Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" = #26Acts

     Remember when we were kids and were taking a long drive with our parents, or perhaps on a camp bus on the way to an event? What's the first song the comes to mind, most often used to kill time and perhaps, to drive your parents or the bus driver crazy?
     "A hundred bottles of beer on the wall,
     A hundred bottles of beer;
     You take one down and pass it around,
     Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall.
    Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera.
     A dedicated group of kids could keep that ditty going right through either the very end and the last bottle, or your parent turning around and yelling, "If you kids don't stop singing that piece of crap, we ain't going nowhere! Got it?"
     Several years ago, the term, "Pay it forward," entered our vernacular. At first, many people didn't understand the message that it was bringing to the masses. "Who's paying for what? Are you paying for me? What am I paying for? What is 'paying it forward?" 
     Slowly, people began to understand the turn of the phrase, to do something good for someone other than yourself. It didn't necessarily have to deal with cold, hard cash. It might have meant to do someone a favor; help someone out with a problem. And when finished helping them and they thanked you, you would advise them to "pay it forward," and do something nice for someone else. And so on.
     Those of us in the fire-rescue service are always ready to help someone else out. Rarely does that help come in the form of money. Most of the time, that help comes as we respond to that person's emergency situation. In both my eight active years, as well as the time Dalmatian Productions has been around to try and shoot or gather video of emergency responders, there have been plenty of occasions when we would be sitting around, just waiting for the bells to ring. And sometimes, we would actually acknowledge that for us to be able to perform our services, someone would have to suffer, in some manner. What a horrible  thought that turned out to be. For us to do a good deed, someone would have to have a serious need for our help. We didn't cause it, nor did we create it. This has almost always been the relationship between emergency services personnel and the public that they serve. However, what happens after the emergency is over? Do we just roll up our hoses, wash the apparatus, and wait for the next call? Or do we reach up and pull another "bottle" off of the "wall?"
     Many, many, many of us have been searching for ways to reach out and help both the families and the community of Newtown, CT. None of us, even in our deepest, darkest, place, could ever conceive of perpetrating such a heinous act as the cold-blooded killing of twenty children, ages 6-7, and six wonderful adults who had dedicated themselves to the art of elementary education. What's done is done and we cannot "unblow that horn," as a late friend of mine would often say. So what next? We all cannot make our way up to Connecticut to try and lend a hand, though many strangers have done exactly that! Three teenagers from Georgia drove through the night, to visit with students from Newtown High School, just to give them a hug. As one of the travelers said, "I know if this had happened to me, I'd need a hug to help me."
     Yesterday, NBC journalist, Ann Curry posted a tweet with the simple Twitter code of #26Acts. Her idea was that one of the best ways to honor the memories of the 26 victims of the Newtown killings, was to turn evil into goodness. For each victim, perform an act of kindness. Immediately, the tweet went viral, across the U.S. and across the globe. Responding tweets told of everything from simply helping someone cross the street to turning over the proceeds of a well-earned paycheck to another who has been unemployed for several months. These and thousands of others have been "paying it forward" for more than twenty-fours hours now.
     Even before I knew of the #26Acts, I was trying to think about what I could do to help out there. As I sat here at my computer, I was running the multiple videos that had been playing out on the various news outlets on Friday and through the weekend. Then it donned on me. I thought about that part of me that has never left my soul and still defines who I am. I am a boy of the firehouse. And I thought about my brothers and sisters in Newtown and the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire Department. They were some of the first rescuers on scene. What they saw was no less what is scene on a battlefield, on any given day. The horror and tragedy of war were thrown in their faces last Friday. So, I wrote the following to them:
"To my sisters and brothers in Newtown CT - On Friday, you answered an alarm that no amount of training could have ever prepared you or any of us who have or currently serve the fire-rescue service, for. Drills and simulations are one thing; the horror of Friday, December 14th, could not have even been imagined.Yet, as we your colleagues would expect, you acted with valor and bravery, above and beyond the call of duty.

However, this is who we are and what we do; we, along with our sisters and brothers, in blue, run in when everyone else is running out, of emergency situations.

In the highest honor and regard of the history of the American Fire-Service, thank you for your courage, your dedication, and your perseverance to the goals of our vocation or avocation. May the Almighty guard and protect you and yours, and bring you solace and comfort for your efforts."
"Twenty-six Acts of Kindness to do,
Twenty-six martyrs we share,
I took one down and shared it around,
Twenty-five Acts of Kindness I bear..."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Farewell, Dear Friend

Life always brings us great highs and some unthinkable lows. Like a well-tuned sine wave, the peaks of the highs of life are often ecstatic and joyful, like the birth of a child, the marriage of a loving couple, etc. Yet, to remain in balance, the lows mirror the opposite highs. And almost to anyone, the lowest point we can find is the loss of someone close to us; perhaps a family member or a good friend. The sadness and grief seem insurmountable; a return to normalcy a distant light similar to the stars, light-years away, unreachable in our lifetimes. Many of us stand at that low point this weekend, for we have lost a son, a brother, a husband, and a good friend this past week, Joel Connable.

My life experiences in Jewish ritual have brought me through many occasions of this cycle of life. Though not an ordained rabbi, I have officiated at many of the happy events and all too many of the saddest. I have officiated at numerous funerals, both for acquaintances and strangers. Yet, as prepared as I am to officiate when called upon, I have found that as of late, I am ill-prepared to deal with the loss of a close friend or relative. I find myself in that situation, once again.

I knew Joel for a couple of years before I had even met him. Joel came to South Florida as a reporter for our local NBC "O & O" (Owned and Operated) station, WTVJ, Channel 6. From the start, my wife and I liked his reporting style. He did not simply look into the camera; Joel looked through the camera, directly at his viewers. Each of us felt that Joel was speaking directly to us.

Before too much time had passed, one of NBC6's key anchors, the wonderful Tony Segretto, retired, leaving the main 6 PM and 11 PM newscasts needing someone to step into Tony's shoes, and those were big shoes to fill. Smartly, Joel was chosen as the new anchor and he transitioned into the position seamlessly. Bear in mind that Tony had been a long-time name and favorite at NBC6, having been one of the three people who hunkered down in the old studio and weathered Hurricane Andrew in 1992. At that time, Tony was the lead sportscaster from the station and had spent his entire career at WTVJ. No matter who was awarded the anchor's chair, he or she would be looked at very critically by WTVJ's viewers. Yet, Joel sat down that first evening and "sold it."

The two stories that had the most impact on my of Joel's ability to deliver news were the story he did on his own health situation with Type 1, Juvenile Diabetes. Joel was first diagnosed around the age of twelve or thirteen and by this point, was using an insulin pump to regulate his system. In this story, he spoke directly to a younger audience, South Florida teens, who were fighting the same battle as he had. It was a great educational peace, expressing the fact that even with JD, you could achieve whatever your dreams were. He explained that he had himself been a paramedic, a volunteer firefighter, a private pilot, and even a news anchor. He admonished the kids to not give up on life. instead, they should shape their lives into what they wanted. JD was just along for the ride.

The second story was the miraculous landing of the US Airways jet in the Hudson River in New York City. Both his passion for and, experience in aviation, gave him a unique perspective to report from, unlike the average reporter who would simply be a "newsreader." Joel used every "weapon" in his arsenal, to help the viewer understand every angle of the accident, the rescue, the impact on the passengers, and most of all, the pressure and stress that the pilot and co-pilot were under once they made their fateful decision.

Our family watched that 6 PM newscast each evening, followed by the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Until, one week in 2009, we found substitutes sitting in Joel's chair. At first, we took it as his vacation time or illness. After several weeks, we knew there had to have been a change. Never one to just walk away from change of something I liked, I started snooping around online to see if I could determine where had he disappeared to.

Finally, I turned to Facebook. There, I found Joel's page. Though there were no hints there as to what had happened between him and NBC6, I learned more about his life. I dropped him a polite note, advising that our family missed him and inquiring if everything was OK in his life. I also mentioned that I too, had been a volunteer firefighter/EMT, in Upstate New York and that my partners and I had a production company working to produce a reality series based on the fire service. If he had any interest, I enclosed my business number for him to call. Honestly, I didn't expect to receive an answer. This guy was an anchor at a major television station, one actually owned by the network. He had hundreds of Facebook "friends," and I would probably be looked at as a "stalker-fan."

And that was exactly what didn't happen! Joel accepted my "friend" request and wrote me a very nice note. While he didn't explain what was going on with him and NBC6, he did express an interest in our plans for a TV series and would love to get together to have lunch and talk. No matter where you're from, if you're a firefighter and meet another firefighter, the first thing you both do after the preliminary greetings, is to swap fire and rescue stories with each other. We met at a Kosher Israeli restaurant in Sunrise and spent a couple of hours getting to know each other and tossing around ideas to tweak our concept for the television series.

It was Joel, who before we had even spoke with any companies or agents in Los Angeles, who had the idea of steering the show away from the run-of-the-mill, everyday-type of calls, to highlighting departments, not just domestically, but internationally, as well, that had to meet unique challenges that most of us would never see. The scenes started popping up, one after the other, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Hawaii County Station 19 on Kona, facing at least two active volcanos, Israel Fire Brigade and Magen David Adom (Israel's EMS) rockets being fired over the border daily, Paris with their mobile Emergency Rooms, and many more. This was where Joel's love for and experience in travel provided us with several "ins" for contacting international departments. It was also his idea that instead of a standard "host" for the show, we would make the host participate in every rescue or incident. The host would be like a fish out of water, thrust into the most difficult parts of the incident.

I loved his ideas, but more, I loved his passion and dedication. He took my original idea, fine-tuned it to meet what we believed would generate interest as a news reporter and thus, to the networks, and gave it a strong breath of life. We entered the restaurant as acquaintances via social media and walked out as friends.

Needless to say, when I spoke with my partners that evening, everyone liked what they heard. They liked the edge that Joel brought to the concept of the show and they too were amazed, that from such an inconsequential connection via social media, we had a new direction to use to steer our production.

At the same time, Joel and his business partner were now working on their travel promotion business. Yet, he never turned me down for a lunch meeting or a planning session. At that time, we had a new puppy, Remy, and once, when we were going to meet at his apartment, he invited me to bring Remy to meet his adorable Lola. I packed Remy’s bag with her food and toys to keep her busy so as not to bother Lola if they didn’t socialize well. No need to worry. They got along famously, running all around the apartment, jumping over the couches, the tables, the toys, and yes, even us.

That December, he hosted a get-together at his apartment on the Saturday evening of the Winterfest Boat Parade. His living room, on the thirtieth floor, had a beautiful view of the New River, and though it was raining, the parade went on and we had a fantastic view. As the consummate host, he was running around making sure everyone had something to drink and eat.

For the next few months we worked hard on the show and making contacts. The existing partners of Dalmatian all agreed that Joel had given so much to the new plan that we would bring him in as a full partner of the corporation. We closed a deal with the San Francisco Fire Department to fly out in April 2010 and film with them. Joel told me to take care of the business side of the shoot and he would arrange all the travel plans and bring on board our two terrific video-journalists, Adam Kaplan and Eric Rodriguez.  We had a great time with the department and they were as helpful as could be. Unfortunately, the show did not come about, but it was not due to lack of effort. We even put Joel in some really unprofessional bits, but he was game for it all. “Whatever it takes,” he told our partner, Jesse and me. While there, he did shoot a terrific piece on the San Francisco Fire Department’s Ladder Shop, with Adam. That piece brought us a Suncoast Emmy nomination.

During the shoot, I fell and blew out my knee. Joel called the airline and tried to get me bumped up to first-class. He was pretty “determined” on the phone, to say the least, but that cabin was full. He came to me so apologetic that he hadn’t been successful. I told him not to worry, I’d be fine. But that’s the kind of person he was.

Time passed and luckily, Joel’s “Travel News Network” was becoming more and more successful. He was able to travel a great deal, oft times, with his parents. I remember him telling me about their upcoming trip to Europe and how much he was looking to be able to go with them. As I used to do, I depended heavily on my late parents for advice and direction when I was perplexed. When Joel was confused about his life, he turned to his parents and as he would tell me of their conversations, they reminded me of my own parents and the encouragement and advice they would give me.

As busy as he was, Joel would still drop me a line here and there. When my wife had significant surgery this past March, he chided himself in an email, for not having checked up on us sooner. I told him not to worry about it, since we both knew how much he cared. He told me about his darling Angela and the happiness she brought into his life.

About six weeks ago, I found a couple of video games I had borrowed a while ago and had forgotten to return earlier. I sent him the package with a “mea culpa” not enclosed. He wrote me back and told me not to worry about it. Then he told me he was heading up to Seattle, getting back into television news and he was going to be able to keep the travel business going as well.  But most importantly, he told me that he and Angela were engaged. I wished him a “mazal tov” and we both said we’d be in touch. But, we won’t. Not anymore.
May his soul be bound up in the bond of life and may his memory always be for a blessing.




Saturday, October 13, 2012

Television - Is It the "Great Wasteland" for the Fire Service?

For many years, there were several occupations that were/are depicted on television and , for the most part, were pretty safe bets for shows, i.e. cops, doctors, and attorneys. So, who's missing from this picture? How about firefighters?

Sure, there have been a few shows about firefighters, such as, "EMERGENCY," from NBC, back in the 1970's. Though Johnny Gage was occasionally set-up to look like a womanizer, its original executive producer, Jack Webb, of "DRAGNET" fame, was dedicated to representing the profession, plus the new vocation of, "paramedics," accurately. Sure, there was some dramatic license taken, but for the most part, it never insulted the intelligence of most firefighters who watched the show, and it actually contributed to many people choosing to become firefighters, paramedics, and/or EMT's. To me, that is a contribution to society.

There were a few others dramas as well, including, "Firehouse" and "Code Red," neither of which had a major impact on their ratings or the industry. Most recently, there was, "Rescue Me," by Denis Leary. In the beginning, the show was decent, but somewhere in the first or second season when Leary's character raped his ex-wife, the show's credibility dropped dramatically.

And now comes, "Chicago Fire," produced by Dick Wolf, of the various, "Law & Order" franchises. As noted above, shows about cops and lawyers have proved a good formula, on the most part. And Wolf certainly brought a great deal of "street cred" to this production. Unfortunately, he must have left his credibility back in the office when he arrived on-set to producer, "Chicago Fire."

I recorded the premiere of  "Chicago Fire," the other evening and just watched the first twenty minutes. Now I am the first to admit that I've been out of the active service since 1985, thus I'm not sure if what I saw on this show are new SOP's (standard operating procedures) for most departments today, or were just Hollywood "make-believe."

Here are three major weaknesses to the fire service credibility that I saw in these first 20 minutes: 

1. Working House Fire-White smoke showing from the first floor, with a strong orange glow being seen from the cab of the first arrival apparatus in the first floor interior. Fire had not vented yet. Chief's size-up report to Central is as he exits his vehicle, with no 360 assessment. First crew approaches front door and without any looking, checking, etc., punches in the door with a Halligan, enters without a hose. When the Chief is told that a victim's brother is upstairs & had not exited the building, the aerial is raised and two firefighters approach the window. The closest one takes his Halligan and punches in the window without knowing if the fire has been vented. The firefighter behind him tried to stop him. The window breaks and the first firefighter says, "See, it must be vented," and enters the room. Suddenly, the firefighter on the 1st floor says there's no vent and the upper room backdrafts, killing the firefighter in that room. 

2. At an MVC, (Motor Vehicle Collision) they find a couple of victims in the car, but no driver. Then, one firefighter looks at the river and declares the driver was ejected, over the railing of the bridge, into the river, below. Two rescue firefighters suit-up and as they're making their way into the river, someone else yells that one of the people looking on is the driver, and another firefighter runs over and tackles him. 

3. In the firehouse, one of the EMT's passes one of the lead character firefighters and hands him a vial of some medication. He moves to a private area and shoots up. At that point, I hit the stop button. So, I ask you, is this a fairly true representation of the CFD (Chicago Fire Department) and/or where firefighting in general, has gone since I retired? 

In my mind, while I understand the drama and the need for conflict, whether it be on-the-job or through-the-job, I believe that my brave and dedicated colleagues of the Chicago Fire Department are some of the best in the business and even with a well-experienced, Deputy Chief as the technical advisor, these three scenes did an injustice to the men and women of CFD. Why is it that most shows about doctors, cops, and attorneys are fairly true to the profession and its only us, firefighters, who are thrown under the proverbial bus?

On the off-chance that you may agree with me and believe that it is time for a program to present and accurate and true representation of America's fire service, by the men and women who actually serve every day, please visit Dalmatian Productions, Inc.

 Be safe and let's make sure everyone comes home!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Our Experience - Your Safety

Besides keeping you posted on our progress with our production, we also see our obligation to keep you posted on home fire safety. As it happens, being in October, which is recognized as National Fire Protection Month, I have to very important items to share.

Thanks to Congress and their attempts to manipulate our lives, (for a change!) we now turn back our clocks to revert to Standard Time at 2:00 AM on the first Sunday of November. With that, there has been a strong push by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), fire departments, and other safety organizations, to associate changing our clocks as a reminder to change the batteries in our smoke detectors.("Change Your Clocks-Change Your Batteries") If you live in a private home, most often the choice of whether there are smoke detectors in your home, and where they are located, are up to you. There is no dearth of sources to help you learn where to place your smoke detectors. You can even take a short trip to your local fire house and ask them for their suggestions. Not only will you get excellent information, but you also add a bond and very well, could start a friendship with these wonderful men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect you and your family.

Recently though, NBC Night News ran a very interesting and important story about the two different types of smoke detectors on the market and how each one works. What makes this story stand out, is that the difference in how they work just might make a difference in whether or not someone survives a smoldering fire in their home. 

It is important to note the both detectors work, as long as the battery is installed properly and it is mounted in an appropriate locations as advocated by the many safety organizations, and even the manufacturers, on their instruction/installation sheet. 

The safest "victim" is an educated victim. Just like reading the emergency exit and safety card on an airliner, it is very important that you know how your smoke detector works optimally. So I urge you to visit this link, and watch the report. Then, make it your business to assure that:

1. You have working smoke detectors in your home.
2. You have a fresh battery in your smoke detector. Live by the safety promotion: "Change Your Clocks-Change Your Batteries"
3. If you cannot afford a smoke detector, drop in at your local firehouse. Not only with they most likely provide you with at least one free detector, they will mostly likely volunteer to come your home and install it correctly for you!
4. Have an emergency exit plan for your home! Don't rely on your front door or your garage door. Your children have probably learned the "E.D.I.T.H. - Exit Drills in the Home," at their schools. Review it with them and make sure you set up a safe place where everyone will meet after evacuating your home.
5. If you live in a multi-story home, evacuation ladders are available at reasonable costs. For most, there is no installation at all. They hook on the window sill and have stand-offs to make it easier to climb down the rungs. Both both two and three-story versions are available.

6. In the event of a fire or emergency:

     ***** CALL 911 FIRST!!! CALL 911 FIRST!!! CALL 911 FIRST!!!

How does that old proverb go? "An ounce of prevention is with a pound of cure!"

And on a personal note, I just learned that we at Dalmatian Productions, Inc. must bid a fond farewell to our partner and good friend, Joel Connable. Joel has been a vital member of the "resurrected" DalmatProd and was great to work with. His experience as a NYC paramedic, a volunteer firefighter, as well as a television news report and anchor, made him an integral member of the team. If you live in the Northwest, Joel is heading for Seattle and KOMO-TV. We wish him and his fiance, as well as his lovable dog, Lola, safe travels and a wonderful new life in Seattle.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Passed..Changes Happen

September 19, 2012

It's difficult to believe that four months have passed since our last post. There are two reasons why that occurred:
1. Life became quite busy
2. Several positive developments have only recent happened.

I'll not bore you with the details of Number 1. But let me tell you about Number 2. Several weeks back, I was reading Firehouse(R) Magazine and as I looked through the pages, I realized that this magazine represented our target audience. So I decided to write a "Letter to the Editor" about the fact that the the fire service has been seriously ignored by the networks who proffer what they call, "reality" TV. 
Having been working a good number of years to sell a show, most of these networks had no interest in the "reality" of the fire service. So, I thought it might be better to change our approach. What if instead of just taking a show to the network, what if we brought both viewers and corporate partners to back us up?
Keeping this in mind, I wrote a "letter to the editor" of Firehouse(R) magazine and discussed how the public's view of the fire service has evolved since the tragedy of 9/11. At that time, we were the "heroes" for all. All around the country, people finally began to appreciate the local department. As time passed, so did their appreciation. Then the economy almost bottomed out and now, municipalities, villages, counties, etc. had to cut their budgets and one of the first places they looked were either at the unions and their benefits or in volunteer departments, their equipment purchases. Suddenly, the fire service was an easy target. My letter called for the support, not money, from the industry.
The letter was published in a special, two-page layout. I was truly surprised and am very grateful  to the magazine for doing so. Within just a couple of days of receiving my issue just under two weeks ago,  I started to receive emails from numerous departments and over this weekend, I received our first corporate interest.
Now, just today, after conducting services for the High Holidays for a wonderful, small congregation in Wisconsin, where I spoke about the fire/service, a congregant came up to introduce herself and told me that her family company contributes to the industry, making hose couplings and custom lengths, as well as hose testing. Now that's what I call a stroke of luck. We exchanged business cards and plan on being in touch during the coming week. 
I'll take it a sign of progress and hope you will too. If you are a member of the fire/rescue service, please visit our web site, and drop us a line.
Thanks for dropping by!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Changing Landscapes of Television....


Unless you've been hiding within the confines of an old cathode-ray tube (that's a non-flat screen TV), for the last ten years or so, you have seen your viewing choices undergo a rare scientific occurrence. The number of accessible channels as exploded into hundreds, while the types of programming have imploded into one form of another of news, procedural drama, or reality. OK, especially reality! From racing around the world, choosing a spouse in eight weeks, fishing with your fingers, and being arrested for drinking in public while wearing half a woman's ballet leotard, to eating bugs in the dark, erecting an oil well, gold miners, coal miners,driving on ice, or chopping down a tree, your local TV magazine is bloated with mostly debasing, loathsome, and gross, reality programming.

If you've read this blog before, you are aware of the fact that we have been working for several years to bring the one type of reality show to the viewing public. It is a show that tells the real story of the fire-rescue service. Yet, as excited as the networks are, to air the type of shows alluded to in the above paragraph, they are just as adamantly opposed to airing any show that deals with the fire-rescue service.

Numerous programs highlight, police, lifeguards, pilots, boat captains, etc. Yet, not a single one has or does focus on the brave men and women who protect every single member, not only of the viewing audience, but of the producers and network execs, themselves! Just imagine, if you will, if but one of those execs has a true emergency, places a call to 9-1-1, and there is a delay in response by their local emergency agency. Now then, I could guaranty you, that a "reality" program would soon follow. Recently announced by NBC-Universal (a division of Comcast) is the "green light" for Dick Wolf's new show, "Chicago Fire." However, before you get your hopes up, Wolf, who is the creator of such cop hits as, "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: SVU," has created a procedural drama about the Chicago Fire Department. If it turns out to be anything like previous dramatic attempts such as, "Rescue Me," (Fox) and "Third Watch," (oops, NBC, again!), the rank and file will quickly lose interest in trumped up storylines and incongruous TV situations.

Until most recently, I too, had lost interest in our show. This was the second time we had worked so hard to bring this type of show to broadcast. Yet, I felt there had to be something I was missing. Some aspect that I could use to alter the show somewhat, without losing its identity. And several weeks ago, I came up with the concept. Instead of trying to sell a weekly show, what about writing a six-hour documentary? It would have a two-hour premier, followed by five nights (subsequent or weekly) of one-hour each. Long enough to cover the material, short enough to maintain interest, ratings, and financial backing. So, I re-wrote the treatment to change the title and reflect the new ideas and subject behind the program. But where should I go with it now? There are not a lot of networks that air non-salacious reality documentaries. Thanks to a friend of mine, I may have finally found a friendly ear.

This gentleman is a well-known and well-experienced documentary filmmaker. Coincidentally, he is currently working one a program to mark the upcoming eleventh anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy. My friend told him about our project in scant detail, but it was enough to pique his interest and that news was enough to pique mine. Though he and I haven't spoken yet, as of Monday, he advised my friend that he is anxious to speak with me about the concept and see where it leads.

No, there are no contracts, promises or guaranties...yet! However, at least, some is willing to listen...finally.