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Henri Guérard, Destruction du quartier “amandier” par le feu. Gelatin silver print from the 1970s-1980s. 1958.

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historicaltimes:

The “Gallows” fire prevention sign in Manning Park, British Columbia. 1947 From Vancouver archives. A prop cigarette shown being hung in attempt to prevent forest fires.

via reddit

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“Beaver Creek Camp Inmates Team With Local Firefighters,” Federal Corrections. Volume 2 – No. 10 – August-September, 1962. p. 7.

Inmates of the Beaver Creek Correctional Camp recently joined forces with the Gravenhurst Fire Department in quelling an imaginary blaze as part of a combined practice exercise.

Commenting on the exercise, Camp Superintendent D. J. Halfhide said it was most successful, and demonstrated that the combined fire-fighting services could cope with a major fire if one should occur.

“The exercise showed that in less than seven minutes we can have maximum attack methods in operation,” he said. “Our men can have equipment concentrat,ed on a blaze in about two minutes, and the Gravenhurst fire department can be on the scene to join them about five minutes later.”

The designated Beaver Creek crew consisted of four inmates plus a stand-by group, and in two minutes and 40 seconds this crew had water playing on a building which had been designated as being “on fire” when the siren was sounded. This included mustering the crew, laying two lines of hose, and starting the fire pump.

Seven minutes after the alarm was sounded, the Gravenhurst Fire Department arrived. They hooked up the fire truck, started the booster pump, and were pumping water at 200 pounds pressure in a further four minutes.

Superintendent Halfhide said the men from Beaver Creek, with local assistance, are becoming proficient in fighting fires of two varieties. Fire Chief Roy Mathias of Gravenhurst is helping to instruct them in methods of fighting building fires; while George Elliott, chief ranger at High Falls Lands and Forests office, has worked with them in forest firefighting techniques. The crew has helped to put out bush fires throughout the Muskoka region.

Camp inmates hold weekly practices under the direction of the camp’s works officer, Ken Knister, using water lines from a storage reservoir on the camp grounds.

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“Wildfires
have been raging ferociously in California this year. According to
meteorologist Craig Clements at San Jose University, wildfires have also
been much larger than usual. Fire seasons typically run from May to
November in northern California, Napa Valley and Sonoma counties. In the
summer, 100-degree temperatures dry out the grass, and droughts add to
the problem.

In 2017, fires in California were the deadliest since
the beginning of record keeping, with 100,000 people forced to evacuate
and around 75,000 displaced when their homes and businesses were
destroyed. It took more than 11,000 firefighters to battle those blazes.

Officially,
at least 35 to 40 percent of Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting force,
are prison inmate crews, and the number may be even higher. ‘‘Any fire
you go on statewide, whether it be small or large, the inmate hand crews
make up anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the total fire personnel,’’
says Lt. Keith Radey, a commander in charge of one of the inmate fire
camps.

About 4,000 inmates each week
fight wildfires alongside civilian firefighters. That number includes
approximately 250 women. There are 43 inmate firefighting camps. The
three camps for women were opened in 1983.

In the fires, women
wear either yellow or orange fire-retardant suits, helmets and
handkerchiefs to cover their mouths and necks. Each one carries 50 to 60
pounds of gear and equipment in her backpack, and some also carry
chainsaws. Crews of 14 people each fight on the front lines.

Firefighting
is dangerous, grinding work requiring endurance and includes injuries
and some deaths. Prison crews in California firefighting bring to mind
chain gangs without the chains.

Prison labor and fires

In 1946, the Conservation Camp Program began using
prison labor to fight deadly fires, under the joint supervision of the
Division of Forestry and the Department of Correction, and later under
the supervision of the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Nowadays, California’s institutionalized
inmates make license plates, prison uniforms, office furniture for state
employees and anything else the prison may need. They usually earn
between 8 cents and 95 cents per hour.

But inmates in the forestry
program are paid more to fight fires. They can make up to $2.56 a day
in camp, plus $1 an hour when fighting fires, though during training
they may be paid nothing at all.

In comparison, full-time civilian firefighter salaries start around $40,000 yearly or $17 per hour minimum.

In
2014, when California courts took up the issue of overcrowded prisons,
the state attorney general’s office argued against shrinking the number
of inmates because prisoners were needed to fight fires. In 2015, Gov.
Jerry Brown agreed. Other states use prisoner firefighters, but not
nearly on the scale that California does.

Most California inmates
volunteer to fight fires. They must pass a fitness test, and then they
receive as little as three weeks’ training, compared to a three-year
apprenticeship for full-time civilian firefighters.

Prisoners
fighting fires are serving terms for nonviolent, low-level crimes, such
as drug or alcohol-related offenses. Volunteers have to earn the right
to be chosen for “rehabilitation work.” High risks are involved, but
they earn more money than in other prison jobs — in a less violent
atmosphere, in more physical space than a prison cell offers. The risks
are weighed against the same amount of time served inside a correctional
facility.

At-risk women prisoners
Women
prisoners interviewed have given a range of feelings about being in the
forestry program. At firefighters’ camp, they have woodworking areas,
softball fields and libraries. They enjoy being outdoors and having
barbecues with family visits. Children see their parents in a camp
environment rather than inside a restricted prison.

And women may
get to see their children on the outside sooner because their sentences
are reduced due to firefighting credit. For every day they are in a
camp, their sentence is reduced by one day. Some women provide this
labor for years. They resent the hardship and intense physical labor,
but say it is worth the risk.

Since women in the firefighting
camps are available 24 hours a day for work, they are considered a
“resource” for the state. California’s firefighting program saves
taxpayers close to $100 million each year, according to the CDCR. The
cost for housing each inmate in a prison facility is $76,000 a year, as
opposed to using them to fight blazes.

– Dolores Cox, “In battle for freedom, women inmates fight blazes In battle for freedom, women inmates fight blazes.” Workers World. July 29, 2018

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“Firemen Labor Under Difficulties,” Montreal Star. July 21, 1938. Page 03.

Ste. Genevieve volunteer firemen worked under difficulties last night when fire threatened the whole village after attacking two dwellings, a general store and several sheds and barns.

The upper picture shows a group of volunteers pouring water onto the smoking ruins.

In the lower picture Fire Chief Poirier and Fireman Brunet are attending to the makeshift pump. The Star photographer caught them as they stood knee-deep in water.

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“Fire-Fighting Apparatus of Former Days To Be Displayed,” Toronto Globe. June 30, 1934. Page 05.

“As its contribution to the city’s Centennial celebration, the Toronto Fire Department has been gathering together for some time past old firefighting apparatus which will be displayed in a parade. Specimen pieces of the old apparatus are pictured above, at the upper left being an early steam-driven pump which came into use about sixty years ago, and with improvement, continued to be used until 1927, when steam was superseded by the gasoline-driven pumps. Standing beside it is Fireman William Fleming, who had charge of the last ‘steamer’ of the T.F.D. in Portland Street Hall in 1922. At the upper right are displayed the new and old in nozzles or ‘branches’ as the fireman term them. The one at the right is from a hand-drawn and operated pump of 100 years ago, whcih was equipped with a hand-made hose of rivetted leather. It had a capacity of about fifty gallons a minute, as contrasted with the modern one at the left, whcih easily spouts three hundred gallons a minute under high pressure. Below is a four-wheel horse-drawn hose reel of about 1850, which carried 500 feet of hose, with a crew of five men. This type of wagon being used up till about 1880.”

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“Inmates Make Effective Use
of Fire Fighting Training,” Federal Corrections.  Volume 2 — No. 3. June-July, 1962

Provision of training for correctional camp inmates
in forest fire fighting techniques paid off recently
in the Bracebridge, Ontario, area, when an inmate
fire-fighting crew from Beaver Creek Correctional
Camp was able to effectively assist Ontario Lands and
Forest Department personnel in bringing a local bush
fire under control. 

The practical proof of the value of this training
came on June 16, when the camp’s Officer K. Knister
received a telephone call from the Forest Ranger’s
office at Bracebridge requesting assistance in extinguishing
a local bush fire. 

Mr. Knister selected four inmates who had successfully completed a fire-fighting course conducted
earlier at the camp, and went with them to the Santa’s
Village area. After receiving instructions, the officer
and four inmates fought the fire for approximately
seven hours alongside one employee of the Department
of Lands and Forests and two civilians, using equipment
provided by the Provincial Government.

For their labour, the inmates were paid by the
Provincial Government at $1.00 per hour. Their
cheques were received by the Accountant at Collin’s
Bay Penitentiary, the Camp’s parent institution, and
deposited in the inmates’ Trust Fund Accounts. 

In recognition of their efforts, Chief Ranger Elliott.
later telephoned Camp Superintendent D.J. Halfhide
to express the Department’s appreciation. Ranger
Elliott congratulated Supt. Halfhide on the inmates’
behaviour, and on the skill they showed in organizing
and in fighting the fire. He made particular mention
(if their use of fire hoes. and their knowledge of the
correct use of fire-fighting hand tools.

   

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“Fire fighting at Mountain Prison,” Discussion, Vol. 2, No. 4, 1974. 

Taking a fire prevention course at Mountain Prison B.C. is
restricted — arsonists don’t get a chance. That’s what C. M. Foster, supervisor of training, half jokingly pronounced when
describing the new program started last year. Staff and inmates
were invited to take part, 14 inmates volunteered. 

Fires were set and put out, all part of the course, and Ron
Tupper, works officer coordinated the event. “Inmates who
clean the dormitories and huts benefited from the training.
They’re inside most of the time and would be the first to take
action on a fire. 

"Although the buildings are metal, with painted wood
partitioning inside, it wouldn’t take long to gut a building,”
Tupper pointed out. 

Mountain Prison was opened in 1962 to house Sons of
Freedom Doukhobor’s convicted of arson, hence the all-metal
buildings. 

According to Tupper, “There’s usually only a skeleton staff
on duty in the evening, and not many during the day. Were
there a big fire inmates would be called out to help. A good
reason for fire fighting training. 

Inmates might also be called to fight brush and forest fires in
the surrounding bush, said Tupper. We try to meet all contingencies.
One-time guard, Vic Friesen of the Provincial
Fire Marshall’s Office set up the program, using equipment
available at Mountain. Instruction was a daily three-hour
session, with films, first aid, and practical training. 

Foster explained the program could assist inmates in finding
a job after release. A certificate, showing the course has
been taken, plus other tests, is required.”

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“Attacks on Shipping:

Seamen fight a fire on the flight deck of the USS Saratoga caused by one of seven strikes by suicide planes off Iwo Jima/13 July 1945.” [Actual date should be  February 21, 1945.]    NYF 74293, Imperial War Museum.  

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Fairy tales and feedback loops
“Looks like snow is coming,” Toma declares solemnly, his face pressed up to the window and the white, thick air on the other side.

Ever since we left Alberta, his five-year-old mind has been struggling to understand the smoke that has marked his summer. Trying to make sense of my chronic cough and his raging skin rash. Struggling, most of all, with the soundtrack of worried chatter among the grown-ups in his life.

His response goes through phases: Nightmares wake him up at night. He writes songs with lyrics like, “Why is everything going wrong?” There’s a lot of inappropriate laughter.

At first, he was excited by the idea of wildfires, confusing them with campfires and angling for s’mores. Then his grandfather explained that the sun had turned into that weird, glowing dot because the forest itself was on fire. He was stricken.

“What about the animals?”
We have developed techniques for controlling worry. They begin with taking deep breaths, and we do it several times a day. But it occurs to me that breathing extra amounts of this particular air is probably not great, especially for small lungs already prone to infection.

Avi and I don’t talk to Toma about climate change, which may seem strange given that I write books about it and Avi directs films about it, and we both spend most of our waking hours focused on the need for a transformative response to the crisis. What we do talk about is pollution, though on a scale he can understand. Like plastic, and why we have to pick it up and use less of it because it makes the animals sick. Or we look at the exhaust coming out of cars and trucks, and talk about how you can get power from the sun and the wind and store it in batteries. A little kid can grasp concepts like these and know exactly what should happen (better than plenty of adults). But the idea that the entire planet has a fever that could get so high that much of life on earth could be lost in the convulsions — that seems to me too great a burden to ask small children to carry.

This summer marks the end of his protection. It isn’t a decision I’m proud of, or one I even remember making. He just heard too many adults obsessing over the strange sky, and the real reasons behind the fires, and he finally put it all together.

At a playground in the haze, I meet a young mother who offers advice on how to reassure worried kids. She tells hers that forest fires are a positive part of the cycle of ecosystem renewal — the burning makes way for new growth, which feeds the bears and deer.

I nod, feeling like a failed mom. But I also know that she’s lying. It’s true that fire is a natural part of the life cycle, but the fires currently blotting out the sun in the Pacific Northwest are the opposite, they’re part of a planetary death spiral. Many are so hot and intransigent that they are leaving scorched earth behind. The rivers of bright red fire retardant being sprayed from planes are seeping into waterways, posing a threat to fish. And just as my son fears, animals are losing their forested homes.

The biggest danger, however, is the carbon being released as the forests burn. Three weeks after the smoke descended on the coast, we learn that the total annual greenhouse gas emissions for the province of British Columbia had tripled as a result of the fires, and it’s still going up.

This dramatic increase of emissions is part of what climate scientists mean when they warn about feedback loops: burning carbon leads to warmer temperatures and long periods without rain, which leads to more fires, which release more carbon into the atmosphere, which leads to even warmer and drier conditions, and even more fires.

Another such lethal feedback loop is playing out with Greenland’s wildfires. Fires produce black soot (also known as “black carbon”), which settles on ice sheets, turning the ice gray or black. Darkened ice absorbs more heat than reflective white ice, which makes the ice melt faster, which leads to sea level rise and the release of huge amounts of methane, which causes more warming and more fires, which in turn create more blackened ice and more melting.

So, no, I’m not going to tell Toma that the fires are a happy part of the cycle of life. We settle for half-truths and fudging to make the nightmare subside. “The animals know how to escape from the fires. They run to rivers and streams and other forests.”

We talk about how we need to plant more trees for the animals to come home to. It helps, a little.

A wake up call — for some
One of the regions hit hardest by the fires is a place I have visited often, the territory of the Secwepemc people, which encompasses a huge swath of land in the Interior — much of it now on fire. The late Arthur Manuel, a former Secwepemc chief, was a dear friend and hosted me several times. So far in 2017, I have visited his territory twice: once to attend Manuel’s funeral and once for a meeting he had been organizing when heart failure took his life.

The gathering was in response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to approve a $7.4-billion project that would nearly triple the capacity of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries high-carbon tar sands oil from Alberta through British Columbia. The expanded network of pipes would pass through dozens of waterways on Secwepemc land, and is forcefully opposed by many traditional landholders. Arthur believed the struggle has the potential to turn into “Standing Rock North.”

When the fires began this summer, Manuel’s friends and family wasted no time making the argument that building more fossil fuel infrastructure as the world burns is both absurd and reckless. A statement was issued by the Secwepemc Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty opposing the pipeline expansion project and demanding that the existing, smaller pipeline be shut down immediately to reduce the risk of a catastrophic accident should fire and oil meet.

“We are in a critical state of emergency dealing with the impacts of climate change,” said Secwepemc teacher Dawn Morrison. “The health of our families and communities relies heavily on our ability to harvest wild salmon and access clean drinking water, both of which are at risk if the Kinder Morgan pipeline was ruptured or impacted by the fires.”

This is common sense: When oil and gas infrastructure finds itself in the bull’s-eye of the cumulative effects of burning so much fossil fuel (think of oil rigs battered by superstorms, or Houston underwater), we should all do what the Secwepmc did — treat the disaster as a wake-up call about the need to build a safer society, fast.

Whatever you do, don’t talk about oil
Our political and economic systems, however, are not built that way; indeed, they are built to actively override that kind of survival response. So Kinder Morgan doesn’t even bother answering the community’s concerns. What’s more, the company is gearing up to begin construction on the expansion this month, with the fires still raging.

Worse, in true shock doctrine form, some extractive industries are actively using the fiery state of emergency to get stuff done that was impossible during normal times. For instance, Taseko Mines has been fighting for years to build a highly contentious, open pit gold and copper mine in one of the parts of British Columbia hit hardest by the fires. Fierce opposition among the Tsilhqot’in First Nation has so far successfully fended off the toxic project, resulting in several key regulatory victories.

But this July, with several of the impacted Tsilhqot’in communities under evacuation order or holding their ground to fight the fires themselves, the outgoing British Columbia government — notorious as a “wild west” of political payola — did something extraordinary. In its last week in office after suffering a humiliating election defeat, the government handed Taseko a raft of permits to move ahead with exploration. “It defies compassion that while our people are fighting for our homes and lives, B.C. issues permits that will destroy more of our land beyond repair,” said Russell Myers Ross, a Tsilhqot’in chief. A representative of the outgoing government responded: “I appreciate this may come at a difficult time for you given the wildfire situation affecting some of your communities.”

Despite the stresses the fires have placed on their people, the Tsilhqot’in are fighting the move in court, and the company has already been forced to suspend its drilling plans in the face of legal troubles. There is also a new provincial government, created through an unprecedented agreementbetween the centre-left New Democratic Party and the Greens. In a rare piece of good climate news, it is actively challenging the legality of the Kinder Morgan pipeline project on several fronts.

Yet anyone holding out hope that the fires might jolt Trudeau into serious climate action has been gravely disappointed. Canada’s prime minister loves being photographed frolicking in British Columbia’s spectacular wilderness (preferably shirtless), and his wife Sophie Grégoire recently unleashed a hurricane of emojis by posting a picture of herself surfing off Vancouver island (it was during the fires and the sky looked hazy).

But for all his gushing about British Columbia’s forests and coastal waters, Trudeau is slamming his foot on the accelerator when it comes to pipelines and tar sands expansion. “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there,” he told a cheering crowd of oil and gas executives in Houston last March. He hasn’t budged since. Never mind that Houston has since flooded and a third of his country is on fire. This month, one of his top ministers said of the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval: “Nothing that’s happened since then has changed our mind that this is a good decision.” Trudeau is on fossil fuel autopilot and nothing, it seems, will make him swerve.

Then there is U.S. President Donald Trump, whose climate crimes are too comprehensive and too layered to delineate here. It does seem worth mentioning, however, that he chose this summer of floods and fires to disband the federal advisory panel assessing the impacts of climate change on the U.S. and to greenlight Arctic drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

– Naomi Klein, “My Summer With the World in Flames.” The Tyee. September 22, 2017.

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