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