Sunday, April 29, 2012

Firefighter or Union Member?

San Jose City Hall
I was a union member with Local 230, the bargaining unit that represents over 600 firefighters in San Jose, for over 26 years.  I never held the post of executive board member nor did I even attend many union meetings for that matter;  I guess you could say I was the typical union member. 

I don't profess to know much about labor negotiations, Skelly hearings, binding arbitration and whatever other buzz words exist for labor issues.  The only time I got involved is when it directly affected me and my family, namely when it came to vote on a contract.  I was fireman, father, husband, ex-husband, handyman, counselor, parent, nothing more, nothing less.  Like so many other firefighters, I did my tour of duty and hopefully went home in one piece.

You see, when I signed up in 1983 the pay and benefits were good, yes, but that was secondary to me;  Hell, I would have done the job for free, and I actually did for 10 years as a volunteer firefighter.  Like so many other little boys, I wanted to grow up to be a fireman except it wasn't just a boyhood fantasy for me, it was a calling.  My mother always referred to me as the kid on the block that never got over the red lights and sirens.

 I will never forget one summer night in 1965 when we were all still playing hide and seek after the street lights came on, a sign in those days it was time to come in the house.  Suddenly someone looked up in the sky and started yelling "hey look at that!"  When I looked up, the sky was lit up like an atom bomb had just gone off.  We all raced on our bicycles towards the orange glow in the sky trying desperately to find the right street to turn down on.  Little did I know at the time, I would do the same thing many more times years later, except instead of riding a bike I was riding on a fire engine.  Peddling as fast we could, a bright red pumper raced by that guided the way to the unknown phenomena we were about to encroach upon.   Our eyes must have been as big as saucers when we arrived at the scene of the chaos that was taking place on the normally quiet residential street.  A two-story house was completely engulfed in flames and I remember seeing the garage door fall down in the driveway after the heat stressed steel springs holding the pyrolized wood structure failed just seconds after we arrived. 

That was many years ago of course but I can still remember it like yesterday and that one summer night in '65 turned out to be one of the most significant days in my life.   From that time on, I would never look at a fireman or fire engine the same.  All I could think about for the next 18 years was to be like the heroes I watched with amazement as they doused the flames of that burning home. 

However, years of public service has taken away that boyhood dream and replaced it with PTSD and a host of physical ailments that just come with the job.   

Sadly the glory days of the fire service appear to be gone.  Ordinary citizens no longer look at firefighters with the same awe and envy of yester years; now instead of smiles and waves, you get the finger.  It's as if 911 and the 343 brave firefighters and the 92 police officers who lost their lives that day never happened.  For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to wear a fire department t-shirt or display a Maltese cross on my car's rear window.   When people asked what I did after learning I was retired, I hesitated to answer.  Quite a contrast from 11 years ago when I marched in the first St. Patrick's Day Parade after 911.  Over a hundred thousand New Yorkers that day lined the streets along the parade route to cheer and wave at the over 10,000 firefighters that marched that day in remembrance of our fallen brothers.   

But now my pride is back after viewing a video of a rescue recorded on a helmet cam:

This is a rescue recorded on a helmet cam of a San Bernardino firefighter.  This is what it was all about for me and 99% of the men and woman I had the privilege to serve with, saving lives and protecting property, not 90% pensions or huge salaries increases.  Never again will I hang my head for being a firefighter.  Never again will I fear to proclaim my chosen profession, one that once again is a source of pride for me and my family.  People can say what they want, but I can sit back and feel good that I carried out God's will. 

Is It Time To Declare Martial Law In Oakland?

By Any Definition

National Guard Troops
By Wikipedia's definition, "Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis- (usually) only temporary-when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively (e.g. maintain order and security, and provide essential services) when there are riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law becomes widespread."

100 Blocks of Community Terrorism

Oakland's "100 Blocks of Community Terror", my definition-not Oakland's, certainly could fall within the framework of Martial Law, even though according to the Supreme Court, "...the term Martial Law carries no precise meaning", (Duncan V. Kahanamoku, 327 U.S. 304, 66 S. Ct 606, 90 L.Ed. 688 [1946]).   Daily and nightly shootings, including the murder of innocent children, protests that have drained essential police services that may have already contributed to the death of one Berkeley man, and the continued so-called "Day of Action" propagated by Occupy Oakland that has on more than one occasion diverted scarce resources from high crime areas within the city, certainly indicates to me that the civilian government (Mayor Quan and the City Council) have "failed to function effectively" including "maintaining order and security for it's citizens".

Mayor Quan's answer

Mayor Quan and Oakland Chief Jordan
So why resort to such a bold move as to declare Martial Law?  Well, certainly throwing money and resources at the problem have not worked including Mayor Quan's '100-Block Community Initiative to Reduce Violence' which has been a colossal failure to this point.  So, just how much money are we talking about?  Well, that is not clear but one thing you can count on, the City doesn't have the money to sustain anything long-term at this point.  Below is the context of her plan:

  • Rehiring of 32 officers as a result of pension reform.
  • 25 new officer positions made possible through a federal grant.  These positions will be used to station officers on middle school campuses in the 100-block zone.
  • Creation of Crime Reduction Teams (CRT's).
  • Prioritize blight abatement, litter and graffiti clean-up.
  • Recruit for jobs by creating economic opportunity.
  • Improve the quality of life in neighborhoods.
  • Adopting New York City's "CompStat" a program to identify "Hotspots" utilizing collected data. (Already in progress)
  • Holding service providers and police staff more accountable.
  • Continued support for the 'Gang Reduction & Youth Development Model" ( LA GRYD) started in 2011.  This includes comprehensive family support and involvement.
  • Starting this spring, a youth outreach program called 'Oakland Ceasefire' adopted from the Chicago Ceasefire program will begin.
  • The 'Harlem Children Zone' which is a "wraparound family services" program covering children from birth to high school.
  • Adoption of San Jose's 'Internal Communications & Meaningful Community Engagement' program. 

Oh, there is more?

Of course, according to Mayor Quan, "...reducing violence takes more than police"; apparently much more:

  • Measure Y-funded Oakland Street Outreach workers will be required to spend 80% of their time connecting with young people and their families, creating cease-fires between rival gangs, and even sending them to hospitals where shooting victims have been transported in an effort to reduce retaliatory events.
  • Public works has prioritized new lighting, blight, graffiti, and street projects within the zone.
  • Double the 'National Night Out' block parties held.
  • The Parks & Recreation department will prioritize activities, leadership, and summer job recruitment for neighborhoods in the zone.
  • Increase support for economic development, including small business development to help retail and job opportunities. 

Wait! She is not finished yet.

As you might have suspected, the Mayor wants all of you to know that even the combined coordination of the police and all our City departments cannot reduce violent crime.  No indeed, in addition we need to:

  • Change the neighborhood dynamics by developing positive relationships among neighbors and partnerships between citizens and the City.
  • Implementing programs after 'Code 33' heralded as an open forum for discussion between the community and police.
  • Recruit more Oakland and urban residents into our police department.
  • Adapt a universal preschool program.
  • Continue to support 'Late Night Live', a program providing late night programming in the parks.
  • Promote and support a 'Citywide Truancy Program'. 

Not enough resources?

According to the Mayor, multiple agencies are already flooding the 100 Block of East and West Oakland in hopes of stemming the tide of violence:

  • Oakland P.D
  • Bart Police
  • California Highway Patrol
  • Oakland Unified School District Police
  • Alameda County Sheriff's Office
  • Alameda County District Attorney's Office
  • Various Federal Law Enforcement Agencies
  • State Parole
  • Private Security Firms

Martial Law-What does it mean and who can declare it?

Generally, a declaration of Marshal Law includes curfews, temporary suspension of civil law, civil rights, habeas corpus, and the imposition of military justice upon civilians.  In reality, it is a war with an actual war zone with oversight by a military commander.  "In the U.S., Martial Law can only be ordered by the President of the United States as commander-in-chief of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.  The duration of the warfare or emergency must be limited and cannot result in long-term denial of constitutional rights, such as habeas corpus, the right to a trial, and to free press."
(Copyright 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T Hill)  All rights reserved.

Notice that the National Guard is not listed above.  This is because, although the President could take command of the National Guard when it involves a national emergency such as war, generally they are under the command of the governor in the state they represent.  However, since only the President can declare Marshal Law, governors can declare "States of Emergencies" that activate their National Guard Units during emergencies such as floods, earthquakes, riots, and other widespread civil disobedience including those circumstances given in the beginning of this post.  This was done during Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. 

To sum it all up

Something must be done to temporarily limit the civil rights of these gangsters and get the guns off the streets of Oakland long enough to implement some of these programs the Mayor is asking for.  Take away the shield that these malcontents hide under and Oakland just may be able to turn the city into a decent place to live again.  However, no matter how much money, how much time, or how many resources you throw at these evil SOB's, you will never turn things around until you declare war on them and eliminate them from society. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Liquid Propane Barbeque Tanks-Are They Safe?

Recently in the news was the story of a gas propane tank exploding in the back of a pick-up truck at a McDonalds parking lot in Coachilla, California.

According to officials, a man was severely burned  and his two children narrowly escaped serious injury when a propane tank exploded in the back of their pick-up truck that was in the drive-thru line at McDonalds next to a local Home Depot.  The blast completely destroyed the truck, damaged the restaurant and other vehicles that were parked over 75 feet away after being struck by projectiles from the failed cylinder.  "The explosion was caused by static electricity when the driver of the pick-up touched the valve of a propane tank because a bystander told him it was leaking" said Justin McGough, Battalion Chief for the Riverside County Fire Department.

According to McGough, the propane in the tank expanded because of temperatures over 100 degrees, causing it to BLEVE, which is the acronym for Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion, a phenomena that can occur in vessels containing many various types of gases when heated sufficiently enough to expand.

The man, according to witnesses, was driven to John M Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio where he is being treated for severe burns sustained in the fire.  The man's two children sustained only minor injuries and were treated and released.

Since this incident I have received numerous phone calls from citizens concerned about this and now question if it is safe to transport their BBQ tanks to get refilled or use at all.  The answer to that question is yes, the tanks that you use to fuel your barbecue are perfectly safe as long as you follow a few safety guidelines when dealing with liquid propane gas or LPG. 

First, lets talk briefly about just what LPG is and the safety benefits of propane.  Propane is a carbon-based gas that can be compressed into a transportable liquid under pressure.  Propane is actually a by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining; in fact, propane was first discovered as a flammable component of gasoline.  Propane is commonly used as a fuel for internal combustion engines, oxy-gas torches, barbecues, portable stoves, and even residential heating and cooking.  LPG is actually a mixture of propane, butane, and small amounts of propylene and/or butylene.  All commercial propane fuels are mixed with an odorant so people can quickly detect a leak should it occur.

According to the Florida Propane Gas Safety, Education and Research Council, propane tanks are 20 times more punctured resistant than tanks filled with other fuels such as gasoline, methanol and ethanol.  Propane tanks are made of carbon steel and are equipped with several safety devices including a mechanism for cutting off the filling process when the tank reaches 80% capacity;  this allows for a certain amount of expansion at ambient temperatures.  Propane has a lower flammable rating of any other alternative fuel.  Leaks are easily detected due to a strong pungent smell introduced in the gas that gives off an odor of rotten eggs.  Propane will not contaminate the water or soil and unlike other fuels like gasoline, propane cannot be ingested internally because it vaporizes as soon as it leaves it's container.  Unlike gasoline with an ignition temperature of 430 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, propane will not ignite until the air reaches at least 940 degrees Fahrenheit. 

However, there are some definite hazards associated with LPG that every consumer and user of this commodity should be aware of.  The Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS identifies Odorized Propane hazards as follows:

  • Keep away from heat, sparks, flame, and all other ignition sources.
  • Vapor replaces oxygen available for breathing (Simple Asphyxiant) and may cause suffocation in confined spaces.
  • Use only with adequate ventilation.
  • Reliance upon detection of odor may not provide adequate warning of potentially hazardous concentrations.
  • Vapor is heavier than air; may collect at low levels.
  • Liquid can cause freeze burn similar to frostbite.
  • Do not get liquid in eyes, on skin, or on clothing.
  • Avoid breathing vapor.
  • Keep service valve closed when not in use.

The Florida Propane Gas Safety, Education and Research Council distributes an exceptional propane safey information pdf. on their website at  that provides the consumer with numerous safety guidelines for propane use including safety tips for barbecue grilling, for use in home heating and cooking and also provides planning suggestions to prepare you and your family for major storms and other emergencies. 

Another excellent source for safety information regarding propane use can be found though the Propane Education & Research Council on their website at   And of course, an always fantastic resource is on the NFPA website at  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Insurance Industry Perspective on Wildland Fires

In New Mexico, fire officials are bracing for another nasty round of wildfires that have plagued the southwest for the last five years.  In the insurance industry, they too are preparing by dropping residents from their insurance roles who choose to live in the Wildland Urban Interface or WUI.

"Insurance companies really do expect homeowners that live in these higher-risk areas to share that risk" says Executive Director Carole Walker of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.  Making homeowners more responsible has been the buzz in California as well, with legislators calling for a special property tax to cover the future costs of fire protection in the WUI.  I must agree with Ms. Walker and also add that in my 30 years plus of firefighting, I cannot think of a more helpless feeling, other than losing a child to trauma or health issues, than seeing someones house burn to the ground and there is nothing you can do about it.

However, there is something you as a homeowner can do about it.  First, find out what your insurance carrier requires for you to stay insured and enjoy lower premiums at the same time.  "It's that pocket-book incentive of getting and keeping affordable insurance that's really going to get people often times to do the right thing and protect their property" explains Walker.  Second, clear a defensible space around your property and keep it that way.  "If your unwilling to make a defensible space around your property, you're living in a high-risk area, you're too high of a risk for us to insure," said Ms. Walker.

The drumbeat here at Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants is the same as the National Fire Protection Association, "Keep you landscape lean, clean and green".  For more information on how to protect your family and property from the ravages of fire, contact you local fire department or fire protection specialist. 

Fire Season Will Be Fast Upon Us, Don't Wait Before It's Too Late!

Always watching out for your safety,

Paul M Sprague, CFEI