Friday, December 30, 2011

gardencityguardian: Safe Winter Home Heating

gardencityguardian: Safe Winter Home Heating: Connecticut Fire In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut where five people were killed in a home fire directly related to the use...

Safe Winter Home Heating

Connecticut Fire

In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut where five people were killed in a home fire directly related to the use of a fireplace, I  felt it necessary to discuss with my readers the dangers associated with winter and home fires.   These types of tragedies occur every year, and yet despite warnings from fire officials, they continue to occur time and again.  Perhaps even more tragic is the fact that injuries and deaths from these types of fires are completely preventable with just a small amount of due diligence given to safe practices regarding home heating.

According to the United States Fire Administration, more than a third of the homes in the U.S. use fireplaces, wood stoves and other heat generating appliances. It's no coincidence then that 36% of all fires in the home are attributable to these devices.  In the past, this statistic generally involved homes in rural areas of the country, however, because of the downturn in the economy many people are turning to these heating devices to heat their homes in order to save on utility costs. 

In order to keep your family and home safe, we encourage you to take the following steps:


  • Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney sweep.
  • Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations, and other flammable material.
  • Leave glass doors open while burning.  Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough ventilation to ensure complete combustion therefore preventing excess build-up of creosote in the chimney.  Creosote is the by-product of combustion that sticks to the masonry walls within your chimney and if not cleaned annually will continue to accumulate.  Creosote is flammable and is the cause of most chimney fires in the U.S.
  • Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room.  Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open.  The mesh screen keeps embers from getting out the fireplace pit.
  • Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have glass doors.
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to monitor flue temperatures.
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to the fireplace.
  • Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood.  Soft, moist wood contributes to creosote build-up.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or other debris in your fireplace or stove.
  • When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on a proper supporting grate.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended.  Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the home.
  • Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.  *Improperly discarded hot ashes from the  fireplace is what caused the Connecticut fire mentioned above.

  • Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.  Should you have a chimney fire, keeping the roof clear of debris may be the only thing keeping your house from burning to the ground.
  • Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
  • Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues, or vents.

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home including both directly inside and outside sleeping areas.  Test them monthly and change the batteries twice a year.  Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms now on the market.
  •  Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment, particularly stoves and gas fueled heating appliances.
  • Ensure that all vent pipes are at least three feet above the roof.


    Connecticut Fire Victims
    Please, make sure you have an escape plan in case of a fire.  Although the investigation of the Connecticut fire is still being analyzed, it does appear that the occupants made an attempt to get out but were unable due to being overcome by smoke.  Having an escape plan may have saved these three children and their grandparents. According to fire officials it is still unclear if the home had working smoke detectors.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011


    Smoking while intoxicated leads to two deaths

    Indiana: A 51 year-old who was determined to be impaired on medications and alcohol perished in a fire in his mobile home when he fell asleep smoking.  A neighbor dialed 911 at 8:30 a.m. to report the fire and by the time first-arriving units were in scene the mobile home was fully involved in fire and extending to a unit next door.  The man was found outside the home after he jumped out a window. 

    California: A dropped cigarette in a couch caused the death of a 58 year-old woman who was found in her duplex after flames were seen venting out the windows of the home by first arriving units.  The woman was a hoarder which added to the fuel load in the house.  Excessive amounts of papers, video cassettes, records and books made access difficult for firefighters.  The coroner determined the victim was intoxicated at the time of the fire; over 50 empty beer cans were discovered in the bedroom along with the woman. 

    Space heater responsible for fatal fire

    Oregon:  A 48 year-old woman died of smoke inhalation in her single-family home when a portable space heater was placed too close to her bedding.  Apparently the woman dialed 911 twice, hanging up each time before communications could determine her address.  A firefighter passing by discovered the fire and dialed 911.  Investigators determined that after discovering the fire, the woman fled to the bathroom where she was overcome with smoke.  The coroner found high levels of alcohol and carbon monoxide in her blood. 

    Elderly man's clothing catches fire while cooking

    Vermont:  A 66 year-old man died of thermal burns when his clothing caught fire after coming in contact with one of the heating elements on his stove.  Investigators determined the victim managed to pull of his burning sweatshirt and was trying to extinguish his other clothing in the sink when he fell to the floor.  The man's clothing was still burning when firefighters arrived on scene.  Instead of using the "stop, drop, and roll" method, the man tried to extinguish himself in the kitchen sink.  The victim was still alive when he arrived at the hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries. 

    Overloaded power strip responsible for two deaths

    New Mexico:  A 70 year-old man and a 65 year-old woman died of smoke inhalation when heavy smoke filed their single-story home from a fire in a converted garage at the far end of the property.  Investigators determined that an overloaded power strip ignited the carpeting and flooring. 

    Saturday, October 29, 2011

    Halloween and Megan's Law

    More Than Little Ghosts and Goblins Out There This Halloween

    With Halloween quickly approaching, parents are barraged with many great tips on how to keep their children safe on a night where our neighborhoods are besieged with witches and goblins begging for tricks or treats.  From having adequate lighting to fireproof costumes, everyone from community groups to cops and firefighters are staging campaigns to keep our children safe on our streets and in our neighborhoods.  However, spooks and skeletons are not the only thing scary lurking in your neighborhoods. Rarely discussed in households during this time old tradition is the fact sexual predators do not take Halloween off.  They are still out there living in your neighborhoods and working in your communities, and according to the law, they have every right to be there, but that doesn’t mean you do not have the right to know where they reside, hence Megan’s Law.

    Megan’s Law

    Megan Kanka

    Megan’s Law, a package of seven bills sponsored by Paul Kramer-(R) of New Jersey, passed one month after seven-year old Megan Kanka was murdered by a registered sex offender who was living across the street from the Kanka’s home with four other sex offenders.  I believe Megan’s Law will go down as one of the most important pieces of legislature ever passed for the good and welfare of the public in our countries history. 



    A Word of Warning

    The information I’m about to share with you is public record.  The material is available to anyone who wishes to access it.  However, citizens have gotten into trouble with the law not because they accessed the information, but because of what they did with the information once they had it.  Keep in mind that it is a crime to use the information disclosed on these sites to commit a misdemeanor or a felony.  It may also be a crime to share this information with anyone other than the person at risk, meaning your child.  However, you may pass on the information here or the website addresses to anyone you wish, so long as those individuals obtain the information for themselves.  Just remember that the information is there for your safety and the safety of your family, so as long as you keep in house, you are within the law. 

    Section 290 P.C.

    This section requires certain sex offenders to register with local law enforcement responsible for the jurisdiction in which they reside within 5 working days of their birthday, and within 5 working days of a change of address.  For more details, see Section 290 of the California Penal Code.

    Megan’s Law and the California State Attorney General’s Office will provide you with information on over 60,000 registered sex offenders in the State of California; home addresses of more than 33,500 offenders are available as well on the site.

    San Jose Police Department’s Megan’s Law Unit will provide you with information on registered sex offenders in your neighborhood.  Click on the “Search For Registered Sex Offenders In Your Neighborhood” button and then follow the directions.

    You may also reach the unit at (408) 277-4290  (As of this posting, I cannot confirm if the unit is still activated given the budget situation in San Jose but the website is still functioning) 

    We at Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants wish you and your family a safe and fun Halloween.  Please be responsible for the information and use it as it was intended by the spirit of the law. 

    Posted by:
    Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants
    Clayton, Ca.
    (925) 693-0161
    Ca. PI. Lic.#27409

    "Keeping you safe and informed"

    Friday, October 28, 2011

    Why The Postings Came Down

    Recently, I posted two articles in response to a recent story in the San Jose Mercury News regarding female firefighters in San Jose Fire Department.  I was asked by an "anonymous" reader why I took them down.  The reader suggested that if I did so because of political pressure, then my blog would no longer be creditable and he/she would be right.  The truth is however, as soon as I posted those two articles, I received a nasty little virus on my computer and had to run two different scans to get rid of it. 

    Now before anyone starts thinking that somehow someone involved in the article may have had something to do with this, hold on because that is most likely untrue.  First, I never received any pressure from anyone to rescind the articles, and secondly, since I have started blogging, I seem to be the target of these things more and more which is why I try and maintain high security on the computer, but as some of you may know, it often times can be a uphill battle.

    Fortunately I back up my files on a regular basis and when I have time if anyone really cares anyway, I will repost them on a new post.   In any case, rest assured to the retirees who do read this, I won't hesitate to write what is on my mind and try to keep those (especially those who don't live in the area)informed about what is going on around here.    All I can leave you with at this point is I hope everyone is healthy and living the good life and if you happen to live anywhere but California, consider yourself lucky at the moment. 

    Posted by:

    Paul Sprague
    Class of 83'

    Is San Jose the Next Vallejo?

    A Moment of Clarity

    I have been monitoring the debates taking place on the local blogs and online newspaper articles and have come to the conclusion that our great city is on the verge of bankruptcy and not just financially but morally as well.  Writing that just gave me pause accompanied with extreme sadness.  I would have never though in a million years I would ever say that about my city.  For those of us that have lived in the Bay Area most of our lives, that very thought must surely shake you to your very core, does it not?

    United We Stand, Divided We Fall

    When you consider the state of the economy, the continued collapse of housing prices in the Bay Area, persistent unemployment, skyrocketing pension and health care costs, and a fiscal emergency being declared by the Mayor of San Jose, and suddenly you find yourself on an express train towards bankruptcy; couple that with an ever growing desire for class warfare and you no longer have a community working and living together for a better society and way of life. 

    From Prune and Cherry Orchards to Pensions and Benefits
    Santa Clara Valley, Circa 1950

    Like it was yesterday, I remember walking to school though the cherry orchards on my way to John Muir, reaching over my grandma’s back fence to pick prunes, watching a matinee at the Garden City, or going with my Dad to the San Jose State v. Fresno State game.  Now those memories seem to be shadowed by the veil of bickering over pension plans and health benefits.  The “have” and the “have not’s” seem to have drawn lines in the sand and it appears that the battle is going to be very bloody. 

    Too Depressing to Recommend

    I first started to write the above on September 19 of this year in response to a Vanity Fair article I read titled “California and Bust” written by “Moneyball” fame Michael Lewis.  However, the seven page article addressing the current financial turmoil in the State of California and in particular, San Jose, was so disturbing that I decided then wasn’t the time and quite frankly, I just wanted to ignore it.  However, I noticed the article was mentioned again in the San Jose Mercury News and so I decided to read over it one more time and I can attest, it is just as scary now as it was then. 

    Michael Lewis is a great writer and the interviews with former California Governor Arnold Swartzenegger, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, and Vallejo Fire Chief Paige Meyer will make your hair stand on end.  I highly recommend that every citizen in the Bay Area and the nation read and discuss this very bleak outlook into the future of what was once the seventh largest economy in the world.  

    Posted by:

    Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants
    Clayton, Ca. 
    (925) 693-0161

    "Keeping you safe and informed" 

    Smoking and the Elderly

    Antioch, California:

    A 73 year old man is in critical condition after being rescued from his burning apartment by Contra Costa County firefighters early this morning.  The fire, reported at 12:37 a.m., was located in an apartment complex in the 200 block of Robert Street in the City of Antioch.  Fire Investigators state the unidentified elderly man discarded a cigarette in a paper waste basket next to the chair he fell asleep in.  The victim has been taken to a local burn unit with life-threatening injuries.

    This is a reminder to talk with your elderly parents, relatives or other loved ones about the hazards of smoking, particularly inside the home or while in bed.  If they are ambulatory, try to encourage them to smoke outside and discard the smoking materials in a metal container.  If that is not possible, provide them with metal trash cans with self-closing metal lids inside the home.  

    Posted by:
    Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants
    Clayton, Ca.
    (925) 693-0161

    "Keeping you and your family safe and informed"

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Occupy Oakland, A Hazardous Materials Incident?

    Should the tent cities of the "Occupy Wallstreet" movement be declared hazardous materials incidents?  Like many Americans, I have been watching and reading about the "Occupy ___?" movement that has been taking place in cities all over America.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have numerous demonstrations taking place daily with reports of demonstrators defecating on police cars and urinating on public property.  In the encampments that were set up in our local cities like Oakland and San Francisco by participants of the movement, were found to have contained hypodermic needles, containers of urine and feces, and soiled baby diapers.  Boxes of uneaten pizza and other rotting food have become a feast for the local rodent population that most of us know carry a variety of diseases that would keep the average American up at night.  Physical confrontations often result in blood borne pathogens being distributed between police and demonstrators with little more than face shields and leather gloves to protect the cops.

    Oakland police officers were recently ordered to remove tents with filthy,dirty bedding that no doubt contained bodily fluids of it's tenants.  While the siege of the commune took place, I sat and watched as cops dragged tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, etc., from the encampment with no special proper protection equipment that I could see of other than their normal riot gear.  What about the post decontamination efforts that our officers received after they walked through an area that the City of Oakland felt compelled to decontaminate and fence off after the crowd was controlled ?  My guess is very little if any proper procedures were ever followed through concerning decontamination.

    I've encountered conditions like these many times as a first responder.  In San Jose many of these encampments exist, particularly under overpasses, bridges, and along the river banks of the Guadalupe River that runs through the downtown.  Often we would respond to 911 calls of overdoses, assault victims, and even dead bodies within these small tent cities.  The conditions that our police officers currently face in the "Occupy" movement are no different and is a subject that has concerned me for many years in regards to occupational safety and riot or crowd control. 

    Taken from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's website at is the national safety and health standards that have been implemented by OSHA in coalition with states such as California to protect first responders such as the Oakland officers charged with dismantling the encampments of "Occupy Wallstreet".  The most prominent of those standards is the 'Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standards of 29 CFR 1910.120(q). 

    Scope of 29 CFR 1910.120

    There are exceptions to 29 CFR that relieve the employer from some responsibility to completely protect the employee under certain emergency conditions i.e., a combative suspect or accident scene.  However, in situations such as crowd control or sweeps of these encampments, I don't believe those exceptions apply.

    Definition of Emergency Responses or Responses to Emergencies:

    "A response effort by employees from outside the immediate release area or by other designated responders (i.e., mutual aid groups, local fire departments, etc.) to an occurrence which results, or is likely to result, in an uncontrolled release of a hazardous substances.  Responses to incidental releases of hazardous substances where the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of the release by employees in the immediate release area, or by maintenance personnel are not considered to be emergency responses within the scope of this standard."


    I see no reason to expose our first responders to the substances that I described above once the protesters are cleared from the area of the encampment.  I believe that at the time of clean-up, HazWoper qualified personnel should be cleaning up these sites, not unprotected police officers.  Additionally, considering what occurred in Oakland two nights ago leads me to believe that our officers should not be sent into these demonstrations at all as long as they are peaceful.  I realize that there are cries from the citizenry and businesses in the city of rodent infestation and lost revenue, but many times these things place the cops in a "Catch 22" situation were they cannot possibly win and often times get injured and exposed to diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV blood borne pathogens.  If the Mayor of Oakland would have allowed the police to enforce the policy of no camping at city hall from the very first tent pitched, situations like those where an Iraq war veteran was seriously injured could have been avoided altogether.  Two officers instead of 200?  That is what it would have taken to stop the first protester from setting up shop.
    Oakland Mayor

    As I was finishing up on this article, Mayor Quan did apologize for the carnage of Tuesday night and ultimately said she took responsibility for what had taken place. 

    Posted by:
    Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants
    Clayton, Ca.
    (925) 693-0161
    Ca. PI Lic# 27409

    "Dedicated to keeping you safe and informed"

    How Steve Jobs Drove Without License Plates

    Apparently, it was common knowledge amongst Steve Jobs enthusiasts that for years he drove without ever having license plates for his car.  Instead, what you did find was a very small bar code in place of where the rear plate would normally go.  Mr. Jobs felt that by not having a license plate, it afforded him some extra privacy, but in fact, the practice became somewhat of a trademark for his vehicles.  This of course led to rumors of Job's holding special privileges with the State of California when he continued the practice anyway.

    So how did he do it?  By taking advantage of a provision in the law that allows automobile owners in the State of California up to six months grace period before retaining plates on their vehicle and so Mr. Jobs made sure that his leased Mercedes where traded in every six months.

    Posted by:
    Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants
    Clayton, Ca.
    (925) 693-0161
    Ca. PI Lic#27409

    "Dedicated to keeping you safe and informed"

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    10 Most Stolen Vehicles for 2010

    The National Insurance Crime Bureau released it's "Hot Wheels" list of the 10 most stolen vehicles in the United States:

    1. 1994 Honda Accord
    2. 1995 Honda Civic
    3. 1991 Toyota Camry
    4. 1999 Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size)
    5. 1997 Ford F150 Series/Pickup
    6. 2004 Dodge Ram
    7. 2000 Dodge Caravan
    8. 1994 Acura Integra
    9. 2002 Ford Explorer
    10. 1999 Ford Taurus
    For the first time in 8 years car thieves preferred domestic makes over foreign models.  It would appear Dodge and Ford are starting to make gains on the foreign market, but as you noticed above, still nobody wants a Chevrolet, even the crooks.
    1994 Honda Accord

    The good news is according to 2010 FBI statistics, there was a 7% decline in car thefts from 2009, the lowest number since 1967.  Continued advancement in theft warning and deterrent devices appears to be the main reason for decline.  As an example, in 2010 approximately 52,000 Honda Accords were stolen;  44,000 of those were made in the 90's versus only 5,700 stolen that were produced since 2000.

    While the news on auto theft is encouraging, having your vehicle stolen can be financially difficult and time consuming.  In order to prevent being the next victim, I recommend taking the NICB's "Layer Approach to Auto Theft Prevention":

    • Lock your car and take the keys with you.  Don't slide them under the seat or on the visor which is where a car thief will look first.
    • Adequate warning devices, both visual and audible are highly recommended if your vehicle is not already equipped with one.  The use of a steering wheel locking device is the visual part that will usually make the thief move on to a better target.
    • Have a "kill switch", fuel cut-off, or smart key that keeps the vehicle from being started.
    • Install a tracking device which uses GPS to track the location of your vehicle if it is stolen and may even warn you as soon as the vehicle moves.
    I recommend that you also do the following:

    • Keep your insurance card in your wallet or purse with your vehicle license plate number on it.  How many of you can tell me your license plate number right now if your vehicle was stolen?
    • Never leave your car running, particularly in your driveway or the quick mart. 
    • Do not leave cell phones, DVD cases, or any thing else of value on the car seats; lock them in the trunk.  This invites thieves to break into your vehicle who just may decide to take it for a little spin too.
    • Do not become a victim of a carjacking by making sure your doors are locked whenever you are inside your vehicle.
    As I always tell folks, make a choice not to become a victim by being aware of your surroundings at all times.  May you and your family stay safe.

    Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants
    Clayton, California
    Ca. PI Lic. #27409
    "Keeping the Bay Area Safe and Informed"

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Product Recalls From The Consumer Product Safety Commission

    Cloud Engines Recalls Pogoplug Video File Sharing Device

    Approximately 10,000 Pogoplug Video file sharing devices have been recalled in the U.S. and Canada by Cloud Engines, Inc. of San Francisco, Ca.  after investigators found the device could overheat and catch fire.  The company has received three reports of their units overheating.  One of the devices caught fire, one produced smoke, and the third melted.

    The device in question is decribed as a black desktop electronics box, 2.5" inches wide, 7" inches deep, and 5.5" inches high.  The Pogoplug is used to stream and share videos, photos, music and provide remote access to files stored on drives attached to the device.

    The Pogoplug was sold at Adorama, B&H, Best Buy,, J&R,, New Egg, and Sony Style from March 2011 through June 2011.  The unit sold for approximately $200.00.

    Recommendation: Immediately stop using the device, unplug it, and then contact Cloud Engines, Inc. to receive a refund or replacement.  You can the companies consumer department at (866) 582-6651 between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.  You can also reach them on their website at

    Target Recalls Children's Task Lamps Due to Laceration and Fire Hazards

    Target recalled approximately 13,000 Circo Children's Task Lamps because they could overheat, causing a glue inside the socket of the lamp to melt into the socket area and stick to the bulb.  When the consumer attempts to remove the bulb, it could break and cause a laceration.  The glue has also been determined to be flammable and may pose a fire hazard.

    The Lamps in question come in four styles: Striped, Sports, Dot or Flower Dot and have a label with the UPC number on the bottom.

    • Striped: Navy-colored head with sky blue and white stripes with a blue base.  UPC #490970221923
    • Sports: White head with baseball stitch pattern and blue base. UPC # 490970222685
    • Dot:  White head wth multicolored dots and lavender base.  UPC#490970224047
    • Flower Dot:  Pink head with pattern of white flowers and leaves with a pink base.  UPC #490970221947.

    These lamps were sold exclusively at Target stores and at in 2011 for approximately $13.00 each.  You can take the lamp back to target for a full refund or contact Target Guest Relations at (800) 440-0680.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Gangs- A Look Back at 20 Years Ago

    I have been collecting newspapers of all the major disasters in California and the U.S since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.  While looking in the paper of October 21, 1991 for a story about the Oakland Hills Fire Storm, I came across an article that I think most of you will find very interesting.  Here are quotes from an article written by Laura Kurtzman, a staff writer for the Mercury News in 1989, titled "Complaints about gang crime finally spur action".
    Mayor Susan Hammer

    "I think we are probably at a crossroads" declares San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, who broke the official silence by mentioning gangs in her state of the city address last January.  Since then, largely in response to community complaints, Hammer has appointed a gang task force and committed $1 million for new anti-drug and anti-gang programs.  We're either going to get a handle on this or we're going to get a real crisis".

    "And with the city, county and school budgets all absorbing cutbacks, there is little money to do more."  Staff writer.

    "School officials, watching younger and younger children get involved, call for more recreation and after-school activities.  Community leaders talk about a lack of jobs."

    "Some of the growth in local gang activity may even be the result of imprisonment; gang members in jail learn new ways of organizing from more sophisticated inmates."  Staff writer.

    "Unlike authorities in other counties, who freely give out gang names and information, San Jose police rarely identify gang crimes.  They don't even use the word "gang" to describe their own gang unit.  Instead, it is called "Violent Crimes Team".  Staff writer.

    "The less talk about specific gang activity the better, said Lt. Craig Buckhout, who supervises the gang unit. By putting that stuff in the paper, you just pump them up."  (This is in response to then Chief McNamara and the city council's complaint about the paper continuing their series on gangs in San Jose). 
    Chief Joseph McNamara

    "If we admit we have a gang problem, who would want to come to live in our community?"  Unidentified San Jose officer.

    "Faced with growing violence, schools so far have concentrated on trying to keep campuses neutral by banning gang colors."  School Superintendent.

    "Some school officials try to negotiate truces between rival groups if tensions rise." School Official.

    "Franklin-McKinley School District hopes to start an anti-gang program in January to persuade elementary school children not to join gangs."  School District Official.

    "Rehabilitation does not occur" Ron Deloach, San Jose P.D.

    "Most law enforcement and community workers agree Santa Clara County is ripe for a far more serious gang problem, particularly if economic conditions worsen."  Editor.

    "More and more street gangs are selling drugs and becoming better armed."  Police official.

    "Whether or not gangs in San Jose become as influential as L.A., that's all a matter of time"  Ron Deloach, SJPD

    I wonder if Officer Deloach knew just how prophetic that statement would become. 


    It Doesn't Matter

    When I started this blog, it was my intention to address issues concerning public safety.  I wanted to educate the public on a topic that I know a lot about, fire;  And it was my hope to shed light on the dedicated officers that keep our streets safe day and night and give them due for the heroes they are.  Instead I found myself defending the two departments I worked for and believed in (San Jose P.D. and Fire) from the seemingly never ending attacks from the very citizens it has sworn to protect.  I still to this day find myself in disbelieve over this development.  What used to be trust and respect has turned into this vile us versus them confrontation that seems to get nastier as we get, what I believe, closer to the "end of days".  Never in the 50 years that I have lived in the Bay Area have I seen class warfare such as this.  Sure, there have always been the wanna-be's and the jealous about our profession, but those guys everybody shrugged off as such.  But now there seems to be more of them than not these days.  How did all this come about?  How did the heroes of 911 turn into the the greedy pension hungry no good thieves that we have been portrayed today by the news media, our politicians, and sadly to say, many of our citizens. 

    I have thought about these questions almost continuously over the last five years but I have only been able to come to one conclusion, it doesn't matter.  I did my duty, I fulfilled my service to God and his people, period.  If they come after my pension, I will endure.  If  there are those that want to spit on me, it wouldn't be the first time.  I spent most of my adult life taking care of other people and sadly, watching them die.  I have seen countless injured and suffering and many others sick and mentally ill.  I have dealt with the blasters and the parents who just lost their two month old to SIDS.  Burned bodies and shooting victims are imprinted on my mind forever, but it doesn't matter.  I have seen my brother police officers and firefighters die in the line of duty and I have been to more funerals than I care to count.  I've pulled little children from the bottom of pools and out of the mangled wrecks of automobiles.  PTSD is often our middle initials and it is growing worse everyday as they "The Bravest" are ridiculed and accused, but it doesn't matter. Here is what matters:

    The Fireman's Prayer

    When duty calls me, oh Lord,
    Wherever flames may rage,
    Give me strength to save some life,
    Whatever be the age.

    Help me embrace a little child,
    Before it is to late,
    Or save an older person from,
    The horror of that fate.

    Enable me to be alert,
    and oh Lord, guide my every move,
    for life is so precious,
    please don't let us lose.

    I want to fill my calling and,
    To give the best in me,
    To guard my every neighbor,
    And protect their property.

    And if according to thy will,
    That I must give my life,
    Then with thy protecting hand my Lord,
    I pray thee, protect my children and my wife.


    "The Fireman's Prayer" by author "Unknown"

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Fire Watch

    Child trapped in house fire

    Alabama- An eight year old girl died of smoke inhalation after being trapped in their second floor bedroom.  The victim and her nine-year old sister had moved a table lamp on the floor next to their beds and had covered it with a blanket to dim the light.  The hot bulb from the light ignited the blanket and other bed furnishings and trapped the two juveniles in their bedroom.  The mother was able to rescue her nine-year old, but couldn't get to her younger daughter.

    I had seen this same event several times during my career.  Fortunately no one was killed, but children do this often, especially those studious ones who want to read after lights out.  Now that this is Fire Prevention Week, make a point to talk with your children about the dangers of this and other actions that could start a fire like playing with matches or lighters.  And of course, impress on them that if there is a fire, alert everyone in the house and get out immediately even if it means you may get in trouble. 

    Although it doesn't say in the safety alert I received, I suspect the reason this little girl didn't make it was because of a delay in reporting the fire.  More than likely the two sisters attempted to put out the fire first but became disoriented from the smoke and were unable to even get out of their bedroom.  The report did say the home had working smoke detectors and they did operate on the second floor which sould serve as a reminder that you must get out as soon as you hear the smoke alarm.  Remember, it is more often than not that smoke will kill you in a fire before the flames ever reach you. 

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    The County of Plenty

    County Supervisor Shirakawa:  “Johnny, tell our lucky parolees what they have just won by being released back to the County of Plenty.”

    Johnny:  “Each parolee released back to the county will receive a place to live, job training, and if that weren’t enough George, free medication for all!  And now back to you George.”

    Sounds like a game show doesn’t it?  But it is not citizens, it is reality and it is no game.  The County of Santa Clara, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News today by staff journalist Tracy Kaplan, has decided that this is the time for a new approach now that the Governor’s early prisoner release program is in full swing.  According to the article, the County of Santa Clara is sending out teams that sound more like welcome wagon hosts to interview the more than 1,000 prisoners that will be released back into the county as mandated by the Governor and the Courts.  Assumedly these teams will be assessing the needs of each individual being released with the possibility of providing everything from housing to job training to even medications if necessary. 

    In addition to the new welcome home packages, the county plans on altering how these men even think.  “You have to change the way they think” touts Mr. Shirakawa who is apparently spearheading the effort to transform how the county plans on dealing with these newly arriving parolees.   One has to ask the question, however, of just how the County is going to do that?  Perhaps he will authorize waterboarding or shock treatments?  No, I have it, a CIA tested and approved mind altering drug will be the method of choice. 

    Alright, perhaps it is none of that stuff, but the program sounds just as intriguing.  According to Probation Chief Sheila Mitchell, “the county will try alternatives such as cognitive behavioral counseling and residential treatment” and at the moment, she and other county officials are pinning their hopes on contracting with a State Licensed drug treatment program called the ‘Jericho Project’ to deliver some of the services as they put it “to certain individuals”.   The only thing I fear with the Jericho Project is that we will land up with a bunch of strung-out Mel Gibsons running around the county mumbling about conspiracy theories; as if we didn’t have enough nuts running around the countryside already. 

    Ok, so how is the county planning on paying for all this?  By spending the 15.1 million dollars in State funds it has received, that’s how; and the County Supervisors has assured all of you that this program is not going to be any cake walk either.  Parolees will be supervised by armed county probation officers who will make sure these guys walk a straight line or fear being “rolled up” as the cons would say.  And although Todd Gillam, vice-president of the Parole Agent Association of California gives the program high marks, I’m guessing that if Ms.Kaplan was to walk across the street to the Sheriff’s Office, she would most likely get a differing opinion.  In fact, most if not all police departments and police chiefs in the state strongly oppose the release of these convicts back into our communities, especially during a time of lay-offs and cutbacks.  And speaking of cutbacks, I’m concerned that already short staffed probation offices all over the State of California (take the Jaycee Dugard case for instance) , will not be able to handle the overload and there will be many who will just fall through the cracks. 

    And according to the article, just who are some of these guys that could fall through the cracks?  Take the inmate who was highlighted in the article, Ray Correa.  Mr. Correa has a long history of drug abuse and mental illness, not the least of which includes depression, bi-polar disorder, and schizophrenia; or how about Edmundo Ruvalcaba, the 36 year old inmate that was doing time for beating his girlfriend who also has a long history of drug abuse and again, mental illness.  When speaking of his meth addiction, Mr. Rubalcaba says “It’s like that drug takes ahold of you and makes you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.  You lose your mind, you lose everything…”

    What are the chances this new approach will be any different than all the others that have been tried?  According to some of the inmates, they don’t give the new program much hope because of the “enormous amounts of hand-holding, tough love and luck they would have to give us.”  Tough love they say.  What are the authorities going to do when these men don’t go by the rules, take the door off their free room?  And if the statements of Mr. Correa and Mr. Rubalcaba are any indication, I don’t hold out much hope for them either.  Both have said they feel drug treatment and counseling is a waste of time and Mr. Correa even indicated that he may wean himself off his medications before he leaves prison because he won’t be able to afford them even though the county has offered to pay for them once he is out.

    Look, all of this sounds wonderful and I truly hope that somehow this works.  I have a loved one myself that has dealt with drug addiction all his life and still struggles with it to this day.  I dealt with these folks both as a police officer and a firefighter for 31 years and it is very sad because many of these individuals have serious mental problems and drug abuse is really just a symptom.  However, there are many that are just criminals who will take this opportunity to further advance their careers by continuing to rob, steal, and abuse drugs.  These guys are  particularly the ones to worry about because when they get high, they become even more dangerous and the likely hood of someone getting killed or seriously hurt in the commission of one of their petty crimes goes up substantially.   And if some of you are thinking that most of these parolees with mental issues are pretty much harmless, I would remind the citizens of San Jose of the tragic day in our city’s history when officers Gene Simpson and Gordon Silva were gunned down by a mental ill man in the intersection of 5th and Santa Clara Streets. 

    Monday, October 10, 2011


    A family member enjoying a relaxing backyard moment in Madison, Alabama was severely burned after a ceramic fuel pot exploded, covering the victim with burning hot gel over 40% of their body. 

    What happen:  The victim was using a decorative ceramic fuel pot when the flame died down after consuming the fuel.  When the victim poured more fuel into the hot bowl, the bowl exploded.

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has logged to date this year 57 injuries and two deaths involving gel fuel products or containers.  In contrast, the CPSC only received 6 reports of injuries for all of 2010.  Although unsure at this point, the CPSC and the NFPA suspect that the rise in injuries and death may be due to a growing popularity with the item. 

    The problem appears to be two-fold: 1) it can be very difficult to tell if the flame is still burning.  This could cause an unexpected flare-up and exposing your clothing or nearby combustibles to ignite.  2) pouring new gel into a hot fuel pot can cause the gel to splash or explode, consequently, sticking to the person's flesh and clothing.  Stop, drop and roll may not extinguish the flames or burning gel, therefore, causing further serious burns. 

    What can you do to make your family safe?  Talk to your family about the warning and make sure they understand the hazards involved.  The NFPA recommends the following:

    • Have a dry chemical extinguisher or baking soda nearby in case of exploding gel.
    • Allow the pot to cool for a minimum of 45 minutes before refueling again.
    • Turn your face away from the pot when refueling.

    Protect your Family from Fire!

    In case you didn't know or just may have forgotten, October 9-15 is Fire Prevention Week and this year's theme is "Protect you Family from Fire!" 

    I urge you and your family to sit down at the computer this week and log on to   There you will find many exciting things for the whole family like information on the leading cause of home fires, workbooks and lesson plans for children, and educational materials pointing out the new life saving technologies that can protect your family from the horrible rages of fire.  And don't forget, if you have elderly parents or loved ones, they will benefit from the NFPA's educational materials for our seniors; The elderly are particularly vulnerable to fire.

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    NFPA National Fire Statistics for 2010

    The National Fire Protection Association or NFPA just released the statistics for fire loss in the United States during 2010.  Before I share those stats with you, let me introduce you to the NFPA and what they do.

    Taken from their website: "The mission of the international nonprofit NFPA, established in 1896, is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus on issues of codes and standards, research, training, and education.
    The worlds leading advocate of fire prevention and an authoritative source on public safety,NFPA develops, publishes, and disseminates more than 300 consensus codes and standards intended to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other risks. NFPA membership totals more than 70,000 individuals around the world."

    The Hard Numbers

    In 2010, fire departments in the United States responded to 1,331,500 fires, according to data received from fire departments that responded to the association's national fire survey.  Compiling the numbers, this indicates a slight decrease of 1.3% from 2009 and is the lowest number of fires since NFPA began using the survey in 1977. 

    Structure Fires

    An estimated 482,000 structure fires were reported in 2010, an increase of 0.3% or no change from the previous year.  From 1977 to 2010, the number of structure fires peaked in 1977 with 1,098,000 building fires being reported.  The number of structure fires then decreased steadily, particularly in the 80's for an overall reduction of 37%.  In fact from 1989 to 1998, structure fires had decreased overall 25% to 517,000.  Those numbers stayed within that framework until 2009 when the number dropped again to 480,000. 

    Residential Structure Fires

    384,000 residential fires were reported in 2010 or 80% of all structure fires for an increase of 1.9 percent from the year before. 279,000 of these fires occurred in one-and-two family homes accounting for 58% percent of all residential fires.  Another 90,500 fires occurred in apartments, or 19% of the total fires in residential dwellings.

    Notable Changes

    Nonresidential fires displayed some significant changes for 2010, including a drop of 17% of fires occurring in public assembly occupancies and an increase of 9% in commercial businesses such as stores and office buildings. 

    Vehicle Fires

    There were an estimated 184,500 highway vehicle fires in this reporting period for a decrease of 3%.  However, all other vehicle fires not occurring on a highway or roadway experienced an increase of 9%. 

    Outside Fires

    From 1977 to 2009, the number of outside fires peaked in 1977 when 1,658,500 fires were reported.  The numbers decreased during the next six years to 1,011,000 in 1983 or a reduction of 39%.  The numbers remained flat until 1988 when 1,214,000 fires had occurred.  In 1993 the number of outside fires hovered around 1 million and stayed that way for the next three years.  The number for 2010 stands at 634,000. 

    Vegetation Fires

    An estimated 304,000 brush fires occurred in wildland areas for no change from the year before.  There were also an estimated 173,000 trash fires or no change from 2009.

    Civilian Fire Deaths

    3,120 civilians lost there lives to fire in 2010. This is an increase of 4% from the year before.  A better understanding of why the increase, can be found by examining the property types involved in these grim statistics.

    Deaths in Residential Fires

    An estimated 2,665 souls perished in home fires during 2010.  Of these deaths, 440 occurred in apartment fires and another 2,200 died in one-and-two family structures for a total increase of 4.8%.  In all, fires in the home which includes single family, manufactured and apartments resulted in 2,640 deaths or 2.9% more than the year before.

    Looking At the Trends

    Several trends are worth noting in regards to residential fire deaths.  Home fire deaths peaked in 1978 with 6,015 fatalities but have gone on a steady decline reaching an all time low in the 2,500 to 3,000 range or a 55% decrease at the present time.  It is also noted that during the same period, 1977-present, home fires have also fell for a total of 49%.  However, when we look at the death rate per 1,000 homes, we see no steady decline. 

    The Five Point Plan

    With home fire deaths still at an unacceptable rate of 85% of all civilian deaths, fire safety and education will remain the top priority for NFPA going into 2012 and beyond. This goal will be carried out by a five point strategy to reduce serious injury and death in residential structures.

    1. More widespread public fire safety education on preventing fires and avoiding serious death or injury.

    2. More people must use and maintain smoke detectors and develop a plan of escape should fire occur.

    3. We must aggressively petition for the mandate that all residential structures built in the future be protected by automatic sprinklers.

    4. Stricter fire standards for upholstered furniture like mattresses that are more resistant to ignition from cigarettes.

    5. Continue to address the special fire safety needs of the young and the elderly.

    Civilian Fire Injuries

    An estimated 17,720 civilians were injured in fires last year in 2010.  This represents an increase of 4% from the year before and is the highest number since 2005 when 17,925 were injured.

    Injuries are Under reported

    Many fire injuries are not reported to the fire department. Additionally, many injuries occur from small fires to which the fire departments do not respond and therefore are unaware of victims that they may have otherwise attended too. 

    Property Loss

    Fires caused $11.6 billion in property damage in 2010, a significant decrease of 7.5% from 2009.  Fires in structures resulted in $10 billion in property damage, again a noticeable decrease of 10.5% from the previous year.  The average loss per structure fire in 2010 was $20,000 per fire.  Adjusted for inflation, the average structure fire loss increased 436% from 1977 to present time.

    Other property damage worth mentioning include $420 million in public assembly properties, a decrease of 9% from 2009 and $515 million in industrial real estate, also a decrease of 10% from the previous year. 

    A word about property loss totals: amounts can change dramatically from year to year due to one or more large loss fires such as multiple warehouses or a huge wildland fire with structures destroyed or damaged from the fire.

    NFPA estimates put incendiary fires at 27,500 in 2010, an increase of 3.8% from 2009.  These fires took the lives of an estimated 200 citizens, an increase of 18% from the previous year.

    There were also an estimated 14,000 intentionally set vehicle fires in 2010 resulting in $90 million in property loss.


    Every 24 seconds there is a reported fire in the United States.  A fire occurs inside a structure at the rate of one every 65 seconds and in homes every 82 seconds.  Nationwide, there was a fire death every 169 minutes last year and a fire injury every 30 minutes.  It is my goal at Phoenix Safety and Investigative Consultants in conjunction with the NFPA to reduce the tragedy that fire brings to many every day.  Most of these fires can be avoided with education and the use of modern day fire protection equipment.

    If you are old enough to remember, the auto industry fought for years to keep air bags out of automobiles due to the cost.  And having responded to hundreds of vehicle accidents during my 31 year career in fire and law enforcement, I can tell you first hand that injuries and fatalities in automobile accidents today are only a fraction of what they used to be due to the installation of airbags. Because of politics and money, many lives were forever changed or ended unnecessarily because of greediness of the auto industry.  The same can be said of the building industry and the lobbyist for them that continue to stand in the way of fire codes that would have the same effect on fire fatalities and injuries as air bags did for the driving public. 

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    A Hero in a Different Kind of Uniform

    Born on February 5, 1956 in San Francisco, Betty Ong was the youngest of four children to Harry Ong Senior and Yee-gum Ong.  She grew up in Chinatown where her parents owned and operated a small mom and pop store on Jackson Street near Mason in the City. 
    Betty graduated from Washington High School and in 1987 she became a flight attendant with American Airlines.  Her choice of careers is not surprising since her friends and family described her as having "a knack for making people feel comfortable and putting them at ease."   Described as a tireless worker, whenever she worked a late night flight "she would never sit down and relax" relayed one of her co-workers. "She often would walk down the aisles, even when most of the passengers were asleep, and talk softly to those awake".  Another co-worker said it was nothing out of the ordinary for her to care of a passenger's baby while they rested.  For you parents out there that have ever traveled on a red eye with kids, flight attendants like these were always life savers.  Not surprising to learn, Betty always had a great love for children and the elderly.  Living in the suburbs of Boston, friends and neighbors told stories of her taking the half-hour drive into the city just to walk and have lunch with senior citizens of the community. 

    On September 11th, 2001, Betty, now a 'Head Flight Attendant', assigned herself to American Airlines Flight 11 en route from Boston Logan International Airport to Los Angeles to meet up with her sister.  The both of them were off to a well deserved vacation in Hawaii, but of course we now know it wasn't to be because Betty never made it to Los Angeles or Hawaii.  Soon after take-off, Betty made an emergency phone call to airline reservations agents in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina reporting " The cockpit is not answering their phone and there's somebody stabbed in business class and we can't breath...somebody's got mace or something."  In a calm, cool, and collected manner Betty along with fellow flight attendant Madeline Sweeney relayed the seat numbers of the hijackers which ultimately lead to the identification of all the terrorists involved.  Additionally, it was her phone call that really saved countless lives in Washington by warning that America was under attack which eventually led to the passenger take-over of flight 93 that crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

    During her 23-minute phone call, Betty remained calm and professional by not only taking care of the passengers and crew under the most of stressful conditions one could imagine, but also managed to relay critical information that most likely saved many lives.  The 9/11 commission declared Betty and the rest of her crew as heroes.  In true fashion, just before the end of her life Betty asked the ground crew to "Pray for Us and not just for herself".