Thursday, July 30, 2009

Story time - death

I'm not a fan of death.

It scares me (unless Death happens to be Brad Pitt). I'd be happy to go through life without having to ever think about it. In fact, I hate almost all movies in which one of the main character dies. Who wants to come out of a movie depressed? I am in awe of those who can deal with death on a regular basis.

As far as my firefighter's life is concerned, I'm not too worried about him. My gut tells me he'll be ok, and I like to listen to my gut. Especially when gut tells me what I want to hear. My firefighter's own view on death is pretty healthy, too. He doesn't often internalize his feelings to the point where it affects him when he gets home from work. He can handle walking into those situations where the emotions are raw as family and friends deal with the death--or near death--of their loved one.

Once he was called to the house of a woman who had difficulty breathing. Her daughter had overdosed and passed away a few days earlier, and she was having a hard time coping. My firefighter simply sat and talked with the family as they reminisced about the daughter that had passed away. By the time the ambulance showed up, her mother was feeling much better.

The following story is about a fatality car wreck involving someone that my husband knew from the community he worked in. This man would stop by the station and chat with the firefighters from time to time. When they were on scene, they realized who's car it was that was involved in the crash.

As told by my firefighter...


This post may contain graphic descriptions, photos and/or commentary that may be found offensive to some readers. In writing this post I tried to balance victim privacy and respect for the family with the desire to share exactly what I experienced. I have omitted some pictures and edited my comments because of this.

At a little before three in the afternoon we were toned out. We turned out of the station onto the highway and could see the header (a column of smoke from the fire). As we approached the scene we had traffic backing up. This almost always means that we have a bad wreck. We noticed that there was one patient with what looked like significant burns. We also noted that there was an older model suburban that was totally involved with fire and that the fire had already extended into the surrounding brush.

I quickly grabbed the bumper line and flaked out the hose while another firefighter grabbed the tools. Just as I was getting water, the medic ambulance pulled up. My engineer directed the paramedic to the patient sitting to the West of the accident. I started at the front right side of the suburban and worked my way around to the far side. Once there I knocked down the fire in the brush.

While I was working back around the front of the vehicle to finish knocking the fire down, I heard my engineer call my name and asked me to confirm that there was one fatality. It wasn't until this point, when some of the smoke cleared, that I could see that someone did not make it out of the vehicle.

Since the fire was knocked down my engineer asked me to go start helping out with patient care while he and the other firefighter finished extinguishing the fire. Just as I walked up the transporting ambulance showed up. I worked on one patient and the crew from the ambulance started working on the second one. My patient had been the passenger in the Suburban and had sustained second and third degree burns to about 60% of his body. We quickly stripped him of his clothes, did a quick head to toe exam, covered him in burn sheets (to try to stop infection), placed him on a backboard and started two large bore IV's.

As soon as he was packaged he was transported to the trauma center. From what I heard the other patient (the driver of the van) had sustained second and third degree burns to his left arm and chest. He also was severely hypotensive so he too was rushed to the trauma center.

From this angle it just looks like a bad wreck.

Here you can actually see the burns on the drivers side.

The driver had to climb out the back of his van.

I have no doubt that his seat belt and airbag saved his life.

This is the burnt out Suburban.

After rescue operations were completed we had to stay on scene and wait for the coroner (and the body recovery team). After they showed up the coroner took his photos for the investigation. We then had to disentangle the body from the vehicle. We popped the front passenger door off and grabbed the body bag. I then had to climb into the vehicle to guide the body out from the inside. To be respectful to the deceased I will not describe in detail the sights, sounds or smells that accompanied the task of body recovery. After the body was placed in the body bag we placed him in the coroners van.

A firefighter manning the power unit.

The coroner. He was actually the head Medical Examiner for the county. He happened to be the closest coroner to our call.

The Suburban was facing the other direction when struck. I'm not sure which lane he was in or if he was on the center divider. It took a lot of force to do this.

This is where the victim lay. That is the metal frame to the front bench seat there.

Mop up.

This is the where the brush was involved. Luckily it wasn't windy that day.

This boulder was under the Suburban. It was hit hard enough to crack it straight down the middle.

My engineer later did his Burn Center rotation for his paramedic class and was able to follow up on both patients. The driver of the Van had been discharged the day before my engineer was there. The other patient was still heavily sedated but was recovering well. He still has several surgeries to go through but he will live.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Firefighter Replies - Part 2

Question: "Great idea - I have so many!

If I'm ever in a serious car accident, and I'm unconscious at the scene, how will paramedics know who to contact on the way to the hospital / at the hospital?

Are barbecue grills in the backyard a fire hazard? Are there actually people dumb enough to use camp grills inside? (I have heard of this, but it just seems to obviously dangerous to me)

What are the rules of stopping to help someone who's had an accident near you on the road? When should you stay as a "witness" and when is it ok to keep driving?

I have more, but those are the ones I always wonder about!"

Answer(s): Hi Marie. Thanks for the questions. Sorry for the delay in response. I had to work. I'll tackle them in order. If you are in a vehicle accident and are knocked unconscious, the paramedics don't care about anything else but you. Our entire goal at that point is to get you to a hospital as fast as we can. We have what we call "the golden hour" which means for trauma patients we would like to get you to the operating room (assuming that it's needed) within one hour of the trauma happening. We want to stabilize you and transport you. That being said, there is usually a police officer there trying to find a wallet. They are the ones that notify family members. Once at the ER the staff will contact someone but you have to tell them who to contact. Doesn't work so well if you are unconscious. Again, they will look for a wallet or cell phone.

Now if we respond to your home and you're unconscious because of a medical condition we get information from the person that called 911. Something that is useful to us in this case is the ability to get some information about you such as any medical conditions you might have, what medications you're taking and allergies to medications. I know in my county we have a program called the Vial of Life.
You fill out some paperwork with all kinds of useful information and put it in a container in your refrigerator. Then post the sticker on your refrigerator that lets us know to look for the information. Believe it or not we look in refrigerators already to look for medications (such as insulin).

Now for the BBQ's. They are a small hazard but not one to lose sleep over. Just make sure that they are attended while lit and that there is brush clearance around it. It's pretty common sense. Most people don't want brush getting near their food anyways. Cooking fires in a fire pit are more of a hazard since the flame and sparks are not contained. As for BBQing indoors...don't. I have an embarrassing story. When I was 19 I was living in Miami and my roommate and I planned on a BBQ. We had a little hibachi grill and a small backyard next to a lake. When it came time for dinner it started raining. Undaunted, we decided to move the operation indoors. We opened every window, put on ceiling and floor fans and had the sliding glass door open. We also took down every smoke alarm in the apartment. We thought that we had everything covered.
Just before the steaks were done an alarm went off. Upon investigation we discovered a carbon monoxide detector that was hard wired into the unit. The only way we could get it to shut off was to kill the power. So we had a good steak dinner in the dark. We couldn't turn the power on until the next morning. If I had only known then the dangers of carbon monoxide. Last winter I ran a call to a house where the residents had used a generator in the garage for heat due to a power outage. By the time that we got there the father was unconscious, the son was out of it and couldn't stand up and the dog was throwing up and whimpering. Lucky for them we got there when we did. We sent the people to the hospital where they made a full recovery and let the neighbors take care of the dog. We then ventilated the house. Don't BBQ inside.

As far as accidents are concerned, I am not aware of any state that requires someone to stop and help. I can only speak knowledgeably about California law. You are only required to stop if your presence there would stop someone from calling 911 (I'm paraphrasing here). So if I'm in a fire department vehicle and come across an accident I have to stop. but if I'm in my own vehicle I do not have to stop. If you stop and render care, you're covered by the Good Samaritan Act which states that you're not liable for helping out unless you are grossly negligent. Once you render aid you are required to stay there until help arrives. I don't know of any laws that require you to stop and be a witness to an accident. That would be a question better fielded by a police officer. Hope I answered you questions thoroughly enough.

Question: "This is going to sound stupid, but where do you get an extinguisher refilled or serviced? At a local fire station or the place we bought the extinguisher?

:) Thanks :)

Midwest MJ"

Answer(s): Actually Midwest MJ, it doesn't sound stupid at all. There are companies that will come out to your home or business and service them for you. One way to find them is Google (here's a link to a Google map. Just drag it over your community to search for local companies). Another way, next time you are in a store (of any type) find a fire extinguisher and check which company services it.
There should be contact information on it either in the form of a sticker or a tag. I hope this was helpful. If you still can't find someone to do it let me know which city you are in and I'll get the information.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Firefighter Replies

Thank you for the questions. In my experience, for every person that asks a question, there are 10 others thinking the same thing but don't want to ask. If you want more information than I give in the answer or if the answer made you think of another question, don't hesitate to ask.

Question: "I don't have a fire extinguisher in my kitchen, but I know I should. What should I look for?"

Answer: Hello Mrs. Gamgee. To start with, fires are broken down into one of several types or classes, "A", "B" and "C" being the most common. "A" class fires are your normal combustible materials such as wood, cloth, rubber or some plastics. This is the most common type of fire. Class "B" fires are combustible liquids such as gasoline or grease. Class "C" fires are electrified electrical fires. Shut off the power and it becomes a class "A" fire.

Fire extinguishers are rated as to which type of fire they will extinguish. When looking for a fire extinguisher for your kitchen, you want to be sure that you get a fire extinguisher that fights all three classes of fire that you are likely to get in the kitchen (A, B and C).

Extinguishers are also rated by their size ( a 5lb extinguisher is a good size for a kitchen) and amount of fire they can extinguish. The fire extinguisher that I have in my kitchen is 5lbs and is rated 2A10BC. As far as which to buy, it's up to you. There are some rather cheap ones that are sold (I don't feel like slamming any particular company) but I try to avoid those. I try to avoid the ones with a plastic head on them.

Most extinguishers with a metal head on them are reusable (you have to get them serviced and filled) so it would pay for itself if you ever had to use it. I hope this is helpful. Here's a website that has more information.

Question: "Why, at 4 a.m. the other morning, did my smoke detector in the hallway go off? Just three beeps. Then nothing. I paced the house for two hours worried there was a smoldering wire somewhere. The battery appears fine as it blinks once every 45 seconds like it is supposed to. It went off when I hit the test button."

Answer: Hey Fiddle1, why is it these things always seem to happen in the middle of the night?! From the research that I have done it sounds like your smoke detector is nearing the end of its life. I didn't know that smoke detectors themselves would go bad. I had always assumed in the past as long as you had a good battery in it and the test function worked that the detector was good. It may also depend if yours is solely battery operated or if it's hard wired into your house. If you have the owners manual (or if you check online) you might be able to find more information specific to your model. Here's one site that I read that was helpful.

Question: "We've had our little fire extinguisher forever. How do we know if it will work should we ever need it? I was going to give it a try, but my husband says you can only use it once then it needs to be refilled. ????"

Answer: Anonymous, The best way to make sure your extinguisher is in proper working order is to get it serviced every year. If you have an extinguisher that is not serviceable or are just too busy/lazy to get it done (I fall into that category) there are still a couple of things that you can do. First, check the pressure gauge and make sure that it is still fully pressurized.

Second, if it is a dry chemical extinguisher, turn it upside down and smack it with a rubber mallet a few times. The extinguishing agent inside your dry chemical fire extinguishers is very fine and over time it settles. It will eventually become so compact that the extinguisher won't be able to discharge the powder. Turning it upside down and smacking it a few times loosens the powder. It's not the best fix but it's better than nothing.


If there are any more questions out there, please feel free to put them in the comments section on the Ask a Firefighter post and my firefighter will be happy to answer them!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ask a Firefighter

Do you have any questions for my firefighter/paramedic?


Ever wonder how to check your smoke detectors? Do you know what kind of fire extinguisher is the best, or how to check to see if it still works? Do you know what to do if your car crashes on the freeway? How do the signs and symptoms of a heart attack differ for men and women? What's the meaning of life? What sort of work out routine do firefighters maintain? Here's your chance to find answers to all of life's pressing questions (and not so pressing ones). Post your questions in the comments section and my firefighter will be happy to answer them.

The firefighter is in...


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Documenting my paintings

Hello, my name is Katie, and I have a fabric addiction.


I promised myself when I began this blog that I would start painting again. Today, I didn't paint, but I did spend a good part of the day documenting my current stock of paintings.


I am feeling the desire to paint again. There are a few ideas floating around in my head, trying to get out.


I want to make a painting to complement the new nursery decor.


However, I have to find a fabric store first. Can you believe that in this town of 100,000 the only fabric store is Wal Mart?? Oh how I miss the fabric district in Los Angeles.


I'd settle for a Jo-Ann's.


You'd think my huge stash of fabric would be enough. Sadly, (or happily in my case,) there is no such thing as enough fabric.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Off-duty firefighters cut boy out of burning car

The video with this story brought me to tears!! These guys are never off duty, and they prefer it that way. I'm certain they're extremely glad they had the training and were in the right place at the right time to help out.

Here's the story, as seen on CNN:

(CNN) -- The off-duty firefighters who rushed into a burning SUV and cut a 4-year-old boy out of the seatbelt saved his life, the boy's doctor said during a press conference Tuesday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The depth of the boy's burns "indicates to me this was a very hot fire, and he was in close contact with it," pediatric surgeon David Gourlay said. "These firefighters were clearly heroic and saved D.J.'s life."

D.J. Harper is in serious but stable condition with second- and third-degree burns on his scalp, face, back and arms, Gourlay said.

But the little boy is expected to make a full recovery thanks to a group of strangers that came to his rescue. The onlookers helped a woman and girl from their fiery SUV before off-duty firefighters cut a seatbelt to free D.J. in a harrowing rescue attempt a neighbor captured on video.

Jason Lepowski was driving down the street Sunday when a car crashed and erupted in flames. So he parked his car and ran to the vehicle to help.

"It blew up, and I was already smashing on the windshield of the vehicle because I saw the people inside," he told CNN affiliate WTMJ.

His uncle, Jerry Lepowski who lives down the street, rushed to the scene and started filming.

Neighbors and those in the area frantically began screaming for help. Flames began to fan and tires blew as neighbors struggled to find a way to shatter the windshield and pull the three people to safety.

"We're busting at the window because we saw everybody screaming," Jason Lepowski told WTMJ. "We made a little hole to get the little baby out first. Then came the mother, then we were smashing out the window. We couldn't break it."

Then they began shouting for help.

That's when neighbors, grabbing anything they could find, approached the car and started hammering the windshield with blunt objects including pipes.

"We're freaking out, and then we get the windshield open," Lepowski said.

But D.J. was still inside, trapped by a seatbelt and nobody could reach him.

"We could see the kid on fire," Lepowski said.

Off-duty Milwaukee firefighters John Rechlitz and Joel Rechlitz assisted by off-duty Milwaukee police Lt. Mark Wroblewski raced to the scene.

Without gear, backup from emergency responders or any protection from the fire, the firefighters went inside the burning vehicle to try to free the boy.

"I saw him and I saw my son's face. It was very emotional," Joel Rechlitz told WTMJ.

With the help of a knife from a neighbor they were able to cut the boy free.

On the video John Rechlitz is seen grabbing the boy and running from the vehicle as Joel grabs a hose and begins to douse his entire body.

On Monday, the three off-duty workers were honored for their heroic actions. "We took an oath as firefighters," John Rechlitz told WTMJ. "A duty to act, a willingness to serve, and that's what we were doing. Regardless if we were on duty or off duty."

At a news conference Tuesday at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, D.J.'s father, James Harper, struggled to contain his emotion as he thanked those who helped save his son.

"I'm sorry, I'm trying to hold it together, but it's my little boy," he said. "I just want to thank everybody, the citizens of Milwaukee, for helping us.

"There are angels all around us."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Growing my wings...

See these little hairs?


I love hormones. Just when you think all the side effects of pregnancy are over, you get hit with these lovelies.

Meet the beginnings of my post-post-partum hair loss hair wings.

I don't know if it's the lack of sleep that causes the hair loss, or stress, or pulling my own hair out, or losing that "pregnancy glow," but for some reason, I lose hair by the fistfuls those first few months after the baby comes out. My hairline recedes and thins to scary heights, prompting such endearing comments as "whoa, check that out!" from my firefighter. It's very encouraging.

Then my body decides to grow all that hair back at the same time and I get these buzz-cut bangs. There's just no attractive way to style them, especially when they grow out a bit more.

I think they may have been the inspiration for the first mullet to ever walk out of a salon! I am SO ready when the mullet returns.


Update - see how my hair wings are doing now. They grow up so fast! *sniff!*

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A night off

"I'm so tired - it was a long shift and we ran 2 calls last night."

"I'm really tired too - I had to get up something like four times last night to get the baby and he wouldn't go back to sleep after 5."

"Well, at least you're home when I'm gone and can nap in your own bed during the day. It's not the same as being on duty the whole time."

"...but I am on duty the whole time! There's never a time when I get to leave work - I can't just stop being mom after my shift ends. I usually wake up more often than you do during the night. Plus, I have to nurse the baby, which makes getting up at night even more time consuming. You never give me credit for nursing him."

"Well, you never give me credit for working so many hours a week. Plus, when I run a call at night, I have to get up, get dressed, be up for an hour or so, and then try to get back to sleep."

"At least you're dealing with adults. I have to deal with illogical babies."

"But I have to deal with the stress of being the probie. I can't ever relax."

"And you think I get to relax with 3 children?!?"

I can't tell you how many times my firefighter and I have had this back-and-forth. The prize for winning this particular argument is highly coveted - agreeing on who's turn it is to sleep in on a day off. This is one argument where we're both willing to pull out the big guns, like having to deal with massive amounts of diarrhea (which, either one of us may have to face in our respective jobs), to win the right to sleep in.

Last night however, there was no argument. I won, hands down. My firefighter is taking a trip to Los Angeles to work a shift with his old crew. I get to stay here and take care of the children while he visits his friends. So, in return for his luxuriously kid-free vacation days, I got to not only sleep in, but have the entire night off from any sort of child-related disturbance. I hooked my firefighter up with a bottle, hooked myself up with a book, kissed everyone goodnight, trekked downstairs and took a vacation in my own guest bedroom.


My 4 year old thought it was pretty silly that I was sleeping downstairs. It felt pretty silly. Actually, it felt like my firefighter and I had just had a massive argument. But after I got over that sensation, it was truly a welcome break. I can't remember the last time I closed my eyes and didn't open them again until it was time to get up.

My firefighter ended up getting about 2 hours of sleep between all of the feedings of the baby, whom I assume is going through a growth spurt. My husband was a good sport about it. The baby was good about it, too. He was happy - not a lot of crying - he just wouldn't sleep. Apparently he thought this new arrangement was silly, too. Every time my firefighter tried to feed him, he would look up and give him a big smile as milk dribbled out the corners of his mouth. It's helpful to have a happy baby for those midnight feedings. Now if we could just get him to stay asleep. Any suggestions?

The best part? I think my firefighter's horrible sleepless night has the potential to benefit me in future arguments about who needs a break the most!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sprucing up the window treatments

I love the bedding I found for my infant. It's difficult to find something stylish within a reasonable price range for baby bedding! I got mine from JoJo Designs on eBay, land of pretty and affordable baby bedding.

One thing I'm not fond of, however, is window valances. They seem thin, flompy, and don't have much presence. And they really don't work with the hardware that I have to work with at the moment.


So, I decided to make full-length curtains out of them to give them more oomph.


You can see the new paint job, too. All I have to say about that is I want to flog the person who decided that drop-down texture is a good idea. I'm still filling in the tiny pockets of white that keep showing up on that dark wall. I do love the colors, though!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Supporting the Cause

Meet the guys from the 2009 Georgia Heat Firefighters Calendar. Hi, guys!


It's a tough job, finding a calendar to promote, but someone's gotta do it.


"Hi, my name is Kevin, and I'm here to rescue you."

This calendar benefits the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation. From their website:

"Founded in 1982 by a group of DeKalb area firefighters, the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation's goal is to help burn survivors in their journey of recovery as well as to prevent others from experiencing the traumatic event of a burn injury."

It's a worthy cause. Thanks, Kevin, for contributing.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Story time - garage fire


As told by my firefighter...

After being asleep for about 25 minutes (at 1:30 a.m. because of another call) the tones went off again. We were dispatched to a structure fire. I was so tired that it took a second for my brain to kick into gear and for me to realize that I needed to hurry. I ran out to the apparatus bay and quickly donned my turnouts. Just as we cleared the bay our battalion chief arrived on scene and reported a fully involved garage and to have all units responding continue in. Hehehe. I was awake now.

The engine from station 3 was the first to arrive on scene beating us by a few seconds. We jumped out and went over to help. The engineer off the first in engine needed help hand jacking 5" hose to the hydrant. While one of the firefighters from my crew did this the other firefighter from my crew jumped on the deck gun and started to knock back the flames. I waited with my Captain for orders. The initial crew grabbed a 1 3/4" line and protected the neighbors house from catching on fire. While all this was going on another crew had shown up and grabbed the 2 1/2" attack line and started outside attack on the garage. About this point part of the roof of the garage collapsed.


As firefighters we learn the science behind fighting fire. A lot of people may think that it's as simple as "putting wet stuff on the red stuff" but there's more to it. If it's done incorrectly we could fail to put out the fire, spread the fire, burn people inside, collapse buildings or cause a lot of water damage. The best way to put out a fire is to get up close to where you can see the "seat of the fire" and put water on it. It takes a surprisingly small amount of water to put out a fire when it can be attacked in the correct way.

While we were waiting for our orders I noticed that even though we had thousands of gallons a minute flowing into this garage all it did was keep the major flames down. The fire was still going strong in the sheltered areas where the deck gun and other hose lines could not reach from the exterior of the building. My Captain was ordered to grab his crew and to get ready for interior attack through the front door. I didn't need much encouragement from my Captain. I grabbed the 1 3/4" preconnected attack line off the rear of the engine and went for the front door. Once I was there and masked up I started attacking the fire from the outside while I waited for my crew. As soon as everyone was ready we started to make entry into the house. When the IC (Incident Commander) was informed that we were going in he had all defense operations stopped (mostly the deck gun so that it didn't put us into danger). Walking through the door I could feel enough heat to keep me in a crouch. Visibility was low but not horrible. I walked in the front door and encountered a hallway that went left and right of the entry way. To my right I could see that the fire was no longer contained to just the garage.


I moved down the hallway closer to the fire and gave it some water. It went right out. We then heard the order to evacuate the building. Not what I expected to hear. We quickly, but not without reservation, backed out. From where we were we thought that we were safe. That is one of the reasons that we have an IC who stands back from the incident and watches for what develops. I'm not sure what he saw but he obviously saw something on the outside that made him not want to risk our lives inside so he had us back out for a minute. Once the scene had stabilized we went back in. In just a few minutes we had the fire inside the house under control. What was left of the two cars in the garage would take a little longer to extinguish because of our limited access to the vehicles.

After my crew was finished with interior attack we were assigned to Rehab. We hydrated up and then started helping getting SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) bottles in a cache and swapping them out for the crews that were doing salvage and overhaul. After that we were assigned to check the air quality in the structure with a gas meter. After a fire there are many gases (carbon monoxide is the most common) that are potentially dangerous so we have to monitor them and determine when it is safe to not use our SCBA's. Once it was determined that the gases in the house were within acceptable levels all the crews took off their SCBAs.

Once everything was mopped up we started loading hose. It took about an hour to clean off our equipment and get it back onto the engine. We were cleared from the call and back at our station sometime around 4:30 in the morning. Just in time to get about two hours of sleep.

These were taken a few hours later. That is the garage that was engulfed. The front door that we went into is on the left of the photo. You can also see the damage sustained by one of the cars by the collapsing roof.

The view from the other direction. You can see that the fence got a little charred from the heat. Over all it seemed to me that there was smoke damage in all the rooms and direct fire damage in the hallway, kitchen, family room, living room and dining room.
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