Monday, October 12, 2009

And there it was

In early Spring, the winds change gradually, a hint of warmth one day, rain the next. Sun for a few hours, then a chill breeze. The leaves start to show, and then it snows. It's hard to know when Spring actually begins, when it's here to stay.

The same with summer. Warm Spring days and cool nights gradually shift to a little drier, a little warmer. More and more leaves, flowers, insects, until one day we wonder how the summer flew by so fast. It's impossible to set a date, a time, for when we knew it was really here.

Not so, Winter.

I woke up this morning, and there it was.

I don't care what the calendar says.

The frost on the windshield, the freeze-killed plants, said all that needed to be said.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A harbinger of times to come

This blog started out with a long list of things I wanted to write about, thoughts I wanted to share.

I discovered not too long after I started that the most interesting things to write about, and to read, are the more personal ones, and that the more personal things are often too much to share. A dilemma.

That said...

I meet a lot of people in this tiny town. Often, when they are having a difficult time of some kind. Sometimes, I RE-meet them on those stressful days. People I've known for years, but not well, suddenly thrown in together as they face a difficult event, and I do my best to help ameliorate it.

Sometimes it's great. We reconnect, and I walk away feeling like I was able to be some help to them.

But sometimes, it's a harbinger of times to come, when things will not end well.

A while back we had a call for an older man who had fallen. He wasn't hurt. Just needed a hand up.
This was a patient I had seen before. The last time, at his house when his wife was ill.

I had not heard at the time, but she passed away shortly after that.

So this time, at his house, she was not there.
It was heart wrenching to see how much he has changed in so short a time. His caregiver said simply "He is dying of a broken heart."

It will likely not be long before we are no longer called to that address.

That is the reality of this job.
We do the best we can to help, and then comes a time when we can do no more.

When I was younger, I had very little contact, very little realization of death. My grandparents died when I was fairly young, but I did not know them well, so it didn't have much effect on me. I knew one or two people in my first three decades who died in accidents. I was, I guess, fortunate in this.

Now, I am closer to Death. My own, as I grow older, and other people's as my calling brings me to their doors. It is nearly every day that I recognize a name in the obituaries. A patient. The mother of a friend. Someone I went to high school with. The woman down the road.

It is an interesting thing, this specter called "Death."
Everyone's final act, if rarely their goal.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Big One

I wear a pager on my hip. Much of the time, I leave my pager "open," that is to say, so I can hear calls for other fire departments in the county, not just my own. I do this partly because I'm as curious as the next person, but also because I know a lot of people in the fire service now, and whenever there is a call, it is likely friends of mine who are putting themselves in danger.

Whenever there is an emergency that requires either firefighters or emergency medical services, the information that tells them where they are needed is preceded by tones on the pager. Listen to these tones often enough and you begin to recognize them before the dispatcher says anything. There is a department near here that has a tone that is distinctive, and is used when they need to alert off-duty personnel that they may be needed. My family calls this the "shit hitting the fan tone."

Whenever we hear that tone, we stop and pay attention. Likewise, whenever any area department is called to a structure fire. Often, when it is a real emergency, or even when it's clearly not, someone will suggest that it's "the big one."

It's sort of an emergency services in-joke. Most of the "big ones" out here in the middle of nowhere aren't really big. Big for us, or for our neighbor departments, maybe. But not much compared to a lot of other places. Some departments, a cat in a tree might be their "big one." And that's not a complaint, at all.

The thing is, whenever anyone says that, there is an underlying suggestion that it COULD actually be "The Big One." Anything can happen. Anywhere. You just never know.

I can't help but think about what must have gone through the heads of all the FDNY responders on 9/11.

It's the big one.

The REALLY Big One, no joke.

That thing, that specter in the back of everyone's minds, this is really it.

And yet, as big as it was, each individual firefighter, each EMT, each person, what they needed to do, their job, was quite simple. One thing at a time. The same as always. Set up water supply. Pull hoses. Make entry. Search and rescue. Triage. Patient care.

And that's what they did. In impossible circumstances, a situation so beyond the ordinary that there is no way to train for it. They went to work, did their jobs, and were there to help people they had never met.

Only the world came down around them.

I will never forget the moment I saw the first tower begin to fall. Slow motion. Looking exactly like one of those planned demolitions of the old casinos in Las Vegas that there are documentaries about.



My mind froze the moment I realized.

There are people in there.

People who had simply gone to work as usual that morning.
People who could not possibly escape, and who likely had time to realize that.
People with families. Husbands. Wives. Sons and daughters.

And heartbreakingly, sadder than sad, those who had gone to rescue them.

People often say that a firefighter is "willing to die for others." That they "rush into burning buildings."

Like hell.

No sane person is "willing to die."
No sane person rushes in without considering the circumstances, the risk/benefit ratio.

They may choose to take a calculated risk.
And they may underestimate the risk, for whatever reason.

No one knew what the risks were that day.
No one could imagine them.

They can, now.

Since that day, I have met people who were there. People who have stories to tell, about how they were able to survive when others didn't make it. Stories they don't often tell. It isn't about them.

It's about those who can no longer tell their stories.

We lost a lot of good people that day.

Let their sacrifice inspire you to make a difference in the world. We're left with a lot of catching up to do, to do all the good they might have.

Do something in their memory today.

EVERY day.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Three years

As of today, there have been 1040 residential fire fatalities this year, compiled by the US Fire Administration's Quick Response Program. This list is compiled from the media, meaning that there are undoubtedly fatalities that aren't on the list because they didn't make the newspaper. You can see the list here.

Three years ago today, our house burned.
Last year, I posted a description of the events of the day.

Today, we still have not gone through all the boxes of stuff that was packed up by the cleaning company, but we have gone through a lot of them. We have donated, given away, and thrown away a lot of it. While not down to the level we hope to eventually reach, we have far less "stuff" in our house now, and that's a good thing.

As of last month, when my daughter joined, we now have three of the four of us in the fire service. While I had been interested in the fire service for most of my life, and my oldest had some interest before our fire, there is no escaping that the fire was quite... motivational.

It is the beginning of the school year, of the academic semester at local colleges, and this means that a lot of people are going to spend their days in large buildings with crowded conditions, and a lot are going to be living in dorms, also often crowded, or at least, high occupancy.

Take fire safety seriously.
While the most common causes of residential fires may be unattended cooking or that all-too-famous "carelessly discarded cigarette," causes that might be avoidable, they do not all begin that way. Sometimes, there is no warning.

What happens is this: an emergency, by its nature, happens suddenly. You don't have time to think, to decide, to make rational choices. You may be in an unfamiliar building. You may be asleep. There is no way to know.

Make your plans NOW, before things go wrong. Practice them.
You may want to make changes in your house. More smoke detectors. Fire extinguishers. Escape ladders. Furniture arranged so that windows are accessible. Less clutter. Care with the placement and loading of outlets or extension cords. Appliances unplugged when not in use.

If it feels like you are so prepared that no matter what happens, escape will be easy, so you don't need to worry about it- that would be great!

I guarantee you that you do not want to suddenly find yourself inside a burning building, with no protective gear, holding an empty fire extinguisher, facing a fire that is growing exponentially, hoping that your children and pets are already outside. You do not want to hear the fire destroy everything it reaches, or see your house full of smoke down almost to the floor. You don't want to stand in your yard, waiting for help to arrive, wondering if you will have anything left, or where you will go, what you will do. You don't want to hear the firefighters with a chainsaw on your roof.

Trust me on that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Paying it Forward

In the past few years, I've had some financially difficult times. More than once, online friends- sometimes people I barely know- have come forward to help me out right when I needed it most. A miraculous save. Appreciated far more than I could ever express to them.

I have an opportunity to pay some of that forward, and I'm asking anyone reading this to consider helping, too.

One of the blogs I read is written by a fellow EMT-B who goes by the name of Epijunky.

Contrary to the sound of her name, she's more than a trauma junky, for sure. Her heart is in great patient care, whether it's an emergency or a transfer, and she expresses it with soul and wit, even when she's sometimes a little crispy around the edges. She often brings tears to my eyes, and she reminds me why it is that I do this.

Since I started reading her blog, she has more than once mentioned wanting to be a paramedic, and recently, she passed the entrance exam to be accepted to the school near her. She was worried about the exam, but those of us who have gotten to "know" her online had no doubts at all.

Then the bad news hit, and she was going to have to call it quits for financial reasons.

Fortunately for all her future patients, one of her blogfriends has put together a donation account on paypal so everyone who cares about her and/or thinks she would make a great paramedic, can chip in a little to help make it happen. It only takes a little from each person to help her out a whole lot.

So I'm asking you to consider it. Go on over to Bernice's blog and look for the donation button.

I know how hard it is to need help. And I know it's even harder to ask for it. I know Epi would never ask for herself, so I'm joining the group of people asking on her behalf.

And Epi, if you read this... I also know how hard it is to accept help. Just do it. It's not really for you, it's for all the people you will be able to help. They need you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Don't leave me

I learned something today.

I recently took a class at the state Fire Academy, certifying me as a Fire and Life Safety Educator. This is a subject very near and dear to my heart, for a variety of reasons.

I am working on organizing a class in the Fall for middle school aged kids, and will undoubtedly write about that here off and on. As part of my preparation for that class, I have been researching a variety of fire safety issues, including what is taught to what ages- and what is not.

One of the things that is fascinating about fire safety is that even people who know better, often don't act on what they know. For example, one might think that firefighters are the most safe people, as far as making sure there are not hazards in their house, that they have enough detection devices, and that they practice what they preach.

Not necessarily so.

At our house, we are pretty paranoid about it, having had a serious fire. We have more smoke detectors than you can shake a stick at, of various types. We have Carbon Monoxide detectors. We have escape plans and fire drills, and talk about it all incessantly.

Even so.
There are a variety of things we could do to make our house safer, that we somehow don't manage to get done.
And if WE don't, as paranoid as we are, I can only imagine what other people do- and don't do.

I read some statistics yesterday that said that according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA):

Fire is the third leading cause of accidental deaths. Residential occupancies account for most fire fatalities and most of these deaths occur at night during the sleeping hours. 1.5 million Americans are injured by fire each year. It is estimated that each household will experience three (usually unreported) fires per decade and two fires serious enough to report to a fire department per lifetime.

This means that most people, at some point in their lives, will have a fire.

The most common cause of home fires is unattended cooking. Food left on the stove while the person leaves the room to do something else.

I've been guilty of this. If the heat is turned down low, I know the food won't burn, and there isn't anything near the burner that might catch fire, then what's the danger?


This evening, I was cooking pasta. Boiling water, basically. What's dangerous about that?

When I turned the burner on, it lit as usual. A few seconds later, for some unknown reason, the fire went out- but the gas was still on!! If I had left the room, I would not have known this happened. And if the gas had built up, and found an ignition source...

Have any of you ever seen a building that has had a gas explosion? Probably some of the folks reading this have. Hopefully, most of you have not, and never will. Let's just say that being inside that building would be a most unpleasant experience.

I'm cured, that's for sure. I will NEVER leave the room with the stove burners on again. I strongly encourage you to do likewise.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How much?

We're almost to the end of the semester. Soon it will be time for the evaluations again. I can't wait!

We did a couple of things a little differently this semester, so it will be interesting to see what, if anything, that changes in the reviews we get.

The main things I've been thinking about:

How much does someone need to know in order to be able to do the things they need to do?
How much intellectual understanding is necessary, and why?
How does the progression of the class change, depending on the goal of the class?
What level of precision is reasonable to expect in 12 weeks, and how is that affected by whether or not the student will be continuing?

The university PE classes have always been sort of the "odd man out" in our overall program. These people will almost all NOT be continuing students. They take one class, for a semester, get their credit, and move on. They aren't really dedicated to the sword, and most of them don't want to put in the effort such dedication would require. They want to pass the class, maybe. They want to be able to say they "fenced in college."

For the most part, that's fine. In the fire service, this class would be at the "awareness level." Learn enough about it that you can recognize it, know what it is, and know who to call for additional help, but no real training to deal directly with the situation. These students will have seen a little fencing, learned a little about it, tried it on for a day or two (like a level A hazmat suit) to see how it feels, but they aren't likely to ever need to use it.

We show them a lot of things, but don't expect much, if any, technical precision in any of it. Enough that they aren't an immediate danger to themselves or others, but not enough that they can perform any of the techniques at anything close to what they would need to defend themselves. We simply don't have the time to do that, nor do they have the interest, most of them, to sustain that level of training.

Our introductory class elsewhere has a slightly different purpose. It is designed to give the student enough exposure that they can decide whether or not this is something they are interested in enough to continue. It is also designed to support and be preparation for the continuing classes that follow it.

What this means is that we require a higher level of precision, right from the start. We introduce things more slowly, giving more time to work on each skill before moving to the next. If we didn't do that, we'd have people slogging through a bunch of uncoordinated movements, none of which would build towards the goal of learning to fence. We still need to have things move along relatively rapidly, in order to reach that goal of helping people decide whether this is for them. It is a different balance of information/precision than the PE classes.

Once a student finishes the introductory class, and chooses to continue, indicating that they have made a commitment to fencing, the continuing classes move at a MUCH slower pace than any of the introductory classes. NOW, we're trying to gain skill. This requires much repetition, and time to integrate each skill. There is no point to moving ahead more quickly, since the results would be counterproductive.

Back to the classes this past semester and my questions.

How much does a PE student need to understand, in order to do what they need to do?

That has to start with an agreement of what they need to be able to do, and the answer is... not much.

What I would like the class to be able to do:

1. Not hurt anyone.
2. Have some semblance of moving without undue distress, and without falling over.
3. Try a few things with the blade that suggest the skills of fencing.
4. Have fun doing it.
5. Gain an appreciation of what is involved in being able to do this at a high level of skill.

Some of these are easy to evaluate, others take some consideration.

The first one- not hurting anyone - is easy to evaluate.

The second one takes some decisions about what that means. At what level will I make corrections, and what will I "let slide"?

As we introduce each skill, we give a lot of feedback, both to the group as a whole (because they all make similar mistakes) and to each student (to point out to them specific things they need to focus on). We describe and demonstrate each skill, facilitate practicing it, and keep reminding them of the details. Most students, after some practice, will begin to incorporate the skill, and begin to self-correct. But not all of them. Some will, even at the end of the semester, still make fundamental errors, things we have pointed out and corrected over and over and over, either unwilling or unable to make any changes.

In the PE classes, as long as they aren't dangerous, we don't care. We don't have the time to continue to give individual corrections to someone who is not invested enough to make changes. At that point, people who are making an effort- and that is easy to see- will continue to get as much individual feedback as we can provide. Those who are phoning it in can do whatever they do, as long as it's not a safety issue. They will get reminders, but they will be broad concepts, not specific details, since they can't process any details for skills they aren't even beginning to do.

In the other intro classes, we continue to try to give a lot of feedback, to a point. Some students will clearly not be making an effort- but they also usually stop showing up to class. In these classes, they aren't concerned about a grade, so if they decide they aren't interested, they just quit. Anyone who still shows up is making at least that much effort, and almost all of the time, will be making improvement in each class. Those who are not- and there are usually one or two- are probably there because their parents make them go. We'll give them some reminders in each class, but if they don't respond, then they just don't.

Once we are past the intro level classes, we give individualized feedback for all students, as much as we can, with the expectation that they will focus on the feedback and make corrections.

When I was a student, rather than teaching, I was hugely impressed by the Master's skill at being able to give individual feedback to every student, at exactly the level they needed in order to work on exactly what they needed to work on. Turns out that although it certainly takes effort and energy, it isn't hard to do, with a body of knowledge that has a clear progression of skills.

The third class goal- trying a few things. That's simple. We do that.
And the fourth, have some fun, that's pretty clear, too.

But the fifth one... gaining an appreciation of what is involved. I'm not sure we ever really meet that goal. Some appreciation, sure. Real appreciation- I don't think it's possible at this level because there is no frame of reference. I need to think about that one some.

This semester, one of the things we did differently has to do with how much theoretical knowledge we presented in the PE classes. We skipped some stuff we have introduced in all the previous semesters, information that is critical to understand if you really want to learn to fence. It was an experiment. It felt... awkward. Odd. Incomplete. But that is probably because I have ALWAYS had that included, whether in a class I've taken, or one I've taught. Force of habit, or of expectations. My question became whether the CLASS missed that material, or if only I did.

The answer surprised me somewhat.

Looking at their level of understanding, compared to previous years, they clearly understand way less. We didn't teach it to them.

But looking at their level of physical performance... it was the same, and in some cases, slightly better. Granted, "slightly better" is probably a score of 5% rather than 4%. They don't have any real skill to speak of, so there is not a lot to compare. The important thing is that their skill level was NOT worse. This suggests- but does not prove- that the information we omitted was not necessary at this level.

I suspect that their level of enjoyment of the class is unchanged. They can't miss what they don't know exists. I will be interested to see if we get any clues from the evaluations about the overall level of enjoyment of the class, compared to previous semesters.

It might be worth continuing this experiment. Do they actually enjoy the class more, and feel like they have gotten more out of it, if we don't clutter their brains with too much theory? Do they WANT to understand more (quite possible), but need to understand less? Is it more important for them to experience the scientific nature of the way everything works together, theoretically, or is it more important that they make some broad movement attempts, and feel how that feels?

They answer, of course, is yes. Or no. Or it depends. All of the above, and none of it.

It's ALL important, and necessary, for someone who wants to be able to fence at a high level of skill- and why would anyone want to do it any other way?

But it is, perhaps, not all important for a PE class.

I need a larger sample size to begin to evaluate this.
And I need to get past my own biases and preferences and intellectual overattachments, too.

I mean, really. Look at this overly long vomitosis of wordiness. I overanalyze everything.

Maybe, just maybe, NONE of the theory, none of the explanation, is really important, in the grand scheme of things.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What's Your Number?

A week or two ago, I wrote a short article for our local newsletter thing, about having house number signs that are readable from the road, at night. It started out:

Imagine this.
It's 3:30am.
You're woken by the loud beeping from your pager,
and a voice in the night telling you that there is an emergency.

It went on to weave a tale of being unable to find the number, having to slow down, trying to avoid missing the number and having to find a place to turn around. In the story, the person stopped breathing before anyone could find the house.

This morning, the pager went off at 4:30.
I jumped out of bed, grabbed my watch, hopped into my clothes and shoes and headed out the door.

As we drive down the road, I, as the passenger, was looking for house numbers. I knew approximately where the house would be, but not exactly.

I saw number 1537.
The next readable number was 1395.

The house we were looking for was 1401.

We missed it. Had to find a place to turn around.

Fortunately, our outcome was better than in my original story. The patient turned out okay.

But it so easily could have been otherwise.

We drove back by that stretch of road this morning. I wanted to see what the numbers were, what I had missed, if I should have seen one that I didn't. The answer is that no, I didn't miss anything. In that stretch of road, there are no readable house numbers. Lots of houses with black mailboxes- some, but not all, across the road from the driveways- with tiny numbers, or no numbers at all.

We only get one chance to see the number. We can look at a mailbox, at the house, or at a sign at the end of the driveway, but we don't get to look at more than one place. If what we look at doesn't have it, we're on to the next house. Sometimes, it's hard to even see the house, if you can see it at all.

This is an old, old story in emergency services, the need for visible, readable house numbers. Some places require people to have their numbers painted on the curb, and repainted each year. I think that's a great idea. But out here, there aren't curbs. Some places, the houses are pretty close together, and the streets are well lit. Out here, there are long stretches of dirt roads with no lighting at all. And the distance between houses varies widely, from feet to miles. Likewise, the numbers are not a predictable amount apart- and sometimes, aren't even in order! One road near my house, the numbers go 548, 592, 560, 602. Fortunately, I drive by there several times a day most days, so I know about it.

My point in mentioning it is not only to encourage people to put large, reflective, white-on-dark number signs at the end of their driveways (not across the street on the mailbox!!), although I would be pleased if everyone did that.

It's to question why it is, how it can be possible, that so many houses do NOT have numbers that can be read from a vehicle driving down the road.

There are a few varieties. Let's look at each one.

1. Numbers on mailbox, but too small to see. I think these people assume the numbers are there for the postal service. The thing is, the mail truck stops at every house most days, so it is easy for them to see the small numbers, from a stopped position right by the mailbox. And they know what the next number will be, because it's printed on the mail they are delivering. So small numbers are no big deal.

2. Numbers on the end of the mailbox, not on the sides. Likewise, great for the mailman, not possible to see from a distance.

3. Sign, but across the road from the house. Better. And it's convenient to put it on the mailbox post. But sometimes, it's not as clear as you might think what house that mailbox goes with, especially if there are several next to each other. Plus, it is usually the passenger who is looking for numbers, not the driver, and that puts the number on the far side of the road, more difficult to see. It also causes swivel-head, trying to figure out where the mailbox is, which side to look at.

4. Number on the house, big as day. Great, for confirming that indeed, this is the house that goes with that number. Or for when you are visiting a friend, and have directions to the house, but need to be sure it is the right one. Easy to see- once you have driven into the driveway. Trouble is, we won't be driving in that driveway before we know the number. So we won't see it.

5. Number sign, at the end of the driveway, but parallel to the road, rather than perpendicular. Again, good for confirmation, but not possible to see while driving. Some of these I've seen are on lovely decorative posts. Nice to look at maybe, but not helpful.

6. Number obstructed by something. Often by the mailbox flag, or the newspaper tube. Yes, it's easy for YOU to see that number, because you already know what it is. Not so easy for us.

The question remains, why do people do these things? Why is it that they sometimes put considerable effort into how they mark their houses, but choose to do things that aren't appropriate?

I think most of these people believe they have done an adequate job. After all, THEY know what the number is, and where it is, and they see it every time they drive in their driveway. It works fine for the mail delivery, and for friends coming over, so what's the problem? No one else has any trouble finding their house. The FedEx guy hasn't ever complained.

I think the problem is one of perspective.
Coming from the perspective of already knowing the number, any of those variations are easy to see.
But from the perspective of in the dark, in an emergency, trying to find which house is the right one, none of them work well at all.

Most people don't ever HAVE that emergency perspective, and happily so.

Most people, when they need to find a house number, slow down and look. I'm sure most people have been behind a driver doing just that, more than once. You can tell exactly what they are doing. From that perspective, as long as there IS a number, somewhere, it all works out fine.

The important thing that this all illustrates is how easy it is for people to have different perspectives, sometimes dramatically so. How one person can believe that something has been done, and done well, and another can see it as entirely useless.

And I'm not only talking about house number signs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Six Degrees?

One of the reasons I wanted to be an EMT is so that I can be there for people in my community, ready and able to help them at a moment's notice. I want to be a familiar face in times of trouble, so that it won't always feel like a sudden houseful of strangers.

I didn't realize just HOW familiar things would end up. Or how very small the world is around here.

A couple of weeks ago, we responded to a major trauma; a pick-up truck rollover with one person trapped and the other ejected.

Turns out that one of the first drivers to come upon the scene and stop was a woman whose niece is the girlfriend of one of the patients. Another one of the first people to stop was a firefighter from a neighboring town, who happens to also be an ER doc down the road a ways- who knows the patients.

I found out the next day that one of the members of our department goes to church with the grandmother of my patient.
And another member of the department told me that he is her ex-husband's cousin.
And just last night, discovered from a woman who assisted in my EMT class last summer, that my patient is the father of a good friend of her son's.

A couple of days ago, I had a repairman here fixing my water pump, who suggested I might know his father-in-law. And indeed, I do. He's one of my favorites of the fine older folks in town we see from time to time.

Met a guy at an incident last week who was good friends with the father of a guy I dated in high school.
Met a FF/EMT yesterday (out here assisting in a search) who went to high school with my sister.

I've had my father as a patient. Taken care of both parents of a friend of my daughter's. Seen numerous parents of people I've gone to school with. I've lost count.

And even people I don't know, there are connections. We had a patient last week who didn't make it, and the announcement at her college was made by... the husband of my best friend from junior high. The same former best friend whose son took his firefighter 1 class with my son.

The concept of "six degrees of separation" has become popular in the past several years.

Around here, if you get TWO degrees of separation, it's unusual. And I doubt anyone makes it to three. Everybody knows everybody, or knows someone who does.

I think it adds to both the stress, and the satisfaction, of the job. It feels great to help out folks you know, or whom folks you know, know. And it feels crappy not to be able to help them. Two sides of the same coin. Add to that the feeling that once we meet them, EVERY patient becomes "someone we know." No anonymous EMS out here.

There's an EMS book out there, by Michael Perry, called Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. No kidding.

It gives a whole new feel to the landscape, as we drive past place after place where we've been. A litany develops. That's the house where the woman fell, then the one where we had the stroke patient, and then that really sweet guy who died last year, remember him? And there was the alarm activation that really was an alarm doing its job, saving the people and the house. And the house where the single Mom was home alone with her baby and got really sick and we needed to help find emergency childcare, and that house is so-and-so's Mom. And this is the one where we couldn't get the patient to hang up her cellphone. It goes on and on. Accidents, fires, sickness, injuries, and the occasional baby, all paint a very intimate picture of a place.

Maybe I'll post more from that little book I found last year, the history of one of the local fire departments. Turns out, especially in a small town, that the history of a place IS the history of the fire department. That's who witnesses all the major events, the major changes, along with a long string of more personal events. And those are the people who end up knowing nearly everybody.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Most people would say that fighting is violence, and violence is bad.

People who fight tend not to be respected in the dominant culture.

People who fight for a living- boxers, for example- are often considered to be "brutes" who are unintelligent. It is often suggested that if they were smart, they would do something else.

And yet.

What is the best thing someone can say about a person who is very ill or injured, or who is near death or heading that way, as a way of creating hope? "She's a real fighter."


Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Last night's training at the firehouse was knot tying.

I love knots. Been tying them since I was a kid.

Our county has the good fortune of having some state fire instructors who also love knots, who are skilled at both tying and teaching. You can easily recognize their students.

Last night, it was interesting that the people who have had recent training through the county were all having a grand time, tying knots, sharing different ways of tying the same knots, tying rope onto and around just about everything in the room. But the people there who have NOT had recent training... had not even heard of some of the basic fire service knots. Yet another suggestion that people need to keep current on their training. One among many.

Being knot loving folks, we came home and have been consulting the knot book, learning a few new ones today. Came across this quote below, which I love not only because of what it says about knots, but because it applies to many things that I do and love, fencing included.

"The appliances of this chapter verge on the mechanical in nature. Many of them grip the rope, instead of the rope's gripping the appliance. They are designed either to make a quicker or an easier coupling, or else a simpler one that the inexpert cannot go wrong with. The greater proportion of them were made for the use of either the horseman or the housewife, and considerable ingenuity has been expended in their construction. Some of the horse-and-carriage fittings have been sketched from memory. Others were salvaged from the family garage that had started out in life as stable and carriage house.

It may seem unprofitable to resurrect such material, much of which is obsolete today. But knotting is merely the application of certain mechanical principles, and a principle itself can hardly become obsolete. As conditions change, new applications are bound to appear. The fact that something is not required today is no reason for believing that it will not be needed tomorrow."

Clifford W Ashley, The Ashley Book of Knots, 1944

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A world so small, a heart so large

A few days into the EMT-B class, our instructor suggested that we get a scanner so we could listen in on medical reports, and learn from them. We get relatively few calls out here in the middle of nowhere, so we need to learn from as many sources as we can. Listening in to the radio reports, and especially the flight medics, we could hear how they give the reports, what interventions they have done, and a variety of other details not readily available elsewhere.

One of the first things we learned is that the flight medics are fantastic. They give their reports by the book, head to toe, easy to understand and follow. A good model for us, to hear that pattern over and over, the rhythm and flow of the report giving us a mental template to use in acquiring the information to give our own patient reports.

Another thing we learned early on is that we can recognize the voices of most of the ambulance personnel, so we know who is going on the call. This does a couple of things. One is to give us further information about each of them, their ability to be focused and calm, the clarity and completeness of the information they provide, adding to the level of trust we have in them when we work together. It also lets us know who to worry about, sometimes, depending on the situation they are going into- or on the road conditions.

We also hear a much wider variety of situations than we've gone to ourselves.

We have gotten into the habit of turning the scanner on when we hear someone get toned out for something that sounds like an interesting EMS call. We run through the call either in our heads, or sometimes, if we're both listening, with each other. Does the location of the call give us any information? Is this somewhere they have been before? What would you do first? What should we be concerned about, with that mechanism of injury? We'll visualize and/or verbalize the assessment we would do if we were on scene. It's decent practice for us, and more than once, we've ended up with a similar call relatively soon after hearing one on the scanner.

So last week, when we heard a call for someone who fell from a tree, we turned the scanner on, and followed the incident as long as we could.

My first thought was that I was glad that I didn't know anyone that age who lived in that location.

I was concerned for the patient. It didn't sound good. They called for a helicopter before arriving on scene, to get the flight team going and ready to fly. Called in an engine to set up a landing zone nearby. This is a common precautionary measure, but this time, it sounded like it might be necessary. There are so many injuries possible with a fall.

We don't get a lot of detail on the scanner unless we pick up a flight medic; since the radio system was upgraded a few months ago, the local ambulances give their reports on a frequency we can no longer pick up. This time, it turned out that the helicopter couldn't fly due to bad weather, so they had to transport by ground. Once they were loaded to go, we didn't get any further information over the radio. All we knew was that the suspected injuries were serious.

As we turned off the scanner, our thoughts and hearts were with the patient, hoping things would go well and he would be okay.

They didn't.
He wasn't.

Usually, we never know how EMS calls turn out. Privacy laws prevent us getting further information, unless we happen to know the patient personally, and hear things through friends or family directly.

The thing is, I don't actually know where every person I know around town lives.
And I definitely don't know where they all work, or where they might be at any given time of day.

Turns out that this patient was someone I know.
The husband of a woman I've known for many years.
A prominent figure in the local activist community.

I found out the next morning that he did not survive.
He leaves behind his wife and their four daughters. Three of whom I've watched grow up, and the youngest of whom I remember when she was born.

My daughter and I attended his wake today. There was an outpouring of community support which was nice to see, but it's a bit sad that it takes something like this to bring everyone together.

As it always is, it was a reminder that none of us know how long we have left. That death comes suddenly and surprisingly. That no one is prepared, but everyone somehow goes on.

In an odd way, I feel like I was there when it happened. I wasn't; I was only listening in on the radio, hearing just enough to know someone was in trouble, but not enough to know who, or to suspect how it might affect me personally. I wish I had been, if only to be able to give my friend some understanding of what happened and how. She is struggling to make sense of something that makes little sense.

Today, she was surrounded by love, by friends and community, by an outpouring of grief to hold her close, to hold her up while she mourns. She greeted everyone who came in, with a hug and a smile, and not a few tears. It must have been difficult, even while affirming the man she knows her husband to have been.

His burial is tomorrow.
Most of the people who were there today will fade back into the background.
My friend will somehow go on, having lost her partner, her love, the kind and gentle man she has spent most of her life with.
She will raise their daughters to remember him with love, and to honor his memory by continuing to work for the causes so near to his heart.
How she will do this, I don't know. Just that she will.
My heart goes out to her.

For Ellen, I wish comfort and grace, hope and love, family and faith.
For Peter, I wish the peace he has worked so hard towards.


Thursday, February 5, 2009


It's the beginning of a new semester, which always brings with it new observations on the process of learning.

We have a method for how we teach, but are always learning more about people, about learning, and especially about difficulties learning, so we're constantly refining what we do.

There will never be a "perfect" method that will work with every person in every situation, because people are all different. They key is to remain flexible, and observant, and to approach every difficulty from as many different directions as is necessary.

If I told every student everything I know about fencing in their first week... or month... or even year... they would not be able to understand most of it because they don't yet have the context. This means that sometimes students ask questions that I can't answer, not because I don't know the answer, but because they aren't ready to hear it yet. There is a series of perceptual shifts that have to happen first, and those take time.

I ran up against one of those myself recently, where I was trying to explain my thinking to the master, who was looking at the subject from such a different place that we could not reach a clear understanding on either side, and had to agree to discuss this again later on. Some of that is a language difficulty, trying to put into words feelings and concepts that are non-verbal. But some is that we are in different places still.

I recently had an experience in a class that helped me to understand not what the master was trying to say, but why it was that I couldn't seem to phrase my thoughts or questions in ways that helped us reach an understanding.

We were working on something new in a class of mostly relatively new students. It required coordinating hand and foot in a way they mostly had not had to do before, so it was very challenging. I needed to break the movement down into smaller pieces, so that they could begin to follow the new pattern. It went fairly well and there was great progress between the beginning and end of the class.

At the end of the exercise, as I usually do, I asked if there were any questions.

One of the newest students, a highly intelligent young boy, had several questions.

One of his questions went something like this: "Is this so that you can go faster, and does it lead to special moves?"


I had to ask him to clarify his question.

We addressed the "faster" part first, it being the simpler concept.
No, it has nothing to do with going "faster."

I believe he had gotten this impression because we were now coordinating one hand movement with each foot movement, rather than one hand movement for every two foot movements, and to his mind, that meant it was possible to make twice as many blade movements as before, in the same amount of time.

The trouble with that is that blade movements, and therefore hand movements, are not restricted by foot movement at all when you fence. We chose to coordinate the two in this practice session in order to facilitate coordinating movements AT ALL, but in bouting, blade movements are coordinated with your opponent's actions, not with your own feet. After all, it is your opponent who is attacking you, not your feet- unless you have far more serious problems than a fencing bout.

This was clue number one.

Then we addressed the next part of his question. Does this move "lead to special moves"?

Again, I was somewhat mystified by the question.

I asked him what he meant by "special moves."

He said something about how obviously, there are certain special moves that you don't do very often, you sort of keep them in reserve, so that your opponent won't expect them. Maybe a secret move that your opponent doesn't know about, and wouldn't be able to defend against. And he wanted to know if this new thing we had been working on was the beginning of such a move. A "botta secreta." (He didn't use that term, but that's what he meant. Google it if you aren't familiar with it.)

This was clue number two.

I had to think for a minute to figure out how to answer him.
The answer is both simple and complex, depending on where you are in your understanding of not only fencing, but all combat.

I told him that we'd have to discuss it again when he has learned more, but the simple answer is that no, there are no "special moves."

I continued thinking about this long afterwards.

What I realized is that this was a perfect example of the difference in focus between a beginner, and someone who is more knowledgeable and more practiced.

A beginner has a narrow, internal focus. He is still learning to control his own body, his own movements, and has no real understanding of the possibility, let alone the ability, to control another person's actions.

What this often translates to is a beginner's assumption that each action in fencing is decided on, planned, or otherwise thought out by the fencer with no actual connection to what the opponent is doing, other than maybe waiting to see what the opponent does and then trying to somehow counter that action. So, a fencer might plan some secret special attack to use at some previously decided on moment in the bout, in order to gain the advantage and win. He would keep this special attack in reserve until the chosen moment, and not use it any other time. Hence, the "specialness" of it.

This same internal focus lends itself to the belief that all coordination is of your own movements- your hand with your feet, your blade actions with your movements forwards and back.

There is no understanding that whatever actions you take are inextricably linked to your opponent, two ends of the same thread, tied together like a figure-eight follow through knot.

There is no understanding that your opponent's actions are controlled by your actions, your cues, your communication and misdirection. That you almost literally tell him what to do, so that you are prepared for it and can easily take advantage. That you do not "beat" your opponent so much as you set the stage for him to be his own undoing.

Beginners are very yang in how they look at combat.
Action, strength, speed, force, trickery.
They don't yet see the possibility of diversion, deflection, reflection, invitation, illusion.

I could go on.
There is also the mind/body separation of beginners (and I'm using that term in a very broad sense... one can be a "beginner" for a very long time!), in this culture of intense priority given to academic, intellectual thinking, and the resultant devaluing of all things physical. People who are still stuck in an intellectual appraisal mode want things to add up, match up, and "make sense" in ways that are easily counted and/or verbalized. It ain't necessarily so.

But my point in relating this story is to show how it was that I had this realization, with this student's series of questions, of how it feels to have someone ask a question from such a different frame of reference as to almost be speaking an entirely different language.

He would not have been able to understand much outside himself at that moment. He has not yet progressed to a place where he can SEE outside himself in this. It would have been much like trying to explain the ocean to a desert dweller, colors to a blind man, or algebra to my dog.

But what was most interesting to me was that his question, which made perfect sense to him, from his perspective, made so little sense to me at first, from my perspective, that I had to stop, go back, figure out his perspective, and then re-examine the question to even know what he was asking.

I suspect something quite similar happened in my recent discussion with the master, the one where we never came to an understanding.
Maybe he DID understand what I was trying to say, but is at such a different conceptual place that he couldn't answer anything in a way that I would have been able to get to at all- and trying to answer it from my perspective, which he no longer holds, was meaningless and just plain silly.

It probably didn't help that I'm somewhat in between perspectives on that particular thing, and part of my questioning was to try to make that leap from one to the other. Didn't get there. Yet. But it feels close. I can't explain it in words... and still seem to need to rely on them to try to explain. My guess is that it won't need explaining when I get it. We'll both know.

I'm close.
Very close.
I can't explain it... but I can feel it.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Life is made up of a long series of moments, each connecting to the ones before and after it.

I've long believed that one must appreciate all that came before, if you are in a place you want to be. Even the mistakes, the heartache and the pain, were part of bringing you to where you are now. Especially those.

It is not always possible to recognize change when it happens. Sometimes, it sneaks in slowly, imperceptibly, and you don't notice until things have been developing for a while. But sometimes, change happens within the space of a heartbeat, a breath, and you know, in that moment, that nothing will ever be the same.

Most of the time, it is far easier to look back and see the change in retrospect. Still, it is only rarely that you can trace something back to a specific moment.

I have a few of those moments in my life.

Some are sort of "standard." My first kiss. The birth of my first child. That sort of thing.

But others are less obvious to anyone other than myself.

I was eight or nine years old. We lived in an old victorian house (which I loved and would love to be able to buy, but it won't happen) on the main street of town, a little up the hill from the actual downtown area. I remember it was the middle of the night, dark and very windy, when I was woken up. I don't know what woke me, whether it was the lights, or the sounds, or a member of my family, but a house on the block behind ours was on fire. It was a new house, and I'm not sure whether anyone even lived in it yet.

Between that house and ours was another house, one facing the small cross street, which had been split up into several apartments. I knew almost everyone in that house, and watched from my bedroom window as they were evacuated.

I was terrified of fire. Transfixed at the window, unable to speak or move, I watched the drama unfold throughout the night. Were they going to evacuate us, too? Where would we go? Was the huge tree next to the burning house going to catch on fire and then spread embers throughout the neighborhood?

I remember almost nothing outside myself that night. Where were my parents? My sisters? How long did I stay at that window? I have no idea. I just remember the flames, the smoke, the flashing lights, the howling wind, the firefighters evacuating the house behind us.

And one other thing.

The tree did not burst into flames.
The fire did not spread.
It did not reach out across that space, hungry for victims, to find me.

I have never been afraid of fire since.
Respectful, absolutely.
But not afraid.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The third time's a charm

Seems like it usually happens- the coldest day of the year, and a structure fire.

The day started out as planned. My daughter had a chiropractor's appointment. Midway through her adjustment, the tones hit.

I can tell almost immediately what kind of call it's going to be. If the first thing I hear after the alert is the ambulance tones, it's an EMS call. If it's the siren tones, it's probably an MVA. But this time, it was the siren tone, followed by another tone...

This is not a good sound.
A structure fire, reported by the neighbors across the street. This means it has likely been going for a while.
And crap, I'm out of position. A good 12-15 minutes away.

I pay at the desk, and go to the car to gear up. My daughter races to the car as soon as her appointment is done, just in time for me to hop in and drive. She's a good sport, and hops out of the car at the intersection closest to our house, so I don't have to detour to drop her off.

I can see the mutual aid engine coming up the road, and turn ahead of them. About half a mile ahead of me, I see our engine heading away from the station. I know that I'll end up passing it- contrary to popular belief, fire engines don't go that fast; they're too heavy. At least ours is- it doubles as a tanker, with around 2000 gallons of water.

As it heads up the hill towards the structure, I'm able to pass, and get to the scene ahead of it. I pull up past the fire, to leave room for more apparatus, hop out of my car, grab my camera, and start shooting as I walk back to the scene. The next 6 hours are alternated between working on water supply, as interim safety officer, accountability, running messages for the IC, moving hoses, trying to keep things (including firefighters) from freezing up, and taking pictures, some for the investigation.

It was a balmy zero degrees or so.

This is what I saw walking back to the scene. Flames shooting out of the front of the structure; heavy smoke.

As I got closer, I could see the attack team out front.

Another shot of the attack. And that's my kid on the left. He was home, so got there before I did. He's backing up one of our newest members, who is at his first structure fire.

Now my pal sj has arrived on scene, and is backing up the attack. In front of them, to the left of the house, is what remains of the trailer where the fire started. Right. I know. You can't see the trailer. There's not much left.

Now a shot of the team in the back of the house, trying to get water up into the attic floor. More about that later.
Check out the names of the guys from the nearby career company assisting us. Cook and Baker. Kind of funny, if you look at it right.
I went to high school with Baker. Small world.

So here's the deal.
The fire is up in the space between the ceiling of the lower floor, and the floor of the attic. Stubbornly hiding from us. Fire is like that. We had to get an excavator from the town highway department to come and remove most of the roof, to dig into that attic floor and expose the fire.

It worked.
As soon as the attic floor was opened up, heavy fire.
One of the mutual aid companies has a ladder truck, and we doused the top of the house from the top of the aerial.

Were given the word from the chief to pack up after about six hours in the bitter cold. Most of the hoses and some of the pump valves had long since frozen up.

I learned why so many volunteer firefighters drive pickup trucks.
To haul the frozen hoses back after calls like this. There's no way to pack them back on the apparatus.

Everyone heads back to the station, for hot chocolate and a lot of laying out hoses to thaw. Put the apparatus back in service as best we could, hindered by a lack of usable hoses- and our fuel tanks had both frozen up. Oh- and the dry hydrant at the town pond was also frozen, so they had to head down into the nearby town that has hydrants to refill the water tanks. Our tiny town doesn't have a hydrant system, and uses tanker shuttles and a portable pond for water supply.

Headed for home, tired and cold.
Tried to catch up with the stuff I had intended to do all day.
Hit the sack, ready for a nice long sleep, at about 1am.

At 2:37, the tones went off again.
A rekindle.
This sounds like somehow, a new fire has started, but the truth is that the first fire apparently was never really out.
Should have had that excavator take the entire roof off. I, being a lowly relatively new company member, with no seniority or status of any kind, was not privy to the decision about what to have the excavator do or not do. So I don't know why or how things were decided. I don't know how the decision is made to call the fire "out" and return everyone to service, either.
Sometimes, mistakes are made.

This was one of those times.

It being o'dark thirty, and knowing the rekindle had to be reported by a neighbor, told me that it was probably going pretty good. Had to have been for anyone to notice at that time of night.

We headed out the door for the station, and our hopefully somewhat dryer gear. Not in such a hurry this time- nothing left to save, really, and no one in the house, so no life safety issues.

Arrived on scene to this:

Pretty- if it's not your house.
The fire had now dropped down from the ceiling into the lower part of the house, and was really cooking by the time we got there. Enough so that we barely noticed the now -6 degrees.

For a while, anyway.

Another view, moments later, as the fire continues to grow.

We were there ahead of any water supply, so I took some pictures while waiting for the apparatus to get there.
Spent the next couple of hours working on water supply, so no more picture taking.

Instead, I got to play in the water.
I was in charge of the valve for filling the tank from the supply tanker. No pond in the night- ours wasn't repacked, and besides, the apparatus it travels on was out of service. So we filled directly from another tanker.

Trouble is that in the cold, nothing was connecting right, and everything was icy and slippery. When the tank was full, water would spray between where I was, and the valve I needed to close, so I had to reach through a substantial shower to get it closed, getting soaked in the process. I was an icicle. Crunchy. Crackly. Kind of impressive. It's too bad I'm the one with the camera. Not.

You have to imagine it- I was covered in ice, the truck was covered in ice, the ground was covered in ice, the hose was covered in ice, the valve was covered in ice. Even the ice was covered in ice. My gloves were frozen into the claws of the zombie creature from the deep, and anything I touched, I immediately froze to. It was amusing, in a middle-of-the-nightmare sort of way.

After a couple of hours alternating between waiting, and getting soaked, we were released to go home. Still a fair amount of steam coming off the top of that house. I wasn't convinced the fire was really, really out. But it's not my call.

When I got to my car, I couldn't get in- nothing would bend. I had to break some of the ice first. And then, when I got back to the station, I couldn't get my turnout coat off- the latches were iced over. I had to pour warm water on them to free them up.

Got home around 5:30-ish. Too late to go to bed, or not?
Ended up trying to catch a nap, at least, but couldn't get warm enough to actually sleep.

We got up on the early side, planning to head down to a pancake breakfast sponsored by another nearby fire company. I decided that we should drive past that house again, just to see if it had "rekindled again," rather than get to breakfast and end up toned out, and being 20 minutes away.

As we got near the house, we could see smoke in the air. Great.
It was mostly white... could be steam... but in the middle there... looks a little darker.

I parked the car, and walked around the back of the house to get a look up into what was left of that ceiling. Before I got around the back, I could hear the fire crackling.

Sure enough, there it was, flames a couple of feet high, right in that spot in the ceiling that had given us the most trouble before.

Went back to the car. "I got your good news, and your bad news... We won't be having pancakes. But it's small, and we may be able to handle it with the mini-pumper."

I pulled out my cell phone. I don't have a portable radio. Called one of the assistant chiefs, whose number I have. No answer. Tried another one. No answer. Tried the chief chief. No answer.

Meanwhile, we're headed back to the station, about a mile away. If we act fast, and get our mini-pumper up here, we can probably get that out before it gets going, and maybe most of the company can sleep in.

It was not to be.

As we were headed back up the hill, having gotten hold of a couple of the assistant chiefs (I was talking on the phone while gearing up), who suggested an "investigation" rather than toning the whole company, one of the assistant chiefs from our sister company radioed in that he was on scene, and reported the rekindle, and had dispatch wake everyone up.

We arrived on scene a minute later, and had the fire knocked down as soon as we got the preconnect pulled.

But it was still smoldering up there in that ceiling- we just couldn't tell where, exactly, it was coming from, and whether it was actually a "hot spot" or just evaporating water. It had risen to a high of -2 degrees, so anything even remotely warm was giving off "steam."

We got some more manpower on scene, and some guys went inside (no more ceiling over most of it to worry about collapsing) to pull what they could, and get water up inside there.

Should have taken down the entire roof, I tell you. Would probably have gotten a good night's sleep.

Went back to the station after a couple of hours.

Too late for pancakes.

I had to cancel a couple of lessons, but had classes to teach in the afternoon. So off I went to teach them, having spent about 11 of the past 24 hours in the subzero cold, some of that soaking wet besides, and about an hour and a half sleeping.

A little punchy, maybe, but I made it through.
Both classes went very well.

On the way home, I drove past the scene again, just so I'd know.

Not a wisp of anything.

The third time's a charm, I guess.
Cross your fingers for me, okay?

The good news: the people were not home at the time of the fire, and their dog and cats made it out safely. As long as that happens, and no one is injured, I'm good with it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I swear it's true

I thought this was unbelievable, so I checked it out on, and it's true!

Internet spam has become such a huge problem that Homeland Security has declared spammers to be terrorists. They are monitoring e-mail volume, and anyone who sends more than 100 e-mails a day will be put on the "terrorist" list. You will have your internet service canceled, and be unable to board an airplane in the US.

The Society for Prevention of Internet Fraud (SPIF) has a petition up at make sure to go sign it to protest this designation. You have the right to send as many e-mails a day as you want, as long as they're not spam!

Make sure to send this to everyone you know so they will know what's going on.


Here's what I want to know: why on earth do people fall for crap like this?? Why is it that people who appear to be otherwise intelligent and reasonable go into instant panic mode when they get some forwarded e-mail "warning"??

If you typed up a note and put it on the windshield of their car, most people would ignore it. Send it snail mail, and they won't even open it. But e-mail it to them, especially if it is clearly an e-mail that has been forwarded multiple times, and they'll swallow it hook, line and sinker.

And if you dare to point out to them that this is yet another forwarded urban legend, or something designed to incite panic, they will argue with you.

Spammers and scammers have gotten clever, it's true. Just like some guy who knows just what to say, how to look into her eyes, to get any woman to fall for him, scammers know how to get people to believe what they say. They'll tell you they've already "checked it on" They'll make it look like it came from a personal friend. They'll drop names. Tell sob stories. Use URLs that are similar to well known companies. Some even go as far as creating look-alike websites.

One e-mail I got recently was made to look like it had images that didn't load, with a helpful link for "if you have any trouble reading this e-mail." I guess people have gotten wise enough, at least, not to click on things so readily.

This willingness to believe anything extends beyond spam, to almost any website. Make it look like "news" and people believe it is. And look at Wikipedia. A fabulous resource- as long as you stay aware of the limitations, that what is posted there may or may not be 100% accurate.

It is often the newbies who fall prey to such things... but not always. The people who produce this stuff are very good at what they do. Advertising and propaganda, not to mention just plain cons, are a science and an art.

I'd like to offer these suggestions that people should be required to read before being allowed to post anything online anywhere:

1. If it tells you to forward it, don't. Just don't. I don't care how funny you think it is, or how worried you are about some impending doom.
2. If it claims to have already been "checked out on," it's a scam.
3. Those pills don't make your penis larger.
4. If they did, no one but you would care.
5. No one legitimate will ever e-mail and ask for your password.
6. Likewise, they will not use e-mail to tell you your account has been canceled... click here now to reinstate it.
7. The more dire the warning, the less likely it is true.
8. If you send forwarded e-mails to any list I run, especially with multiple layers of quotes, and/or don't trim what is quoted in your messages, you will be fed to velociraptors.
9. Don't believe everything you read. Even online. Especially online. Even if it claims all sorts of legitimacy. And even if it looks "real."

Oh... one last thing... just to be safe...
that warning I started with, about spammers being terrorists? I made that up.
Please don't turn it into the latest e-mail warning.