PBS American Experience is broadcasting a history of The Big Burn, the catastropic 1910 forest fire in the Northern Rockies that killed 78 firefighters.

Corvallis Oregon 86-acre brush fire 5-6 Sept 2014 (Gazette-Times)

5-6 September 2014
We heard the sirens starting around 9 p.m. while we watched evening television, but that’s not unusual living as close as we live to a firehouse, although most of the time the siren is a medical run. But they multiplied and came from all directions after a while, and didn’t stop until midnight as one mutual aid company after another arrived from all over the county to help the city fire department and the Oregon Department of Forestry with a brush and grass fire that blew up as they tend to do at the end of a day with 90-degree heat and 25 percent humidity—a red flag warning day of high fire risk. Sheriff and police units added to the cacophony as they converged on threatened neighborhoods to start a mandatory evacuation. Small in acreage compared to most wildland fires, but this was a classic wildland urban interface fire, and the incident commanders acted rapidly to block the fire from reaching homes; they pulled resources in as fast as possible and ordered an evacuation given how close people lived to the incinerating brush and grass and trees. Just in case.

Timberhill burn 5-6 Sept 2014 (Democrat-Herald)

Corvallis Engine 134 on standby the morning of 6 Sept 2014 (pipenozzle)

The 86 acre burn (about 66 football fields) is located on the north side of town where that wildland urban interface (a public land manager term) has grown in the last few years as more and more houses and rowhouses and apartment buildings were built next to a city park that borders the 5000-acre McDonald State Forest you see at the top of the aerial image. People like living up the hill on 29th because they can walk out their front door and five minutes later they’re on a hiking trail in the park and on into the forest. Nice life, and I have hiked those trails through what’s now a burn up the ridge and into the forest, and my daughter and I would pick blackberries up there each summer, but I wouldn’t live on that ridge.

Down here on the flats we bought a house near the fire department, a house with a hydrant next door, and we have our water connected to a faucet stand in the backyard with two Y connectors, each with a long hose used most of the time for watering flowers, but ready also for the special nozzle I keep in the garage ready to connect if needed.

We had a yard sale last summer and this guy stops to buy the three window fans we were selling after we’d finally used a tax return to install a heat pump. He grabbed the fans and claimed he’d been told before he moved to western Oregon that the summers were mild. We smiled and explained Oregon weather. We have two seasons in lowland western Oregon: wet and hot. As in 90+ and sometimes 100+ during the summer. With low humidity and no rain. You could also say the lowland seasons are monsoon and fire season. Forest and grasslands dry each summer and the fires start, most often ignited by lightning, and every summer we get red flag warnings like the one on September 5th when the temps rose over 90 and the humidity dropped into the 20s.

Since the fire started after dark in the park away from homes, no one spotted it until flames flared in the usual evening breeze and lit the night sky as they made a run downhill toward, as firefighters say, occupied structures from mini-mansions to rowhousess to apartment buildings.

The evacuation order was lifted by 1:30 a.m., and then the morning of September 6th I hiked up 29th with hordes of other gawkers to photograph the damage and apparatus and talk briefly with exhausted firefighters. Mop up would take days, but they’d stopped the burn literally at back porches before anything but the porches was singed but for one dwelling that suffered structural damage the next morning when a flying ember lurking behind siding during the night lit up. CFD made a quick stop that confined the fire to that outside wall.

I’m glad I live where I do with the public servants we have, and pay my taxes without complaint because I do not want the town to turn into the one with the conflagration I wrote about in “Engine 10.” I thanked the dead-tired engine crews at each of the three fire trucks I visited on my hike up 29th. They’d been up all night.

Corvallis Rural Fire District forestry pumper on standby at the top of 29th Street the morning of 6 Sept 2014 (pipenozzle)

Barry Roberts Greer
editor, pipenozzle.com
author, Seven Two, Pipe Nozzle, Engine 10, Of Cowards and Firefighters

Pipenozzle.com is not in any way affiliated or associated with Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department, Poquonnock Bridge Fire District, Poquonnock Bridge Firefighters, Alan Ackley, or Vladimir Putin..

Lies of commission
In case, you haven’t noticed, PBFD board president, Alan Alanovich Ackleyov, has a lot in common with the current czar of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Both are pathological liars and depend on lies to get, consolidate, and expand power.

Czar Putin

Obviously, Putin is doing a lot more damage by lying his way into the Crimea and now lying his way into eastern Ukraine, and Ackley has no tanks, but he does now have a nine-member fire district board that rubber stamps his lies to give them legitimacy. The problem, of course, is that without any honest dissent on the board, as in Russia, Ackley has become increasingly arrogant and moved from lying to the public to lying to a judge. Lying to the public about financial matters and fictional volunteer firefighters is one thing, but scrubbing 622 emergency calls from a document submitted as evidence is perjury.

Deborah Straszheim reported for the New London Day that “[PBFD attorney Jerome] O’Malley argued [in New London Superior Court] that building fires are a small part of what the department does. They accounted for 16 of the 1,237 calls to the fire district during the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to a monthly report from the chief submitted into evidence.”

Czar Alan Alanovich Ackleyov

Pipe Nozzle requested a run report from Groton Dispatch for the same period because that total Straszheim reported looked wrong. Not just slightly in error. But deliberately wrong. As did the number of structure fires. According to the Groton Dispatch report for FY2014, PBFD responded 1,859 times. 622 calls were scrubbed from the so-called “Chief’s Report” used by O’Malley in court, if Straszheim reported correctly. O’Malley, when contacted by Pipe Nozzle, said he’d been misquoted and that the Groton Dispatch report was correct. The Groton Dispatch report also included 45 structure fires for that period, not 16. And both O’Malley and the judge neglected the fact that, whether rescues occur or not, primary search has to be conducted for every structure fire.

Straszheim, when told what O’Malley said, changed her story to saying “board members” gave her the “Chief’s Report,” but she would not say which board members. So Pipe Nozzle sent email to board members Ackley, Beckwith, and Legnos requesting a copy of the “Chief’s Report” given by “board members” to Attorney Jerome O’Malley, but to date none of them have responded.

Pipe Nozzle also contacted the PBFD district office and no one knew anything about the report allegedly written by the PBFD fire chief for board members who gave it to the attorney for court use, nor could they explain the missing 622 runs in the court document.

It doesn’t take a legal or public relations genius to extrapolate the reason “board members” would lie to O’Malley, who lied to the judge or was misquoted by Deborah Sraszheim. The Day reporter has not vetted the information she’s gotten from Ackley in the past, has not corroborated it with at least one other source. Quoting Ackley’s opinion is one thing, and standard practice in journalism, but being given a blatant factual lie and reporting it without pause is another . And it’s safe to assume Straszheim did report accurately and would not hesitate to produce the “Chief’s Report.” Nor would Jerome O’Malley, although he has yet to respond to a request for a copy of the report he used in court, and, gosh gee whiz, it’s really hard to see how he could have said 1,237 in court and Straszheim wrote down 1,859 when the numbers do not sound remotely the same. Or that she wrote down 16 when the actual number was 45. Got that?

Nor does it take a political genius to see the advantage to Czar Ackleyov in cooking the books. The fewer the calls, the fewer firefighters needed. The fewer structure fires, the lower the risk to firefighters, and the judge bought it, and Ackley hopes the public will continue to get suckered while he dismantles the fire district.

Backward Hat attacking union firefighters t the 2014 annual meeting

Lies of omission
The big lie is one of the oldest propaganda tricks in the book, as is withholding information. The New London Day gave a full column of space to a profile of a new Groton School Board member, but gave just four brief paragraphs to the new PBFD board member, another Ackley minion, Mr. Backward Hat, Barry Adcock, who loudly proclaimed at the May annual meeting to all present that he could run the district on a million dollars a year with an all volunteer fire department. Nobody knows what this guy’s background is even though he’s been given responsibility for the safety of the same children who attend Groton schools. Nor does pbfd.net give any background on board membrers; in fact, the district has not yet changed the list of board members to include the new faces. Backward Hat, by the way, was not elected by district voters, but he’s now locked onto the board for the next three years. Adcock, the guy who attacked career firefighters at the annual meeting, told The Day he wants to make nice now, work with the board and the chief to run things the way Ackley wants them run. Adcock never mentioned working with the firefighters.

It gets better. Without any serious checks on his power, Ackley crossed the line from policy to administration last month when he and one of his new cronies on the board, Ron Johnson, the guy who was supposed to be writing a plan for restoring volunteer firefighters, went to look at a quint, which is a combination pumper and ladder. In one of several bizarre moments at the August board meeting, Ackley turned to Chief Paige, grinning, almost smirking, and said they’d just been looking. Paige was not happy, and said so for the record. He’d been left out of the loop, apparatus selection was his territory, and the budget was for a pumper, not the more expensive quint. Paige was the chief. Ackley runs a package store and has no damned business reviewing apparatus for purchase. Johnson said nothing during the meeting to either Chief Ackley or Chief Paige about volunteer firefighters.

The power of fact
Unlike Russia, though, where the free press has become nothing more the mouthpiece for Putin, Ackley can be challenged. Voters can do what one did at the August meeting. She read a statement highly critical of Ackley, but she didn’t go the next step necessary to create a public record. She didn’t ask to have the document included in the meeting minutes, and it wasn’t. She also needed to be sure The Day had a copy and a copy was sent to editor at pipenozzle dot com. Another taxpayer stood and asked for totals on legal expenses from PBFD clerk Nancy Beckwith. And, by the way, the legal bills total for this fiscal year and the last could have paid for at least three of the nine positions Ackley eliminated.

And now the actual volunteer fire company that owns the closed Fort Hill station has gotten a lawyer, who wrote a letter to Ackley’s board demanding that the board pay for necessary maintenance on the building, including repairs needed to correct fire code violations. Ackley nonchalantly referred the letter to the district’s law firm, the one where O’Malley works, for response. So how much does it cost taxpayers for Ackley to hire a lawyer to write a letter because he’s functionally illiterate and can’t?

The voters need to ask. They need to ask for a copy of the full budget and demand that copies of the full budget be made available to the public at the annual meeting, not a one page summary that buries the truth. Voters need to ask that any Ackley employee who proposes a budget figure identify himself or herself as an Ackley employee and explain where the proposed figure came from. The Day won’t.

And voters, including firefighters, need to build a database of supporters with phone numbers for each to get out the vote for the next annual meeting to elect a slate who will loudly challenge Ackley when he lies, and who will form the core of the next majority on the board. That’s the only way to stop Ackley. Groton has not been invaded by Russia, although Ackley would probably like to paint over each PBFD apparatus logo with white, which would allow him to tell The Day that he has seen no PBFD emergency calls in Groton during the current fiscal year..
Barry Roberts Greer
editor, pipenozzle.com
author, Seven Two, Pipe Nozzle, Engine 10, Of Cowards and Firefighters

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