Posts belonging to Category Preparedness

Burning My Ass Off Here, Boss

I was out at the yearly KellerFEST this weekend as part of our local CERT.  We were there to staff the aid station, which involved (very) minor first aid, answering a lot of questions, and providing water for the firemen, police, and police explorers.

I was there on Friday afternoon and into the night, most of the day Saturday, and this afternoon.  After all that sun exposure I’m now a crispy critter.  So much for “sweatproof” sunscreen…  Or I guess it isn’t sweatproof for me.  It certainly didn’t stick, as my red nose can attest.  But then I probably drank about 5 liters of water, almost all of which came back out as sweat (or so it seems).  When we finally packed up and left this afternoon at 5:45pm, it was 101°F according to the thermometer in my truck.  I’m surprised that no one came down with heatstroke during the event (including me!).

It certainly helped that we had some misters for the aid station.  They proved to be very popular with all of the people passing through, and they certainly helped us. 

However, I think these two were our most interesting “customers” of the day:

Typical Government Operation

Our local CERT has refresher training as part of each monthly meeting.  We’re going over one chapter from the class in each meeting.  Tonight, being the second meeting of the year, is Chapter 2 (fire supression), and I’m the instructor.  I decided I’d check the FEMA CERT page, which has been hosting the training materials just to see if any changes had been made.  Instead of the usual page, I got the following:

Important Notice For CERT Program

CERT and Citizen Corps were transferred to the Office of Domestic Preparedness (now the Office of Grants and Training) in August 2004. FEMA continued to maintained the CERT website in support of our DHS partner. As of January 31st, 2006, FEMA will transfer the CERT website content to a new CERT/Citizen Corps site. We expect that Citizen Corps will have the new website available by February 15th. When it is, we will post the address here. CERT information, CERT questions and team registration will be handled at the new address.

EMI will continue to offer IS-317 Introduction to Community Emergency Response Teams.

I know it’s a fairly short interval (at least in government terms), but it means that none of the CERT training materials are available during the transition.  Anyhow, it boggles the mind a bit that they’d just leave it down like this.  They’ve had 17 months to perpare, and they still can’t coordinate handing off the site.

I’ve had customers for web work that would be ticked off if you had 15 minutes of downtime, much less 15 days.

(Edited last sentence to make more sense…)

Heavy Load

After Katrina hit, Kim du Toit reposted his summary of SHTF items (guns and supplies).  The following comment caught my eye and set off a dangerous cascade of mental activity on my part:

Following on to my previous rant, here’s a challenge for everyone…

Once you have your SHTF/BOB gear together, pick a “come-as-you-are-camping weekend.”

On arising that day, allow yourself and your family 10 minutes to load up before leaving – no more.  Head for an unprepared site away from town; no stop-offs at 7-11 to fill the ice chest or pick up any goodies.  Spend the night at the site with only what you brought along in the 10 minute loadout.

I promise it will be most instructive.  If you have to return home early, don’t despair.  At least your first time out won’t be when you’re cold, scared, hungry and tired and gambling with you and your family’s lives instead of the chance of having bored kids, a grumpy spouse and a backache from a night of camping.  What you’ll learn from this might someday spell the difference between being a live evacuee or a dead refugee.

It seemed like a good idea and also got me to thinking about two scenarios.  The first is covered, in that I could shove a bunch of crap into the Avalanche and bug the hell out.  But what if you had to carry everything on your back?  It also seemed fun to me to try backpacking.  So I’m thinking of trying to put together a set of gear that would be useful for backpacking and as a subset of the bug-out kit.

I’m still evaluating the right kind of load-bearing-equipment, though.  That stuff is damn expensive.  However, if you’re in a situation where you have to carry three day’s worth of food, water, clothing and shelter, you’re going to want something that works well.  I’m also looking for canine packs, since I have no intention of bugging out without my dog*.  I’ve found a few possibilities on (like this one).  But it looks like I’m going to have to take her into the store with me and try them out on her.  She’s a mixed breed, and her measurements (54lbs, girth 30”, and length 23”) make her a bit of a strange fit.

Despite the cost, my enthusiasm factor is still fairly high.  Although last night I started to question how wise this endevour would be, since my back is giving me problems again.

* I think the situation in New Orleans with people and their pets is a good lesson.  If you can get out, then do it.  Otherwise you’re at the mercy of whomever finds you and gets you out of the city, and that often means leaving your animals behind.  If you leave before the storm, on your own, then you can do it your way and not have to leave the dog behind.

Disasters Must Confine Themselves To Regular Business Hours

Ever since I completed CERT training I’ve gotten periodic invitations to participate in various mock disaster drills (such as the one at Texas Motor Speedway, the one at DFW airport, etc).  Usually they want us to act as casualties, although an upcoming one in Ft. Worth would allow us to practice in more active roles.

The main thing I’ve noticed about all of these drills is that they occur on weekdays during (or close to) regular business hours.  I imagine that part of this is cost driven, since having first-responders out on nights or weekends would likely involve bringing in people from first-shift who would incur overtime.  But it hampers participation by volunteers to those who don’t work during the day. 

Aside from the volunteer pool issue, though, wouldn’t a real disaster likely occur at any time?  Shouldn’t second and third shift responders be in on these?  Wouldn’t a good disaster drill test the system during the later shifts to see how well the system responds at times of lower staffing (i.e. it would stress their emergency callout capability)?

Somehow I don’t think bad weather, plane crashes, or terrorists will confine themselves to regular business hours on weekdays…


A while back I wrote about my experience in the Keller Citizen’s Fire Academy and CERT class when we were given a chance to suit up in full bunker gear and go into a darkened room.  This morning we went to an old house here in town and did the exercise in a more realistic environment.  Before we entered they filled the house with smoke (theatrical smoke, rather than the real thing) and then took in a “baby” that we had to go find (it was actually a rope bag). 

They sent us in in groups of four with a hose line.  I was the first one in, so in addition to carrying the nozzle I had to feel out the obstacles in the environment and relay that information back to the people behind me.  We followed a left-hand search pattern, which means we stayed to the left and always took left turns.  I have to say that crawling on your hands and knees, carrying the hose line, and feeling your way around is a pretty tough thing to do.  You almost need a third hand to do it all.  As for actually being able to find anything, I’m amazed that we did it.  The third person in our line was the one who found the baby.  It was fortunate that he did so when he did, because just after that I heard the low air warning bells coming from someone else’s pack.  At that point we all turned around and followed the hose line outside.

One thing that I found amazing is that more firefighters aren’t injured doing search and rescue.  Something you don’t think about, but that poses a real hazard, is a drop-off.  Since they’re feeling their way around, they can’t easily tell that there’s a drop-off in front of them.  An example of this would be a sunken living room or a garage.  In some houses, the garage may be several feet below the floor level of the rest of the house.  We had one that was only a few inches and it felt like a mile when I stumbled across it with my knees.

It was definitely an eye-opening experience.  In a real fire you won’t be able to see your hand in front of your face because of the smoke, and it’s imperative that you stay low as the smoke above you is extremely hot.  Not only would you not be able to breathe, you would be burned.

Here’s a good shot of how thick the smoke was as one of our class members was entering:

Hot Dark Confusion

Last night’s Citizen’s Fire Academy class was a demonstration of the protective gear that firefighters wear, from the boots and bunker gear to the air packs and masks.  After demonstrating the features of the gear and how it is used, we were given the chance to wear it.  They fitted us with full bunker gear and an air pack and mask.  They were originally intending to send us into a smoke filled room, but their smoke generator wasn’t working.  Since they wanted us to experience what it was like in a fire they covered our masks and turned out the lights.  In a real fire it is unlikely that you’ll be able to see anything, so you have to rely on your hearing and sense of touch. 

They sent us in in groups of three.  We were on our hands and knees, following a hose line and holding on to the person in front of us.  They stressed how important it was to keep contact with your team members and with the hose line.  In a real fire the hose line would be your life line if you had to escape.

It’s hard to describe just how disorienting the experience was.  To get an idea, you first have to consider the bunker gear itself.  It’s got a layer of insulation inside to protect you against heat in a fire.  But that insulation is just as effective at keeping heat in.  It was somewhere around 75°F last night, which is fairly comfortable until you put on the gear.  You’ll start sweating before you even have a chance to zip up the coat.  After you get this stuff on, you have a hood (kind of like a balaclava) that covers you head.  You put that on and then pull it down in preparation for putting on the mask.  The mask has to fit tightly against your face to get an airtight seal.  Once that’s in place you pull up the hood and make sure it covers the edges of the mask.  The goal of this operation is to ensure that you have no exposed skin.  If you do, you’ll likely be burned.

By this time you’re starting to notice that it seems harder to breathe.  While you’re getting plenty of air through the front of the mask, it seems unnatural.  The next item to go on is the helmet, which has its own integral hood that helps cover the back of your neck.  The helmet has to be snug enough to stay on, but not so snug that it dislodges the mask.  Finally, the hose assembly from the airpack is attached to the mask.  The system has a check valve that requires you to take a deep breath to get the air flowing.  If your mask isn’t properly sealed, or the valve is a little too strong, it might seem like it’s never going to flow. 

So now you’ve got all the equipment on and you have to remember that you can breathe.  That you’re getting enough air and to breathe normally or you’ll use up the tank too soon.  Now you line up with your team and wait to go in.  Every few seconds your airpack’s integrated electronics beep at you if you don’t move, so you have to shake the thing to let it know you’re not incapacited.  Now all of you get on the floor and start crawling in, holding on to the ankle of the person in front of you and the hose line.  You can’t see anything.  The only way you can interact with your environment is through touch and sound.  Just as the lead member of your group finds the item you’re seeking, you start to hear chirping and bells.  Is it your pack?  No, your lead’s tank is almost empty.  It only has a few minutes left.  You now all have to turn around and make your way back, trying to go more quickly as the beeping and ringing get louder and more insistent.  You finally reach the outside and have to get back on your feet, which is difficult with the extra weight on your back and the disorientation.  Once you finally get the gear off you realize you’re drenched in sweat.  The whole exercise, from entry to exit, took five minutes or less.

This was just a short exercise to get an idea of what firefighters face whenever they have to enter a burning building.  We were only in there for five minutes (maybe less, it was hard to tell), and on the air tanks for a few minutes more as we got ready.  The tanks are rated for 45 minutes, although in reality that means about 30 minutes of actual use (our lead’s tank ran out because a lot of people had used it before him; real firefighters have their own packs with a reserve tank).  It would take tremendous physical stamina to be able to wear that gear for 30 minutes in the heat of a fire (or even our typical summer heat) without collapsing from heat stroke.  Additionally, the equipment is pretty confining.  If you’re claustrophobic, the gear may be intolerable (more so in our case, since the masks were covered to simulate fire conditions).  In fact, we had a couple of people who got suited up in preparation for going into the room and then had to have the gear removed.

I always knew that firefighters had a hot, strenuous, and dirty job.  But I didn’t really appreciate just how strenuous it was until last night. 

Gratuitous Destruction

I mentioned in my last entry that we’d be having a class this morning on vehicle extrication.  After giving us an overview of the equipment and procedures, they let us loose on an unsuspecting automobile.

Here’s our victim, being used to demonstrate the fire department’s airbag (which is capable of lifting a train car or flipping this little car over, although they didn’t want to do that for us, since it would make too much mess):

After stabilizing the car using blocks (this is done to prevent the car from bouncing, which could potentially cause further injury to the person trapped inside if they have a neck injury), we then began with a lesson on how to break the tempered glass on the car (the antenna turns out to be a handy tool for this).  After that, we went to work on it with the hydraulic cutter and spreader, taking off the roof and doors.  Finally, a hydraulic ram was used to push up the dash to get it out of the way (as would be needed in an extrication where the person might be pinned). 

After all was said and done, all the parts were thrown back onto the victim in preparation for removal:

And here we have the crew responsible for this mayhem:

As you may notice, we are all wearing bunker gear.  This was necessary for protection from broken glass, sharp metal, and not least the potential danger of the equipment itself.  The cutters and the spreader are powered by a hydraulic pump which produces 10,500 psi.  If one of those hoses were to break, the fluid would be very dangerous to anyone who isn’t protected.  Despite that, though, it was a lot of fun to get to play with this equipment.

To Hell With The Debates…

It’s not like they would have made any difference to me anyhow.  I didn’t watch the debate because I was in the Keller Citizen’s Fire Academy last night.  The class included a tour of the fire engines, ropes, ladders, and what they call “hose evolutions.”  We were also fitted for bunker gear for the upcoming class on vehicle extrication and a simulated fire exercise.  We learned how they use the fire hoses and were given a chance to use them.  I always knew that those hoses were under pressure and it took some manhandling to manipulate them, but I never fully appreciated just how much effort it took.  They typically run the hoses somewhere between 90 and 120psi, depending on hose length and other conditions.  They took pity on us and only ran it around 80-90psi.  Even with that it took a coordinated effort between the person on the nozzle and the people on the hose to aim the stream.  It was easier on the fog setting, which is used to quickly cool down a room.  It was amazing how much cooling effect that fog spray has.  It creates a suction behind it and cools the air for quite a distance.  If you watch firemen on TV, you may also notice that they use a circular motion with the fog setting.  I learned that it’s important to use a clockwise motion, which works with the Coriolis effect to move the smoke and heat away from you.  If you go counter-clockwise in this hemisphere you could end up with smoke and heat coming back on you.

But the centerpiece of the class was Keller’s newest addition, a 100-ft ladder truck, unit T583:
(original source of photo is here, which is odd given that you’d think the Keller Fire Department would have more info on this truck on their website)

It might seem like overkill for a city the size of Keller to acquire an $800,000 100-ft ladder truck (with all equipment it comes close to $1 million).  However, they explained that with recent growth Keller now has several buildings that would require this kind of truck if a fire were to break out.  The new town hall is a good example (a picture can be seen here).  They would not have been able to fight a fire in the new town hall with their existing apparatus.  Additionally, there are a number of large homes in some of the newer subdivisions that require a long ladder to be able to get over the fire from the property line.  In those cases it’s a matter of both height and length.  This ladder is capable of full horizontal extension if needed, which allows for people to get into the basket from the ground and for them to move the ladder to any position needed.  In one of our previous classes, they also mentioned that this truck would be needed for a new assisted living center that is currently being planned.  It will be a four-story wood-frame structure, requiring a tall ladder for any kind of rescue and fire fighting operation.  Finally, there’s the Home Depot, which while it isn’t terribly tall, is a very large building and would require a lot of elevation to get water where it’s needed.

The final thing they did for the class was to allow us to go up in the basket.  They gave us safety belts which attached to the basket with large carabiners then took us up two at a time.  I usually don’t like heights, but I was surprised that this wasn’t too bad.  It rocked a bit when it changed direction, but otherwise it was quite smooth.  According to the readout in the basket we were at 101-ft.  From there we could see most of Keller, although given that it was dark it was hard to make out some of the details.

These classes are intended to give local residents a good understanding of what the fire department does and how they operate.  But I think they’re shrewd to let us get such a close look at the equipment in that it gives us a better understanding of why these things are necessary.  I gripe a lot about taxes (although in the overall scheme of things, the city taxes aren’t that bad; it’s the damn school taxes that bug me), and I’m generally of the opinion that the less done by government the better.  But fire and police are probably services that can be effectively delivered by local governments.  There are a lot of other things that Keller does that seem wasteful to me (like the town hall, which seems a bit extravagant or the aquatic center with the stupid name), but police and fire spending seem like good things to me.  This class has just helped me determine that our fire spending is going to the right things.

Two Strikes And You’re Out

This past Thursday and Saturday we studied emergency medical operations and disaster medical operations in the CERT class that I’m taking.  We were issued a fanny pack and emergency supplies to keep in them (nitrile gloves, 4×4’s, cling bandages, scissors, triangular bandages, face shield, flashlight, etc). 

In particular, we spent a lot of time on triage during disaster medical operations.  The idea is to quickly assess someone for one of the three killers (obstructed airway, uncontrolled bleeding, shock) and classify them as either I (Immediate treatment needed), D (Delayed treatment), or Dead.  In particular, we are instructed to try twice to clear an airway and if the person doesn’t resume breathing to classify them as dead and move on.  At first, this seemed harsh, and it will be a tough thing to do.  But when you really think about it, it makes sense. 

You have to consider that this protocol is for dealing with a disaster situation where the system is overwhelmed and you’re likely to be the only person with any kind of training.  The skills we’re learning are only rudimentary, so we won’t have the ability to perform any kind of advanced lifesaving.  Further, the idea of disaster medical training is to do the most good for the most number of people.  If someone is not breathing in this situation, studies have shown that this person will likely die even with advanced lifesaving techniques.  Given all this, there isn’t anything you could do for them so you should move on to someone else who you could potentially help.

While I’m glad to have some training (i.e. knowing what to do is half the battle), I just hope I never have to get into a situation where I have to make this kind of decision.

Bomb Squad Visit (and Gun Burial)

In a recent Citizen Fire Academy class we were visited by the area bomb squad as well as the bomb dog from the Tarrant Fire Marshall’s office.  We were given some basic information on identification of explosives as well as a demonstration of the equipment used by the bomb squad.  A bit of useful information is that the bomb squad recommends that everyone be at least 300 feet away from a potential bomb and under cover.  As the bomb tech noted, “You can’t duck at 30,000 ft/sec.”

I gained an appreciation for the job they do when he passed around the bomb suit.  The suit weighs 80 lbs.  They had to make a hanger for it out of rebar, since no regular hanger could hold it.  When you consider that they have to walk 300 feet (each way) wearing the suit and likely carrying another 50 lbs of equipment (portable X-ray, tool boxes, etc) in the Texas heat, it’s amazing that they manage to get anything done.  And if they think there may be some kind of chemical or biological hazard associated with the device, they have to use a portable air supply and wear a protective suit underneath the bomb suit.  Imagine being sealed in a ziploc bag and draped in a multi-layer Kevlar blanket under the Texas sun…

The bomb dog was also interesting.  It turns out that the dog was trained by BATFE and he’s loaned to the Tarrant County Fire Marshall’s office.  The guy from the Fire Marshall’s office is actually deputized as a Deputy US Marshall, since the dog is also on call for any kind of national situation that they may need (for example, this dog and his handler went to Houston for the Super Bowl to help with security).  The dog is trained to sniff out any one of several thousand explosive odors, including gun powder.  The demonstration they gave involved two items placed in the room.  One was a magazine from a Beretta pistol (sorry, couldn’t help but notice the make of the Keller Fire Marshall’s gun) hidden in the podium.  The other was a small item with explosive traces on it that was given to a student in the front row to put in his pocket.  The dog sucessfully found both items. 

If you’re the paranoid type, you might want to take note that this dog is capable of finding buried guns and ammunition (and in fact had been called out to do this at one time).  Of course, they have to know what area to search in.  Still, burying a gun in your back yard might not be as secure as you originally thought.