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Glory Days

Signal 7

To help in understanding the Disney rules, I want to take a minute to explain how Florida works when it comes to EMS and dead people. Florida’s EMS system requires that all prehospital services (like EMS) have to be supervised by a doctor. That doctor is called a medical director, and that medical director sets the rules under which all of the EMT’s and Paramedics that he supervises must operate. The rules are referred to as protocols.

Some medical directors don’t trust their underlings very much, and keep them on a very short leash by making protocols restrictive. Other medical directors allow their medics latitude to make more clinical decisions than others. There are all kinds of protocols.

My first medical director here in Florida was one of the strict kinds. We were not allowed to declare someone dead. Ever. Every single person got transported, and the doctor in the ED had to make the call. We once transported a person whose head was severed from his body. The ED doctors were pissed.

If you decide that the patient is dead on scene, the radio call used to be “Signal 7.” Then the 911 commission came along, and we were no longer allowed to use codes. From that point on, the radio call became: “No code, no vitals.”

Reedy Creek is, for all practical purposes, a government that is owned by a private company. Their medical director is VERY strict, and the protocols that they operate under are anachronistic. They wrote their protocols IMO with a lawyer and PR department in mind, but not a doctor, and certainly not the patient, in mind. One of the rules that Disney operates under is that all medical patients need to be transported to the hospital, even if they are dead. The majority of them go to Advent Hospital in Celebration, where the doctor then declares them dead. Since Celebration Hospital is not on Disney property, the person didn’t die at Disney. They died in the Hospital.

Categories
economics Glory Days Me

Paramedic

One question I get all of the time is “What is it like to be a paramedic?” There are a few places that you can work as a paramedic in the peninsula of Florida. I have heard that things are different in other places, but this is how it is here. I described it 9 years ago, if you want to compare.

Most new paramedics want to work flight. The glamour of riding around in a helicopter is pretty alluring, but due to weight restrictions on helicopters, they generally won’t let you be a flight medic if you weigh more than 150 pounds. Flight medics typically have at least 5 years of experience with a 911 service to even be considered for the job.

The next best thing is running with a 911 service. Running with a 911 service is not as boring or routine as other jobs, so that is where nearly all paramedics want to work. The catch is that nearly all 911 EMS on the Florida peninsula is run by fire departments. The pay is pretty good with 911 service, so the competition is fierce. There will be 200 or more applicants for each position, so getting hired for one of these jobs is difficult. Starting pay for a dual (fire, paramedic) certification paramedic is currently about $50,000 per year.

Then there are hospitals and doctors’ offices. They are largely avoided by paramedics because nurses have managed to get employers to prohibit paramedics from giving medications. The reason is that nurses don’t want to be replaced by paramedics making less money. Hospital paramedics are also prohibited from inserting endotracheal tubes, because doctors make several hundred dollars for doing them. They aren’t going to let an hourly employee perform a procedure that a doctor can do for the price of a Lexus payment. So many medics (especially new ones who want the excitement) don’t take these as full time jobs. What winds up happening is the paramedic gets to do all of the things the nurse doesn’t want to do. You start IV lines, draw blood, bathe patients, change adult diapers, collect stool and urine samples, run ECGs, fetch drinks for patients, and other gopher work. A medic in a busy emergency room can expect to walk 20,000 steps (over 8 miles) per day. Starting pay for a hospital medic is around $36,000 a year with no experience.

There are also the theme parks. Most of the work there is simple first aid, with a few emergencies, and a bit of employee health. There are the big ones: Disney, Sea World, Universal, and Busch Gardens. There are smaller ones like Lego Land, Cypress Gardens, and even water parks like the now defunct Water Mania or Wet N’ Wild. Starting pay at these places can be odd, because some require experience, and quite a few only hire part time paramedics who already work elsewhere. Starting pay is between $18 and $23 an hour.

The paramedics who get the least pay and respect in this area are the ones working on non emergency transport ambulances. The pay is low and the working conditions are poor. Shifts are long, normally 12-14 hours each. You do not get a station to sit in on those times where you wait for your next call. You sit in the truck and wait. No reading, eating, sleeping, watching movies on your electronic devices, no texting, no phone use, and no drinking of anything except water. (Not even coffee) These jobs are easy to get, but turnover is high, and most people don’t stay for long, using this place to get experience and move on. These positions are where many medics who can’t get a job elsewhere wind up. Most medics work one of these jobs at some point in their career, but strive to get away from as soon as possible. If you work at one of these for more than 2-3 years or so, most employers will assume that there is a reason why you can’t get a better job and will avoid hiring you out of general principle.

One manager at a private ambulance company told me that his crews were not allowed to eat during shift, because he doesn’t pay them to eat, he pays them to haul patients so he can make money. Expect no meal breaks for the entire 12 hour shift. Another told me that patient care is secondary to keeping the customer (nursing home, hospital, etc) happy, and that the patient was just cargo, and no one cares what cargo thinks. One of my former EMT students was told by an employer when he complained about working conditions, that for every EMT that was working there, there were 7 more looking for a job, and if he didn’t like it, he could be replaced tomorrow. Starting pay for a transport medic averages $32,000 a year. In contrast, a kid right out of high school can get a job at a fast food place for $25,000. Delivery drivers for places like Sysco are making $50,000 a year.

A person aspiring to be a paramedic who isn’t a firefighter is better off going to nursing school. An RN has the same amount of schooling as a paramedic, but makes about double the pay.

That and burnout mean that only half of all paramedics are still working as paramedics five years later. The half of paramedics that leave generally eventually become nurses or respiratory therapists, the rest usually leave for other professions. I know one that became an ice cream man.

Even becoming a firefighter paramedic is a tough road. About half of the people who spend two years becoming paramedics and another six months becoming firefighters never get hired by a fire department. They wind up either moving on to other careers or taking jobs like non emergency ambulance jobs as they wait for the big break that never comes.

I got lucky. I spent two decades running 911 calls with fire departments. I have worked in all of the settings above (except flight- I am too heavy): three hospitals, four different fire departments, two doctor’s offices, three different theme parks, and two different ambulance companies. Each had its plusses and minuses. The biggest minus for most is pay, closely followed by poor working conditions.

In Florida, a nurse can challenge the paramedic exam and become a paramedic, but a paramedic can’t challenge the nursing exam. I can say with all honesty that nursing school doesn’t teach you anything that you didn’t already know as a paramedic. Even so, nurses who began their careers as paramedics make better nurses, especially if you are working in the ED.

Categories
Glory Days

Childhood Hijinks

When I was a teen, the cool kids had a phone in their bedroom. The rich kids had their own line with a phone number that was separate from the rest of the house. I didn’t, mostly because my mom didn’t want to “waste money” on that sort of frivolity. For those of you who don’t remember this, ask your parents. It was in the days before the Internet, before cell phones, you know, the ancient days.

So of course, whenever I would be talking to a friend (usually girls), my mother would pick up the phone and say embarrassing things like “Did you take out the trash? Did you do your homework yet?” – you know, the sorts of things that mortify teens by letting other teens know that you have parents.

I had a curfew of midnight on any night when there was no school the next day. The thing is, my parents always went to bed around 10 pm. There were many nights that I would stay out later than curfew, and my parents would frequently catch me staying out until 2 or 3 in the morning, until I hatched my devious plan.

I would call my house from wherever I happened to be at 11:30 or so. The phones would ring throughout the house. My father would pick up the phone at his bedside, and answer it while half asleep. In his groggy, half asleep voice, I would hear: “Hello?”

I would reply, “Dad, I’ve got it.”

He would say: “Tell your friends to stop calling so late.”

Then I would resume whatever I was doing, safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t catch me, as long as I was home before my dad woke up in the morning.

Like the chemistry story, I didn’t tell my mother about this until Dad’s funeral. Mom found it quite funny, and still tells the story to her friends when she talks about all of the funny situations I got myself into as a young lad.

Categories
Glory Days Military

Analog Fire Control

When I was in the Navy, the ship that I was on had a 48 inch diameter carbon arc searchlight on it. The searchlight worked by taking what was essentially two welding rods, pressing them together, and maintaining an electrical arc in order to create a searchlight beam that was bright enough to be seen for miles. In fact, by shining that light at a cloud, it was possible to send Morse code signals to other ships over the horizon.

When my ship was built in the mid 70’s, these lights weren’t made any longer, and the one that was on my ship had been salvaged from a WW2 era destroyer that had been decommissioned. Built in the days before electronics, the system that ran this searchlight was incredibly complicated. It was an analog power supply that ran on a system of motors and gears, with lenses focusing beams of light on various parts of the system that turned motors on and off, pushing the rods closer together, or pulling them apart, as needed to maintain the light beam. A technical manual for a 24 inch example can be found here.

By the time I reported aboard the ship, the light no longer worked and no one knew how to fix it. At one point as a young E-4, I took an interest in this searchlight and decided to get it working. I made a project out of it. I found a manual in the ship’s tech library, brought the control unit down, and spent several weeks rebuilding it. When we finally got the thing lit, it was amazingly bright. The light hadn’t worked in years, and I didn’t get so much as an “attaboy” for getting it working. Nowadays, it seems like you would get a Navy Achievement Medal for fixing that thing.

I tell you this as a setup and explanation of where I got this interest in how early electrical engineers solved problems that seem easy today using electronics. The focus today is on the Ford Mark I fire control system.

The Navy needed a way to calculate the elevation and deflection of Naval guns so as to put shells on target. This was no trivial exercise in math. Both the target and the gun platform were likely moving, the target might even be airborne, the platform might be rocking in heavy seas. Different shells were of different weights and ballistic coefficients. Or you might want to put a starburst shell 50 feet over the target for illumination. Ranges were sometimes 30 or more miles away. All of these factors required math in three axes in order to be overcome: direction, distance, and elevation. Enter the Ford fire control computer.

A frigate might have one. Destroyers had two, allowing multiple batteries to engage different targets. An Iowa class battleship had four of them. They were accurate enough that this computer was still in use until the battleships were retired in the mid 90s. 50 years old is not bad for an analog computer living in the age of transistors.

Check out this video on how the system worked to direct the secondary batteries on the 5 inch guns of the battleship New Jersey.

What can be done today with a laptop computer took an entire room of switches and a 3,000 pound box filled with motors, switches, relays, and gears. It was bulky, heavy, and more complicated than a box full of Swiss watches, but it worked. It worked quite well, in fact.

I consider myself lucky to have worked on that searchlight. It was one of the most interesting projects that I have ever taken on.

Categories
fun Glory Days

Skidmarks

Miguel posts about the Norwegian military reissuing the used underwear of discharged service members. One memory of my own time in the military makes me cringe to think about having to share skivvies.

When I first reported to the fleet, everyone who was E4 and below had to report for 90 days of “coop cleaning.” The coop was the compartment where about 200 of the sailors in the engineering department lived. There was one E4 and three sailors E3 and below who were assigned as coop cleaners. It was their job to clean the berthing compartment and its attached head.

Inside of that compartment were two laundry receptacles: one for dark clothes, one for whites. Twice a week, the coop cleaners would put the clothes into 60 pound bags and take those 5 or 6 bags down to the laundry to be washed. When those clothes came back clean, the coop cleaners would place them on each person’s rack (bunk). It was rather nasty. Imagine what 300 pounds of laundry that was worn in a hot, humid environment by 200 sweaty guys for a 16 hour workday smelled like after fermenting for three days in a common laundry locker. Yeah, it smelled like a mixture of ammonia, grilled onions, cheese, and farts.

One of the funniest traditions we had was to pin the skivvies with the largest skid mark to the bulletin board that was located next to the laundry bin. Since your name was on the skivvies, you were subject to ridicule. We had one guy, his name was Crenshaw, who regularly had skidmarks that were 6 inches long and two or three inches wide. He didn’t care one whit about the ridicule he was subjected to. Every laundry day, his underwear and its large skidmarks would go on display.

So no, I would rather go commando.

Categories
Glory Days Military

Veterans’ Day

Today is November 11, veterans’ day. As a veteran, I can tell you that I don’t need or want a holiday to honor what I did. I don’t even stand when places ask us to. My wife doesn’t understand why. I just don’t think that I did anything special. If you want to honor someone for their service, please wait for Memorial day.

Categories
Duty, Honor, Sacrifice Glory Days The Collapse

Ghosts of the past, present, and future

Exactly twenty years ago. I still remember that morning in more detail than all but of a few of the mornings that have come since. The sky was a beautiful blue, the sun was warm, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A typical Central Florida day. My shift, C shift, had just started our 24 hour workday.

I was driving Engine 2 that morning. Dennis was riding in the seat next to me as the Lieutenant, and Justin was the back seat firefighter. Our shift had begun at 7:30 that morning as it always did. We did our morning routine as we always do. At 8:30, we left the station to do annual flow testing of fire hydrants.

By 8:45, we were behind the Winn Dixie and just about to test our first hydrant. Our Battalion Chief called us and told us to return to the station and turn on the TV. I remember jokingly asking Dennis who the guy on the radio was and what they had done to the Chief, since he would never tell us to watch TV during the day.

We arrived back in the station just in time to see the second plane hit the south tower. I remember watching Fox news and seeing them switch to the DC bureau, where reporters said they could see a column of smoke. Things were happening so fast, I couldn’t figure out what that smoke was coming from. It was then that a fellow firefighter told me that the Pentagon had been hit.

The chief called us, and when I was on the phone with him, the first tower fell. The chief said to me, “Oh my God. 30,000 people just died.” I remember being stunned that so many people could be in a building.

By noon, we had an armed SWAT officer with an MP-5 riding along with us on all of our calls “for security.”

For weeks, we firefighters were stunned at the loss of 343 firefighters. I felt a sense of awe that the guys who went into that second tower after watching the first one fall went into that building, in awe of the guys who were in the second tower when that first one fell, all the while knowing that they would never come out of the second tower. What was going through their minds? I asked myself if I could make the same choice, if I *knew* that I would not come out?

We all wanted to be able to say yes. It isn’t the same thing when you go into an ordinary fire. Firefighters are a cocky, professional bunch. When we run into a burning building, we tell ourselves that we are trained and experienced enough that it will not happen to us. Not so those guys in the towers. They went in KNOWING that they wouldn’t come out. That is a time that you don’t know what you would do until the moment of truth comes.

I just hoped that I would have the fortitude to make the choice that needed to be made, to have the courage to choose duty and honor over self preservation, and the fortune to never be placed in that position. I hoped that I would never have to make that choice.

I spent the majority of my adult life in one uniform or another, dedicated to the protection of American lives and values. I spent six years in the Navy, doing two combat tours in the Persian gulf. I wasn’t a big hero or anything. I, like millions of others did my job. After that, I spent two decades in a firefighter’s uniform. I that time, I ran into hundreds of burning buildings, jumped into a dozen lakes, thousands of medical scenes, and 22 natural disasters. I was injured three times in the line of duty. I saw a couple of thousand dead bodies, dozens of shootings and stabbings, and saved more than a few lives.

In 2011, I retired. I had seen enough death, misery, and blood for one lifetime. I thought that the time of risking life and limb for the good of this nation and its people was over. I had given enough. I deserved to be left alone to grow old and enjoy the rest of my life in as much peace as I could manage.

All I want is to be left alone to grow old in peace. The events of the past 18 months make me believe that this won’t happen. I fear that I may have to make that choice after all.

Categories
Glory Days

Big City Elitism

This is so typical of the people who live in big cities. This guy from New York visited Chicago and Detroit, what people from NYC consider to be ‘small towns’ located in ‘flyover’ country.

I’ve heard some people say that New York has everything and other cities are just small towns — some of my family members have even gone as far as to say the Midwest contains only cornfields.

We all know what they think of the south- it is filled with racist, uneducated, idiot rednecks whose main form of entertainment is going to the Klan meeting after a day of hillbilly hand fishin’.

He was also surprised that there were, you know, things to do.

Chicago and Detroit have chic restaurants, trendy stores, unique bars, and popular clubs. 

This article is a perfect example of exactly the kind of elitist attitude that makes everyone in the country dislike people from New York City. We used to regularly get people from there who would walk into the fire station to sightsee. They were amazed that we had a large fire station that was filled with modern equipment, much of it better than what FDNY has. They were always surprised to find out that more than half of the guys on duty had college degrees in fire science, emergency medicine, or a related field. They were also surprised that about ten percent of the department were women.

Then the stories would start. We would have to hear about how the guy worked for “the New York Fire Department” where he was inevitably a chief, and then we would hear about how that department ran so many more big fires that we did, yada, yada.

So one day, I had had enough. I looked this guy who was telling me about some four alarm fire or some such, and I said, “Yeah, we get fires here too. We don’t get big ones like that, because we put them out while they are still small, because that is our fucking job.”

He walked out at that point, and left us to enjoy the rest of our provincial day in peace.