Saturday, June 27, 2015

Equality - What Does the TV News Have to Say About It? (Nope - Not About the Supreme Court)

I'm a "newshound!" There, I've said it. I have watched both local and national news ever since I was a little kid. And for the majority of this time, in all the places I've lived in the U.S., it has almost always been NBC News. Why? I'm not quite sure. I believe it's because that's how my parents raised my two brothers and me. After dinner each night, we would sit down to watch the local (Boston) news (when it was still just 30 minutes!) followed by NBC Nightly News anchored by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. NO!! This post is not about Brian Williams/Lester Holt, etc. This paragraph is just to set my background. 

This week, I did something with the news that I've never been interested in doing before, for a stories based in our country. I consciously watched the news to see nothing. To see the absence of the news that should have been aired.

Earlier this week, we lost two, brave LEO's (Law Enforcement Officers). We didn't lose them, rather both were murdered. Cincinnati Police Officer Sonny Kim was shot and killed upon arrival to a call. Just a few days later, New Orleans Police Officer Holloway was shot and killed by a captive, who had been handcuffed behind his back and secured in the back seat.Now, in the several weeks prior to these two deaths, there were several deaths of citizens by police officers in several different situations. 

So, this week, I monitored the newscasts to see the difference in how they are covered and reported to the public. This post is not to judge the police officers who fired their weapons and whether or not they were justified. This post is to judge the disparity in how these two, very-closely related stories are reported by network news.

Each time in the last few months that a citizen died at the hands of the police, a hue and a cry erupted. Most, if not all of the dead were African-Americans. Most, but not all of the police officers involved were Caucasian. Immediately, a gigantic wedge of racial strife split communities and the country. Demonstrations, some peaceful, some not, occurred. As both the network anchors and the on-location reporters presented their stories, instead of remaining local stories, they were suddenly blown up into national and international events.

Yet, this past week, the deaths of Officers Kim and Holloway barely earned a mention on the national news. Let's not forget that Officer Kim was an Asian-American and Office Holloway was an African-American. And they didn't lose their lives in traffic accidents or in an attempt to save someone from a dangerous situation. They died doing what they had sworn and loved to do. Nevertheless, they barely earned a mention on the news. 

Should not the very same African-American citizens of New Orleans and the rest of our country have stood up and shouted for justice for Holloway's death? Should not the vocal and famous leaders of this section of the populace have flown immediately to New Orleans to be with Officer Holloway's family and colleagues and lend them emotional support? Where were the rest of America's non-law enforcement, non-firefighting,non-EMS leaders, to speak about how man officers are losing their lives almost every week in this country?

And what of Officer Kim?  Where was the outrage and his murder? Where was the national attention and support for his family and the Cincinnati Police Department, and the City of Cincinnati, which had just lost a firefighter in a Line of Duty Death a couple of months ago? A quick perusal online shows that there are even a smaller percentage of Asian-American police officers than African-American. Yet, isn't each man and woman, Asian-American, African-American, Caucasian, Native-American or whatever, worth the same as any other human being?

We were all terribly hurt by this week's hateful and racist shooting and murders in Charleston SC. Nine innocent people, doing nothing more than studying the Bible, were shot down and murdered, not because of something they did, but because of who they were! And there is no doubt that this incident is a national tragedy. But so is the death of anyone who willingly puts their life on the line to protect the rest of us. Look at the honor and respect we give our men and women in the armed forces. Even though it has increased since the post-Vietnam days, it still does not measure up to be on a par with what they do for us!

There is an old adage that says that, "One bad apple can spoil thew whole barrel!" Really? Still today? If you read or watch any news whatsoever, we know that every occupation has people that make mistakes (to be polite). In this week's firefighting news, a volunteer firefighter was sentenced for arson! Yes, for starting an incident that normally, he would respond to mitigate. And yes, there are police officers who make poor choices, who are racist, who are burnt-out. There are unprofessional doctors, business people, bank officials, elected officials and many, many more. We know that. We don't like it, but we know it happens. And we do try to hold a great many of these people to a higher standard because of the very positions they hold. Yet, whether we like it or not, we are all human and thus, subject to error. Did not the Lord in Heaven believe He had erred and regretted creating humanity, which led to the Noah story?

Look around your home, your office and somewhere, either tucked away in a drawer or lying out on the counter or desk, you'll see a pencil. Take a good long look at that pencil. Besides its probably yellow color and its graphite (no, not lead) tip, look what else it has the very, very few other writing instruments do. It has an eraser. Now I ask you, "Why?" Why do most pencils have an eraser? 

That's a question each of you must answer for yourself.

Till next time, Stay Safe!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Dangerous Trap Even YOU May Not See!

Quick Background

I usually use this blog to address issues facing the Fire-Rescue Service or our experiences as we try to produce a new, one-hour television drama about the Fire-Rescue service. I've never brought up my long time computer experience here before, but I believe it's a necessity today. And that's because there is a dangerous trap waiting for all first responders, as well as the public, in general.

I have 30 years experience in computers. Though I've never taken a single computer course, I can build one from the case up; diagnose about 95% of problems, install modems, networks, Wi-FI systems and extenders, networking, etc. Yet for the past five years or so, my most frequent service call has been for virus and especially, malware or adware incursions.

Almost every computer comes with adware. It is those little "freebie" programs that come included on a brand new computer, be it laptop or desktop. PC's often come loaded with adware. Mac's sometimes have some. Malware, on the other hand, is software that is planted into your computer without your approval or even knowing about it. It happens when you open an email from someone you don't know, or you open an ad-pitch email. Or, you may misspell the address of a website, even by a single letter, and you're taken to a "look-a-like" site. Once you land there, an infection is planted and you're at risk for identity theft, having your bank account(s) cleaned out, etc.

However, there are solutions for you, both through legitimate software and reputable computer techs and consultants, like me. But recently, a new and much more insidious attack is being waged on the average computer user.

"How do THEY Know That?"

Over the last year or two a new trap has begun to be sprung. You're sitting at your computer, reading an article, watching a film, reading my blog, when suddenly a pop-up windows appears and says,
"YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED!!! DANGER!!! DANGER!!!!  Do not shut down your computer! If you do, the worm will destroy all of the data on your hard drive. Please leave your computer on and call us, "PC TECH SOLUTIONS & Bait Shop!" We will help you protect your data!"
Or, it may come as a phone call. "Hello, this is Alex and Windows Support. We've detected a problem in your computer that is very dangerous. But don't worry, we can help you. So how are you today?"
After you've changed your underwear, you start asking yourself, "How do they know I have a problem? Most likely though, they won't even give you the time to make that clothing change. They will attempt to intimidate you, but then assuage you by telling you that they can fix the problem for anywhere from $250-$600.00! They may say that you need a program to detect malware on your computer and get rid of it and they can remotely install it, run it and clean your computer for $200.00! (Hint: You can download a free program to do the same thing!! It's called "MalwareBytes" and it's free at I've been installing this program on client's machines for over five years and it has saved both their butts and mine, every time!

Remember, their M.O. (modus operandi - mode of working) is to scare the crap out of you so that you'll immediately allow them to do anything they want to your computer.  

 Wrap-Up and What You Can Do
 Most of you reading this are first responders of one kind or another. You probably use a computer, pad, MDT, tablet, etc. of what kind or another every day you're on duty. And, most likely, you have a smartphone and at least one of the items above, at home. However, unless you have a higher level or tech savvy that reading email, buying products on Amazon(R), and watching videos on NetFlix(R), you can easily fall victim to one of these scams. So what can you do?

1. If you receive an unsolicited phone call (and you cannot recognize the Caller ID) and the caller states that he/she is with "Windows Service Support" or "PC Support Center" or something like that, HANG UP on them. Don't even give them the time of day! DO NOT LET THEM FRIGHTEN YOU OR THREATEN YOU!! (You may want to jot down the telephone number, the time and date they called, and report it to your state and Federal consumer protection. The federal website is
2. It a threatening pop-up window appears on your screen (that does not come from your anti-virus or anti-malware software that you know you installed or had installed) ignore it. These windows may also say it's from the FBI and they've caught you with kiddie porn or terrorist information and they are locking your computer unless you immediately wire them $250!! Understand from the start that the message is bogus and called a "ransom bug." For the average computer user, they appear to lock up your computer and will not allow you to clear your screen. If that happens, contact someone you know who is a more advanced user and, using any of the most common (and almost always FREE) anti-malware software, you'll be able to remove the "ransom bug."
3. If you don't have someone to turn to, you can always visit any Tech Center of stores like BestBuy, OfficeDepot, Tiger Direct, HHGregg, etc. While it may cost you a few bucks there, it will restore your peace of mind.

Listen, we've been trained to always be aware of our surroundings. We learn how to perform a blind search of a home or building on fire, by sticking to the right side wall and keeping a hand on our life-rope or hose. We learn how to test a roof, set of stairs, or floor, before we step on and take a chance on falling through. You've invested too much time and effort to waste that training that hopefully will prevent you from falling into a trap. Now, do the same thing online! Don't fall into a trap! 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Much is 40% to a Firefighter?

This post that you will read here, encompasses an extremely important issue that many first responders, especially, firefighters, EMT/Paramedics and Police Officers, must be made to read!! "Why?" you ask. Because for the year 2012-2013, forty percent (40%) of the firefighters who died either during or subsequently to responding to and/or working at a major, physically exhausting call, did so as a result of a medical condition.

I approach this important issue from three levels. I was a volunteer firefighter at two departments, one in NC and one in NY from 1977-1981 until an injury took me out-of-service. I earned my EMT-I and II in NC and also worked for the county EMS there for eight months, before we moved up to NY. Finally, I spent twelve years as the administrator of a medical practice, where the doctor used me for "other" duties, as well.

Throughout the entire time and even til today, I have never stopped reading FireHouse Magazine. For many years, other than visiting firehouses wherever I went, the magazine was my key connection to the fire-rescue service. And every month, I would read the LODD dedications and wonder why...why were so many firefighters dying? Not just dying, but dying from what looked like conditions unrelated to the last call or calls they had been on. 

You see, I guess I was lucky. Because during my brief years of service, I did not experience a LODD either in my own or the surrounding departments. We had some close calls in both locales, but no fatalities.

On the other hand, I've never been considered "svelte," at least not since I was seven years old. I started packing on extra pounds at that age and yo-yo'd the rest of my life. I was the last kid chosen by the others to be on a team in neighborhood sports. I had the cheeks that all of my late aunts loved to pinch. Finally, in college, I started to drop some weight by playing softball with friends. 

I've now been married over forty years and my wife is a terrific cook and baker. So through most of those 40 years, my weight has fluctuated, but it was always my decision to lose weight. I never waited for my doctor to tell me. I knew it myself when it was tough to button a pair of pants or my suit jackets were getting too tight.When that happened, I'd go "back on the wagon," and drop 15-25 pounds. I'd keep it off for several months, sometimes longer. But then the extra pounds renewed their attach and started to creep back on.

Finally, partly due to determination and partly due to meds that I have to take continually for my severe back condition, I've lost about 30 pounds and kept it off for almost a year now. Funny thing is, my back injury doesn't allow me to walk as much as I used to, so I exercise my bending my elbows....and pushing myself away from the dinner table!

As I'm sure you'll agree, we are part of a wonderful family. No matter where we serve, no matter if we're volunteers, career folk or paid-on-call responders, a firefighter is always a firefighter. Thus, as I read the LODD bulletins that come through my email or I read the articles online, in the paper or watch them on the news, every loss saddens me, especially those that might have been prevented. For some are simply not preventable and that's the first fact that we have to acknowledge, whether we like it or not.

However, we see that the rate of LODD's caused by health problems is nearly 40% of all LODD's, it must give us pause. As a popular commercial for heart disease demonstrates, no one really knows when they will have a heart attack, an aneurism or a stroke. What we can and do know is if we are out of physical conditioning to do our jobs. Sure, you may have passed a PAT test 15 years ago, but where are you now, especially if you're in a smaller department, that doesn't require annual or semi-annual physical exams? Do you still smoke or chew tobacco? What is your resting blood pressure? Pulse? What is your weight today compared to what it was when you entered the job? Has an officer, your spouse/significant other or doctor told you you need to lose weight? If so, have you heeded their call or brushed them off.

Remember the old TV show, "Home Improvement," where Tim Allen played the host of a TV show aimed at "real men," with "real power tools!" The more power, the more Tim howled and growled. While that was funny on TV, it can all too often lead to a tragedy in real life. Your doctor tells you to drop 25 pounds. "Yeah, Doc, sure," you reply, knowing full well that the doctor has no idea how hard you swung the sledge earlier that day to take out a heavy door. You tell yourself that those 25 pounds that he/she is complaining about is really what gives you that extra bulk, that power, to do your job! Horse shit! And you know it!

There's no doubt in my mind that over 90% of us love what we do. We love the action, we love the thrill, we love the services we perform and we don't want anything to get in the way of that. But ask yourself, "What else do I love?" Think about that for a moment or two. Then make a list of what else you love, i.e. your wife, your kids, your parents, your significant other, your siblings, your friends. Which ones are you ready to cross off the list first. What's more important to you, the job that you love or the people that you love and love you?
Remember, we can't control when and where the Devil wants to dance, but we can decide what kind of a "dance partner" he's going to face!

Stay Safe and let's make sure, "Every One Goes Home!"

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Trauma of Trauma

If you've been reading this blog for a while now, you know that although most of it is dedicated to our efforts to launch our TV program about the fire service, from time-to-time, I also address major issues that are faced by fire-rescue personnel (as well as police and EMT's/Paramedics).

On this quiet, early summer Sunday morning, an important tweet arrived on my phone. It was an excellent article by the "Gainesville Sun" newspaper in Gainesville, FL. Now, as it happens, one of the partners in Dalmatian Productions and by far, my best friend (other than my wife) for the past 38 years, serves the as the Chief Pilot for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. While he doesn't fly medical calls, we responded to some of our first serious trauma calls as rookies in a combination department near Greensboro NC.

In the article is relates how the same Alachua County Fire-Rescue squad team responded to two horrific MVC's this past week, just several days apart. This is coincidental due to the fact that ACFD firefighters work a 24/48 shift; which is 24 hours on duty, followed by 48 hours off. Thus, the first of these crashes occurred on Monday and the second, on Thursday, when they had returned after Monday's work.

All too often, people see fire-rescue personnel as big, gruff, impersonal "heroes," who don't have emotions. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. I have never met a fellow firefighter who didn't have emotions; who wasn't happy after a saving a life or saving someone's home, as well as sad and hurting after losing a patient or victim. Just look at some of the perceived toughest firefighters in the world in the FDNY, the Fire Department of New York, and watch the news footage that followed the horrors of 9-11.

Back when Rich and I were rookies in NC (though he had some experience riding along with XXX), we were all gung-ho, just like most rookies. It's one thing to put out a fire in a small shed or knock down a truck fire on the interstate. However, when you respond to a hard-impact vehicle collision with traumatic injuries or that has entrapped a deceased occupant, the wind comes out of your sails very quickly!

At first, the adrenaline, which started pumping while the dispatcher is still announcing the call and pumps up even more as your apparatus sails down the streets and highways with red lights spinning and sirens screaming, keeps you going. You may pause for a moment or two to get instructions from your OIC (Officer-in-Charge), assess the situation or grab tools or equipment. However, once your task is done, the patients/victims are removed from the scene and you've begun to clean-up, the adrenaline drains from your system and the reality of what you've just seen and done creeps over you or may hit you full-force! You re-live every movement, every action. Your mind's eye replays the footage as if you're watching it on best and largest HD TV ever made. And the bile starts to crawl up your esophagus.

One late Saturday night, Rich and I and our driver, responded to an MVC with an overturned pickup on fire and the driver trapped. It was probably only a mile from the station, but the chief was screaming for us to get there because of the trapped occupant. We arrived within a couple of minutes and had water flowing within another 30-45 seconds. More firefighters showed up to hook us to a hydrant and another drove our tanker to the scene. 

When we first started knocking down the fire, we could still hear the occupant calling for help. And while I strengthened my stance and held the hose as well as I could while Rich was on the nozzle, my heart was tearing apart. In just another few seconds, he had slipped into unconsciousness and we knocked the fire down enough for our colleagues and the EMS crew to access our patient. We stood there, in the same position, ready with more water. When they removed him and placed him on the gurney, we used our hose to wet down the sheets that covered his badly burned body. When he was finally removed from the scene, we picked up, but in a fashion we never had before. It was like we were moving in slow motion. And the stench of burning flesh covered us.

When we returned to the station, we cleaned the hoses and the truck. When we were done, I hightailed it to the men's locker room and promptly puked my guts up. I tore my turn-out coat off, and stripped off my bunker pants. Every inhaled breath flooded my lungs with the odor of our victim and his burnt flesh. As I came out of the locker room, our driver that night, one of the paid firefighters came up to me. "Is this your first 'roast?'" he asked. I nodded in return. "You'll get over it," he said. "Just suck it up."

This incident occurred in 1978, two years before the term, "PTSD" was recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and then, it was applied to veterans. It wasn't until an American Airlines DC-10 crashed on take-off from Chicago's O'hares Airport in 1985, striking several building and a trailer park, did some realize that first responders who can see death and destruction every day, might suffer from this psychological/psychiatric disability as well.

Since then, many communities have brought in specialists to work with first responders after major traumatic events. And over the years, we have all come to realize that one or two days of talking it over is not going to solve the problem either. Again, we turn to our brothers of the FDNY who worked the piles at the former World Trade Center, in fervent attempts to find survivors, then remnants of victims to bring closure to as many families as possible. And even though they didn't fight flames or perform staircase rescues, many, still today, suffer from horrible effects of PTSD and have been debilitated by them.

It's time that the public understands, (and we must as well) that first responders are not the same as the super heroes of comics, movies and television. We hurt, we suffer and yes, sometimes we cry, when we see the events we are sworn and dedicated to mitigate. 

Friday, June 5, 2015


Summer time is one of the two key times in the calendar when the big studios and productions companies shoot to release what they hope will be the next $100M-plus blockbuster movie, a la "San Andreas," which opened with a very productive $50M-plus weekend, a week ago today. All you have to do is look through the entertainment section of your local paper on any Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and you'll probably find the reviews for the latest Hollywood flicks.

So, how does that play with a company like ours, which is trying to bring a new TV show about the American Fire Service to television? Oh it does! And in a big way! Unfortunately, that "way" is negatively! It slows down the entire process, review and approval process.

Both the production companies and the studios are all interested in big bucks, as any business usually is. And while television programs can rake in lots of money, i.e., "Seinfeld," "The Big Bang Theory," and "Everyone Loves Raymond," for examples, that money just cannot compare with the cash flow that comes with a successful motion picture.

While it's true that many of the original "movies-only" studios have ventured into the television market, let's be honest, they know where the big money comes from. And that's where we are at the moment.

Latest word from our partner in L.A. (who's actually filming a "sizzle-reel" (sic, preview reel) for a new, combined reality-recreated drama show in AZ) says that the production company that's very interested in both his movie and our show, is tremendously busy right now sending the cast of a big summer movie on their promotional tour. Though I cannot name the company or the movie, I would place a healthy bet that you have seen one or more of these stars on almost every talk show you watch!

Remember when you were a kid and use to grab the magnifying glass to take it outside on a sunny day, focus the beam on a leaf and watch it smoke and perhaps, erupt inn flames? The studios' focus on these movies is 100-times more intense! Right now, they couldn't care less if we had the next "NYPD" or "L.A. Law" or not.

However, the news isn't all bad. And that's due to the fact that this intense focus dissipates relatively quickly and when it does, the companies have to get right back in the business of looking at excellent ideas for new TV shows or movies. Luckily, between our partner with his business and the fact that's he's also with us, this one company already knows what we have and they like them both; a lot!

Thus, we have to remain patient. That's probably one of the most important words we've learned in this business. We just have to be patient. All of us will.