Friday, August 2, 2019

The Miller Fire: adventures in southwest New Mexico

(Courtesy of Santa Fe Hotshots)
On the morning of July 3rdI received a call from dispatch (Santa Fe Zone) asking if I was available for a Safety Officer 2 assignment down in the bootheel of New Mexico (Coronado National Forest). They wanted me at the Incident Command Post/ICP (Chiricahua Desert Museum - Rodeo, NM) for briefing the following morning. I quickly initiated mobilization pack list inventory and headed into town to pickup my ride at Enterprise through the NERV (National Emergency Rental Vehicle) program: I’d be living from a Ford F-150 (double cab). Due to time factors, fatigue and thinking: “it might be my last chance for a shower” for a while, I spent the night in Lordsburg’s Comfort Inn. I got up early the following morning, and made it to the evolving ICP well before my reporting time/briefing. I found out that though in New Mexico (Mountain Daylight Time) we’d be managing the fire on Arizona’s Mountain Standard Time. So, was quite early- I used the time to start my “check-in” process with various Units at Plans (Check-in/Resources), Finance (Time), Logistics (Communications, Supply, Ground Support), and of course with “Team Safety.” 
I found out that a lightning storm in the Peloncillo Mountains had started the Miller Fire on June 29th. It was in rough and remote country, in the Bunk Robinson Wilderness Study Area, with two satellite “Spike Camps” (away from ICP) that firefighters were working from. I’d be working with the Type 2 Southwest Area Incident Management Team (IMT) 4,who had taken over management of the fire that morning. I was being assigned as the Safety Officer at the Oak Grove Spike, several miles west of Cloverdale, NM. A little over a century ago the area had quite a few residents during the homesteading era. Before that it was home to the Chiricahua Apache, and of course before that Ancestral Pueblo that made a pottery type named Cloverdale Corrugated (or Incised). 
Communicating with the IMT was challenging, especially the first 24-hours: everyone using the radio’s Forest Net channel. As often the case, there were many blind spots for radio use. Emergency repeaters soon provided much improved capabilities, but we’ve become so reliant on our phones for information & communication. There was no service available, except some weak signals via Mexico (they had an interstate highway running semi-nearby south of the border): usage came with a cost, which most of us did not initialize. Eventually a mobile unit was established for WiFi, so email could be utilized to communicate.

The Oak Grove Spike Camp was centered at an old historic dance floor. Rumor was that old maps showed it as a Forest Service (FS) Ranger Station. Some research into that might be in order. It worked well, providing a solid level surface for tables & chairs: often we end up eating while standing at tailgates & hoods, but here we could sit and exchange information. The Camp Manager was a good one, a local FS District employee that made sure trash was being backhauled every night so to limit an attractive nuisance that’d bring in bears and their activity. When bear proof trailer was brought in, indeed a bear did show interest and we ended up taking the trailer several miles east for the evening. Other wildlife encounters included a crew and a mountain lion surprising each other: all kept their distance.
The historic Cloverdale Store became DP-5 (Drop Point). It was a point of interest, BUT a safety alert was issued when we learned that last year an engine crew went into it and came out covered with fleas. As we know fleas can carry disease, like bubonic plague. That pretty much stopped the use of DP-5. Each day we had more Safety Officers checking in at ICP and being assigned out to the spike camps. In short order we had a strike team for safety. During my career we’ve come a long way folks in providing emergency fireline medical services, and the EMTs and Paramedics were really “top shelf.” I’m really glad they were there.   
"Normandy" barriers at US/Mexico border
I also had a couple of Safety Officer Trainees assigned for short periods of time. One I want to mention by name: David Simpson. His day job is being the Superintendent for the Santa Fe Hostshots (they took the header photo during our t-storm July 6th). I didn’t know him very well before this assignment, but certainly look forward to working with him again: he struck me as a conscientious “safety first!” firefighter.
Overall SAFETY record was outstanding + really enjoyed getting to see BLM's Boise based UAS (drone) efforts = they helped with recon, intel & potential Initial Attack (IA) efforts: well done!
Safe travels to ALL…

P.S. - As a retired federal law enforcement officer I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the U.S. Border Patrol and their efforts during this emergency incident. Recently they've often been vilified, but I found them consummate professionals while integrating with our operations. In a switch from the norm: I met one BP Agent that had been a National Park Service (NPS) Ranger back east a decade ago, but he left because he experienced it becoming "too law enforcement oriented" (his words) and he wanted to be able to be more full-service public safety oriented. What we used to refer to as "a Protection Ranger." So, even though his degree was in Criminal Justice, he left the NPS for BP. He has now been with the Border Patrol 10-years and likes it because it has been a better experience for him.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Kalymnos: last April

Athens (above) & Kalymnos (following photos below)

07-31-19: Imagine my surprise the other day when I sat down to craft some thoughts about my fire assignment earlier this month and discovered I hadn’t posted anything about our trip to Greece, especially the days we spent on Kalymnos (eastern Aegean just off west coast of Turkey).

Our sojourn started in early April, with a couple of nights (1-full day) in Athens. Truly living archeology & western heritage there (from “we’ll ambush at the pass” to “let’s just clear cut the forest”). Kalymnos is a well known world class sport climbing destination. Many climbers come for weeks/months at a time (and from all over the world). Of course the Polish climber I met that knew about New Mexico learned about it from the TV series "Breaking Bad." I told him that it isn't all like that, and that we have history too, like "Billy the Kid"...

April 4 through 18 Facebook posts have plenty of photos. I’ll put a couple here.
I’ll try to get back and add some memories: MAYBE!

The one thing that both Meme & I agree upon about this trip: we’d like to go back!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Westminster Kennel Club 12 Feb 2019: Chris Erickson (& Fred Young too)

Chris judging terrier breeds previously at WKC
Many of you know my sister Chris Erickson will be judging the Terrier Group at  Westminster Kennel Club (New York) this next Tuesday (12 Feb 2019). Whether you know her as Christine Marie Young, Chris Freeman or Erickson, there is no denying she has earned this assignment.  As we were kids “raised-in-a-kennel” yours truly knows she has “paid dues” galore, working towards these well earned moments. I also realize she’d be the first to admit the great influence our parents (Fred & Margaret Young) had on her successes in “the dog biz.” I guarantee that they’re looking down from the big show in the sky proudly loving this.
Fred, 2nd from left & parents
 I wrote about our Mom in this blog (May 18, 2015). So, I’d like to tell you about our Dad:  Fredrick A. Young 1924-1987. He was a unique character, beloved by many. Born in January of 1924 in Littleton, Colorado to Velma Littleton (yep- same name as the town) & Arthur Young. He grew up on a farm outside Laporte (Larimer County), CO near Fort Collins. Like many of his peers he journeyed miles on horseback to school uphill (both ways) fighting snowdrifts & blizzards year-round. When my grandparents lost their place in the Great Depression (I term it as “blown back to Oklahoma”), they divorced. Velma & Dad then moved to Glendale, CA. My parents met their first day at Glendale High School (GHS), during new student orientation. Mom, a recent transplant from New Jersey, noticed Dad’s popularity due to a group of boys laughing around him.  Much later he told me he was telling “stories” (aka- adult oriented jokes). 
4 generations: Dad holding me, 1948
Their generation of classmates grew up quickly: World War II saw to that. While still at GHS, Dad enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor: he was almost 18.  As a Coxswain he served in the Pacific and was part of the U.S. Navy efforts at several key battles, including Midway, Leyte Gulf and Okinawa. During a short leave home in December 1943 he & Mom married.  He was 19, which she would be in another few days. 
After the war he took 2-weeks off before starting a 36-year career with Pacific Bell Telephone. He started as a cable splicer and quickly advanced showing an aptitude for communications engineering. I was their first born, followed by sisters Chris and Laura.

He loved baseball, and was a fair pitcher in his day. He had a good “eye” for talent and scouting too. But his real passion was to bloom in the AKC Dog Show world. Starting with Boxers, my folks evolved into raising/showing Bedlington Terriers (which the Rockefellers also had). His “eye” helped him breed, groom and show some top winners. 

A young Bedlington pup we raised was my best friend “Tonto.” He grew up to be an International Champion and adorn the cover of Sports Illustrated (Feb. 1960). Later that year Dad was grooming a Kerry Blue for the ring at the Pebble Beach dog show when Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for President, stopped by and talked with him (his family had had Kerry’s too). He also campaigned his Mom’s (Velma’s) Norwegian Elkhounds to championships. At dog shows, I became known simply as “Fred Young’s son.”

Malibu kennel
During the early 60’s we moved the family kennel from Burbank to Malibu. After 2-years Fremar Kennel moved back to Burbank- much shorter commute for him to work and me to school (Mailbu had no secondary schools at the time and I “rode the school bus” into Santa Monica .

At Burbank kennel- Chris on right

1970 Great Western Terriers:
My Dad - Meme's Mom
Meme’s parents (Chuck & Ruth Medici) and my parents were good friends through dog show circles for years before we met.  Chris even got her “Erickson” name from Ruth’s nephew. Ah, the dog-biz: bringing some together and driving others apart. Dogs became such an important part of my parent’s life that they didn’t take normal vacations. My Dad would take his time off from work to show, or later judge, at dog shows.

Chris w/ Mom & Dad
Fred & nephews
Dad loved entertaining and bartending: never outgrowing his love for sharing “true” stories (often quite embellished) and jokes galore. He also loved music, being especially fond of Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. Many a morning Chris and I would say good morning at the breakfast table and start singing “Rambling Rose” together.

Showing Elkhound
Our Dad loved a wide variety of sports (and any type of nature program), especially baseball. He was a true-blue Dodgers fan, listening to every game. At my high school commencement he came up afterward to introduce himself to the young lady I’d escorted to senior prom (she was Valedictorian, headed to Wellesley for college): he informed her how moved he was by her speech… so much so, that he turned the volume of Vin Scully’s broadcast on his radio (with earpiece) down as he listened to her.  In addition, he deeply conditioned me as a fan of the Rams, Lakers, USC Trojan football and UCLA Bruin basketball.

Laura on Morgan (Calif. Rangers)
He was a model “Marlboro Man” working and playing hard, a 2+ pack-a-day man. He went through life with an understated smile. When home on weekends, or after he retired from PacBell, he’d ride his Morgan mare before breakfast. I remember the day he quite smoking: he & I went to the Cubs vs. “Our Boys in Blue” game at Dodger Stadium. 
When he retired from PacBell, something both of his daughters would subsequently also do, he was able to spend a lot more time taking AKC judging assignments: first terriers, then hounds and eventually the other groups. He & Mom traveled widely, but usually associated with dog shows. All along he encouraged his children to participate in the AKC realm. 

Rangering at Tonto
I flamed-out: after Navy & college following the National Park Service Ranger trail. I was usually working most weekends while residing in some remote locations. However, sisters Chris and Laura picked up the batons and have been carrying them around the tracks for years. Chris raised and showed Wheaten Terriers (followed by Dachshunds) and Laura has spent years trying to mellow her generations of Australians (no-go). 

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer (1987) he told me it wasn’t the smoking that’d got-to-him, but the cocktail of smoking, asbestos and other exposures. Our kennel, where he spent a lot of time was in between a couple of chroming factories and a dry cleaner producing very bad (carcinogenic) air. In addition, he & I periodically fumigated the kennel house wearing the personal protection equipment for that time period: one cloth bandana worn over the mouth & nose. 
He was told in late June (’87) that he had cancer. He died Nov. 4, 1987. The support our family received from the Dog Show community was overwhelming. We’d lost our compass, but many “dog friends” were there to help show us the way forward. About 400 crowded into the chapel at Forest Lawn, the vast majority being dog-related friends.

Chris with Elkhound
Now it is Chris’ turn. She has been judging for years: way-to-go sis and on with the show. You deserve it. In show-biz parlance: “break-a-leg”

Bedlington Terrier pups
P.S./Note: Even though I didn’t follow in his footsteps at PacBell or dog shows, I know he was proud of all of us. He visited us where we lived and worked. When I was on the L.A. news, regarding an investigation of alleged coyote attacks of an equestrian on my district, he told me I came off as “very professional.” I’m still extremely proud of that accolade and proud to be “Fred Young’s son” and “Chris Erickson’s brother.”

Chris & her brother - a long time ago

Sunday, December 9, 2018

2018 Remembered (partially)

2018 Remembered (partially)

As December creeps ever towards winter, from where the southern Rockies meet the high plains, we bid you good tidings and the warmest of 

We are in relatively good health: family and a few fine friends & neighbors to help us along. 
So, life is good…

Trunk Bay, U.S.V.I.
Phil’s past two Novembers were spent on fire assignment in Kentucky (2016 Daniel Boone NF) and post-hurricanes in Virgin Islands (2017 St. John). This year allowed a little more time for reflection (that can be good).  For those of you that have followed this update over the decades you’ll have noticed that we’re no longer regaling you with tall-tales of Justin’s 6thgrade basketball scholarship to Princeton and pre-select for Harvard Med, or Meme winning the tennis Grand Slam (yep, all 4 majors in same calendar year) while being named USGS’ Water Employee of the Decade, or Phil leading the Denver Broncosto Super Bowl glory then the Dodgersto World Series supremacy in consecutive years, or one of us playing a duet and harmonica with Jimmy Page & Led Zeppelin on “When the Levee Breaks” (*- that timeless Holiday classic of comfort, hope & cheer: it can be heard at the link at the bottom of this message) and “Dazed & Confused” for the “Royal Family” at a New Year’s Eve concert: London’s Palladium. Must be that age is slowin’ us down, and for some reason we just can’t find a publishing house interested in our Memories of Underachievers. However, just to show we haven’t lost ALL our mental faculties, Phil wants to salute the Dodgers & Saints for their back-to-back championships.
Our solar panels

WE actually WENT SOLAR early this year: we have a roof mounted system from ”SUNPOWER by Positive Energy Solar” and we’ve enjoyed watching the electrical meter spinning clockwise with the monthly bill being just for the system connection fee. Love banking those energy credits.

The end of APRIL saw us in Pacific Beach for a 40thwedding anniversary trip, and touching base with step-brother Charlie Jaramillo (Capt. with Alaska Airlines): we always enjoy that.
Hal Marcus and his work
In MAY, even though retired from USTA & College tennis umpiring, Phil once again helped at the State High School. Tennis Tournament and chaired the Girls 5A singles final (long 3-set match). The next week we were visited by Phil’s cousin Steve Riley and his girlfriend Pat: part of their 4-Corners area trip from Redding, CA.  This was followed by our El Paso trip to see Meme’s sister Pat Medici and her husband Hal Marcus:  Hal had a new art installation at a local medical center (some of you might recall he has pieces in numerous locations around El Paso, including Chamizal National Memorial).

Maple Canyon, Utah
In JUNE & AUGUST, Meme enjoyed rock-climbing trips to MAPLE CANYON (Manti-La Sal NF, UT). These were sandwiched around fire Safety Officer (SOF) assignments for Phil at Ute Park/Philmont Scout Ranch (Eagle’s Nest, NM), Weston Pass/Chateau (Fairplay/South Park, CO), and Texas Initial Attacks (primarily in-&-around “Hill Country”). So, two Texas trips: “What I like about Texas” (Jerry Jeff hits it here:  

Unfortunately, while on Texas assignment, cousin Steve lost his home (as did all but one on his cul-de-sac) to the Carr Fire that consumed his part of northwest Redding – he had very little warning or time to flee, but he made it to safety “with the clothes on his back and his health.”  
In the latter part of August, Phil was at the Cougar Creek fire (Wenatchee/Leavenworth, WA), followed by late Sept./early Oct. at the Roosevelt fire (Bridger-Teton NF/ Bondurant, WY). Sometimes he was ordered as a “Team Safety” (like the last two), and other times as a SOF for a Division/Group on the line. With each one, he continued to marvel at the skilled & talented folks he was privileged to meet and work alongside; the Aussies he worked with at Cougar Creek were great assets. He is sometimes asked why he keeps going on these assignments, and the answer is “SERVICE- as long as I can be contributing and help emergency responders.” Of course, the money is very good too, but after a career it is sometimes just hard giving up being a Ranger.
Roosevelt Fire ICP
Uncle Bruce, Patrick, Phil & Steve
While at the Cougar Creek incident, Phil received word that his maternal AUNT VIRGINIA (“Auntie Ginny”) had passed away in Ventura. In between the last two assignments he was able to join family for a memorial service and a bit of reflection. Phil was fortunate to have vacationed as a kid with her and his cousins at seaside and national park locations, including Sequoia-Kings Canyon & Yosemite back in the 1950’s.  Many great memories: she was a bold doer, and will be greatly missed…

Meme - ascending wall
In October we journeyed to KENTUCKY, for a week at the Daniel Boone NF’s Red River Recreation Area. Meme enjoyed many days of rock-climbing with compadres that had driven, or flown, from Santa Fe. The areas around Slade & Beattysville have grown the past couple of decades into a world-class rock-climbing destination and we got to experience it during the “Wooly Worm Festival” no less: I don’t know if we’ll ever be the same, but bourbon helps Phil try. 

Senator Udall & Phil
(more in the Rangers pointing series)
He also continues to volunteer in archaeology & history with SiteWatch (stewards): in early May he got to co-lead a tour of La Cieneguilla petroglyphs for U.S. Senator Tom Udall and some of his office staff. The rock images are on BLM lands (public land just outside Santa Fe), and it is always good to be back in touch with our lawmakers (plus, he & Phil go back a ways to when he was the NM Attorney General & Phil was with the Interagency ARPA Task Force).

YOGA: Meme & Phil continue to study periodically with the greatest yoga instructor this side of the Pecos. Oh yeah, that is really close isn’t it: so, maybe she is the best this side of the Mississippi. That would be better…

NEXT YEAR (Feb., 2019): We have an opportunity to watch Phil’s sister Chris Erickson judge the Terrier Group at Westminster Kennel Club (aka “The Garden” - Madison Square Garden, NYC), followed by a trip to Cayman Brac (CB), BUT Greece is calling. Instead of NYC in February (the view on TV will probably be better) followed by CB (which we’ve been to before), we’re gearing for climbing, diving and arch-history in Greece and one of their Aegean islands.
Kalymnos - Greece (near Turkey)

JUSTIN has been doing some legal writing and appears to be on verge of starting a job with the NM Human Services Dept. as an attorney. He was happy that a law school classmate (Xochitl Torres Small) was elected to Congress. He says she is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. 
May our thoughts-n-prayers be with both of them. 

No matter where the holidays and 2019 find you, we hope you the very best of health & Happiness.

"Happy Trails to you..."

Monday, August 6, 2018

Texas Wildfires and flying home DFW to SAF

As I took seat 17A on AA #2848 from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Santa Fe  (SAF)last Wednesday morning, I noted that I was completing the last row and sitting next to a young lady and her two pre-adolescent sons that were across the aisle in seats C & D. I’d been gone for 16-days and looked forward to being home again (singing the Byrds tune “Get to You” in my head). The fire assignment had been an O.K. one, which I’ll tell you about in a few moments, but I had already identified those early signs of post-incident reintegration funk that often clouds my world: it often rears its ugly head the worst when I’m getting home and readjusting. Talking with the mom in 17B made a noticeable positive difference. I forgot to give her THANKS, but am way ahead of myself – more later…
Arriving at DFW on my travel day I found I had to wait (and wait) for the van to the Rental Car Center. Of course the van was standing room only with little room for my 4-bags: traveling with line & safety gear for a firefighting assignment is not a “light” adventure. The customer service rep for Enterprise was “super” getting me into, as requested, a 4x4 Silverado pickup. Then a quick departure to McGregor, Texas: where I checked-in at the ICP (Incident Command Post) for the “Texas A&M Forest Service” (TFS) 2018 Initial Attack assignment. For months Task Forces of firefighters and equipment had been staged at different locales around Texas. I was reporting to relieve the Safety Officer (SOF) that had been with Task Force 19 in the Hillsboro area. However, first I had to go through a PowerPoint “In-Briefing,” along with some engine relief personnel also headed to TF19: we’d become friends (OK, they put up with me over the next fortnight). I was provided a written & e-copy as well. That night I tied-in (fire speak for “met with”) with Ron, the SOF I was replacing. Ron had worked with me in 2002, when he was a SOF Trainee on the Rodeo-Chedeski fire in Arizona.
Ron & I met up with TF19 the following morning. It was comprised of a Division Supervisor (Div. Supv.), a Task Force Leader, 2-dozers (and “swamper”/ support), 3-engines, a facilities/logistics person and myself. By early afternoon we were off-to-the-races and the County Road (CR) 308 fire in south of Llano, while Ron started his demob/checkout process. I had heard for decades about some of the peculiarities of firefighting in Texas, as compared to “out west.” On the fireside of the equation the local VFD (Volunteer Fire Dept.) usually provided the Incident Commander (IC), with TFS providing operational leadership as aircraft (slurry bombers & helicopters for bucket drops) are brought in. The TF Div. Supv.  & I are to establish Unified Command with the above, which sometimes results in taking over a division instead.  Our logistics contact in the mean time arranges for motel rooms and meals. The rooms allow us air-conditioned rest at night after battling fire in 108-100F temperatures. Meals are brought out to us on-the-line was we work so we don’t use energy supplying ourselves (we’re expected to be self-sufficient when in standby at staging, but not when engaged in active firefighting). I give the Comfort Inn in Llano two-thumbs up for taking care of us while on the CR308.
The CR 308 fire was interesting for its work around a ranch’s herd of longhorns. After several days there, and fire containment for the most part, we were released and reassigned directly to the Harmon Road fire north of Copperas Cove, Texas.. It had blown-up growing tenfold. We were able to help contain and check that one. TF19 had a handcrew added to it. The Los Diablos  are a Type 2 Initial Attack crew, an international crew from northern Mexico with  leadership & sponsorship from Big Bend National Park. I had worked with them the previous November on St. John, V.I. They’re a very good crew.
While on the Harmon Road fire I saw several instances of a “only in Texas” fire apparatus: a small chair strapped to the bumper of an engine (brush or pumper truck) or water tender with a firefighter and hose sitting in the chair squirting the flames ahead. Fortunately, “Attack from the Black” is the safety rule of thumb they go be there, but it still rang of for a potential “Darwin Award” to me.  
After several days of progress we were again reassigned directly to the CR 108 fire north of Burnet, Texas.  There we were met by the TFS Operations Chief (Shane) we’d worked with/for on the 308. We also had John Philbin, a ICT3 that had been an ICT2 in Arizona: good guy. As we arrived on the line my Silverado received a light misting of slurry on one side as a SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker) finished his pre-treatment at the fire heel (near point-of-origin). NOTE: it comes off with some vigorous cleaning (windows easier than paint though). Much of the CR108 fire was on a ranch that specializes in exotic (African) game animals. Some very tall fences & gates to navigate. I found myself thinking: “Are these truly African animals without predators in the mix?” I decided they weren’t, being more zoo-like.
From the CR108 fire we drove north back to being staged in Alvarado near Hillsboro. When in staging you have to be ready for response, 12-hours per day. Though they were technically shorter than the 16-hour days when assigned to a fire, I can testify that the staged days were much longer. Geesh, they were long… 
After 14-work days I was sitting on a plane going home: why was I feeling down? I could probably blame years of concussions (primarily work related), but that is another post altogether. I already identified that I was coming from primary focus emergency operations to a world of what I’ll call “trivial pursuits.” So many focused on their phone. It didn’t help that the night before I’d waited 1.25 hours at the Rental Car Center waiting for a shuttle back to the Holiday Inn Express at DFW (was supposed to take 15-minutes; instead 3-calls and 5X as long + then they cruised all the terminals). Plus, during my Texas deployment my cousins Steve (Riley) in Redding, CA lost his home (and some pets) to the Carr fire. I just wasn’t in a “Happy Camper” place. Then some kind words and later a wave at the Santa Fe terminal turned my day-week around.  I learned she was a violinist, whose husband was in finance, living a short way west of DFW. Her sons were going for a weeklong visit with her parents that lived in Taos. They were all going to Meow Wolf that day, until her return flight home that afternoon; her mother had lived in Woodland Hills, CA while in high school (class of ’68 or ’69), just like Meme (class of ’75), and her father (Canoga Park) had worked as an engineer for Lockheed (ah, the Burbank connection). Anyway, many THANKS to the lady that sat next to me, for helping me to a better place. Hope everyone has a great day/week/month…