economic turmoil.

But there was no guarantee that this good fortune would continue indefinitely. It’s the “something for nothing” premise that makes deficits so politically appealing. The most obvious beneficiaries are, of course, politicians. Democrats could promote more social spending. Republicans could pledge more tax cuts. Aside from empty rhetoric about curtailing deficits, hardly anyone felt a need to balance the books.

But blaming politicians is a superficial conclusion. The real agents of budget deficits were academic economists, who destroyed a preexisting political consensus to balance the budget as a matter of sound policy and prudence, as Bill White argues in his highly informative 2014 book, “America’s Fiscal Constitution: Its Triumph and Collapse.”

The old norm was this: If more government was worth having, it was worth paying for with taxes. To this sensible standard, economists — in an act of intellectual and political arrogance — took a sledgehammer. First and foremost came the Democratic Keynesians, disciples of economist John Maynard Keynes. They convinced President John F. Kennedy that the federal budget could be used to stimulate faster economic growth and lower unemployment.

Next came the Republican “supply-siders” and their tax cuts. Inexorably, the old political norm (what should government do and how should it be paid for?) was casually discarded. In its place was a new norm: that federal budgets should be viewed as instruments of economic policy.

Under the old norm, White argues, government borrowing was mostly limited to a few national needs: acquiring land (the Louisiana Purchase), conducting war and cushioning business slumps. But government also had to control spending. Except for the Great Depression, this consensus generally served the country reasonably well.

Once the old norm had been shattered, it couldn’t easily be reestablished because it was no match for the new norm’s political appeal. The growing debt makes it harder to pay for other vital programs, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the FBI to defense. The promise of an improved economy rationalized deficits, though these promises rarely materialized.

The coronavirus pandemic, while unavoidable, has been made worse by our past expedience. The future almost certainly holds similar surprises: a nuclear exchange, a biomedical attack, another financial crisis or something no one has yet imagined. A prudent nation would be saving against this prospect. We aren’t.

Friday, April 10, 2020

World Challenge IX, November 1999, Kissimee Florida

L-R, Jay Staeden, Larry Vandenberg, Kevin Nelson, Daniel Pace, Wanda Davis, Gene Davis, Chuck DeGrandpre, Cedric Guillory, Paul Davis, Ross Lowery, Mark Lowery

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Time on Your Hands: Something to Do (for 40 years)

Compromising on Corona

George Freeman, GeoPolitical Futures
March 11, 2020

Battling the coronavirus is essential. But the battle has costs, which are invariably measured against the gain. “No matter what the cost” – the approach many countries appear to be taking – is a principle that can be disastrous, particularly when the cost is so high that it cannot be borne socially. With the coronavirus, like all new and lethal diseases, alarm shapes the responses. As the cost starts to emerge, there is an inevitable recalibration. We are approaching that point of recalibration.

First the risk. The coronavirus seems as difficult to contain as other coronaviruses like the common cold. Some people do not know they have been infected, and many who never fall ill carry the disease. Everyone is suspect. The only safe course is complete social isolation. That is of course impossible. Jobs must be worked, children must go to school, food must be bought and consumed, and so on. Humans are inherently social animals, and the perpetual threat of infection undermines a fundamental human imperative: to be with other people.

Coronaviruses are persistent; they appear, disappear, reappear, mutate. There will be no clear moment at which the virus is eradicated, no moment at which the dread of a handshake or of a kiss on the cheek will go away. Obviously, there may eventually be a vaccine that can minimize if not eradicate the virus, but that is a ways away. In the meantime, fear will continue to haunt.

The virus is deadly, of course. In South Korea, which has maintained by far the most comprehensive statistics on the disease, the mortality rate for those infected is about 0.7 percent as compared to 0.1 percent for the flu. As with the flu, the death rate is higher among the elderly, especially those with other afflictions. As someone over 70, I can be permitted to say that this is a bearable risk compared to other risks.

In the United States, about 39,000 people died in automotive accidents in 2018. That is a bit over 3,000 people per month or 100 per day. It is a significant risk that most of us accept daily. We understand the risk, we take prudent precautions like not drinking while driving, and we live with it. We live with it because the price of not living with it is more than we are prepared to pay.

Life is a calculated risk, and the question is whether protection against the coronavirus is possible, and if possible, whether it is worth it. I raise the number of automobile deaths to drive home the fact that we do take calculated risks. There has not been an overwhelming demand to create automobiles that allow passengers to survive crashes beyond the point where we are – with airbags, seatbelts and better engineering. We demanded steps within the framework of the cost of increased protection, and the price of decreased mobility.

When the virus first appeared, the natural public response was to demand that the government stop it. Governments are useful things, but public expectations are sometimes extravagant. The next phase was to blame the government for failing to protect them. The third phase will be attacking the government for taking the steps it took to protect them. We are not there yet, but we are close.

The cost of the protections is not merely disruption of how we live, but also a significant economic cost.

The crisis has contributed to massive damage to the Chinese economy and, to some degree, to the decline in oil prices, since China is the leading oil importer. It has almost certainly contributed to the massive decline in equity prices. All of these will extract human costs as global economies move toward recession.

Recessions are common. Uncommon is the refusal to attend public gatherings, which has caused significant economic loss. Here in Austin, South by Southwest laid off a third of its staff on Tuesday after the festival’s cancellation. In New York, the governor has decreed that containment sites be set up to protect people from people who have the disease. In Italy, the solution has been to divide the country into different parts and forbid the movement of people between them.

The more sequestered the population is, the less efficient the economy becomes not merely for financial reasons but also because to produce things, even ideas, workers must be at their jobs, goods must be moved freely and so on. The coronavirus is frightening, but a recession that is more than just a cyclical event is also frightening, for it can extract a massive social cost as jobs are lost, banks fail and so on. The sequestration of larger and larger groups of the population cannot become a long-term feature of society without repercussions.

If the virus has a higher mortality rate than it does now, the risk-reward calculus changes. If the virus can be quickly eradicated by current measures, the calculus changes. But if the mortality rate remains the same, and if the virus persists in spite of best efforts, the risk-reward ratio remains in place. What will emerge is not a bloodthirsty indifference to life. All our lives are at risk. Rather, it will be the process of accepting a new risk and staying our social and economic courses.

The current imposition of increasingly intense measures, unless successful or unless the disease proves more dangerous, will lead to social adjustment and, of course, holding the government responsible for all prior fears.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Friday, March 27, 2020

Simply Southern: Now on our Vimeo Channel

In case you haven’t yet seen this feature, you can watch it now.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Public health

Seth Godin

[For members of the public, staying at home and sheltering in place isn’t selfish, it’s generous. Social distancing helps keep the virus from infecting others at the same time that it flattens the curve of the spread of the pandemic, giving health facilities a chance to provide care over time.]

Public health is efficient, a culture changer and a commitment. It’s not simply a more expensive version of private health.

When the water supply is reliable, the air is clean and the public health system is working well, we hardly notice it. Nutrition, access to healthcare and the safety of transport are easy to take for granted. When we hire the government to be responsible for public health, we give up small amounts of independence and money. But it creates enormous benefits, worth far more than they cost.

First, it’s cheaper and more reliable for a few trained engineers to test and maintain the water etc. than it is for each person who consumes it to do so.

Second, health, like the weather, is something that people bring up in conversation but rarely do anything about. By centralizing action, we make it more likely that something actually gets done.

Third, individual humans are bad at long-term thinking. Patient systems often outperform individual actions when it comes to public health.

Often, it’s only coordinated action that can help the entire community. And coordinated action rarely happens without intentional coordination. Don’t do it because you finally got around to it. Don’t do it because it is in your short-term interest. Do it because we all need it done.

It’s difficult to overinvest in building and running competent public health systems and management. And sometimes we don’t realize how important the system is until we see how unprepared we are. [Which is why, alas, today is a good day to stay home].

Thank you to every public health worker and medical professional who is on the front lines right now. We’re grateful for a lifetime of sacrifices and commitment.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

People ‘shed’ high levels of coronavirus, study finds, but most are likely not infectious after recovery begin

Helen Branswell, Staff Writer, STAT

People who contract the novel coronavirus emit high amounts of virus very early on in their infection, according to a new study from Germany that helps to explain the rapid and efficient way in which the virus has spread around the world.

At the same time, the study suggests that while people with mild infections can still test positive by throat swabs for days and even weeks after their illness, those who are only mildly sick are likely not still infectious by about 10 days after they start to experience symptoms.

The study, by scientists in Berlin and Munich, is one of the first outside China to look at clinical data from patients who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and one of the first to try to map when people infected with the virus can infect others.

It was published Monday on a preprint server, meaning it has not yet been peer-reviewed, but it could still provide key information that the public health response has been lacking.

“This is a very important contribution to understanding both the natural history of Covid-19 clinical disease as well as the public health implications of viral shedding,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy.

The researchers monitored the viral shedding of nine people infected with the virus. In addition to tests looking for fragments of the virus’s RNA, they also tried to grow viruses from sputum, blood, urine, and stool samples taken from the patients. The latter type of testing — trying to grow viruses — is critical in the quest to determine how people infect one another and how long an infected person poses a risk to others.

Importantly, the scientists could not grow viruses from throat swabs or sputum specimens after day 8 of illness from people who had mild infections.

“Based on the present findings, early discharge with ensuing home isolation could be chosen for patients who are beyond day 10 of symptoms with less than 100,000 viral RNA copies per ml of sputum,” the authors said, suggesting that at that point “there is little residual risk of infectivity, based on cell culture.”

Public health officials and hospitals have been trying to make sense of patients who seem to have recovered from Covid-19 but who still test positive for the virus-based in throat swabs and sputum samples. In some cases, people test positive for weeks after recovery, the World Health Organization has noted.

Those tests are conducted using PCR — polymerase chain reaction — which looks for tiny sections of the RNA of the virus. That type of test can indicate whether a patient is still shedding viral debris, but cannot indicate whether the person is still infectious.

The researchers found very high levels of virus emitted from the throat of patients from the earliest point in their illness —when people are generally still going about their daily routines. Viral shedding dropped after day 5 in all but two of the patients, who had more serious illness. The two, who developed early signs of pneumonia, continued to shed high levels of the virus from the throat until about day 10 or 11.

This pattern of virus shedding is a marked departure from what was seen with the SARS coronavirus, which ignited an outbreak in 2002-2003. With that disease, peak shedding of the virus occurred later, when the virus had moved into the deep lungs.

Shedding from the upper airways early in infection makes for a virus that is much harder to contain. The scientists said at peak shedding, people with Covid-19 are emitting more than 1,000 times more virus than was emitted during peak shedding of SARS infection, a fact that likely explains the rapid spread of the virus. The SARS outbreak was contained after about 8,000 cases; the global count of confirmed Covid-19 cases has already topped 110,000.

Osterholm said the data in the paper confirm what the spread of the disease has been signaling — “early and potentially highly efficient transmission of the virus occurs before clinical symptoms or in conjunction with the very first mild symptoms.”

The study also looked at whether people who have been infected shed infectious virus in their stool. The report of last month’s international mission to China — co-led by the WHO and China — said that in several case studies in China, “viable virus” had been recovered from stool but that isn’t likely driving transmission of the virus.

The German researchers found high levels of viral fragments in 13 stool samples from four patients in their study, but they were unable to grow virus from any of them. The paper noted, though, that all the patients had mild illness, and the fact that they could not find virus in their stool doesn’t rule out that it could happen in other cases.

“Further studies should therefore address whether SARS-CoV-2 shed in stool is rendered non-infectious though contact with the gut environment,” they wrote, adding that their findings suggest measures to try to stop spread of the virus should focus on respiratory tract transmission — protecting others from the coughs and sneezes of people infected with the virus.

Virus could not be grown from blood or urine samples taken from the patients, the authors reported.

The study also noted that people who are infected begin to develop antibodies to the virus quickly, typically within six to 12 days. The rapid rise of antibodies may explain why about 80% of people infected with the virus do not develop severe disease.

About the Author

Helen Branswell

Senior Writer, Infectious Disease

Helen covers issues broadly related to infectious diseases, including outbreaks, preparedness, research, and vaccine development.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

More Advice: REGARDING CORONAVIRUS from Dr James Robb - February 26, 2020

“As some of you may recall, when I was a professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego, I was one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses (the 1970s). I was the first to demonstrate the number of genes the virus contained. Since then, I have kept up with the coronavirus field and its multiple clinical transfers into the human population (e.g., SARS, MERS), from different animal sources.

The current projections for its expansion in the US are only probable, due to continued insufficient worldwide data, but it is most likely to be widespread in the US by mid to late March and April.

Here is what I have done and the precautions that I take and will take. These are the same precautions I currently use during our influenza seasons, except for the mask and gloves.:

1) NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.

2) Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches. elevator buttons, etc.. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.

3) Open doors with your closed fist or hip - do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.

4) Use disinfectant wipes at the stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.

5) Wash your hands with soap for 10-20 seconds and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.

6) Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home's entrances. AND in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can't immediately wash your hands.

7) If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!

What I have stocked in preparation for the pandemic spread to the US:

1) Latex or nitrile latex disposable gloves for use when going shopping, using the gasoline pump, and all other outside activity when you come in contact with contaminated areas.

Note: This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you! BUT all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average - everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces and you will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon.

This virus only has cell receptors for lung cells (it only infects your lungs) The only way for the virus to infect you is through your nose or mouth via your hands or an infected cough or sneeze onto or into your nose or mouth.

2) Stock up now with disposable surgical masks and use them to prevent you from touching your nose and/or mouth (We touch our nose/mouth 90X/day without knowing it!). This is the only way this virus can infect you - it is lung-specific. The mask will not prevent the virus in a direct sneeze from getting into your nose or mouth - it is only to keep you from touching your nose or mouth.

3) Stock up now with hand sanitizers and latex/nitrile gloves (get the appropriate sizes for your family). The hand sanitizers must be alcohol-based and greater than 60% alcohol to be effective.

4) Stock up now with zinc lozenges. These lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY "cold-like" symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx. Cold-Eeze lozenges is one brand available, but there are other brands available.

I, as many others do, hope that this pandemic will be reasonably contained, BUT I personally do not think it will be. Humans have never seen this (edited: animal)-associated virus before and have no internal defense against it.

Tremendous worldwide efforts are being made to understand the molecular and clinical virology of this virus. Unbelievable molecular knowledge about the genomics, structure, and virulence of this virus has already been achieved. BUT, there will be NO drugs or vaccines available this year to protect us or limit the infection within us. Only symptomatic support is available.

I hope these personal thoughts will be helpful during this potentially catastrophic pandemic. You are welcome to share.

Good luck to all of us!”

ADVICE on the Corona Virus

I don’t mean to bore you, but I thought these explanations and preventative efforts should be widely shared…..surely more will be published as the medical experts see what evolves with this virus…..Concise and well explained!

Last evening dining out with friends, one of the uncles of the dining party is a graduate with a master's degree and who works in the Shenzhen Hospital (Guangdong Province, China) sent him the following notes on Coronavirus for guidance:

1. If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold

2. Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.

3. This new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of just 26/27 degrees (C). It hates the Sun.

4. If someone sneezes with it, it takes about 10 feet before it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne.

5. If it drops on a metal surface it will live for at least 12 hours - so if you come into contact with any metal surface - wash your hands as soon as you can with a bacterial soap.

6. On fabric, it can survive for 6-12 hours. normal laundry detergent will kill it.

7. Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses. Try not to drink liquids with ice.

8. Wash your hands frequently as the virus can only live on your hands for 5-10 minutes, but - a lot can happen during that time - you can rub your eyes, pick your nose unwittingly and so on.

9. You should also gargle as prevention. A simple solution of salt in warm water will suffice.

10. Can't emphasize enough - drink plenty of water!


1. It will first infect the throat, so you'll have a sore throat lasting 3/4 days

2. The virus then blends into a nasal fluid that enters the trachea and then the lungs, causing pneumonia. This takes about 5/6 days further.

3. With pneumonia comes high fever and difficulty in breathing.

4. The nasal congestion is not like the normal kind. You feel like you're drowning. It's imperative you then seek immediate attention.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

The State of Physical Fitness: Who Goes Home?

For about as long as we’ve been keeping records of LODDs, sixty percent of our mortality statistics have been attributable to cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is now being eclipsed by cancer, but it is still a huge statistic both in the general populace and specifically within the fire service.

CAD (coronary artery disease) has a familial (hereditary) component and a lifestyle-related origin, meaning that it’s not contagious, nor do you “get it” acutely (instantly). Usually a person has symptoms, but not always. Coupled with hypertension, it can be a silent killer. However, one of the indices is poor fitness, which is anything but silent.

In the manual labor world of work such as construction or mining, virtually all of the heavy lifting has been assisted through hydraulics. But what differentiates fire fighting is the fact that the single heaviest object to be carried is a fellow human being and they continue to get heavier and heavier- and they don’t come with wheels or straps. It is the ability to perform arduous physical activity that differentiates firefighters from the host of other manual jobs. The weight of water is not going to change and for the foreseeable future, this is a job that requires physically capable people.

In the face of this evidence, the best that we can offer is the moniker, “Everyone Goes Home.” Part of the problem is that a lot of our people should have stayed home. Can we reasonably expect different results by continuing to do the same things over and over again?

The lack of fitness, or even a reasonable expression of fitness is evidenced in our hiring practices. Fitness, in many cases is not even a component in the selection process. We play games with people’s lives when we substitute interviews for real measures of physical ability. Imagine interviewing the place kicker for a position on an NFL team.

We spend valuable public resources in providing remedial physical fitness in recruit training rather than hiring the people who are already prepared for a career that requires stamina and strength. Published research has already demonstrated the economic benefits of a lifestyle that is based on adherence to a self-motivated program of regular physical activity.

And to cap it off, there is no expectation that firefighters “recertify” with any degree of periodicity in the area of one of the most job-related and perishable skills: physical fitness. But we do retest for CPR skills. What’s wrong with this picture? It’s pretty clear to any outside observer that physical fitness gets nothing more than lip service. Until we get serious about intervention strategies that really matter, it’d be better if we just dropped the pretext that we really care. There’s nothing so helpless as a person who won’t help himself. The bitter pill is the expectation that firefighters get out of the lazyboy and start working out.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Great Video on “Not Feeling Well”

Mandatory viewing for all firefighters. The biggest risk is denial.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

This court decision out of a case involving the FDNY will get you scratching your head

Respiratory protection is the cornerstone of the whole PPE initiative. Then, here comes this case from NYC, where a federal judge knows more than OSHA, NIOSH and the NFPA.

This comes from Curt Varone’s website:

Court Rules FDNY Must Accommodate Facial Hair Despite OSHA

A federal judge has ruled that FDNY must reinstate an accommodation granted to African American firefighters suffering from Pseudofolliculitis Barbae that permits facial hair in the chin, cheek and neck area provided it does not cause leakage around the mask’s seal. The firefighters, Salik Bey, Clyde Phillips, Steven Seymour, and Terrel Joseph, filed suit in 2018 alleging race and disability discrimination after the city instituted a new SCBA policy that required them to be close-shaven in the chin area.
Senior United States District Judge Jack B. Weinstein ruled yesterday that city did not commit race discrimination by instituting the new policy, but did violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by not allowing the firefighters an accommodation to maintain “closely-cropped facial hair, uncut by a razor.”
As explained in the decision:
  • Because of their skin condition, Plaintiffs sought a medical accommodation from the Department, allowing them to maintain closely-cropped facial hair, uncut by a razor. 
  • Before the requests were granted, Plaintiffs were subjected to a “Fit Test”.
  • A Fit Test is a standard test designed by OSHA to “ensure[ ] that the face piece of the SCBA gets the proper seal so that … what the member is breathing is the air from the tank and not anything that may be contaminated.” 
  • Observing no leakage from the FDNY-approved mask when it was worn by individuals like Plaintiffs with closely-cropped facial hair, the requested accommodation was granted by the FDNY.
  • [T]he accommodation was fully applicable for two and a half years before the present non-accommodation regime. 
  • There were no reports that it increased the risks to firefighters or civilians:
  • After a review of the Department’s safety standards initiated by then-FDNY Acting Chief of Safety Joseph Jardin, the medical accommodation was revoked.
  • The following criteria were set by the FDNY: If Plaintiffs shaved all facial hair in the chin area, they would maintain their status as full duty firefighters; otherwise, they would be placed on light duty.
  • Defendants now argue that that same accommodation—permitting Plaintiffs to maintain closely-cropped facial hair uncut by a razor—is an undue hardship because it would require the FDNY to be “[non]compliant with the requirements of OSHA and NIOSH and the guidelines set forth by the NFPA.”
  • The court is not persuaded.
  • The only development of significance from when the prior accommodation went into effect, in August 2015, to now is a dispute as to the proper reading of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (“RPS”). RPS provides, in relevant part:
    • The employer shall not permit respirators with tight-fitting facepieces to be worn by employees who have: Facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face or that interferes with valve function; or
  • Defendants admit that no heightened safety risk to firefighters or the public was presented by the accommodation previously in effect. 
  • Two and a half years passed without incident, and Plaintiffs continued to perform their jobs satisfactorily. 
  • The FDNY’s decision to abandon the prior accommodation was not based on any actual safety risks to firefighters or the public. 
  • Rather, driving the calculus was bureaucracy. 
  • Defendants cite no case law indicating that such bureaucratic considerations are a viable undue hardship defense; the court declines to so find.
  • In effect, the fire department’s new shaving mandate presented Plaintiffs with an objectionable “take it or leave it” proposition: shave down to the skin with a razor and risk permanent injury, or be reassigned to light duty. 
  • Placement on light duty, although temporary, was inarguably adverse to Plaintiffs.
  • A blow to those who visualize themselves as public servants, Plaintiffs were forced to eschew a highly-admired and self-fulfilling aspect of their work as firefighters; they endured significantly diminished responsibilities and tangibly worse working conditions. 
  • This establishes that they were subjected to adverse employment action and satisfies the fourth element of Plaintiffs’ prima face case.
  • [As for the race discrimination allegations] Plaintiffs’ disparate treatment claim fails. 
  • Alleged by Plaintiffs is that they were treated differently than Caucasian firefighters who, without accommodations, were allegedly allowed to maintain facial hair despite the FDNY’s clean shave policy. 
  • “If a plaintiff relies on evidence that he was treated less favorably than employees outside of his protected group to raise an inference of discriminatory intent, he must establish that he was ‘similarly situated in all material respects’ to those employees.” 
  • Plaintiffs have not produced evidence showing that they were similarly situated to the unidentified Caucasian firefighters they allude to. 
  • By focusing solely on white individuals employed by the FDNY as full duty firefighters who were allegedly permitted to maintain facial hair, Plaintiffs mistakenly leap to the conclusion that they were subjected to disparate treatment.
  • Plaintiffs’ motions for summary judgment on the failure to accommodate claim and disability discrimination claim under the ADA are granted. 
  • The medical accommodation previously in effect for full duty FDNY firefighters is ordered reinstated.
  • This order and judgment is stayed for ten days to permit Defendants to seek a longer stay from the Court of Appeals.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Challenge Advisory Board (CAB) Action Items

Todd Shelton chaired last year’s annual meeting on the course in Montgomery. We had about 20 suggestions that were advanced and discussed by our staff during our weekly meeting.

I’m going to use this platform to respond to the suggestions, the first of which is the creation of a “Hall of Fame.”

Given that we’re only a year away from our 30th anniversary, it’s about time that we’ve launched this initiative.

To help clear the cobwebs, we’re going back to the very beginning, before we had a website, and digitize the first decade's records. This means that we will have to scan the paper documents, and then convert the files to digital data.

This is going to take some time, but hopefully, we can have the “look-back” to 1991 in the form of a searchable database.

The content that I post here will be linked to our Facebook page and quite possibly incorporated into our irregularly published newsletter.

You can start the process of sending your nominations right now.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Low Cost Anti-Car Jacking Solution

Just add rapid gunfire sound effects to your horn

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Gopher Problems? : Try this trick

Just pour some gasoline down the burrow hole and throw in a match. Voila: problem solved.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Hustle For That Muscle: Danny MacAskill‘s Gymnasium

We’ve seen mountain bikers and BMXers do amazing stunts. And this video is no exception. But the outtakes at the credits roll confirm that the first run-through was not without crashes.

Friday, January 10, 2020

MMA Fighter Seeks To KO Bid To Nix Dietary Supplement Suit

A mixed martial artist suing Gaspari Nutrition for allegedly selling a tainted dietary supplement is fighting to keep his case alive, as Gaspari tries to land a knockout blow by disqualifying lab test results that could provide the "smoking gun" showing the product contained trace amounts of a banned steroid.

Good luck with that. The FDA has a huge backlog of investigations into companies that use banned substances in their products. Specifically, anabolic agents not labeled.

You can’t believe what’s on the label.