Saturday, 30 July 2016

Rain before sleep

I'm about to go to sleep.  The photo is the weather system that's passing overhead.

Hopefully this is all for the night!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Racing to a train

Hi everyone,

Today had a big gulp of unexpected good news.  About midday I was working on a talk that I'm giving tomorrow for a club over in Tatura when my pager started the constant high-pitched howl it makes when we're being called out to a rescue.  It was one of those jobs you usually class as 'nightmare scenario', a car versus train accident.  I was duty officer, so I called dispatch and acknowledged the job, and then sent a message asking all available members to turn out.  The accident was closer to me than the SES shed, so I decided to go there straight from home.

The good news I mentioned took the form of a follow-up pager message advising that nobody was trapped, but requesting that SES attend anyway, presumably in case further assistance was required.  I crossed paths with our truck on the way and hopped aboard.

In line with SES policy, I don't feel I should talk here about the scene and so on here.  The account offered by the Shepparton News says that -
Police, CFA, Ambulance and SES services attended a level crossing on Pogue Rd in Toolamba after the driver of a vehicle hit a V/Line passenger train on the Shepparton-Seymour line at around 12 noon.  Paramedics said the male driver of the vehicle was lucky to be alive.  He was treated on scene for minor injuries and was taken to the Goulburn Valley Hospital.  CFA incident controller Colin James said all the passengers on the train escaped without injury.  Passengers told The News that they heard a loud bang and saw debris flying everywhere.
Two of our members had gone direct to scene, but the fire brigade was already smoothly evacuating passengers from the train.  Once we'd checked and confirmed that there was nothing we could do to add value, we fired up the truck and returned to the shed.  At some point in this process, the News was interviewing passengers from the train.

It always feels like a bit of an anticlimax when you've gone like a bat out of hell driven at a safe and legal speed to get to the scene of an accident and found you're not needed.  In this case especially I don't mind at all.  Much better a smashed car and a dinged train and a somewhat injured driver than that a family somewhere has to arrange a funeral.

Monday, 25 July 2016

La Vie en Orange

Hi everyone,
The last week or two have been fairly orange-heavy.  As that’s one of the more exciting parts of my life I’m doing a recap (it’ll be embed-heavy I’m afraid).
The other Monday one of the unit’s Deputy Controllers and I borrowed a truck from the SES’s regional office and drove up to Wagga Wagga.  There was a furniture dealer there who was selling some second-hand office furniture which would be ideal for the unit’s overhauled Operations Room.  He was keen to be rid of it and we bought about $3,000.00 worth of material for about $600.00.  It felt kind of surreal to be in a delivery truck with lights and sirens fitted; we spent part of the drive hoping we’d come across a road crash so we could turn up on scene in the most unlikely of vehicles!
On Thursday two of the Deputy Controllers and I went to do some community education for the pre-schoolers at a daycare in Mooroopna.  So, we explained (very basically – the way you do for 3-4 year olds) what SES does, and how you can be safe near floodwater, and so on.  It went pretty well, although I think the nicest part was when the kiddies went out to have a look at the truck and all the things on it.  There was one little girl, maybe 3 years old, who was shy and didn’t want to be involved and cuddling up to one of the daycare workers.  I smiled at her and tried to show her some brightly coloured e-flares, but she wasn’t interested.  Then one of the DC’s fired up the lights and sirens on the truck and her face absolutely lit up in the biggest smile you’ve ever seen.  After that she wanted to climb up into the cabin and look at what was in all the lockers.  Who’d have thought that a howling siren would be what she’d love?!

The Unit itself is doing well.  We had a sensational attendance at last week’s training – about 15 people which is basically our entire active membership.  The exercise that night was cribbing-and-lifting, a technique for extricating a casualty from underneath a collapse.  Whatever is crushing the casualty has to be lifted without overbalancing or tipping (dangerous for both the casualty and rescuers).  It’s lifted at three different points with some combination of a high-lift jack, an inflatable airbag and a hydraulic spreader.  Further, cribbing (blocks) have to be put in underneath the load so that if it falls it only drops a minute distance (also for the safety of the casualty and the rescuers).  Managing a safe lift and effective cribbing requires very strong co-operation and communication between the 6+ members of the crew.  The team did a great job in training and it was sensational to see everyone from the newer members to the veterans working as one.

The weather’s been crummy lately and the low ground near the road at the farm is underwater – the other day it was nearly over the road as well -
On Friday the weather got even crummier and resulted in a couple of callouts at about 2200.  The three Deputy Controllers and I turned out.  The first job was to tarp a leaking roof in Tatura for an elderly lady (she was surprisingly happy that we dug up part of her garden to fill sandbags – she said we’d weeded it for her!).  The second was to go out to Byrneside and cut up a tree that had fallen across part of the path of the Midland Highway.  The tree itself was old and dry and pretty hard – I understand that a truck had it hit and kept going; he must have been pretty keen because I think he hit it hard.  It was a satisfying job to attend though – solved with chainsaw and muscle.  I got home that night at about 0100 on Saturday morning.

On Sunday I had a really satisfying piece of community education to do.  A Unit member’s son was having a 9th birthday party.  The lad is obsessed with SES, and he’d specifically asked if the truck could come over.  So, come over we did.  I gave him one of our plastic helmets – the ones that are issued to probationary members – and he was stoked.  We gave him and his mates a tour of the truck and let them climb through the cabin and sit in the driver’s seat.  They were good kids and well behaved – they didn’t touch the radio or the sirens, and the only mishap was one of them accidentally bumping the siren button when he was moving around.  I discovered that you can keep kids entranced for an hour-plus with casualty-handling drills.  I showed them how to log-roll a casualty and move them onto a spineboard, and then to put them into a stokes litter and carry it, with one person controlling the head and neck and giving the orders.  The kids were super excited to take turns playing at being the casualty and controlling the neck and everything.  I wish I could get our members that excited about casualty-handling drills!
Today was perhaps the sharper end of SES life.  My pager went off at about 0430 to advise of a person trapped following a road accident.  As the accident turned out to be a fatality, I don’t think I should go blathering on about my personal view of it.  The summary released by Victoria Police sums it up well enough -
Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding a fatal collision which occurred in Harston. It is believed the two cars collided on Tatura-Rushworth Road just before 4.30am. The male driver of the ute has been transported to hospital with serious injuries. The male driver of the light truck was transported to hospital but died a short time later. Major Collision Investigation Unit detectives are investigating the cause of the collision.
The Shepparton News has shared some footage of the scene about daybreak, which is about when we left the scene.

The only personal comment I’ll make is that I’m very sorry the chap died.  I hope, perhaps, that it was some comfort to him in those terrible moments to know that as soon as things went bad, people really, really wanted to help him.
So there you have it: my life in orange.  Sometimes you do things that are awesome, like teaching children or helping the elderly.  Sometimes you do go out to jobs that are sad.  But everytime you do something, you know you’ve got a good chance of making a difference when someone is having the worst day of their life.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Art Post: Shields of Papua New Guinea

This is the last of the posts inspired by the trip to the National Gallery the other week.  The items that have grabbed my attention are shields from Papua New Guinea.  Many of them are semi-geometric designs and patterns, but there were two that particularly grabbed my attention.

The shields I have in mind are two that seem to have been created in the context of tribal warfare in the late 1980s.  Both of then feature an image of The Phantom, a comic book superhero who seems to have entered PNG culture through comics read by American servicemen in the islands in World War Two.  They grab me because the maker (unidentified) chose the most fearless, righteous figure he could think of in a high-conflict situation.

The one below catches my eye because it combines the comic book figure with a curved line and dots that look like they come from native art.  The artist also has decided that this fighting is particularly important to him, declaring it to be a civil war.

In the second shield, the artist has emphasized his hero's size and strength, filling the width with shoulders and biceps and almost the full length of the shield as well.  Strikingly, 'found' objects have been incorporated into the shield.  A car's engine badge has become a belt buckle. A number plate has been included at the top.

The other thing that I notice is that in these versions,  the Ghost Who Walks is bare-chested and bare-armed, rather than dressed in the purple body suit of the comics.  I wonder if this might have been an attempt to naturalise him.

Art can come out of all sorts of circumstances and from all sorts of people.  These examples of art gain a little extra power from the fact that we will never know the artists' names and can only guess and what impelled them to create these images.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Police under attack

Hi everyone,

I woke up this morning to news of the killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge.  I can't make much sense of it.  In the last month or so the world has seen killings of police officers with the Baton Rouge and Dallas Police Departments and France's Police Nationale.  We've already seen a trend to violent attacks on firefighters and paramedics (Flashing Lights and Muzzle Blasts  These attacks on police make even less sense.

The police were apparently killed simply because they were police - not to further a robbery, not to escape custody or for any half-rational reason.  They were simply part of a 'system' that someone decided needed to be smashed up, even absent any clear plan for something to put in its place.

I try and take the long view, the historical view, with most things.  A person trying to change the world with violence is nothing new.  But wanting to replace order with chaos just for the sake of replacing it? And doing so by declaring war on one of the institutions that protects life and property?

I don't understand that at all. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Art & SES post: A Crew of One

Hi everyone,

This post combines two of my favourite things: art and emergency response.  I'll take this moment to apologise for any deficiencies with the layout. I'm writing this using the Blogger app (rather than the website) which has less functionality.

The painting that's inspired this post is John Millais' "The Rescue" (1855), which shows a firefighter returning three children to their mother after rescuing them from a burning building.

Image from the National Gallery of Victoria:

It interests me that the picture is actually understated. The fireman looks focused but anonymous  (notice how his eyes are obscured). The children look calm but relieved. And the woman joyful but dignified.

Wikipedia tells me that there have been various readings of this painting based on class (proletarian firefighter / bourgeois mother) or gender (why is the children's father not in the picture?).  I find it more intetesting that there are only five people in the picture, and only one emergency responder.  In the State Emergency Service (as I imagine in most emergency services) we're trained to think of ourselves as part of a team (or 'crew', in SES  parlance). We turn out as a crew. We work as a crew. We debrief as a crew.  Turning out to jobs 'one up' is strongly discouraged, and in many cases (for example, roof damage) forbidden.  Attempting a rescue solo is so plainly dangerous to both responder and casualty that it would only be done in truly extraordinary situations.  So what I wonder as I look at the painting is what else can be inferred about the scene: should we infer that there were other men manning the hoses? Police keeping the public back? I don't believe any ambulance service existed at that time.  And was the fireman in the image the bravest in his crew?  Or a hothead who left his post to cover himself in glory?

This has been on my mind a bit this week after a couple of days of bad weather saw me going to a few callouts on my own.  The first was on Wednesday morning, when my pager went off at about 0300 to advise of a tree down and causing a traffic hazard in one lane of the Goulburn Valley Highway on this side of the Toolamba Bridge.  I was duty officer so I rang Dispatch and acknowledged the page.  The incident was about 10 minutes drive from the farm.  I decided that the best thing to do would be to go and take a look and then decide whether to request further members.  As I was driving there my pager beeped to say that the Police had reported the matter resolved.  I kept going to be on the safe side, and found this scene: the tree was no longer a traffic hazard.

A further job came up on Wednesday afternoon - a dead tree which had fallen in a backyard in Shepparton against a clothes line and shed.   The caller was (correctly in my view) concerned it might dislodge and fall, injuring her children or pets.  Absent any other available members I turned out on my own and found a simple little job I was able to deal with by means of some lifting and a couple of quick chainsaw cuts.  Much the same issue arose late Thursday afternoon with a call to a tree in a back yard which the wet ground had stopped supporting.  It had begun to tip and was leaning against a fence.  It was a trivial job, and I had trouble getting a crew, so once again I went out one-up.  In the event, the caller was keen to keep the tree.  It was still viable, so instead of cutting it up I stabilised it with ropes for the owner to rectify permanently at the weekend.

The lesson I suppose I take from this is that "The Rescue" is really as far as one can get from emergency response.  A job you can do one-up is probably the least troublesome and dangerous.  But where death or injury to responder or casualty is a real risk?  The team works.

Into the rain

It's been a perversely good day here.  Some of you may be aware that the Bureau of Meteorology was forecasting bad weather for much of the state for the late weekend and early week.  For the most part, they've been right.  Late Sunday night, this is what the weather was throwing at us:

I was genuinely surprised the pager didn't go off that night.  I was lying there in a warm bed almost wishing it would: I wanted to get out of the way the cold shock of getting up and putting my overalls on.  Anyway, go off it did not.  I spent most of Monday going to and from Wagga Wagga (to be covered in a later post), and the weather actually wasn't unpleasant.  Nevertheless, I was still copied in on a press release from the SES's regional office which read in part -
A Severe Weather Warning is now in place for the North East weather district. Winds will ease today but are forecast to pick up speed again tomorrow morning with possible gusts of 90-110 km/h. These strong winds are expected to continue for most of Tuesday before easing early Wednesday morning and are likely to bring down trees onto roads, buildings and powerlines. ... Slow, steady rainfall of 20-40 mm is forecast for Tuesday into Wednesday. This will continue to saturate the soil and increase the chance of trees blowing or falling over in the soggy soil ....
It didn't disappoint.  By this morning the rain that had fallen elsewhere was percolating through the catchment and the farm had a brand new lake.  I gave the dog a walk on as much high ground as we could find and stocked up the wood for the fire while the going was good.

About midday the wind began to crank up with short, sharp bursts of rain, and about 1300 when the old boy and I were going down to Nagambie to get in some cattle on the place there, my pager started beeping like crazy with trees coming down on roads and on people's property and so on.  The soaked ground really left them exposed to being toppled by wind.  By 2pm my Unit's Facebook page included this alert -

I was clear of the cattle by about 1500 and went over to Tatura to get stuck in.  I met the crew that was already out there and we got underway by getting a fallen tree off somebody's nearly-new Chrysler.  Then, a couple more trees down on roads, and a trip up to Congupna to a report of a tree fallen on the railway line (we couldn't locate that one: presumably one of the railway company's crews had already attended to it), then back to Shepparton to a tree fallen on a fence.  All the while as we were driving around more jobs were coming in.  It was a fairly jumbled mix of communicating by radio, pager and phone (fear of flattening my battery meant that I didn't take any photos, aside from the fact that there really wasn't time).

It's been a satisfying evening.  People have been kept safe.  The roads are clear (as far as I know).  And everyone in the team did the work they were trained to do and did it well.  We do a lot of great stuff in the SES, and this is one of those times where I'm dead proud of the team.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Art post - A Question of Propriety (1870)

Hi everyone,

Another art-themed post inspired by the National Gallery.  This time, the post is Edwin Long's A Question of Propriety (1870).

Image from here

According to the Gallery's notes, the picture is of "a Gypsy dancer brought before the Spanish Inquisition on the charge of corrupting public morals".  The Inquisitors seem to have asked for a demonstration.  If we look closely there is a figure to the woman's left with drums, and behind her a boy with a mandolin.

The picture doesn't make fun of its subjects.  It would have been easy for Long to have painted the Inquisition in unflattering terms - all burning pyres and chains. He doesn't.  His only concession to contrast is that their clerical robes appear dusty and drab compared with the dancer's bright clothing.  Even this may not have been deliberate: the metalware on her clothes echoes the armour of the soldiers (or vice versa).  The Gallery's description says that "captivated by her performance, the holy censors lean forward, their stern features softened with wonderment and pleasure".  This is what makes the painting particularly interesting: the real subject isn't the dancer's grace or fluidity but the effect this has on the churchmen.  Music and art seem to show them another facet of the God they served so flintily.

We can understand something similar now in stories of the Choir of Hard Knocks, or in videos like this one converting the concrete expanse of the Los Angeles River into a dance studio.  In the end, the power of any art shows in how it changes the performer, and even more in how it changes the viewer.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Potato Harvest in France

This post is about one of the paintings I saw at the National Gallery the other day and also my contribution to the July Country Fair Blog Party.

Image from here
The painting I saw was Saison d’Octobre, painted in 1878 by Jules Bastien-Lepage.  It depicts the potato harvest at Damvillers (northeast of Paris).  It doesn’t spare its subject, which I think is a good thing.  At first glance it’s a landscape.  A few glances later, anyone who’s worked in the country will see and feel much more.  You start feeling the cold, wet ground of the valley under your feet.  The clouds say it’s been raining.  The ground is probably sodden and threatening to change from soil to mud.  The clouds also say that it’s either going to rain again, or it’s going to clear (and bring on a frigid, frosty night), and the peasants have a long walk back to anywhere warm.

The peasant woman in the foreground is emptying potatoes from a basket into a sack.  If the picture is (as I think) of the end of the day, it’ll be her umpteenth basket.  Her back probably ached like hell from stooping, lifting and bending all day.  She and her companion would have had hands that were numb with cold and chapped and rough from manual work.  The only false note in the painting is that her face is not only beautiful but unmarked by sweat or dirt.

This painting, more than most, tells us about the power of art.  Nations may rage and governments rise and fall.  Priests will preach and intellectuals pontificate.  But for the people who work, work will remain hard and life will mostly be experienced through the surface of their skin.  They’re the strongest of all.

Country Fair Blog Party

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Last Cannibal Supper … ‘Cause tomorrow we become Christians

I know I should spend this post giving My Perspective on Australia’s latest round of political instability.  I’m won’t.  I’m utterly sick of elections and politics and I imagine everyone else is too.  I’d like to tell you about something I saw the other day at the National Gallery that rather struck me.

Image from here

In the Gallery’s section on Pacific art was a backlit photograph (above) by a New Zealand artist called Greg Semu titled The Last Cannibal Supper … ‘Cause tomorrow we become Christians.  The picture has deep rich colours, and the staging is a plain reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.  The setup alone is gripping.  The fleshy bodies of the participants are silently challenged by the mutilated body on the table.  Their liveliness is heightened by the memento mori of the skull staring at something over the viewer’s shoulder.  The vegetation looks neither alive nor dead.  It just is.

Última Cena - Da Vinci 5.jpg
Image from here

My immediate reaction was to find the picture distasteful.  Maybe even blasphemous.  It’s stuck with me.  More and more I find it worthy of respect.  Christianity was sometimes accused of cannibalism in its earlier days.  A very literal reading was put on Jesus’ command at the actual Last Supper:
Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Catholics (and, I believe, Lutherans and High Anglicans) accept the teaching of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist – body, blood, soul and Divinity.  This is why I find Mr Semu’s photograph so heard to dismiss.  By absorbing and being absorbed by other human beings, was cannibalism (usually considered unspeakably barbaric) reaching for something Divine?  Jesus on the Cross drew upon something very ancient in humanity: the destruction of one body so that others might thrive.  This is why I can’t dismiss this photograph.  It’s not a simple undergraduate sneer at missionary Christianity displacing the ways of the Noble Savage.  It’s asking whether the New World and Old share something fundamental which neither suspects.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Solar City to Motor City

Today saw me off on an excursion to Geelong for a job interview.  Geelong is sometimes called Motor City (it’s biggest employer used to be a car manufacturing plant), and the nearest city to me – Shepparton – calls itself Solar City; thus the title of this post.

Geelong is about 160 miles from here, and I’d decided to travel by train rather than drive.  It was going to be an early start either way and so I was on my feet just on 0600.  I can tell you it was cold!  I drove down to Seymour and parked there and caught the train to Southern Cross Station.  I spent the trip down reviewing the position description for the job and considering answers to questions.  From Southern Cross I caught the train down to Geelong and then walked the half a kilometre or so to the interview.
The interview itself went reasonably well.  Afterwards I went for a walk along the beachfront to gather my own thoughts and consider how well that workplace might suit me if an offer were to be made.  Geelong is a small city on its own section of Port Philip Bay.  It was a lovely clear day (if chilly) and it’d be stunning in summertime.

I’d only been able to grab a banana and a slurp of coffee for breakfast, so I got lunch at the Geelong Boathouse.  The venue appears to be an old barge which has had a house of some sort somehow bolted on top of it.  I had a pre-made Greek salad, which was a little disappointing (heavy on lettuce and light on fetta and olives). The coffee was excellent however and perked me up well.

I wasn’t in a hurry to return to the Goulburn Valley and I decided to head back to Melbourne and spend a few hours wandering the National Gallery since I haven’t been in ages.  The older I get, the more I’m finding art matters to me, whether it takes the form of music or painting or sculpture or literature or dance.

Today I was interested to find my own tastes seem to be changing.  Usually I’d gravitate straight to the antiquities, and to the mediaeval and Renaissance sections.  Today, though, I was craving more modern work, that seemed to be trying to say something, or at least something I hadn’t heard before.  I made a few notes about pieces that really struck me, and I’ll write a few posts about them in the next few days.

I caught the train back to Seymour late afternoon and was back at the farm by 1945.  I passed Michael who was on his way out – I have the impression he was avoiding Little Sister and that they’ve been bickering again.  Why in Gods’ name people can’t grow up and act like adults is beyond me.  Neither of them drink much, although I can’t think of two people who need to more.
No more for now.  Hope all of your weekends look promising!