Monday, October 31, 2011

“Beware Computer Programmers baffled by telephones!”

For those of you that have been here before, you’ve probably read about the I.T. support group we’re shackled with here at the fire department. For you first timers, if you find this article suitably painful, you may even want to go back and enjoy a few of the other I.T. adventures we’ve had here together. Either way, hold on to your hats, because here comes an all new episode in the “Beware Computer Programmers” saga.

Last week I called in a phone problem, and discovered the I.T. desk had added a whole new level of redundancy and aggravation. The name of this new and improved little demon is called the intelligent automated answering system.

At first I thought the I.T guys had done something right; separating their issues into different departments, making them more organized and efficient. I assumed wrong.

The automated she devil answered the phone and I listened to the usual gambit of press one for this, and two for that, until I got to the option for telephone issues. It was, of course, the last one. I’m still trying to figure out how those things know what you’re calling about, enabling them to put the number you’re looking for at the bottom of the list!

Anyway, I selected the phone issues option, which of course sent me to another menu, then another, and another, until I did what any other rational human being would do. I punched the number zero like a speed bag until the system relented and sent me to an operator. The good news? It worked. A real live, breathing, human being answered the phone. The bad news? It was one of our good friends, the I.T. technicians.

I explained to the nice gentlemen, we’ll call him Gerald, that we had a phone that was not working. Gerald told me, with a great amount of pride, that they had an all new automated system that could send me to the section that would take care of my issue. I resisted the urge to tell him what I thought of his system, and asked Gerald if he would transfer me to the correct section, and believe it or not, he said he could! He told me to hold on and I waited while the phone clicked and beeped, then I heard Gerald’s muffled voice again. He said something like, “This one?” then click… beep… dial tone. You’d think I’d know better by now.

I redialed, and was again greeted by the automated she-devil. This time I gave in and patiently made my way through the demons labyrinth of numbered torture. I made it to the hold queue, complete with Barry Manilow montage, and waited for my turn to talk to a technician.

After ten or fifteen minutes a familiar voice came on the line.

“This is Gerald, can I help you.”

Now usually I try to hold my profanity to a minimum, but let’s just say my response to Gerald’s voice was a bit less than cordial. I think he was taken aback by my colorful description of his service procedures, but once I calmed down, he agreed to try and help me and I agreed to stop creating new ways to call him the business end of a donkey.

From there, our time on the phone together was a little tense, but we made it through together. After a few more assaults from the Barry Manilow hold line, I even calmed down enough to apologize for my language and behavior. Gerald accepted, and did his best to find a technician that could make it over that very day.

I don’t know if I’ll ever talk to Gerald again, but I feel we developed a kind of bond. Perhaps, if our paths cross again, things will be different. Maybe things will go smoothly and we’ll develop some sort of working relationship. Then again, if that happened, what would I have to write about!

So let me have it. My I.T. blogs usually draw out the techs in this little community. Tell me your side. I love to hear the “Why won’t this thing turn on when it’s not plugged in “stories too.

Have a great day and happy reading!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

“Never light a house on fire with children under the age of four!”

Well fire prevention week wrapped up on the 15th of October, and we were not only able to teach the public a few things, we also learned a thing or two ourselves. We learned, as posted earlier, that people can rationalize some pretty strange choices when it comes to fire safety. We also learned something else, something very important; we learned not everyone can appreciate realism when it comes to the danger of fire in the home.

Last year our department built a fire prevention trailer; basically a house on wheels designed to teach kids how to get out of a smoke filled home. It has been a huge hit among school age kids; so much so, that this year we decided to upgrade. We not only added more smoke, we also installed a realistic looking light show in the kitchen, emulating a fire you can put it out with a laser spewing fire extinguisher. Very cool!

The new system worked like a charm. We drew in droves of kids and adults eager to try their hand at amateur firefighting. We all had a good time and everything went off without a hitch… that is until we visited the daycare center.

The kids in the daycare ranged in age from three to five, so needless to say, I decided to scale down the presentation and skip the special effects inferno. Notice I used the word “I” and not “we” (this will be an important detail later in the story).

As we set things up, the children emerged and were met at the front door by Sparky the fire dog. Sparky is, of course, a firefighter dressed in a friendly looking dog suit, but to these kids Sparky must have looked like a demon spawned from Hell.

As soon as they saw him, they turned and made for their door. It was like watching a tidal wave advance, then recede; a small, screaming, tidal wave of crying panicked children. Sparky retreated and the teachers reassured their students that Sparky wasn’t there to eat them.

After that fiasco was over, the children came around in to see the prevention house with me. They were all very excited to see the tiny rooms built just for them, and soon the terrors of Sparky the fire dog were for gotten… at least for the moment.

I went through my presentation, telling them how to get out of a house and how to dial 911 in an emergency. I bypassed the fire show in the kitchen, then took them to the miniature bedroom so they could practice using the fire escape. This was when everything went horribly wrong.

To add a bit of realism to the exercise, I have a button that allows me to add a little smoke to the room. Nothing drastic, just a little haze to show them what it might be like in a real fire. I told them about how fun and safe our pretend smoke was, then after teaching them the best ways to escape in an emergency, I let one of the little girls in the class push the button.

Smoke billowed out of the vent just as planned, then everything went south. The kids screamed and sandwiched themselves into a corner, smashing the poor boy in the back like a day old sausage. The little girl that pushed the button was clawing at it now, frantically trying to make the smoke go away. Shrieks of terror filled the air, and tears began to flow, it was a nightmare.

I tried to calm the kids down, assuring them they were safe, but they were already far beyond comforting. Their teacher, thankfully present as well, opened the little patio door to the fire escape and the kids poured out the opening like ants fleeing the stomping foot of a pre-adolescent boy.

The only good thing to come out of the whole mess was that they were all definitely eager to escape. No hiding under the beds or in closets for this crew, no sir. I think those kids would have torn through the wall with their teeth if they’d been stuck in there much longer.

We got the kids over the rail and down the ladder, despite the tearful fits of terror, then I turned back to warn the firefighter leading the class behind be about my unwitting mistake. I was too late.

As I opened the door to the small kitchen below, I saw my assistant chief standing there holding one of the simulated fire extinguishers, ready to demonstrate the full and impressively realistic lightshow I spoke of earlier.

As I opened my mouth to stop him, he hit the button on his remote. Pseudo flames erupted into a mass of noise and fake smoke and the kids in the room ran. Some ran out the door, some ran to the back of the trailer, and some just ran in circles, screaming in the kitchen.

I reached into my own pocket a pulled out another remote to turn off the system, but the damage had already been done; once again the shrieking voices of little children filled the air.

Later, after the kids competent caretakers calmed them down in the comfort of their classrooms, we reemerged and were able to explain that everything was just pretend “like a cartoon” I said. They seemed to understand; of course I thought they’d understood earlier as well.

We handed out candy and hats, then decided to forgo the firemen in turnout gear, thinking their little hearts might not be able to take any more. Needless to say, we will be rethinking out education program for preschoolers. I am thinking maybe a puppet show. A puppet show with no smoke, no fire, and a much smaller Sparky.

We called later and asked if the kids were doing all right and their teachers said they were fine. I guess they were even reenacting their exciting adventure on the playground. I hope, despite our lack of age appropriate material, something of our message sunk in. For even though it may have been a rough delivery, the lesson was important; if there’s a fire, get out!

I spent the next week or so expecting angry phone calls from parents, but none came and I was relieved that no permanent damage had been done.

We all have lessons to learn, and that week we learned a good one… “Never light a house on fire with children under the age of four!”

Monday, October 17, 2011

“The premeditated thoughts of a three year old can be terrifying”

As a father I am no stranger to surprises. Sponges in the toilet, my car keys in the garbage disposal; but every once in a while a child will come up with something so devious I am left to do nothing but stare in wonder.

The other day I visited my neighbor, his wife, and his two young girls. I’d been there for a while chatting with my friend at the kitchen table, when his three and a half year old daughter Sarah strolled into the room.

As we talked, Sarah pushed a chair to the counter, climbed up, and grabbed a brand new package of Oreos. This was nothing all that unusual in itself, but there was one thing that caught my attention; it was the way she opened the bag. Most kids her age would have just torn the package to shreds or smashed it with whatever blunt instrument was handy, but not her. She took her time, carefully pulling the edges apart, making an opening just large enough to get a single cookie out. As I watched, I figured she would take a couple of Oreos and go, but that wasn’t the case. One after the other Sarah worked the cookies out of the tiny hole, stacking them on the counter as she went. When she was done, she pressed the opening closed with her tiny fingers then set the empty package back on the counter right where she’d found it.

By now she had also attracted the attention of her father.

“I hope you don’t think you’re going to eat all of those young lady.” He said.

Sarah looked at us and showed a grin the Cheshire cat would have been proud of.

“Put’en ‘em in the cookie jar daddy.” She said with an innocent tone, but that grin told us both a different story.

Our conversation forgotten, we watched as she placed the cookies into the jar next to her. When they were all tucked safely away, she swept her hands across the counter in true toddler fashion, then she the picked up the jar and jumped down off the chair.

“Now where are you going?” Dad said.

Still grinning, Sarah rushed her stash around the corner, set it on the ground, then came back, suddenly unable to contain a gale of childish giggles.

She stood between us on the far side of the table, peeking just over the top, staring at the spot where the empty bag of cookies lay.

I shrugged and looked at my friend who returned my look of utter confusion.

Then, as if on cue, her older sister entered the room. She went to the refrigerator; pulled out a half gallon of milk, then set it down next to the Oreo package. As soon as she picked up the empty wrapper Armageddon began. She screamed and looked around for her sister. She found her standing between us, laughing now, uncontrollably. This three year old girl had just spent almost 20 minutes setting up this elaborate scheme just so she could see her sister cry.

Admittedly it was a pretty rotten thing to do, but it was so creative even her father found himself stifling his laughter.

After a few screaming laps around the table mom came in and brought some sense to the festivities. Sarah gave back the cookies and her sister took them away in a huff, vowing a tearful revenge. Frankly I don’t think she stands a chance. Any kid that can come up with a prank like that at three and a half is either destined for greatness or prison. I don’t know what she’ll grow up to be, but I pity her bosses, and more so, her future husband.

A short while later the tears dried up and mom finished dolling out her dose of the evil eye. Everything went back to normal, or as normal as things could be in that house, and I went home knowing I would NEVER turn my back on little Sarah again.

Have you ever been shocked by the actions of a kid? I’m sure we all have. If you have a good story I would love to hear about it. Happy reading and remember, keep your cookies hidden and your chair to the kitchen wall!

Monday, October 10, 2011

“I removed all my smoke detectors because the noise scared my son”

What if we all responded to people’s actions with the sarcasm they sometimes so richly deserved? This is fire prevention week, so needless to say as a fire fighter, I was out most of the day promoting fire safety. Today we were out in front of our neighborhood grocery displaying our truck and smokehouse trailer to teach children how to escape a burning house.

As the morning went by, we got the usual gambit of intelligent questions like: When should you replace your fire alarms, and do I need a fire extinguisher in my house, but today I ran into one gentleman that set my sarcasm meter to high.

This particular gentlemen walked up to our table with his nine year old son and perused the free fire helmets and fire safety paraphernalia as he explained what a great service these nice policemen did for their community. Now don’t get me wrong, I agree that our fellow brothers in blue are an indispensible asset to our lives, but we are not policemen, we are firemen. I let him go on for a few more seconds, thinking sooner or later he would realize he was standing in front of a ten foot long “Fire Prevention” sign, then I politely interrupted him to explain who we were and why we were there.

When I finished, the man looked confused, but instead of responding, he just turned his attention back to the free items on the table.

“So what’s this stuff for?” He said.

“Just some free stuff for the kids, help yourself to anything you like”

I picked up one of the canvas backpacks we were giving away and handed it to his son who had, if nothing else, heard and understood one very important word… Free!

As the boy loaded up on cups, toys and pencils, his father glanced at me looking a bit baffled once again.

“You don’t have any prices on this stuff, how much is it?”

I glanced over at the big sign on the table that read “Free, please help yourself.” and thought, maybe this guy can’t read.

I started to feel a bit ashamed thinking I had misjudged this poor man, then he picked up one the toy badges and read it aloud.

“Jr. Fire Marshal” he said with a smirk, then without missing a beat he turned to point at the fire truck behind him.

“That Yours?”

Nope, he was a reader and a genius to boot! This was where I wanted to tell him that the truck belonged to one of the cashiers and that she drove it back and forth to work because of the great gas mileage… but I didn’t.

“Yes sir,” I said. “Would you like to take a look?”

“No thanks, what’s this little house trailer you got goin over here though?”

I lead him and his son over to our prevention trailer and explained that we had set it up like a miniature house for kids to look through and learn about fire safety.

“I’d be glad to take you through if you’d like to take a look.” I said, keeping up my best fire prevention face.

The boy yanked hard on his father’s coat before he could refuse.

“Yes daddy yes.” He said with a mouth full of candy. “I wanna see it!”

The dad smiled and patted him on the head then motioned me in. As we walked in the door the man put his hand on my arm as if he’d forgotten something very important, then asked me a question that effectively ended the tour.

“I hope there’s not going to be a lot of noise in here. We had to remove all the smoke detectors in our house because the alarms scared little Joey here.”

I looked at the man, then down at the doe eyed expression if the nine year old.

“Well the poor little guy. He must have been terrified. I removed all the smoke detectors in my house to, that way when I give my kids the matches and gasoline to play with they aren’t startled by the big scary beeping sounds when everything goes up in flames.”

OK, that’s what I wanted to say, but instead I tried to explain that the noise was designed to warn everyone in the house of danger, and I urged him to replace them as soon as possible.

I offered to continue the tour but when I told him there would be a little noise his son threw himself on the floor and threw a tantrum the likes of which I have never seen before. I was reminded of the children on Willy Wonka, thrashing and screaming until they got their way. The father looked down at the boy and pleaded with him.

“Now Joey, we’ve talked about this.” He said in a voice barely audible above the child’s screaming. “It will only be for a moment. The nice fireman says it’s not even scary. I’ll bet he could set it up just like our house so that there’s no noise at all. Would that be alright?”

The boy continued to scream, then the father shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave. As soon as Joey realized he’d won, he stopped crying, popped his sucker back into his mouth, then practically skipped out the door.

I did not follow.

I watched out the window as Joey sprinted into the parking lot at full speed with his bag full of goodies. His father gave a half hearted; “Now Joey, slow down,” and I wondered at how little Joey had survived this long.

So is there a moral to this story? Too many to list I think.

Being that it’s “FIRE” prevention week and not crime prevention, or brat prevention, or crappy parent prevention week; let’s just stick with this.

Replace your smoke detectors every ten years, your batteries every year, and no matter how much your child might complain about the noise, it’s still better than being trapped within the confines of an inferno, blissfully free of the annoying beep of a smoke alarm.

Have a great week and if you have any “little angel” stories of your own, let me have ‘em!