Sunday, September 4, 2011

Brain buckets and money bags

I live in the city; I work in/for the city. I ride my bike and drive my car. I think the efforts to become 'sustainable' are grand. The bike-consciousness is a great improvement over asphalt asshat jungle. Do we need a full-time bike-pedestrian coordinator? Do we need one more than we need police investigators, or at the expense of having enough firefighters to actually staff the rigs that cover the city?

It rankles me that Rybak took the former Fire Chief, now-deposed Emergency Preparedness/Reg Svcs czar, Rocco Forte's advice on 'streamlining' the fire department. From the first budget crunch of 2003, Forte offered the fire dept. as a sacrificial lamb to his own career advancement. In the previous contract negotiations, Forte was essentially the city's star witness AGAINST the fire department. It took several years before the Mayor and City Council fathomed that Forte's agenda was for himself. Now he is gone.

They are hiring another consultant to evaluate the fire department, the 'service delivery model', jargon jargon jargon. The previous two studies (within past five years) both found the city UNDERcovered: we were short on per capita staff and rigs for the population density. With attrition, compression, elision of spots, the department has shrunk until there are not enough people on staff to cover the rigs in the city. That is after closing several rigs in past five years. The administration is heavily staffed but seems less efficient than ever, but that's likely who is in the spots, not too much bureaucracy.

I wish Rybak had taken this opportunity to save face & put distance between himself & Forte. He could very easily have stated that, in light of new information (or some such political euphemism), he was going to re-examine the suggestions and findings of the previous two studies. Both recommend maintaining four firefighters on each rig; they recommend at least the same number of rigs in the city. Thus to have X number of firefighters on Y number of rigs on three shifts, the city would need 3XY firefighters. Instead, he said, cut the budget and make it work.

So, that's great math. We do not have enough people to fill the positions on the rigs. That's not tricky statistics or spin. That's how the numbers work.

I am really grateful to the City Council members who seem to have finally taken a look at the stripped-bare content of the department. Their support--of the department and the citizens--is appreciated. I say that as a city worker and as a tax-paying resident. The head of the Public Safety Committee voted against maintaining the already LOW staffing.


On a related note, I'm a big seatbelt and helmet fan (car & bike). They don't always save you, but they improve your chances of avoiding traumatic violence. We responded to a bike-vs-bike collision on the greenway last night. The guy on the trick bike was going about ten mph, they estimated; he was on wrong side of path while avoiding some construction dirt. The cyclist on the road bike was doing 25 mph. He swerved and the rest of the riders in the on-coming group swerved, but the last guy didn't see him. Head to shoulder collision. Roadie managed not to dislocate his shoulder, although it looked like it when we got on scene. His wheel was totaled. The helmetless guy hit head-first, then got tossed onto the ground, again head-first. Knocked the fuck out. His wife and friends were right there--total terror hearing the violence of the collision and turning around to see him unresponsive on the ground.
We got there as he was coming to. Could speak and had no apparent neck injuries, but at minimum a significant concussion, or worse--brain bleed, TBI.

While we were treating him, several dozen riders passed. Most had common sense to stop, dismount, or soft pedal through the scene. And it was a scene. Fire truck, then ambulance arrived, the two injured riders, bystanders, friends/family. Several people, of course, were irked that their rides were interrupted by traffic. I nearly got clipped three times by people persisting in passing the trucks at speed. A codger on rollerblades started to curse at me for blocking his path.

It's great to ride bikes, but that isn't a free pass to indemnity. I ride a lot, break some rules, try not to be an asshole (not always successfully). But, there's a world at work around us.

A helmet might have broken the roadie's collarbone but it would have prevented the severity of trauma to the other guy's brain/skull/face.

With Annie away, I haven't been riding because I worry that, in case of accident, the kids would be stuck alone at home (not to mention I might have a long wait for someone to come get me). I love riding but there are collisions, risks, idiot drivers, errant cyclists, my own clumsiness.

I'm glad there were rescue crews available to help the cyclists, as well as the wheelchair-bound woman who got hit by a pickup at the midtown farmer's market, and the little boy who went unresponsive after knocking the wind out of himself, and the woman who OD'd while at rehab. I can say that she was closer to dead than alive when we arrived and she was breathing again when we left. Did I save anyone's life yesterday? Perhaps not. Did we help a series of people in need? Likely. What is it worth to the city and the citizens?
I guess I'm not the one to put the value on that.

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