Category: Contributing Editors

Blogs from contributing Editors

KOM – July 2009 Article

Greetings from the sidelines.  Being unable to respond or to participate in any department activities really stinks, so I have decided  to begin a monthly article. Mostly, this will consist of news, comments about, or planned events from the Fay- West area.  Remember, any comments are mine only, and any feedback should be directed to me at or in the comment section below the article.

First off – this week July 12 through July 18 -71st-Annual Fayette County Convention to be hosted by the Everson Vol. Fire Company. Starting on Sunday, with the Past Presidents Banquet, and the 87th Annual Memorial  Service at the Everson Evangelical Church, located on Painted Street, one block from the Fire Station.

There will be competition Monday through Friday with the Convention Meeting being held on Saturday at 10a.m. The Convention Parade will be held at 5 p.m. with fireworks closing the event at 10 p.m. Everson always host great conventions so if anyone is in the area this week, please stop by and enjoy all the events that are planned.

Second – The Fayette County Fair begins on July 23, with a fireman’s night. A parade and a Demo- Derby will be only part of the entertainment for that evening. Lasting 10 days the fair is one of the best in the state, drawing thousands of local residents to the fairgrounds, located between Connellsville and Uniontown along Route 119.

I can’t believe it, July already, within 6 weeks the Steelers will be in Latrobe, preparing for battle and the kids will be getting ready  to return to school (Well the parents at least).  It’s HOT, remember, stay cool, drink plenty of water, and pace yourselves at any incident that you may encounter.

You all  stay safe , love your family , kiss your kids and the wife, and I will see you next month.

Joke of the month- and this did happen – A man, after tying his dog to a pole, walked into  a mom and pop store and pulled a gun on the counter person.  ON HIS WAY OUT, he forgot to take his pup, where upon their arrival police unhooked the hound, who led them straight to his master’s home. The police found the man counting the money from the crime . Stupid is as Stupid does!!

Why Are There So Many More Fires Around The Winter Months and Holiday Season?

Editor Note – This article was first published on the site in December 2004.  Its being republished to the new site’s format.

I have been doing electrical and electronic installation and troubleshooting for over 20 years, and it seems like I get more trouble calls to do repairs during the winter months. You may also see this pattern with structure fires, especially fierce ones, when investigated come back with the ruling of an electrical malfunction as the cause of the fire. The sad part of this being that 80% of all electrical fires are 100% preventable if the minimum standards as set fourth in the NFPA National Electrical code are followed. Which means if an electrical circuit is not installed and designed to the minimums of the NEC a fire or accident is going to result at some point in time, this is a known and proven fact.

So lets look at some factors as to why there would be more fires during the winter months. 1st off with less daylight available people are turning there indoor lights on much earlier and using more of them for longer periods. 2nd people are using electric blankets and space heaters often on under designed circuits then what is required. 3rd the physical wood structure of a home becomes drier or moister which can contribute to electrical fires under the right conditions. 4th holidays bring with them a vast array of decorations etc that also help to increase the electrical load on circuits that may already be showing signs of deterioration. 5th poor judgment by residents who ignore warning signs and do not follow recommended codes and safety rules.

Lets start with electrical lighting fires. These can be started in many different ways. Using a 100-watt light bulb in a fixture designed for 60 watts or using a Quartz light designed for modern insulated wiring which can handle 90 degrees Celsius on older wiring which can only hold 70 Celsius. Both of these conditions causes over heating of the socket and wiring and eventual failure of the insulation in the socket. The result is often a fire after the wires to fixture become brittle, crack and their conductors lose their insulation and touch the metal case and then cause a spark or touch against combustible material. Sometimes the condition will burn open the wires causing just the lights to go out and the wiring and light fixture having to be replaced. Often times lights blinking in a house for no reason is a sign something is going wrong and needs further investigation.

Other lighting fires happen due to bare light bulbs touching up against combustible items in covert or free standing lamp. Look in the hall closet of any modern home and you will find no light installed or if there is one installed it is fluorescent and it is installed in a manner that materials can not bump up against them. If they do the fluorescent light runs much cooler than a bare 60-100 watt bulb typically used in an older home. Because of good investigation practice many of these types of fires have become less occurring because the NEC code has been drastically changed to prevent these fires. But still there are those homeowners and remodelers etc who put the wrong fixture in a closest because they are ignorant of the code or do not care to follow it.

Next lets look at heating blankets and space heaters and their roles in causing fires. The following is standard protection requirement for modern wiring circuits 1 14 #gauge wire should be fused at no more than 15 amps a 12# gauge wire at 20 amps and 10 # gauge at 30 amps. There are some minor exemptions with very old style knob and tube wiring to this but generally you should not have fuses or breakers in a service panel bigger than 20 amps unless it is serving a major appliance load such as an electric stove which has larger gauge wire to it. So lets look at a typical 1500 watt space heater at 1500 watts and 120 volts the space heater is drawing 12.5 amps. So ethnically a 14# gauge wire fused at 15 amps should be able to handle this load but take into the other part of the electrical code that a load being used continuously on a circuit can only draw 80% of the circuit. Which means the load on a 15 amp circuit running continuously can be no more than 12 amps allowing 3 amps for occasional start up surge. So as you can see the 1500 watt heater is over the safety guideline by ½ an amp. Not a big deal if you run the heater a short time and it is on a modern and well-maintained circuit. But running it continually on an older circuit with loose connections and other items at some point is going to cause a fire. This is why many space heaters have warnings on them to use only on 20 amp-dedicated circuits just as you would a window air conditioner.

Fires from space heaters are caused when this older circuit starts to heat up and connections start expanding. It could be right at the wall socket or deep in the wall somewhere. I have seen wiring move and touch against nails or metal lath when it heats up to the point were the insulation gets worn off and a spark develops. A slow smoldering fire starts slowly burning, and with dry wood conditions the fire can develop even faster till at some point it breeches the wall and there is explosive results. Even if all connections are tight wiring can still expand and contract when a large continuous load like a space heater is put on it. This is why space heaters should never be left unattended.

Then there are electric blankets, a great way to warm up a bed in a cold room. But they also contribute to many fires when allowed to get old and brittle and or damaged by being put under a doorway, rug furniture or get damaged by a pet. Especially pet rabbits for some reason love to eat on electrical wires. Then people will run the electric blanket on an extension cord that they should not use, but if it has to be necessary, the proper gauge cord with good fitting connectors and UL listed should be used. The problem with extension cords especially cheap ones is they often have not been UL tested and certified and many times the UL labels have been counterfeited. Any electrical item from overseas, in particular from China, should be closely examined before it is used. Many counterfeit electrical items of late have been coming out of China. This is particularly critical with the Christmas decorations you will buy and put up. This is what many holiday fires can be directly traced back to. Many times people use indoor only rated decorations and electrical fittings outdoor. And this is only the start of things done wrong. Never use any decoration outdoors unless it is rated to be used outdoors. This goes for timers, extension cords and adapters as well. Outdoor rated items have extra features built in to withstand severe weather conditions indoor rated items do not. Water getting in to them can cause them to deteriorate and spark causing a fire. If you put up outdoor Christmas lighting you can avoid many problems by having a properly installed Ground Fault circuit Interrupter receptacle installed outside which is controlled by a switch.

Installing lighting thru an adapter to a porch light is a bad idea. Most porch lights are only designed to handle 60 watts period and not to be used for any other purpose. Yes I know they make adapters but I strongly discourage their use. You are much safer plugging into an outlet; this is why the NEC requires an electrical outlet with GFCI protection installed front and back of all new homes. Now I know you will get some false tripping of the GFCI when it rains or snows etc. but you also may have just prevented a fire. GFCI trip out when they sense danger. Portable outdoor rated GFCI can be purchased and used in older outdoor outlets. Which brings us to our final item how too much dryness or moisture can contribute to fires.

Well unfortunately if I am right on the above statement then the floods that came on September 17 2004 are going to cause horrific events this winter. Excessive moisture allows for the break down of electrical components that are not weatherized properly. This is especially true around outdoor outlets that have not been properly sealed when installed. When items break down they begin to overheat and spark and the high moisture allows an electrical path be created to ground and a fire develops.
Take the case of a mini market fire this summer in Penn Hills.  A Neon Sign that runs at 15,000 volts was not properly wired. The high voltage transformer and sign were not properly grounded and wiring was not properly sheathed to prevent it from getting abraded against the sign’s metal case. With the vibration of big trucks etc against the building and expansion and contraction of hot and cold days the insulation broke and the 15,000 volts made contact with the metal sign. Now had the metal sign been properly grounded that would have been the end of the story the high current of a short circuit would have tripped the breaker and the power to sign would have been turned off. Upon inspection by an electrician the problem would have been found. Instead the whole sign body became electrified and because it was mounted on wood with a low moisture content the wood acted as an insulator. Nothing happened until the very wet summer months came and the wood had a higher moisture content and after a particular strong downpour the sign caught fire after a path was created from the now very moist and wet wood to a metal down pout that was connected to a metal post creating a high resistance. Ground connections that started sparking and caught the wood on fire where the sparking was. Luckily the fire was caught quickly and storeowner cut power immediately when a customer came in and told the clerk there was smoke coming from the sign. This same scenario can play out with even 120 volt outdoor lights on a home when the deteriorate as well, because many of them are not properly grounded as well.

Next extremely dry wood plays a cause in fires in homes during the winter when wiring splices have not been properly made in a junction box. Often times a Romex wire is put thru the box with no clamp to keep it in place. The round wires are not used or if they are used the box itself is not grounded. Often the wires are twisted together and then just tapped instead of twisted soldered and tapped or preferred method is use of a wire nut or cap as they’re called. Because the splice has just been twisted and tapped, a high resistance can start building up in the splice and wire starts moving around till the tape is gone or melted away from the heat. The hot wire is now touching against the metal box which is fastened to the wood beam. If the ground had been attached to the box again the circuit would have tripped, but instead of tripping the wood being so dry has slowly begun to lose its insulating properties and its ignition point is drastically reduced to the point where the wood behind the box can now catch fire often resulting in dramatic fires.

So as you can see there are many ways why there are so many fires in the winter. The big question is the very home you are in this very moment. Is it a ticking time bomb waiting to go off or a well maintained safe one? If you are unsure hire only a qualified properly trained electrician to have it evaluated and repaired or suffer the consequences.

By Nick Markowitz Jr.
Fire Investigator
Member Emsworth Pa. VFD

This content may not be published or re-used without prior consent from and/or the author.

Long Story Made Short….

I guess its time for another heart felt apology to the Administrative Staff and the readers and followers of  Hoopieworld.  I signed on to write a “weekly” or as close to weekly as possible article.  I have failed to do that and wish to express my sincere regrets.  I have been going through as messed up a divorce as anyone in the history of the world could ever suffer through. (But that’s my sob story and I will not harass any one with reading through the details.) While muddling by, during the last few months, I began to think of all of my friends in the Public Safety fields who have met the same fate.  So now I am compelled to share my thoughts on why the divorce rate for Emergency responders is so high.

Let’s begin with what I hope we can all agree are the obvious explanations. There are many demands put on an individual who chooses to serve his or her community.  There are the endless hours of meetings, trainings, and fund raisers.  It seems to me that in the Post 911 world we live in, these demands may never cease to grow. When I was a kid growing up in the fire station , the Fire Station was just that.  It was a group of men and women who responded to primarily Fire incidents.  But in the 18 years that I have been involved as a responder I have seen the addition of EMS, Rescue and HAZMAT responses.  I have sat through many classes where the Instructor has referred to Fire Service Responders as ” Jack of all trades Master of None”. It has become clear to see, that despite my valiant efforts to prove otherwise, ( I wanted to be the First Master of ALL)  that this is as true now as it ever will be. I can’t say that  I see an end to the  need for an all inclusive service to remove people  from the bad situations they always seem to place themselves in. I guess we can call it job security, but it will have a toll on some eventually. We have all had the unfortunate opportunity to miss a family get together or  a young child’s sporting event or dance recital.  I’m sure we understand the concept of ” Family First”.  I have found my self on many occasions allowing my desire to help others come before my family and friends. I have made countless friends in the business and even considered some of them brothers and sisters in the literal sense.  We all have used the phrase ” Brotherhood”.  I don’t disagree with the concept. The brotherhood has been the cause of several of my friends separations.  We all have to separate our selves from the work we do occasionally.  I found in my case that it gave me a chance to see where I went wrong and what was needed to keep from going insane.  I called it my “mental health break”.  If we don’t take the breaks it causes burn out.  Once burned out,  I feel that its hard to regain the passion for the grind.  The grind is all that I have mentioned so far and much more.  We have calls that we will always remember, faces we will never forget, and all the other memories of thing we’ve seen or done.  You can sit at any Fire or EMS station and here the so called “War Stories”.  I actually enjoy listening to people share their experiences.  I like to think that I may learn from the experiences that these folks have gone through.  I also like to think that if I give 10-15 minutes of my precious time,  I may be allowing these people a much needed chance to “off load” some baggage. I can only speak about me, but  I tend to internalize alot of grief until it has to explode. (YES thats the cause of the divorce).  I think most Emergency responders do this too.   For us its the most sensible way to deal with pain. Just hide it away.  Tell a joke or two and laugh it off. I didn’t mean for this article to become a tutorial in CISD.  I did want to put the thought out there for everyone to think about.  We need to thnk outside the box a little.  We all are trained to the highhest degree possible.  We can handle almost any situation that we are thrown in to.  If we are so well adapted to helping others , why is it that we neglect ourselves.  How can we continue to place ourselves in to the worst of situations and keep expecting good things to happen.  I believe that it was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same things while expecting different results. Pleas folks, take some time for you.  We all deserve the best for us too.    It makes a huge difference to everyone in the end.




New Contributing Editor

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank You for stopping by to read my first post here at  I hope everyone takes the opportunity to read the information discussed here and pass it on to your fellow Fire, Rescue, EMS, and Law Enforcement brothers and sisters.  That is truly what we are.

For the regulars here at the site you may see a lot of bickering, whining and just outright being nasty but if we all think of our own families and lives , it happens to all of us at some point and time.  No one here is above human nature and there fore better than any one.  So lets take the information that’s shared and listen to it.  If you disagree do so politely. Do not think your way is the ONLYway. We all know that in this line of work things change and they do so quickly.  The way I was taught or learned a skill may not be the same as some one in another department, line of work, or county for that matter. This web site  has a base that spans several counties. I am from Butler County. I am sure that if I could read minds many of you thought to your selves that the only fire we see are barns and tractors. Although this, in my case does have some truth to it  it in no way decreases what I do.  If your community is primarily residential you are as important to that home owner as I am to the farmer I protect.

I believe wholeheartedly in the theory that one must take “Ownership” of his or her organization. Ownership doesn’t mean that you gain control of your department as a dictator.  It doesn’t even mean you have to be an officer. It does mean that you have a sense that you make a difference to your department AND your community .  Everyone in this business of Public Safety is here because they want to help or they want to make a difference.  We’ve all been to our departments business meetings and heard the membership committees read why a  prospective candidate wants to join the department. Don’t laugh or make fun of the new member. It’s getting hard to find people that will stick it out there for free anymore .  Let’s make them feel welcome.  Let’s encourage each other and let everyone know that we’ll be there for that member weather it be on a scene or in his or her home if need be. 18 years ago when I joined my first department I  was called all kind of names for the new member.  I’m sure we’ve all heard if not used them.  I was a probie, a newb, a plebe, or a puke.  I was wet behind the ears or some times even my fathers ugly “daughter”.  But it was the guys and gals that were calling me these things that saw no matter what, I wasn’t going to quit.  I wanted to be there to learn and do the job.  I respected those folks and do to this day.  I was going to do what it took to get them to respect me even if  it meant being  a junior.  I rolled and racked countless thousands of feet of hose.  I mopped endless square feet of floors.  I washed, waxed, and polished every square inch of apparatus that ever set foot in that station (sometimes it didn’t belong to our department). And today I feel that most of those people do indeed respect me for my skills and abilities.  We’ve all been through this is some form or another.   We should refrain from using this time as a weeding out period. We should use it as a bonding time.

To get to my point  this site is like the group of older experienced persons in the department.  We should be using the gift of HOOPIEWORLD to share our skills and knowledge with the younger generation and the experienced who may not  know .  We shouldn’t ridicule, degrade, or harass any one.    I can not say I have any knowledge of the radio system in Westmoreland County.  I can’t say I understand why Allegheny county Station ___   uses a company further away for mutual aid.   I don’t  know much of anything about Armstrong county. I am reasonably sure  that if  I asked a member who may have posted on the subject they may be able to explain or at least find out why. So rather than jump the gun and assume I know more, let’s be adult and ask  for the explanation.  If given the opportunity to reply then offer your suggestions to improve the subject.  It maybe some thing that member hasn’t encountered that often.  It may be a new or not frequently used skill  or subject. We all have areas we aren’t “the best ” at.  It may be the worst cliche in the history of the English language  but  it’s fitting.  BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION NOT THE PROBLEM!!

Now with that said I’ll step down from my soap box.  I’m not here to lecture. I’m not your father or mother.  Goodness knows I’m not your Pastor.  I have been given the chance to share my opinions on subjects that face us all.    I will try all I can to provide the most accurate  and safe information I can weekly .  But please keep in mind I am human too.  I’m sure there will be times there are folks on that are more knowledgeable than me.  I will not be offended to be corrected .  I’m here to learn too.  Please feel free to reccomend any subject you may have concerns about.


*** next week’s topic  seating assignments ***

120+ PA Fire Departments Get a Piece of the $48.5 Million

Congratulations to the 120+ Pennsylvania fire departments who were awarded the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG). On Friday, $48.5 million in assistants grants were awarded to fire departments all over the United States.

This was the eleventh round of FY ’08 grants awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The goal of the AFG program is to meet the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and non-affiliated emergency medical services organizations.

These are just a few of the Local Departments who I saw listed on the web page. For the complete list click the following link. Assistance to Firefighters Grant.

  • Raccoon Twp. Vol. Fire Dept.
  • New Brighton Volunteer Fire Department
  • Lancaster Emergency Medical Services Association
  • Hanover Volunteer Fire Department
  • Erie Fire Dept
  • Beaver Falls Fire Department
  • West End Ambulance Service
  • Oil City Fire Department
  • Richland Township Fire Department
  • New Galilee EMS (dba Northwestern EMS)
  • Sharon Fire Department
  • Irwin Volunteer Fire Department
  • Canonsburg Volunteer Fire Department

Once again, congrats on your awards. Sorry if I didn’t list your organization above. It’s a very long list.

911 Under Investigation After Student’s Death

Ok, I first saw this a few weeks ago and have been keeping tabs it. Just today Atlanta News Station Channel 2 released shocking evidence about Antoine Williams, a 16-year old high school student, who lost his life during school back in October.

At 3:21 p.m, Atlanta 911 received calls of a school student who grabbed his heart and passed out while in school. They immediately dispatched police, paramedic, and fire for a cardiac arrest.  The student ended up dying because of a very lengthy response time from EMS personnel.

Over a month later, a local news station started asking questions. That’s when they heard the 911 dispatch tape for the first time. They realized that at 3:29 p.m., the Atlanta 911 dispatcher accidently canceled Fire and Paramedic response to the call that day. The 911 tape that was released shows how dispatchers meant only to cancel the police response because there were already resource officers at the school. But instead, they also canceled the fire and paramedics.

Ok, so you made a mistake and canceled the wrong guy’s. FIX IT!!! The 911 dispatcher waited until someone called 911 again, another 35 minutes later, before re-calling the firefighters and paramedics. I would hate to be in that dispatchers shoes at that point.

I’m looking for more info on the call. I’m not pointing blame at anyone at this point. Maybe it wasn’t the dispatchers fault. Who know’s. I’ll post more information as soon as I can find some.

Wreck Kills Virginia Firefighter Roy Smith III

I hate to post these, but it’s nice to remember our fallen brothers. While responding to a structure fire on November 7th, Firefighter Roy Smith’s of McGaheysville Volunteer Fire Department vehicle left the road and flipped multiple times. Smith, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the vehicle. He died at the scene, according to Sgt. L. Tyler of the Virginia State Police.

“The usage of seat belts may have prevented some of the injuries and possibly the death in this accident,” said Tyler, adding that the investigation is ongoing, but it appears fog and speed may have played a factor. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Smith family and his fellow fire fighters.

Link to Original Article. FireFightingNews.Com