The Job Nobody Wants

Nobody joins a volunteer fire department to be the bookkeeper.

To fight fires? Of course. Drive the fire trucks? Absolutely. Help people in trouble? You bet. Keep track of the finances? No, no thanks.

So, when you have somebody who’s good with numbers and willing to be in charge of the money, that’s a big win. The problem is that some people see this as an opportunity to steal.

Several times a year, you read about treasurers at volunteer fire departments being arrested or convicted on charges of looting cash from their organizations. Just last week, the treasurer of a downstate volunteer fire department pleaded guilty to pilfering more than $300,000 from his organization.

That sounds like a lot of money, but a few years ago the treasurer of a fire department on little Charlton, NY went to prison for stealing half a million dollars. Charlton Fire District’s pretty small, yet nobody noticed that hundreds of thousands of dollars went missing.

But like I said, you don’t join up to balance the checkbook, you join up to do the cool stuff. Let somebody else worry about paying the bills.

My old fire department had strict internal controls and an independent audit conducted every year by an outside firm. We couldn’t get reimbursed for a can of kidney beans without a receipt. Some of these fire departments are not so stringent — and when only one person is handling the books, anything can happen.

Fortunately, a lot of people who do this get caught, but you have to wonder how many get away with it.

Turkey Flambé: 2014 Edition

Yay, Americans are getting smarter!

You’re probably saying, “Rob, that’s not very likely. What proof do you have?”

Easy. Every Thanksgiving, I scour the internet for videos of people having horrible mishaps when frying turkeys — and these videos are getting very hard to find. The most recent fryer fire I could locate was uploaded to YouTube more than a year ago, on December 10, 2013.

Combine the lack of videos with the proliferation of phones that shoot video and it can only mean fewer fires.

What you will find on YouTube are many videos of fire departments staging turkey fires to demonstrate the dangers of hot oil, open flames, turkeys and (presumably) alcohol. Having served as a firefighter, I can tell you that they pass up few opportunities to light things on fire for training. Here’s a good one:

So, if we connect the dots we can surmise that all these demonstration videos have made a difference and yielded smarter Americans. Now, all we need are some videos about how local talk radio can rot your brain…

Turkey Flambé

YouTube is full of videos of turkey frying disasters, but these days most of them seem to be from volunteer fire departments demonstrating the worst case turkey frying scenario.

As a former volunteer firemen, I know how much these guys love burning things in training. Cars, piles of wood, houses — so igniting vats of oil to educate the public is a no brainer.

While I enjoy seeing those huge orange fireballs erupt from the turkey oil, there is no substitute for the real thing. Searching YouTube I found that there are fewer turkey inferno videos than in the past — this despite the proliferation of phones that shoot great video and the popularity of turkey frying.

Could it be that people are finally getting the point? Well. not entirely.

So, do be careful if you’re doing any turky frying. And for God’s sake, please keep a camera ready just in case.

Holy Flaming Tannenbaum!

Yes, real trees are superior to fake ones, with one possible exception: they can burn your freakin’ house down. But what’s Christmas without a little danger?

Anyway, I thought you’d enjoy this video from our favorite local newspaper that shows how to handle a flaming tree.

The accompanying article has some good information too — namely, be sure you have a proper fire extinguisher. When it comes to those, go big or go home. Or, go big or burn down your home, one or the other.

Who You Gonna Call?

There is something about October, isn’t there?

Heating season always means we get lots of fire calls involving carbon monoxide detectors going off. Usually they just malfunction — and they usually malfunction in the dead of night.

I was recently on one of these calls at 2:30 in the morning. We checked all around the house with our meters and found it safe. Another bad detector. “Everything’s fine. It’s probably just broken.”

“Or something else,” replied the homeowner. “We have strange things happen in this house. Things we can’t really explain.”

“Like ghosts?”

“Like something.”


So at three in the morning I sat alone in the fire station filling out the report. I don’t know if it’s because I stayed up late watching American Horror Story, or that I’ve had zombies on the brain lately, but the thought of “something” setting off carbon monoxide alarms amplified every sound in and around the building.

And it was then that the brave hero of this story rushed nervously to his car.

Home Fires Burning

Once you’ve seen a few house fires, you really get worried about your own home burning down.

Not sure this qualifies as paranoid, but because of my firefighting, I frequently think about faulty appliances, frayed wires, careless cooking, candles, power surges, various acts of God, spontaneous combustion…

Fires are awful, but especially this time of year. State Farm, the same folks who brought us that AWESOME turkey frying fire video in November are back at it again with their 12 Fire Horrors of the Holidays — a dozen ways to ruin Christmas in a dangerous and spectacular way. A few of them are featured in this video:


Naturally, I cast a wary eye at my Christmas tree, even though the National Christmas Tree Association says it’s safe. In fact, they claim your house is more likely to be burned down by these common, everyday items:

  • newspapers and magazines — 13 times more likely
  • boxes or bags — 10 times more likely
  • curtains or drapes — 9 times more likely

All the same, I keep one of these handy at all times.

Home Fires Burn Bright on Thanksgiving

OK, I swear this is the last word on turkey fryers. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so:

Turkey Fryer Ignites, Spoiling Family’s Holiday
COLUMBUS, OH – A turkey fryer that probably had a worn propane hose caused a house fire on the East Side yesterday as the homeowner was preparing a Thanksgiving meal. The homeowner had just left to pick up supplies and left his brother in charge, said Battalion Chief David Whiting. “He started the fryer, went in to clean the turkey, and when he came back, everything was on fire,” Whiting said. Columbus Dispatch

Frying Turkey Ends in Dangerous House Fire in NY Suburb
NORTH BABYLON, NY – Fire officials say oil from a deep-fried Thanksgiving Day turkey sparked a house fire in suburban New York. There were no injuries reported in Wednesday’s fire at the North Babylon home. Firefighters were there for about two hours. The North Babylon fire chief says the family put the turkey in too fast and the oil boiled over, sparking flames. The home’s exterior and rear deck were damaged. AP

Turkey Fryer Causes Fargo Garage Fire
FARGO, ND – Flames from an overheated turkey fryer ignited a fire on the roof of a garage Thursday afternoon in a Thanksgiving mishap at a home in south Fargo. The owner of the home, Ken Schumacher, was heating up the cooker when it flared, Capt. John Speral of the Fargo Fire Department said. “He hasn’t even put his turkey in yet,” Speral said. “He went to turn it down, and it flashed.” The thermostat apparently was faulty. Although the cooker was outside the garage, the flames reached the overhanging soffit, Speral said. That was enough to ignite the roof. Fargo Inforum

Turkey Fryer Sparks Fire in Hummels Wharf
HUMMELS WHARF, PA – Twenty people were just about to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner at the Rivera residence early Thursday evening when four fire trucks crashed the party. The garage area of the home of Robin Welch and Carlos Rivera at 99 Creek Road was ablaze when they rushed in. It was about 5 p.m. Rivera had been cooking one turkey upstairs in the regular oven and one in the garage by a propane-fueled deep fat fryer method. He said he checked on the turkey in the garage, and everything was fine, and he went back upstairs into the kitchen, which was directly above the garage. “It wasn’t 30 seconds later,” he said, “I saw smoke coming up by the window.” The Daily Item

Turkey Fryer Fire
NEGAUNEE, MI – A Negaunee family has reason to give thanks because of the generosity of a local grocery store. Their eventful day began Thursday afternoon when the Seppala family was deep frying a turkey. The oil overheated and caught fire. The Negaunee Fire Department was called to the backyard of the home on East Lincoln Street. There was no damage to the home, but their Thanksgiving dinner went up in flames. Jill Seppala and her son Brad went to Super One Foods in Negaunee to pick up some rotisserie chickens to make up for the turkey they lost. But the chickens had already been out too long and the grocery store could no longer sell them. When the Seppala’s explained what happened, Super One put together a Thanksgiving feast for the family including turkey and mashed potatoes… all for free. It was enough to feed ten people. WLUC-TV

Turkey Flambé

Somebody commented about frying turkeys in my Martha Stewart post. Fried turkeys are delicious, but heating a huge vat of oil over an open flame is something you should be careful about —especially if there’s a little alcohol involved. It’s a good way to light your house on fire or hurt yourself. While this will make for a memorable Thanksgiving, please give your local first responders a break.

These folks thought it would be a good idea to fry a turkey on the deck. Not!


I like this one because there are kids around. Kids love fires:


Finally, here’s a little video from Underwriters Labs on the dangers of turkey frying. The good part starts :40 seconds in:


Gravity Is Not Your Friend

One of the cool things about firefighting is the interesting stuff you get to do in training. The other night we practiced jumping out of windows. Awesome! This video shows one of my colleagues getting it done nicely.


Naturally, the first time I jumped out the window I dangled there like a human piñata until untangling myself. Somebody quipped, “Dope on a rope.”

It’s good to know that at 48 I can still dive out of windows and slide down a rope like a 20-year-old —just don’t ask me to climb back up.