Thursday, April 29, 2010

"With a Turn of the Word - It Wasn't My Heart I Left in San Francisco!"

Thanks to a social networking site, I was able to re-establish contact with a very good friend from days gone by; very good days gone by. And in the passing nearly forty years, I knew that she had fulfilled one of her dreams, of becoming an actress. Though now she busies herself with her husband, grown kids, and many community theaters, back in the '70's you might have spotted her on a little TV show called, "Happy Days," or in a theatrical release, called "Grease." More about her good wishes in a moment.

So, as I was about to leave at the end of last week for this trip to San Francisco to shoot the pilot for a new TV show, she gave me the long-traditional showbiz wish for a successful journey and endeavor "Break a leg." My problem was that I apparently took her at her literal word.

We had a great flight to San Francisco aboard Virgin America Airlines. For the most part, I would have given them a 9 on the proverbial 1-10 travel scale. Staff was very friendly, the seats, even in regular economy, afford a wider birth, as well as a couple of inches of additional leg room. Their entertainment system, found at every single seat, though some aspects have yet to be activated, is pretty good. If you ever travel to a location serviced by both JetBlue AND Virgin America, give VA a shot. I think you'll like the experience.

After pickup up the car (another saga all by itself), and about a 1/2-hour drive, we arrived at our hotel, The Intercontinental-Mark Hopkins, One Nob Hill. By far, this was one of the nicest hotels I've stayed in and yes, we did receive a reduced rate based that we were a media group AND we were also shooting a piece from my partner Joel's other business, Travel TV News. Rooms can be had mid-week for around $144++, which is decent, especially if you know the area and realize you are right across the street from the Fairmont! Not that there were not a couple of surprises as well. For example, the average tip for a bellman or chauffeur (who valet parks your car) is $5.00. Overnight valet parking is $50....YUP, FIFTY BUCKS, per night. Now you might be thinking, "Heck, I'm not going to spend $50 parking my car, I'll find a place on the street!" And that, my friend, is where you will be making your first mistake...there IS NO parking on the street throughout most of the City of San Francisco, especially in a ritzy neighborhood like Nob Hill. Even the public garage was $40.00, and they don't even let you take your car in and out, as the Intercontinental does. Also on the list of surprises was chipping in $12.95++ per 24-hour period for the most basic Internet service at 256 kbs and no access to a VPN. Though the hotel finally agreed to comp it for us because of what we did for them (shot another piece for TTN), it was too little to late, at least for me, since they did so at checkout.

Sunday morning, after a nice breakfast at one of the multiple "Mel's Diners" in San Francisco, we met Division Chief 03, Tom Siragusa. Now in the last 10-12 years, visiting departments all over the country, I have not met a more personable, knowledgeable, or nicer guy than Chief Siragusa. What was the best part was that his vision of what we would do with his gang at Station 7, was really close to what ours was. And sometimes, the Chief would find a better way for us to get those points across. As a matter of fact, he told us yesterday during our parting words, that if he had had more prior notice, he would have been glad to spend all of the days we were with the fire department, with us, even though two of those days would have been his days off.

We reviewed our plans, schedules and activities with the chief and quickly set about setting up our camera equipment, making sure our "host," Joel, was set to play his role, and got right to work shooting. Over the course of the four days with the department we shot over ten hours of video and mind you, they were neither on film or tape, but digitally on, what are called, "P2" cards. Think of them as your SD cards you use on your MP3 player, digital camera, or computer, but on "steroids," as the entire shoot was done in HD-High Definition.

Luckily, we only lost one day to weather, which was Tuesday. For Monday, we had scheduled an interview with the chief of the department, Chief Chief Joanne Hayes-White, for the morning and a ride aboard one of the department's two fire boats for that afternoon. (Hint, hint!!) Monday morning went fairly well, but there were some unexpected complications that had nothing whatsoever to do with the good ladies and gentlemen of San Francisco's Bravest.

Now we come to the "turn of the word." After lunch, we headed down to the Embarcadero which is where all the piers are. So if you plan on sailing out of San Francisco in the future, this is where you'll have to be. We arrived at Station 35, home to Engine 35 and the department's two fire boats. However, the station is under renovation (we could see why!), so the regular crew has been temporarily moved to a nearby firehouse. Here, we were met by a division chief who is in charge of the city's AWSS - Auxiliary Water Supply System. Dreamed up in 1903 by the then fire chief after the city had suffered multiple fires that destroyed a large part of the downtown area, the plan was to bury very wide pipes that could be supplied either with water from an inland, elevated, (you know how hilly San Francisco is) reservoir, or with bay water, pumped into the system from San Francisco Bay.

Unfortunately, the 1906 Earthquake occur ed, killing the fire chief immediately and igniting the Great Fire of 1906. However, once things had calmed down, the right people remembered the late chief's dream and started working to make it a reality. A large reservoir was excavated up in the Twin Peaks area that holds up to 10,3 million gallons of water. Additionally, two additional storage tanks were build with one holding nearly 750,000 gallons and the second with a 500,000 gallon capacity. Furthermore, the city constructed two large pumping stations, that still exist today, one located in the basement of Fire Headquarters and the second just outside of the pier area. Any of this water bypasses the public water supply and is directed to special, high capacity hydrants throughout the city. The water from the reservoir and two tanks is gravity-fed downward and the bay water is circulated by the massive steam pumps mentioned above. "Why such a massive back-up supply of water," you may ask. Because San Francisco is a peninsula, surround on three sides by water. The Fire Department must be self-sufficient for at least, 72 hours, when (not "if") the big even occurs.

There was a good wind off the water that day, as there is almost every day in the "City by the Bay." After the interview, we had to await for the firefighting crew (in addition to the boat crew of three, Captain, Engineer, and Hand) to arrive. Also traveling with us this day, besides my shooting crew, was the Chief of the Training Division and a high school senior who was shadowing him for the day. Well, after those two climbed down the pier ladder and arrived on deck, it was my turn...and what a turn it was.

I climbed down the iron ladder that led from the pier towards the boat. Now, with the renovations being down on the station house, a marine crane on a barge had been towed in and placed between the two fire boats. And being on a barge, every swing of its boom, up or down, left or right, created a responsive wave action all around the pier. I looked down and saw that I was one rung below the transom of the boat (the top rail). So I stepped up again one rung and got myself down with both feet on the transom.

Looking down, there were no steps to be seen so I reckoned that I had to get down the 3 1/2 feet or so from the transom to the deck, on my own. Now having had five surgeries on my left knee since 1977 and knowing that a knee replacement was in my future sometime between the age of 60-62, I knew there was no way I should go with that leg first. In hindsight, the smartest thing to have done was simply and easily jumped down with both feet together. But that's why hindsight is so damned accurate!

Instead, I decided to come down on my right leg and stepped of the transom to do so. As I did, the crane twirled, the waves bobbed and the boat slipped about a foot lower in the trough than I had anticipated. Thus I came down on my right leg without being balanced, whereupon the knee, quite promptly and quite painfully gave way. As I headed down, to fall upon the deck, the right side of my chest crashed against the manifold, a series of five brass ports, painted fire-boat red, to which hoses could be hooked up either to allow the boat to pump to engine companies or to pump seawater directly through hoses to fight a harbor blaze.

I crashed to the deck like a harpooned walrus, pulled over the side, squealing like a little piglet. Indeed, the pain was searing. Since three of the firefighters who had preceded me on board were also paramedics, that wasted little time attending to me to determine the extent of my injuries. We carefully straightened my bent right leg, which surprisingly hurt very little. Once done, I jiggled the knee a bit and the knee cap popped back into place. Hooray! A simple displacement of the patella and we're back in business. After a couple of minutes, with everyone calming down, I asked for their help and support in standing up and taking a few "baby steps" to see how I would do.

The first step was fine. The second felt better. The third, well, that one wasn't so good. My knee gave way again, very painfully, and I had to be helped to get to a sitting location. They had already called for one of the fire department ambulances to respond and now told them to keep on coming. So there was no doubt in any of our minds that I had quite plainly blew out my right knee; most likely by a tear of the meniscus and a torn MCL or ACL or both, if I had done it in BIG way!

There's more to tell, but we're descending down on our approach to Ft. Lauderdale. Tomorrow I see my orthopedist, I'll have an MRI next week and surgery soon after. So, to my sweet Judi, thank you for your words of good luck. I just need to not take them so literally next time!

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