Thursday, April 29, 2010

Glass houses, glass jaws, glass pipes.

"Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis." Tim Wise

My head spins at the churlish ugliness & ignorance that flourishes. Micro- micro-levels of it on full display in all facets of society: my job is choked with scared, bitter, chickenshit crowd followers whose bravado from hiding is mis/taken for actual courage, their false words as gospel; it's on display in my hobby, where pettiness and unchecked insecurity/hostility/jealousy fuse with excessive disregard for actual fact/achievement. Too much comfort? Too much relativity, spurred by the left but now subsumed by the right? It's a gloomy time, yet all is relatively well. Perhaps that's the problem.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Open mouth. Insert fist. Repeat.

Firefighters can be morons. Time and again, when given the chance, we pick the least elegant, tactful, thoughtful, politic, wise, sensitive, non-solipsistic angle of an argument, bray it loudly, and then find ourselves truly surprised that people take offense.

Several years ago, when former-mayor S. Sayles-Belton was campaigning for Mayor, she gave a pitch to the members at a union meeting. Black female speaking to largely white male audience. The guys, strength/safety in numbers, were boorish & ignorant to her. She won the election and remembered her shitty treatment.

Etc. The examples are endless, ranging from minor and hysterical to major and incomprehensible.

The recent serious fire on Lake Street has many folks asking valid questions and, in absence of clear villains to blame, searching for possible paths to blame/responsibility. This was a local bar, a dive, with a handful of apartments above it. For whatever bureaucratic inefficient reasons, the building had not been inspected in over 15 years. That spans five fire chiefs and three mayors. The duties of inspection have changed hands repeatedly. There was an inspection scheduled which the tenant cancelled due to a conflict.

Survivors have all stated that the building was a mess, poorly maintained. Few or no working smoke detectors, no alarm system, years of neglect and haphazard reconstructions. Tenants didn't complain much, they said, because it was cheap rent. It is the duty of the landlord to provide basic safety for his/her tenants. It is also the duty of each of us to take some responsibility for our own lives. If you live in a shitty apartment, the cost of a week's cigarettes will purchase a smoke-and-CO detector. THAT right there would have saved most if not all of those lives. (More than likely the cause of the fire was careless smoking or unmonitored flame (candle).)

As media scrutiny (lots of bold headlines with little thorough follow-through) has chewed on this tragedy, the responsibility for the apartment's poor condition has been debated. Two fire captains have come forward, anonymously, to speak with the newspaper about the poor level of our training when we took over inspections again. Firefighters can be infuriatingly myopic, stubborn, stupid, even, about the big picture. Our job is not what it used to be; no city job is, really. Teachers certainly have radically different job descriptions than they did. Etc. But there was typical grousing from the general body over resuming inspections. We had a three-to-four hour power point lecture on the basics, and we were given a manual of codes. Prior to this, the inspections division had full-time, dedicated inspectors whose primary job it was was to know and interpret and enforce the codes. It was a budget move: save firefighter jobs by absorbing the inspections.

Personally, I felt the training wasn't the best--power point generally sucks--but they gave us a clear path to follow, they are always willing to help, to answer questions, and to come along if we ask. Even if I don't know all the minutiae of the building code, I most certainly DO know what to look for that is dangerous and safety related. Our job is to educate the public, in addition to address whatever emergencies occur. Any one of us should be able to see the lack of smoke detectors in a building.

The fire captains took the tragedy as an opportunity to vent about the 'hardship' of a program that is protecting junior firefighters' jobs. They made themselves, and all of us, look like idiots but claiming incompetence when the context was BASIC FIRE SAFETY.

Now, the conversation has shifted to our ability to do a basic task--when the bigger problem was that a. the building lacked basic safety equipment, and b. no one had actually inspected it. There discussion is off track if it chases the chimera of incompetence when there was a breakdown at the base level. We've managed to, once again, shoot ourselves in the foot gratuitously.

Three damaging fires in past three weeks. Three fires likely caused, or definitely caused, by smoking. Stop smoking and 'accidental' fires stop happening so frequently.

May good things come from the loss of lives. May they rest in peace.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Working for The Man, not the man per se. Seriously.

Places we go where we are viewed, either initially or entirely, as The Man: various co-ops, various coffee shops, various bike shops, housing projects, supermarkets near housing projects.
One unwritten part of our job is to smile and wave at everyone we see. Mostly kids, of course; the occasional adult. Big red truck, smiling/waving firefighters: hooray for public safety. In poorer neighborhoods, we spend a lot of face time with kids trying to convince them that we're not cops.
At the progressive enclaves, the stand-offish response is bemusing, especially because my crew & I live in the area we work, belong to said co-ops, and frequent them whether in uniform or not.

Intolerant liberals: the scourge of my workaday existence...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

'Ain't but one way to die.'

Great trip to the left coast, in all its sea-sodden, sun-blasted weirdness. Two states, indeed, if not three or four. Hung w/ Auntie Linds in Oakland, walked her neighborhood and dug it; visited Chez Metcalf, in all its creative-sodden, mind-blasted weird greatness. And chickens. Michael & Carol were amazing hosts, as ever. Road trip in back of windowless panel van to LA. Felt like a gringo in reverse.

Dog world, weird and bitter and pathetically awesome as ever. Met lots of virtual acquaintances; saw lots of on-goingly poor training and weak conception of training; had some laughs and learned some stuff. Didn't get hurt. Ran my old ass off, playing the fool and dancing with some dogs. Good stuff. Especially the didn't get hurt part.

Missed the girls a great deal; saw many things I wanted to share w/ them. Took lots of small photos. Not the same, but it's close.

Bad fire at work while I was off-shift. Likely no smoke detectors. Much as the profession has slowed down in the past two decades, causing our 'irrelevancy' to bureaucrats, the advent of smoke detectors has astronomically reduced fire deaths, injuries, & damage. These poor folks were dead before the firefighters even arrived. Very sad.

Spring seemed to be releasing the kracked-un's... Busy Saturday at work. Lots of difficulties breathing, largely due to excess smoking and/or drinking. Early in the day we were called to an apartment for someone having breathing difficulties. Call came from a nephew off-site, who said his uncle was having trouble breathing AND that he'd likely be unhappy to see us. We met a 64 year old man in his underwear, still in the vicinity of influence from the 40 oz bottle and the brandy on his nightstand. He has COPD, lung cancer. He has a host of proscribed meds & inhalers. His lungs were tight, constricted. He militantly refused care, adding he took his inhalers but they didn't make any damn difference. We had a very senior pair of medics arrive, and they, rather than get controlling or confrontational, were quite rational with the man. They explained he was making his quality of life worse, and that it was a horrible way to die. The man demurred.
After a couple back-forths along these lines, the man interjected, 'Ain't but one way to die! Only one.'
'Are you saying you want to die, Sir?' the medic inquired; if he stated yes, we could take him on a psych hold (although we all knew the struggle to 'help' him would possibly cause him to go into respiratory arrest).
'Hell no. But we all got to die, and there ain't but one way to do it.'
'Well, Sir, you are choosing to ignore medical advice, but you are a man in your own home, and you're relatively sober, so we'll have to leave you here. When it gets worse, you're welcome to call us back. We will come, and we will try to help you.'

The man picked up the phone, dismissing us with a wave, and proceeded to call and chew out his nephew.
He had a point. He also was wrong, but I think he knew he was wrong, and in that fatal acknowledgment, he was thus correct.

I am continually stunned by how remote the life/death process is from most people. My mother-in-law insists her doctor is impressed by how healthy she is--though I suspect she's omitting the qualifier 'for someone who should be in an iron lung.' She knows her incessant smoking is horrible for her, but she persists, hoping--I suppose--she'll outlive the statistics, or she'll slip away quietly. She might, but odds are better that she'll suffer a stroke and its devastating, debilitating consequences. There is a long, long, hard way between living and dead.

We were shaking our heads at his stubbornness and at his plight as we left. I pointed out that it was bracingly more honest than all the people who continue to eat poorly, smoke too much, and juggle their meds, then insist on calling us at all hours because they do not feel well. No shit you don't; and, what do you think we're going to provide you that might trump your own derelictions?

And so it went. Spring and all.