Monday, September 26, 2011


 So in my last post you learned that I am 'dealing with issues' and looking for answers. I forgot to mention that I had a nice meet up with the Lonely EMT last weekend. She had a local 'errand' and we managed to hook up and spend some time sitting in the ready room at one of my stations and shooting the breeze. The conversation was good for me, and I think it helped her too. Similar Departments, with similar problems makes for an active exchange of ideas (or gripes). The conversation was so good that it got me to bed late, and her on the road home very late, but it all ended up well. I wound up running calls almost that entire night, EXCEPT for the time we were chatting. This I found to be fortuitous in no small manner. We ran 4 jobs that night which would normally bring one or perhaps two. It ended with a working cardiac arrest at 0530 before I went of to the paying job.
 But I digress from the original thought for this post. I have been 'jonsing' for a lesson from my banjo instructor. See now this is the problem when your instructor is a world renowned banjo player. Right now, my beloved teacher is driving to Nashville to spend the entire week at the IBMA Awards. This is cool and I accept that. But last week he was in France doing a workshop for several days, and before that he was in Owensboro Kentucky at Bill Monroe's 100th Birthday celebration.
 Now I need a lesson to move my obviously gifted skills onto the next level and my instructor is not available. I don't see how I can progress at this rate. I understand how the guy is popular and a fixture in the art form and has introduced influences into the genre that will continue through the next century, but sheesh, we are talking about my lessons here!
 I have been reduced to going onto You-Tube and looking for new things I can try. While knowledge is power, I am concerned that what I might pick up in the uncontrolled atmosphere of you-tube could contaminate what my BLF has taught me thus far.
 So I guess I'm sharing two things here. First if you are going to learn to play an instrument, be sure that your instructor lets you know when (or IF) he or she is available. Second, if you do get a world class instructor, be sure to check your patience at the door and take the lessons whenever they come and be happy about it.
 Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to go practice those rolls over and over and over and over again. Then I will do them so more.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


 The last month has been rough. Everybody is trying to recover form the storm, and as I've mentioned before, some never will. Last night I attended a party thrown by one of the small towns up the line for everybody who helped them during and after the storms, this included Fire, EMS, Police, Rangers, and civilians who stepped up to do the job. It was a nice evening to sit, chat and share a soft drink or a beer with the folks we work with all the time, except this time, there were no bodies involved. Lots of laughs, hugs, and a few tears of joy or relief.
 As for me, I've been trying to sort it all out and figure out where I fit in, or not, and where I should go from here. Lately, I have been coming home from work and throwing myself into my banjo. Not that I think all this practice is going to make me any better (it can't get worse), but because I find solace in just being with the instrument and making some sounds that please, sooth, and take me away from my thoughts. Plus, I can tell my teacher that I am "practicing EVERY night".
 But the truth is I have been leaning on music more and more lately for an outlet. I can't play worth a damn, but I am really beginning to get lost in the good music of others, those with a true gift and love of the art form.
 I am sure I have mentioned in an earlier post that I live in an area that is nearly unique for it's talent density. My banjo instructor is known and in demand worldwide and he live a couple of miles up the road. I could drop names here, but that's not the point. The point is I take for granted what I have available in my neighborhood.
 Well, lately I have stopped taking it for granted and started to seek out opportunities for good music and the experience that comes with it. Levon Helm lives in the next town over and has a party at his house every week or two. People come from all over to enjoy his music at the Ramble. You may know of Levon from his years in The Band, but since he nearly lost his voice, he has become a different man, at least in my eyes. In addition to his great music, Levon has always been a solid man and member of his community. Unpretentious, friendly, sincere, and a genuine person of value.
 I have known about Levon, his Ramble, and his contributions to the community for several years now. I have had the opportunity to attend the Ramble in the past and let it slide. I am thinking now it was pretty foolish on my part. I gratefully accepted a pair of tickets to his ramble next week.
 Here is a video Levon did a while back. While it might seem like any other video to promote one's music, let me point out that the farm used in this video is in fact a genuine farm located in my town, and the "Mr. Gill" who appears int eh video is in fact Jack Gill who is one of the largest corn producers in out state. A fine man, war hero, and upstanding member of the community in his own right.  The stories he relates are genuine, he is not an actor. The first song is shot, I believe in Levon's studio, the second one is shot at Snyder's Tavern, which is a place most folks would never stop at if they were driving by. It is located 'off the beaten path' and frequented by locals and sportsmen. These are real people and real places and real feelings expressed in this video. So although it is over 20 minutes, I invite you to enter with an open mind, perhaps an open beer and let yourself be transcended.

Only Halfway Home

Levon Helm | Myspace Music Videos

 So I write here about a nationally known person, but for me, he's a local dude that is continuously a man who is doing the right thing. I judge a man by what he does, not what his publicist says. I don't think Levon has a publicist, but I can tell you he is one hard working son of a gun, just look at his schedule. The funny thing is, sucessful as this guy is in his 'second career', he never turns anyone down. He has played at high school fundraisers, weddings, and family parties. He seems to play for love and for that I identify with him.
 Tell you a quick story about how I got these tickets: My Chief does all the landscaping work for Levon and he approached him about some tickets. As the Chief tells it: He said to Levon "I have this guy in my Department who is a big fan and he is always there for me when I need him"... Levon interrupted and said 'Sounds like my kind of guy, how many tickets would he like?'
I guess burying myself in music is better than a lot of alternatives. Right now I can't seem to get enough.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


 I've had a lot of bad jobs over the years that make me reconsider what I am doing here in the Fire and EMS Service. As I tell the newbies 'Some folks are just not cut out for this stuff, there is no shame in admitting that when it becomes apparent to you.' Perhaps it's time to listen to myself.
 This last storm took more out of me than I think I had to give. The total devastation of property, livelihoods, and infrastructure in every direction around us was more than I could handle.
 In previous posts I showed some of the videos to give an idea of what was going on, but the truth is, they don't even begin to give you an idea. Two weeks on and many folks are still getting power back and re-connecting with the world. I don't care what the media, the politicians, or the utilities might tell you, the fact is a lot of folks have been left on their own because they are cut off from any real hope. Fortunately, those folks are like most self-reliant Americans and have done what needs to be done to care for themselves and their neighbors up to and including rebuilding roads on their own.
 Last night was the first real night of actual rest I've had in 2 weeks. No I have not been out playing hero every day and wearing myself out. I have been trying to balance home, work, and Fire Service responsibilities without a hell of a lot of luck. Every night I lay in bed conflicted by what I WANT to do (be out there helping), and what I have to do (go to work and be a good boy). I work in a small city that had no real impact from the storm, but I live in the hills. The folks at work have no idea how serious the conditions are just 30 miles west of town, and they really don't care. Last night I took my wife out (who is depressed and exhausted from all the family stuff she has been juggling) and we had a couple of beers, listened to some good bluegrass, and enjoyed the company of good friends and family. We returned home relaxed and I managed to get in 10 hours of sleep. I don't do that unless I am really sick or really drunk, neither of which applied here. I had finally relaxed for just a few hours.
 I came down to my desk and thought I could finally get a good blog post off, but every time I began, I just couldn't start thinking about this stuff. We are two weeks along and many of the critical repair project are pretty much where they were two weeks ago. The rain we had on Wednesday erased much if not all of the work that had been done. You might have heard about the flooding in PA and Binghamton, NY, but not a word was said about how it delivered a second blow in our area. Mentally, this was like being kicked in the head while already laying on the ground after a heavy beating for us.
 Take a look at this Associated Press video which was shot on Monday night of the hurricane 8/29 I think, just a few hours after the water started dropping. These guys were tired, but had no idea it had only just begun and would go on for many days after and they would start all over in ten days. Yes, all the evacuation sirens in this area were sounding off at 0600 on Wednesday 9/7/11 all over again and the evacuations began again as water flowed down Main St. in 4 different mountain villages.

I think I am done handing this stuff. I got into this, and stayed in it, to help people, my neighbors, but I have learned that we are constricted by our leadership. In my county this is a severe handicap. Although our leadership is not corrupt as far as I know, they are simply bureaucrats whose first order of business is to keep their jobs. They showed no courage or leadership in my eyes during this event. In fact, my personal opinion is that they willfully abdicated responsibility and virtually abandoned their posts. Of course, their press releases, when they did come out, made them sound like miracle workers. It was all bull. The people and the small towns they were supposed to help,  were on their own. The County leadership was, and remains, a house of cards. Witness this:

The reporter in this video rode her mountain bike up the road the day it was opened for foot traffic, three days after the storm came through.
 I was speaking with a Chief in a mutual aid department where I went out to help last weekend and he said "Yeah it was a bit hairy that night and I was gonna give you a call along with some of your other guys to see if you could come out to help with the Swiftwater work when it dawned on me that we were cut off and you couldn't get here anyway." He didn't really know how many rescues they did through the first rain period, just going from job to job like they were cellar pumps.
 I'm disgusted and burned out. I am re-evaluating what I am doing with my life. I don't think I can deal with the bullshit anymore. It took me all day just to get up the energy to write this post, and the only thing that is getting me through it is having some good bluegrass playing in the background to keep my conscious mind occupied.
 I've suspected for a while that I may have some of that PTSD stuff that they say builds up over time. I think this last event just pushed me over the edge. I have all the symptoms, short temper, mood swings, inability to concentrate, depression, the need to be alone, etc.. It's possible that I need a change of scenery. It's also possible that I'm done.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I'm Tired

I'd like to say "WE are Tired" but I can only speak for myself. This past week had has plenty of work for everyone from linemen to EMT's. We've all been putting in more than any of us thought we could, especially the trained volunteers. The storm damage in my district was bad, but not terrible. I don't consider being without electric for 6 or 7 days a big deal. Tiresome yes, but just an inconvenience. The districts just up the line in our regular mutual aid areas saw almost total devastation. Main connecting roads through the mountains have been cut in half, isolating parts of the county. The statistics show it best, stating that this type of flooding should only occur once every 100 to 500 years. It was the worst natural disaster to hit our County in recorded history.
 So why am I tired? Well, it's not so much the 'why', but the 'what' that is wearing me out.
I am tired of politicians getting in front of every camera available to tell the voting public how hard they are working, when they can't supply us with the materials or resources to do what needs to be done.

 I am tired of these same politicians that can't use their 'on air' time to get critical information to the general public about what is going on, how they can help, and what is needed.

 I am tired of hearing people come into shelters telling us how rough they have it because they don't have hot water, electric, or cable TV. The sit at the shelter and whine when they could be helping a neighbor who has REAL problems clean out the mud from their home.

 I am tired of news crews sticking cameras in my face looking for a story while I am just trying to do my job.

I am tired of getting 7 good clean hours of sleep, only to wake up exhausted from my dreams.

I am tired of driving my engine over roads that may give out from under it at any time.

I am tired of the tourists that don't understand simple signs that say "LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY" or "ROAD CLOSED".

I am tired of tourists that feel it is more important for them to get good pictures of ruined homes and livelihoods than it is to get the hell out of our way and let us do our job.

 I am tired of seeing my brothers and sisters in the service working 20 hour days and not having been home to take care of their families and damaged homes in over a week.

 I am also tired of seeing other 'brothers and sisters' who could easily give up some of their spare time to put in a 12 hour shift to let some others check their families and get some sleep, but instead turn a blind eye to the need.

 I am tired of road crews that drive around downed trees and lines because "this is not 'our road'".  Take 5 damned minutes and top the tree and open the road making it safer for EVERYONE.

 I am tired of walking around with a lump in my throat from seeing all the ruined lives and homes.

 I should also mention what lifts me up and gives me hope.
 I am encouraged by relief workers that know their job, work tirelessly and always manage a comforting smile and supporting words for those truly affected. (You can usually recognize these folks by the bags under their eyes and the tired expressions when they think nobody is looking.)

 I am Encouraged by the citizen volunteers that step and and offer to do any task and don't walk away when they realize it is hard work. They stay there, get the job done and move on to the next task. (You can recognize these people by the sweat stained shirts and the constant upbeat attitude and smile on their faces.)

 I am encouraged by the Civil Engineers and equipment operators who are faced with incredible challenges and are stepping up and making it happen, pulling off engineering marvels of reconstruction I would have never thought possible.

 I am encouraged by Volunteer Fire Chiefs and Officers that have stepped up and worked non-stop  for 8 days to do whatever could be done to organize communities and help their neighbors. Never turning a person in need away, and never losing patience, in spite of all the "help" they were getting from the politicians.

 I am thankful to Be'la Fleck and the Flecktones who could have understandably canceled their concert in the heart of the devastation and instead worked to make sure they could put on the show and turned it into a benefit for the victims. On top of that, they invited all the first responders and their families in for free. What a great night and welcome respite from the carnage. Be'la and the band came down on the floor after the performance and spent time sharing stories of their own losses in the Nashville earlier in the year, as well as listening to the stories of those affected here and now. They truly are a fine bunch of gentlemen and spoke with us like old friends.

 Here is a slideshow of the area showing some of the damage. The stuff further up the mountains doesn't appear here because those areas are still being opened up.

I spent a 12 hour shift out in the heart of these areas yesterday so that some of their crews could attend to their own families. This is the third '100 year flood event' those folks have seen in the last 5 years. Most came back to work as soon as they could, some never left the station. It was strange to pull in and report for duty when the first question they asked us was "what can we get for ya'? Did you eat yet?" Their hospitality was ingrained, I guess. We came out to help them and they were making sure we were comfortable and well fed. Just amazing.  Anyone who came into the station could not leave without being asked "Is there anything else we can do to help you?" Yeah. we worked hard doing cleanup from the previous days 'relief drops and public distributions", but they treated us like family. We helped distribute RED Cross supplies, give directions to Federal Workers, find sources for odd requests, and generally make ourselves useful. We put their station back into normal response mode before we left for the night. We came home very tired last night but feeling good about a hard day of meaningful work. I should have known it wasn't over, we were driving back to our station around 2100 and were flagged down by a LEO who inquired if we could assist with a cardiac emergency. We did the initial workup and treatment for a lineman in his truck that could barely remember what day and time he had come into work. An odd call in another district that brought together responders from 4 agencies, including an off duty State Trooper/RN/Paramedic who happened to be getting gas for his generator. One final example of people working together without boundaries.
 It's been a long eight days, but I've had it easy and God was good to me and mine. Many of the people I've talked to and worked with over this week will takes years to recover, some never will.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A tad overwhelmed here, sorry

Yeah, I haven't posted in a long time, sorry. The truth is I've been fading away from the blog as I contemplate some life changes. However the point of this post is to communicate, in a succinct manner what is going on here in the aftermath of the recent hurricane.
 We went on duty at 1900 on Saturday 8/27. Nothing much happened until our first call for service at 0200 on 8/28, which was followed by several calls for trees on wires. All little stuff. at around 0430 it began to get interesting and I took a crew and an Engine out for a survey. We drove for an hour creeping along at 15 MPH clearing the rotted dead trees from the roadways to keep them open. The last dead-rot we cleared was on my side of the truck and I got out to kick it apart and throw it into the culverts on the side of the road that had water moving at about 15 knots. In the middle of this I heard a CRACK, then a SNAP, then a bunch of TWANGS and instinctively hunkered down. When I looked up, a healthy 75 footer had come down and snapped the top off a power pole and brought all the wires down around me. I climbed back into the drivers seat to see my two crew mates all pie-eyed. I suggested it was now time to head back to the station. They didn't say a word, just nodded in unison. The return trip was not without event, but lets just say that the next 8 hours were 'challenging' and we did well.
 In short, we had dozens of homes invaded by trees, hundreds of power lines down, many dozens of roads closed, and when things calmed down, I am guessing we did over 200 cellar pumps.
 I am writing this on Friday evening as we have just gotten power back at my home after 6 plus days. I spent the first two days of the storm on duty, then took a day for my Father-in-laws funeral (by flashlight and candle light), which was planned before the storm hit. Only 11 of us could make it with all the roads closed.
 Nobody in our county died in the storm, which was a miracle, but many tried to get themselves killed which kept us busy. I heard no less than 15 water rescue calls for "2 people stranded in a vehicle with rising water", this after everybody had been told and warned to "STAY HOME". There were also two people who thought it would be a good idea to go tubing on one of the swollen rivers on Sunday afternoon. Two dive teams and over 35 rescuers were involved in tracking and getting them out. Personally, I thought they were TSTL (Too Stupid to Live) and they should have just let them go, Darwinism at it's best.
 One of our mutual aid departments had a rough time of it, and lost their new Engine and a chief's buggy when the road gave out under them:

 From a personal perspective (some have asked), After the funeral I turned my attention to family. My parents are in their 90's and not as sharp or self reliant as they used to be. My Mom is on home O2 and with no power, this was a problem. So I spent all my time shuttling O2 bottles for her and getting water for them to flush the toilet, food they could eat, etc. Their road was closed on one end by a bird's nest of trees and power lines, and on the other, 4 miles down, by water 2 feet deep over the road. It was a challenge.
 Our town came through pretty well. The folks up the line, not so much. There is total devastation in many towns up there, and I will be heading up tomorrow to lend a hand.
 I am toast, the emotional load of worrying about, and caring for my folks has drained me. The calls we ran, including a code at the height of the storm, got that adrenaline pumping and I am still trying to calm it down.
 Here is a video of our area done by some local residents. Obviously, you won't know the places that are significant to me, but I can tell you that the home my daughter lived in last year is one of the ones you will see water halfway up the walls, the post office is one I have stopped in, the firehouse that is flooded is the one I did funeral standby coverage at last weekend, and the market (which way never re-open because it has 1 foot of myd through the whole store) is one I have shopped in for 30 years. What you see in this video is only the tip of the iceberg for our area. We lost over a hundred homes, torn right off the foundations. The bridge that is shown in the beginning of this video is still missing. They don't know where it went. Normal water levels are about 20 feet below this bridge deck, you can see that the water was a bit higher during the storm.
 AT any rate, we are all alive, and will live to fight again.