Is there a way not to burn? Looking beyond individual solutions

California is still burning, as I write this. Last week’s middle-of-the-week post, inspired by the wildfires in the Western USA, was focused on ways that individual property-owners can mitigate their fire risk.

Santa Rosa, CA, Oct. 9, 2017: Photo by Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris via ABC News.

But individuals are not always able to control their surroundings completely enough to take all those steps. Where are your 30- and 100-foot “zones of defensibility” when you live in an apartment building like the one in the photo above, or a densely-spaced neighborhood like the one in the photo below?

With apologies, I grabbed a screen-capture because I wanted to show the contrast in what had originally been published as an interactive graphic from ABC News. To see the original, please go to the article.  Keep scrolling!

Remember, the residents of this community sought out housing they could afford, in an attractive neighborhood that had been safe for years. Here is a mind-blowing, in-depth report by ABC’s Matt Guttman. He talks about the speed with which the fires advanced. He also gives some background on the neighborhood and the people who lived there.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

With a lovely climate and access to natural beauty all around, it was a desirable place to live, work, and retire. No one expected a wildfire to come through and make it a deathtrap.

But the wildfire did come, and when it did not everyone got out in time, despite  heroic efforts by first responders. Lots of things went wrong (Murphy’s Law strikes again), including with the alert systems.

Community planning is more important than we may think, in all kinds of ways–but disaster preparedness and mitigation is definitely one of them that I hope will get more attention as our environment grows more hazardous in this age of climate change.

Some of the principles I touched on in last week’s post can be scaled up to the community: not only the idea of zones of defensibility noted above, but also concepts such as the fire danger of developments on a slope, and community building codes.

Other considerations include ensuring that fire equipment can get to burning buildings, whether permeable paving designed to mitigate runoff can stand up to the weight of fire equipment, and many more. Sometimes even seemingly offbeat solutions can work really well, too. Consider wildfire mitigation via goat-power:

Simply not developing some areas because of their increased risk (see slopes, above), or to use as “fuel breaks requires community planners with the fortitude to stand up to the determined efforts of short-sighted, quick-money interests. Their offers can seem very attractive . . . until the disaster happens. Cool heads and long-term planning are going to matter more and more.

IMAGES: Many thanks to ABC News for the still photos from Santa Rosa, and also for the moving report by Matt Guttman from there. The still photo of the wildfire threatening houses is from Anchorage, Alaska’s web page about community planning for wildfire mitigation, and the goat video is courtesy of YouTube and Denver 7 “The Denver Channel” (ABC again!). Many thanks to all!

Forgetting is not an option

Remembering September 11, 2001

We saw the worst of humanity that day. But we also saw some of the best. I hope you’ll enjoy this tribute, with actual footage from that day at Ground Zero.

You also might appreciate this short National Geographic production about United Flight 93

Unfortunately, many 9/11 heroes are still “layin’ it all on the line.” A variety of respiratory illnesses and cancers have been linked to the pollution encountered by both survivors and first responders. But the trauma experienced that day has left many with PTSD and other mental health effects, as well. Last year, on the 15th anniversary, CBS News ran this item:

Clearly, not all sacrifices are made in a blaze of glory that ends quickly. The lingering effects of our collective trauma from that day still haven’t played out.

VIDEO: Many thanks to Allec Joshua Ibay on YouTube, for the “Everyday Heroes” musical tribute to the first responders at Ground Zero. The song that gives the video so much of its emotional power, please note, is by Dave Carroll, who is not credited on Ibay’s video (however, Ibay’s images are more focused on the events of 9/11/01 than the video Carroll posted). You can buy Carroll’s single or album on Amazon. Thanks also to The CBS Evening News and YouTube, for the video about first responders’ mental health. Additional thanks to CBS News for the image of the firefighter at Ground Zero.

Visual thoughts on disasters

This is one of those days when pictures shout louder than words ever could.

Damage from Hurricane Harvey could require years of cleanup. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Western states in flames (KHQ-NBC Q6)
I think I recognize this road in San Juan, from my trip there in July! Good luck, my friends!! (Alvin Baez/Reuters)
A final thought.

For your consideration: Prayers for the victims, local first responders, volunteers, and trained disaster responders are always helpful (if you believe in their power, which I do). But don’t stop there!

America’s Charities Disaster Recovery Fund-Hurricane Harvey 

Wildfire relief efforts in Washington state 

Charity Navigator Hurricane Irma

The American Red Cross

ASPCA Disaster Response

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Washington ExaminerAP Photos, and photographer David J. Phillip for the photo of Freddi Ochoa in his Houston, TX front yard. I also appreciate the vivid map from KHQ in in Spokane, WA, showing all the fires wreaking havoc in the Northwestern US on the day before I wrote this post. I especially thank ABC News, photographer Alvin Baez, and Reuters, for the horrifying photo from San Juan, PR. And I appreciate ShareQuotes4You and meetville.com for the Mollie Marti quote.

Another way to thank a first responder

Hi! Here’s a quick update to a very popular post I wrote last November. I’m gratified that many readers have read my post Three Great Ways to Thank First Responders. Thank you!

My friend, fellow writer, and excellent resource for that post, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?), recently sent me another idea: 6-LED mini-flashlights with 9-volt batteries

Firefighters are dealing with 9-volt batteries all the time, so these little things are especially handy for them. Dora’s husband the Fire Captain gave them out to the guys on shift as Christmas presents last month.

Of course, you don’t have to wait till next Christmas to use this idea. No time is a bad time to say “thank you.”

IMAGE: Many thanks to Wal-Mart for this product image. I recently bought some of these via Amazon, too.

New Year’s Eve reminders

Not all of us get to party tonight. Please spare a thought for our first responders, who’ll be on the job to keep us safe!

Holiday Cheer for Our First Responders, a painting by Teresa Ascone.

Be nice to them at checkpoints, and designate a driver, please!

Keeping us safe this Holiday Season, a poster by Teresa Ascone.
They’re working hard tonight! Don’t give them more to do!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Teresa Ascone via Fine Art America for her Holiday Cheer for Our First Responders painting, and to Teresa Ascone’s “Holiday Art” Pinterest page for her Keeping Us Safe this Holiday Season poster. Thanks to Bonfire Designs for the EMS greeting.

Three great ways to thank first responders (plus a suggestion)

It’s been a heck of a week to be a first responder.

We started off Monday with a horrible school bus wreck that Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher described as “Every first responder’s worst nightmare,” and the next day we were confounded by the shooting death of yet another police officer, Wayne State University Officer Collin Rose, on Tuesday. On Thursday, while most of America was (we hope) relaxing for Thanksgiving with their families, our local Johnson County (KS) Sheriff tweeted this reminder:

For my late-week posts this month I’ve been focusing on ways to say thank you to and for various things. With both the holidays and the coldest-weather months coming up in North America, it seems to me that the least I can do to focus this week on good, practical, creative ways to thank our first responders. 

First responders are law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel (don’t forget the dispatchers!) who work all hours, in all weathers, holiday or not, to provide the rest of us with emergency services whenever and wherever we need them.

How can we adequately thank them? We probably can’t. But there are ways that members of a grateful community can express their gratitude–ways that really do help.  


I asked around and checked various sources online–but probably the most interesting and helpful source I found was a friend and fellow writer, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?). She is discharged Air Force, a former EMT, former administrative head of a police department, and the wife of a fire captain/Paramedic. If anybody knows really meaningful ways that community members can thank their local first responders, it’s Dora! Here’s her advice:

1. Ditch the junk food! 

cheese-meat-and-crackers“Everybody brings cookies and tins of popcorn,” she said. “What they’d really like are veggie trays!” She also suggested food gifts of: fruit; crackers, cheese and/or salami; bread; or sandwich trays.

Consider coordinating with a local fire station, police station, etc. to provide a meal. If that’s more than you can do alone, perhaps you could recruit help from like-minded folk from your church, yoga class, or workplace.

If it’s not anonymous, a big pot of soup or other homemade food items would be welcome (call ahead).

Gift cards for places such as Subway, Jimmy John’s, or Panera (what’s local to you?) also can be a great help for a hungry first responder with little time for a meal.

2. Think small and practical 

zebrapensThere are lots of little things that make life easier for an emergency responder. Please note that I have linked many of these items to websites. This is not an endorsement, but to illustrate what I’m talking about.

With cold weather coming on, consider handand foot-warmers. There are also warming or cooling wraps of various types that can help in weather extremes. Dora knew of someone who made knitted caps for a fire crew, but of course you can buy those, too!

Yes, it’s the digital age, but all first responders still need pens and pads of paper. Dora tells me that Zebra pens are small, easy to carry and you can get refills easily. They’re always in demand. As for pads, get the pocket-size with the top spiral (much easier to use than a side-spiral), especially for cops or members of an ambulance crew. 

police-flashlightsAnd yes, pretty much all cops carry a large flashlight, but Dora tells me you’d be amazed how often those small, intense flashlights come in handy, to use in addition to their bigger brothers. Having several on hand can be a real boon–and not only for cops.

Oh, yes! Don’t forget the batteries! All kinds of things (not only flashlights) use AA batteries.

Update! Dora gave me a new idea, which I share in my post Another way to thank a first responderon 1/10/2017.

Finally, if your police department has a bike patrol and you live in a warm-weather area (or have hot summers and need an idea for the future), consider water bottles that snap to the frame of the bike.

3. Put it in writing 

There’s nothing quite as great as getting a written “Thank you” for something you did. Sometimes people say “thanks” to first responders–but much more often these folks see a worse side of humanity. Sometimes the people they help can’t physically speak their thanks.

We can, though.

We can buy or make a card, or write a letter. Remember the old saying, “if it isn’t documented, it never happened.” As a teacher, I know I’m not the only one who still has cherished thank-you notes from years ago–and first responders are no different. Don’t know what to write? here’s a suggestion.

Tell them why you are thanking them. Be specific. Maybe it’s a personal experience. Maybe it’s something you saw in the news. Maybe it’s a particular time of the year you know is probably difficult for them. Maybe you just “took a notion.” Whatever the reason, it’s a good way to introduce the subject.

Tell them how you appreciate what they did or do, what a difference they make in the community. Thank their families, too, for the stress they endure. And close with best wishes for their safety, because what they do is all too often frightening, stressful, and sometimes downright deadly. They see people on what might be the worst day of their lives, and sometimes other people’s nightmares turn into their own, too.

4. If you’re so inclined, pray for them 

This is my “(plus a suggestion),” because I know not everyone believes in prayer. I do, however, and whenever I see an ambulance, fire vehicle or or police car, I pray a variation on this prayer:

Dear God, thank you for (that officer’s/those firefighters’/those Paramedics’) life (lives) and service. Please bless and keep (him/her/them), grant (them) strength, wisdom, discernment, and favor. Bless the work of their hands, Lord, and place a hedge of protection around (them), to keep (them) safe on (their) watch. Bring (them) home safely to (their) family (families), and shower blessings into (their) life (lives). 

It’s probably the way I thank my local first responders the most (I’ve prayed that prayer as many as a half-dozen times on a busy day), though they never know it. I can’t keep the bad guys’ bullets (a moment of silence, please, for Det. Brad Lancaster and Capt. Robert David Melton), the collapsing walls (a moment of silence for John Mesh and Larry Leggio), or the job stress away, but I can pray for their strength and beseech their protection. And I can thank God for them.

So can we all.


IMAGES: Many thanks to the Johnson County Sheriff via Twitter (@JOCOSHERIFF) for the Thanksgiving-in-a-cop-car photo (sorry, I was unable to find @EnoughLODD). The “For your service and protection” image is courtesy of Vacation Myrtle Beach (on a page where they offer first responders a $10 off coupon). The amazing cheese, meat and crackers tray is from Pinterest, via their Cheese and Cracker Tray pinboard. The multi-pak of Zebra pens (one of many varieties the company sells) is from Jet. The photo of little “police flashlights” is from Deal Extreme. And many thanks also to Geralt and Pixabay for the “Thank You” pen image.