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Catching up: A rare weekend Quick Takes.

Two-alarm fire in Fairfax County, Virginia: 9NEWS NOW’s Greg Guise shot these pictures from the fire Thursday night at an abandoned Chi Chi’s at Springfield Mall.

That was the week that was: I hope we don’t see another like this one soon. As you may have noticed the output from STATter911.com was greatly reduced this week. There are a number of reasons. Most all of them had to do with the close to 40-inches of snow dumped on and around our World Headquarters in two storms this week. Rather than bore you with all of the details (some of them are rather personal about the blog’s editor feeling rather old trying to recover from a spill he took early in the week), the key factor over the last two days has been the restringing of the FIOS cable we mentioned earlier in the week that had been sitting in the middle of the street working just fine from Saturday until Thursday. Putting it in its proper position put us out of business. But hard working Verizon crews finished stringing a new cable at 10:30 Friday night and everything is working just fine waiting for next week’s storm. Cell service is almost non-existent here at headquarters, so my computer’s air card, when it does work inside, is slower than dial-up.   

This New York Post photo by Austin Riggs on Firegeezer's site sure caught my eye. There is another picture, video and details of the underground fire that went way above ground in Manhattan. Click the image to take you to Geezer Land.

This New York Post photo by Austin Riggs on Firegeezer's site sure caught my eye. There is another picture, video and details of the underground fire that went way above ground in Manhattan. Click the image to take you to Geezer Land.

Virginia’s Bermuda Triangle: That is what I am starting to call the street in front of the headquarters building. We are located at the top of what is like a long semicircle. Coming from either direction, it is downhill to reach my driveway. The angle of descent on the curved roadway, with a gully on each side, has been a challenge for those unfamiliar with these features (and even those familiar). Starting over the weekend, and continuing through Thursday night, a long list of vehicles seemed to be magnetically pulled into one of the ditches. The first vehicle was a pickup truck on Saturday at the height of the storm (just before the utility pole came crashing down a few feet away). Since then we have had a neighbor’s Jeep, two of the large power company bucket trucks and a smaller Cox Cable company bucket truck run off the road and get stuck. Thursday night it was a Virginia State contracted snow plow that failed to navigate these troubled frozen waters. The reason I know this is that it too was sitting in the ditch with its yellow flashing light shining into the STATter911.com complex.

Let me point out that during the two fire calls on my street since last week (the burning power lines and a neighbor’s CO detector activating) the crews from both Engine 418 and Engine 428 (Fairfax County) knew the area well enough to park at the top of the street and walk in. I think for the next blizzard, I will set up a camera just like the guy at the Gregson Guillotine in Durham.

The truth shall set you free: One of the newer blogs in the FireEMSBlogs group we are a part of is called The Fire PIO. It is written by Jeff Bressler, the PIO for the Smithtown Fire Department on Long Island. I have been reading it with a great deal of interest. There is a lot of useful information and Jeff gives his perspective on some of the topics we have long been interested in, like the role of social media and citizen’s armed with cameras. I also liked his look at the Los Angeles County PIO response vehicle.

But there is one posting where I think Jeff left out something extremely important. It is titled, Nothing to Say Says Volumes. Jeff is no doubt right that a no comment when the news is bad probably doesn’t serve you well. But Jeff goes on to give various ways to say no comment or to avoid answering the question the reporter is asking. This is advice I have seen given out in many PIO training classes and it is used by numerous public officials and their spokes people (and in private industry too). My question for Jeff and all of the others who believe this is the way to deal with the press and the public is this: Do you really think you are fooling anyone with evasive answers to direct questions? What happened to the truth? Isn’t that what you owe the public and isn’t it the very best way to handle the crisis created by bad news? It isn’t my job to teach newsmakers how to deal with the press, but from my experience the most effective handlers of crisis communications get the facts out quickly and clearly in an effort to get the story behind them and move on. The ones who blow it let the story drag on in the news for days or weeks. Jeff talks about disarming reporters. You want to disarm a reporter, tell them the truth when the news is bad.

Here is an example from this past week. Last Sunday there was a fire in Arlington where the house started burning when Dominion Virginia Power restored electricity to the neighborhood. That night a Dominion spokesperson said they had no details on the fire but to call them later in the week. I figured I would have to get the truth from the Arlington County Fire Department. I was wrong. Arlington County still hasn’t provided me with details on the cause and I have no idea why. But guess what, a follow-up call to the power company brought me the answer within about two hours. That answer was pretty plain and simple. It basically said it was a rare occurrence, but a crew on the scene screwed up and set that woman’s house on fire. Spokesperson LeHa Anderson explained how it happened and told me how the company was working with the victims to correct the situation. I certainly can’t speak for Ms. Anderson but I imagine she knew this was the only way to get this story behind them.

It has happened again in Memphis: A Memphis firefighter is being questioned about the shooting of his former girlfriend and it isn’t the first time Frank Graham has dealt with this type of issue. Here are the details.

Is it just me, or are we seeing a pattern here?Click here for some new damage pictures from Wednesday’s devastating fire at Baltimore County Station 6. We have also added a couple of interesting details connected to the history of the firehouse. I count four fire stations in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware pretty much destroyed (though at last word Sykesville’s apparatus bay is usable) and the loss of three engines, a ladder truck, four ambulances, a brush truck, a boat and various other equipment. Pretty soon we are going to be talking big money. In our comments section on the Station 6 fire some point to the hypocrisy of the fire service preaching sprinklers for others, but not leading the way by insisting on them in their own buildings even when they aren’t required. Others wonder about how they are constructing fire stations. Isn’t the local fire station one of the key buildings in your community that you want to survive a natural disaster? One person wrote in a comment, “It should be built stronger than your average retail mega-store”. Are too many corners being cut to save money or is this just a run of bad luck? . Here’s our run down of the lost fire stations.

Snow advice from Wyoming: After writing about the Frederick County, Maryland firefighters whose rig was stuck in a 12-foot snow drift (they were rescued by snowmobile), we received an interesting comment. It comes from a Wyoming firefighter who doubles as a snow plow driver (and isn’t getting much work this season). Click here and scroll to the bottom.

More DC Metro problems: This time is was a derailment that sent the DC Fire & EMS Department to the Red Line. There were three minor injuries at the Farragut North station. Click here for the coverage.

Comments - Add Yours

  • TJ

    Am I the only one who feels that LA county fire paid about $300K more than necessary for a PIO vehicle? I just don’t see that that was a great way to spend $375K in FEMA grant money.

    Why not get a nicely tricked-out Suburban or, if that is not enough space, convert a used Class A motor coach. Maybe you would not have nice features like the auto-leveling, but $50K for a gently used Winnebago and another $50-75K for laptops, radios, workstations, TVs and a nice paint job. Everyone likes shiny new toys, but $400K for a ‘command’ vehicle that might roll 15-20 days per year?

  • Anon

    15-20 days a year? This is LA Country were talking about, a department with 171 fire stations, 273 engines, 2700~ fire suppression personnel and tens of thousands of acres of wild-land going up in flames every year.

    I’m sure they can use this vehicle 15-20 days a year on regular incidents only. Add in month long wildfires and the usage goes way up.

  • Anonymous

    Note that the vehicle, while labeled for and run by, LACoFD, is available to other LACo departments as well. So while it may only run 15-20 days a year (as you say; I don’t know LACoFD’s run stats), it may well run more than that when you add in other departments’ needs.

  • TJ

    OK, I could be way off regarding the amount of usage, but $400K for a PIO vehicle? It seems like a lot of the capabilities (i.e., multiple TV monitors, radios) are redundant with a well-appointed incident command unit. I know that everyone likes cool and shiny, new toys, but I still believe that there are a lot of options that would more than adequately address the need at a fraction of the cost. If you need something more all-terrain than a converted Class A motor coach a HUMVEE has plenty of space (you should see what my Marine friends can stash away).

    I guess that if this wasn’t my tax dollars at work I really would not care, but I am certain that this is one of many questionable purchases with FEMA funds. Don’t get me wrong – I support the FEMA grant program for local emergency responders, but spend it on apparatus and equipment that can actually do some good.