Wetmachine Blog: Firefighting

Firefighting

John E. Sundman 1926 — 2013

[Editor’s Note: Because I’ve published books under three middle names and created a variety of  fictional “John [$variable] Sundman”  personae, I find myself in the unusual position of stating that the obituary that follows is for a quite real person, my father, who died last Monday. The newspaper obituary is here. A longer version follows below the fold, with a few comments by me at the end of it.  You’ll note that my father’s father was also named John Sundman. I suggest we blame him for any confusion — jrs.]

John E. Sundman

Dad in green polo shirt at LBI.

Dad in green polo shirt at LBI.

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The Keystone XL Pipeline — A project IG-Farben would be proud of

You’ve heard of the Keystone tar-sands pipeline by now. You may not have heard that the Reactionary Right in the U.S. Senate is attempting to revive it yet again, after their last gambit failed.

We must not let this happen.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is planetary arson and intergenerational crime on an unprecedented scale.(PDF)

The arguments in its favor are all specious. At best, they are ignorant. At worst, they are dishonest and immoral.

Let me just address one of these arguments: jobs. Proponents of the pipeline say it will create jobs for Americans. And surely it will. Construction jobs that will disappear once the pipeline has been built. The permanent jobs created by this project will be in Canada. More importantly, since the pipeline itself is immoral, all jobs associated it will be morally tainted. The Holocaust created jobs too, remember. There were good jobs for chemical engineers and plant managers at IG Farben, where Zyklon-B gas was manufactured for shipment to Auschwitz and other well-engineered murder factories and crematoria.

If you find this rhetoric over-the-top, I respectfully suggest that you read up on the climate-change impact of this one project and ponder its implications. And then consider the risks of permanent damage to the Ogallala aquifer.

Please sign this petition now, and then pick up the phone and call your Senators. It won’t take long, and stopping Keystone is at least as important as stopping SOPA, PIPA and ACTA.

 

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", I Fear These Things, My Thoughts Exactly | Comments closed

Thoughts on an Old Fire Truck of North Caldwell: Time, Ambition, Rust

 

My friend and childhood friend Ande sent me a while ago a snapshot of an ancient fire truck rusting in a snow-covered field of weeds.

Photo by Janet Jessel

The hood has been removed and the left front wheel as well; the black blob of the engine sits above the chassis, naked. There is a windshield but no cab: a convertible fire engine! (Who would have designed or bought such a thing? Didn’t they have fires to fight during rainstorms (snowstorms!) back in whatever far-away times this machine was used?) The truck itself is still red, though faded. The town’s name and fire department emblem are still clearly readable on the door. All equipment has been stripped save the hose on a roller, which looks to be scarcely thicker than a garden hose. (Were fires tiny back in those days?) Behind the truck you can see a fence, and beyond the fence some trees and a power line. The photo was taken by Janet Jessel, the sister of Ande’s late first wife Judy, whom I never met.

The photo doesn’t show the back of the truck so you can’t see if there is a platform where firemen could have stood holding on to a rail en route to a fire like they do in old movies. (Note I said ‘firemen’, not gender-neutral ‘firefighters’. There were no women on the North Caldwell, NJ, Fire Department when this truck was in service, I can assure you of that.) Yet I know that that platform is there. For when I was a lad of fifteen I stood on that platform en route to a brush fire on Mountain Avenue. It was April 6th, 1968, two days after the Murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That was my first fire as a volunteer firefighter. My most recent fire was two weeks ago. Read More »

Also posted in General, My Thoughts Exactly, Writing | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks talks with Wetmachine about the future of publishing

Today Wetmachine talks with Geraldine Brooks, whose novel March won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006, about trends in publishing. She joins the roster of Wetmachine “Whither Publishing?” interviewees including Writer’s Digest impresaria Jane Friedman,  ebook pioneer Mark Coker of Smashwords.com, and book designer extraordinaire Joel Friedlander.

I met Geraldine Brooks when we were seated next to each other at a small dinner party about two months ago. (Geraldine and her husband Tony Horwitz (also a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize — his is for journalism) and I have many mutual friends, including my wife Betty, who directs the lecture series at the Vineyard Haven Public Library, where Tony has been a speaker and Geraldine is on the hook for a talk next year.)

At that dinner party Geraldine and I discovered that we had many similar interests, including a shared taste for dystopian science fiction novels — the very kind of book I write. I offered to drop off a few copies of my books at her house and she said, “Oh, please do.” So the next day I hoped on my bicycle and rode to the address she had given me, and that’s how I discovered where she lived and that I had met her young son Bizu some 9 months earlier, when the fire truck to which I’m assigned, T___ 651, was parked in front of their house during a routine “furnace backfire” call. When I got home from dropping off my books I sent Geraldine the write-up in my diary about that fire call, and she was thrilled to get it, saying “That’s fantastic.  Thank you so much for sending this. I remember that day quite vividly.  I thought, that’s a very nice man out there, letting Bizu ramble away at him..”

Since then Geraldine & I have become  pals. I think the moral of the story is, if you want to get on the good side of a famous writer and get her to answer questions for your insignificant little blog, let her observe you being nice to her child without having any idea who he is or that she’s observing you through the window.

I’ve attached that diary entry at the end of the interview. Read More »

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Of a Fire in Christiantown

I’m a member of the volunteer firefighting company of Tisbury 651, a ladder truck that also goes by the nickname Tisbury Tower One, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Saturday morning, three days ago, my company was called out to a fire on Christiantown Road in West Tisbury, a town that borders on Tisbury, under a mutual aid arrangement between the towns. The fire was at the home of Danny Prowten, a 63 year old thirty-year veteran of the West Tisbury Volunteer Fire Department. Mr. Prowten, whom I never met, died in the fire.

Many of the firefighters, EMTs and police who responded to the call, and all of those to first arrive, knew Danny Prowten well. Some of them had been his firefighting companions for twenty years or more. As I came to learn, he was reknowned for his courage and selflessness.

Newspaper accounts of the fire appear here and here and here, but they all say pretty much the same thing (and anyway, it’s not at all clear that any of these outlets actually had reporters on the scene — or if they were there, that they were allowed to stay anywhere nearby. I certainly didn’t notice anybody who wasn’t fire/police/EMT or family.)

I spent about seven hours on the call, and about two and a half hours at a “critical incident debriefing” Sunday, so the events of this past weekend are very much in my mind today.

Below, a few bloggish remarks slightly edited from notes I jotted Saturday & Sunday nights–just my way of decompressing.

R.I.P., brother Prowten.

UPDATED I have added and deleted some things since first posting. Please see the first paragraph after the fold.

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