Vass asked about emergency preparedness, which is an interest (and former occupation) of mine. If you click on the tags, you will find a number of stories in which cars and other objects burst into flames (this seems to happen often in my vicinity), and in which I locked myself in my bedroom, set my pants on fire while I was naked and dripping wet, etc. (Moral: Do NOTHING before coffee.)

Information about the physical aspects of emergency preparedness (what to have around, where to store it, what training to get) is widely available and also localized. What you need depends on what you're likely to face. I have no idea what to do in case of tornados, because we don't get them where I live; a resident of Louisiana doesn't need to know about earthquakes. So I'll skip that part and instead discuss psychology, which is universal.

My experience is that not very many people are interested in emergency preparation, on any level, but that the people who are interested are very interested. And also that the people who are not interested tend to think that the people who are interested are deluded - that there is no actual value in being prepared, but that it functions as a mere security blanket of false comfort. I can't tell you how many times I hear, "Well, if it makes you feel better..."

Naturally, I find this quite annoying. I have used my training and equipment many times, and have very likely saved at least one life. It does make me feel better, but that's not its sole purpose. I also find it aggravating that the security blanket implication suggests that anyone who needs it is a coward. People interested in emergency preparedness frequently either have dangerous jobs or live in dangerous areas - that's how they got interested in the first place. If you ever take a class geared toward people who are there voluntarily, rather than being required for work, there tends to be a heavy emphasis on not being foolishly heroic. That's because the people taking the class tend to rush toward the danger, rather than running away. You don't need to warn people about things they'd never do anyway.

(Those of us who are interested can also annoy those who are not. That tends to go in the direction of "Just wait, you'll come running to me to save you when things go south.")

The most important aspect of preparedness is psychological. The place you start is believing that bad things happen, that at some point they will happen in your vicinity, that you may well be capable of doing something that will have positive results, and that you want to do so. People often don't believe (or don't want to contemplate) any or all four of those ideas. But once you consciously believe all those things, everything else follows.

(Number three is conditional because there's always the possibility that, for instance, the first thing that happened in the earthquake was that a brick fell on your head.)

The first time or first few times you're in an emergency situation, it's natural to freeze. It's also natural to freeze if something completely unexpected happens, no matter how experienced you are. If you deal with similar situations regularly, you stop freezing. However, the important thing to remember about freezing is that it's normal (so don't blame yourself) and it's temporary (so don't panic).

The freeze reflex is there, I believe, to force you to evaluate the situation rather than blindly plunging into counterproductive action. If you recognize it as that, you can use it to your advantage. So you're standing there thinking, "Oh my God, what's going on?!" Remember that this is the freeze response. Stay where you are (or take cover, as relevant) and see if you can figure out what's going on and what you can and should do about it. You only need a few seconds to evaluate. Take those seconds.

Many emergency situations are simple. Many useful and lifesaving responses are simple. Call emergency services. If someone's bleeding a lot, stop it. If someone's in danger of being hit by incoming traffic, stop the traffic and (if they don't have a possible spinal injury) remove them to a safe area. If someone does have a possible spinal injury, don't let them move. If things are falling, take cover. Stay away from live wires, including any conductive substances the wires are touching. If someone's having a psychological crisis, stay calm, listen, and let them see your sincere concern. Don't be afraid to ask if someone is suicidal. If someone says they intend to harm someone, believe them. If you're not sure whether or not someone is in trouble, ask. Etcetera.
By popular request (ie, three inquiries) based on my last post, in which I fought a forest fire with the equipment I had in the trunk of my car.

For people who don't have a car, this would be "what do you have in your house/garage/person?" For it to be useful in case of sudden emergency, it would have to be in one place and, ideally, transportable, like in a backpack. I also have stuff in a backpack in my bedroom, and have used it. (To extract myself when I got locked into my own bedroom due to the doorknob falling off on the other side of the door, with the cell phone and laptop in the living room.)

This isn't literally what I have in my trunk right now; it's what I have had at various points. Ideally I'd have all of it. It would all fit with room to spare.

When I checked my trunk before writing this post, by the way, I found another gallon of water which I'd missed while rummaging around the other day. Note that in an emergency stuff may be hard to find, since one also uses one's trunk to transport other stuff. Make sure that anything you need to grab in a hurry is very easy to find.

You want to decide what sort of emergency you're trying to prepare for. The basic division is Apocalypse vs. Emergency. Basically, "apocalypse" is any sort of "end of civilization as we know it, or an emergency in which you will be totally without help or outside resources for more than three days." "Emergency" runs from fire to broken down by the side of the road for hours to unexpected overnight stay at someone else's house to being without outside resources for up to three days."

I am prepared for an emergency, not an apocalypse. Note that emergencies include stuff like being hungry (not starving, so you care if your emergency rations taste good), being bored (so include entertainment), sudden onset of period, not wanting to use someone else's toothbrush, etc. Hence, I do not carry MREs, canned goods, or anything else I wouldn't use or eat except in cases of total desperation. I also carry stuff that's one use only, and then would need to be replaced.

Note that my stuff assumes it won't get very cold. I live in sunny southern California, and rarely drive anywhere where it snows.

- A first aid kit and other medical/health supplies. First aid kit is supplemented with over the counter painkillers, any medications that are generally useful (like cough drops), more heavy-duty bandages than it included (can be bought at drug store), and lots of menstrual supplies. If you really needed to, you could use the latter in lieu of bandages.

- Toiletries.

- Three gallons of water. In general, assume one person needs one gallon of water per day. Brace them, or they will get banged around until they start leaking.

- A bunch of assorted paperbacks by authors I enjoy, which I have not yet read or always enjoy re-reading.

- Food which keeps well, is light, does not need equipment to open or eat, and which I like. (Jerky and granola bars, usually.) Rotate this out by eating and replacing.

- A fire extinguisher. Brace this, so it doesn't go off if you crash or hit a big bump.

- Change of clothing, shoes, old pair of glasses, a hat, extra socks and underwear.

- A blanket. Use in case of cold or shock.

- Tool kit. Include a knife and scissors.

- Some way of communicating with the outside world apart from your cell phone. A radio is good. If you can connect to the net via satellite, that may work too.

- Several flashlights and extra batteries. I recommend a Maglite, which can also be used to break glass or, in a pinch, as a weapon.

- A poncho, raincoat, or umbrella.

I've used a lot of this for minor and medium emergencies. If you have the basics, you can improvise with what you do have, such as transforming your blanket and drinking water into firefighting equipment.

Anyone ever used your emergency supplies and/or knowledge?
4.7, centered near Hawthorne (south LA), no injuries or deaths reported so far.

ETA: 5.0. No wonder it felt big.

I ducked under my desk. That was a long 15 seconds. But no, I'm not traumatized; I was five when I experienced my first quake, and I've been through many since.

"Q: During an EQ should you head for the doorway?

A: Only if you live in an old, unreinforced adobe house. In modern homes doorways are no stronger than any other parts of the house and usually have doors that will swing and can injure you. YOU ARE SAFER PRACTICING THE DUCK, COVER, AND HOLD under a sturdy piece of furniture."

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learning/faq.php?categoryID=14
4.7, centered near Hawthorne (south LA), no injuries or deaths reported so far.

ETA: 5.0. No wonder it felt big.

I ducked under my desk. That was a long 15 seconds. But no, I'm not traumatized; I was five when I experienced my first quake, and I've been through many since.

"Q: During an EQ should you head for the doorway?

A: Only if you live in an old, unreinforced adobe house. In modern homes doorways are no stronger than any other parts of the house and usually have doors that will swing and can injure you. YOU ARE SAFER PRACTICING THE DUCK, COVER, AND HOLD under a sturdy piece of furniture."

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learning/faq.php?categoryID=14
Today while driving on the freeway I passed (next lane to me) a pick-up truck whose back (cargo area) was on fire. Big fire. Sheets of what i think was charred black paper floating away. I didn't stop because it was too big for me to extinguish, a motorcycle cop was on the scene, and three guys were standing around watching it burn in a lackadaisical manner, and so I assumed no one was in the flaming area, not that people normally ride in the open backs of pickup trucks where I live.
Today while driving on the freeway I passed (next lane to me) a pick-up truck whose back (cargo area) was on fire. Big fire. Sheets of what i think was charred black paper floating away. I didn't stop because it was too big for me to extinguish, a motorcycle cop was on the scene, and three guys were standing around watching it burn in a lackadaisical manner, and so I assumed no one was in the flaming area, not that people normally ride in the open backs of pickup trucks where I live.
rachelmanija: (Heroes: Save the world)
( Aug. 7th, 2008 04:07 pm)
Yesterday I came across an old photo album with two shots of me with a little blonde boy, Danny. I'm a teenager, he's about six. We're holding my kittens and a lop-eared rabbit.

Today, while looking up something else, I came across a comment I'd posted to one of Jim MacDonald's posts on Making Light. He's a paramedic in a rural area.

There's been an update to both my post and that photo, so I thought it was worth re-posting here, especially in light of my "car fire" thread:

Two accidents happened in July 2004.

I flipped my car off the freeway at about 65 mph, rolled it once or maybe twice. It was stopped by a clump of trees before it could continue in the direction it was heading, which would have landed it on top of an on-ramp.

The CHP officer who saw the wreck took several minutes to process what I was telling him, which was that I had been the driver. He couldn't believe I was standing on the shoulder with no visible injuries given the state of the car and the mechanism of the crash.

It turned out that I had cracked a vertebra and had chronic back pain for several years and possibly forever, though it's gotten a lot better recently. Still, I'm OK most of the time, my mobility isn't impaired, and I'm not, you know, dead. I had an airbag but it didn't go off. I was wearing my seatbelt, of course.

Later that month Danny, the 20-year-old son of some family friends was riding his bicycle when he got hit by a car at, apparently, a fairly slow speed. He was knocked down, broke his ankle but had no other injuries... except from where he hit his head on the curb. He can't walk. He can't talk. He can't eat solid food. He can't write. He's been making great progress in terms of answering questions by pointing to words on a page, though.

He lived like that for three years, but a few months ago he died. A lot of things can go wrong with the human body when it's almost completely paralyzed.

He was not wearing a helmet. I still cringe when I see helmetless bike riders.

I used to see lots of accidents when I lived in India, at a time when no car I ever encountered had a working seatbelt. At that time it had the world's highest rate of fatalities per motor vehicle accident. As a result of my time living there, I can tell you first-hand that one of the things that can happen if you get "thrown clear" is that your head and body may be thrown clear separately.

Obviously, occasionally cars catch fire. Even more occasionally, people die because their car burned and they were too badly injured or trapped by crushed metal to escape in time.

But the reason those cases always hit the papers is because they're so rare. When people get thrown from their cars and killed, or hit their heads and die three years later, it's so common that unless they're a celebrity, it's not news.

If you drive, buckle your seatbelt.

If you ride a motorcycle or bicycle, wear a helmet.

Danny would have turned 24 this year. I think I'll color-copy the snapshots I have of him and give the originals to his parents.
rachelmanija: (Heroes: Save the world)
( Aug. 7th, 2008 04:07 pm)
Yesterday I came across an old photo album with two shots of me with a little blonde boy, Danny. I'm a teenager, he's about six. We're holding my kittens and a lop-eared rabbit.

Today, while looking up something else, I came across a comment I'd posted to one of Jim MacDonald's posts on Making Light. He's a paramedic in a rural area.

There's been an update to both my post and that photo, so I thought it was worth re-posting here, especially in light of my "car fire" thread:

Two accidents happened in July 2004.

I flipped my car off the freeway at about 65 mph, rolled it once or maybe twice. It was stopped by a clump of trees before it could continue in the direction it was heading, which would have landed it on top of an on-ramp.

The CHP officer who saw the wreck took several minutes to process what I was telling him, which was that I had been the driver. He couldn't believe I was standing on the shoulder with no visible injuries given the state of the car and the mechanism of the crash.

It turned out that I had cracked a vertebra and had chronic back pain for several years and possibly forever, though it's gotten a lot better recently. Still, I'm OK most of the time, my mobility isn't impaired, and I'm not, you know, dead. I had an airbag but it didn't go off. I was wearing my seatbelt, of course.

Later that month Danny, the 20-year-old son of some family friends was riding his bicycle when he got hit by a car at, apparently, a fairly slow speed. He was knocked down, broke his ankle but had no other injuries... except from where he hit his head on the curb. He can't walk. He can't talk. He can't eat solid food. He can't write. He's been making great progress in terms of answering questions by pointing to words on a page, though.

He lived like that for three years, but a few months ago he died. A lot of things can go wrong with the human body when it's almost completely paralyzed.

He was not wearing a helmet. I still cringe when I see helmetless bike riders.

I used to see lots of accidents when I lived in India, at a time when no car I ever encountered had a working seatbelt. At that time it had the world's highest rate of fatalities per motor vehicle accident. As a result of my time living there, I can tell you first-hand that one of the things that can happen if you get "thrown clear" is that your head and body may be thrown clear separately.

Obviously, occasionally cars catch fire. Even more occasionally, people die because their car burned and they were too badly injured or trapped by crushed metal to escape in time.

But the reason those cases always hit the papers is because they're so rare. When people get thrown from their cars and killed, or hit their heads and die three years later, it's so common that unless they're a celebrity, it's not news.

If you drive, buckle your seatbelt.

If you ride a motorcycle or bicycle, wear a helmet.

Danny would have turned 24 this year. I think I'll color-copy the snapshots I have of him and give the originals to his parents.
This weekend while driving in Pasadena I turned the corner and saw a plume of smoke. An SUV in a parking lot had flames erupting from the hood. No one was visible anywhere nearby.

I pulled over across the street, grabbed my fire extinguisher, and ran to the crosswalk. Two security guards ran up from the general direction of the burning SUV, and began stopping traffic.

I ran up to one and said, "Is anyone inside that vehicle?"

He said, "No. And I don't think you should get near it-- a fire truck is on its way, and that fire is getting bigger by the second."

I retreated across the street. There was a loud explosion from the SUV. The whole thing became enveloped in flames. The fire truck pulled up and extinguished it. They broke the windows and opened the doors, and smoke billowed out in great gray puffs. I then had a very bad moment when it occurred to me that I should have asked the guard the follow-up question, "Did you check?" But the firefighters didn't pull anyone out and I waited for quite a while, so I assume there had not been anyone inside.

When I later recounted this to Adrian (who is still in Denver), it occurred to me that perhaps burning vehicles are less uncommon than I imagined, and it is not so odd that I would have encountered this phenomenon three times.

"How many burning vehicles have you seen in your life?" I asked him.

"None," he replied. "So I leave for a week, and you get an earthquake and a flaming SUV... you just can't be left alone, can you?"

Public service announcement # 1: Vehicles do not normally catch fire following a crash! If a crashed vehicle is not burning and there are no other urgent safety hazards, do not attempt to extract the occupants or exit the vehicle! Crash victims should stay where they are and not move until medical personnell can make sure their spines are stabilized.

Public service announcement # 2: If a vehicle is already burning, especially if the engine is on fire, be aware that the fire can and probably will spread really fucking quickly. (This goes for non-vehicular fires as well.) I've now seen this happen twice. Get the hell out or get anyone inside out as fast as you can.

Scientific Livejournal Poll!

Burning vehicle poll )
rachelmanija: (Heroes: Save the world)
( Jan. 28th, 2007 11:12 am)
I am now an official member of CERT. I have an official green vest with big white letters!

Yesterday we did a big disaster simulation. We were informed that a large earthquake had struck, there were an unknown number of victims inside a room, and we had sixty seconds to choose an incident commander. I cleverly avoided reminding anyone of my prior experience, squelched the woman who attempted to nominate me, let someone else be picked as the search and rescue team leader, and then instantly volunteered for his team. (The IC and team leaders are supposed to stay out of the fray, so they do not get to practice debris removal, lifting victims, triage, etc.)

At the last class, one of the firefighters had suggested that before we approach a disaster site, we take a deep breath and remind ourselves, "This disaster is not my fault. Anything I do will be a bonus." And then formulate a plan before charging in. This is great advice, but did not entirely work out. The team leader did remember to put up a sign on the door saying it was being searched and who was in there. And I did stand at the door before anyone went in and yelled, twice, "THIS IS THE EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM! IF YOU CAN WALK, PLEASE GET UP, FOLLOW THE SOUND OF MY VOICE, AND WALK OUT!"

And then it all became slightly chaotic. We should have all proceeded right to left in an orderly fashion, but when me and my partner went right, the other team instantly went left, and then everyone proceeded to scatter all over. I had given my pen and paper to the team leader so he could make his sign, so I had no way of marking the victims as we had no triage tags, so everyone kept having to re-evaluate them. The room was unlit and full of overturned furniture and screaming victims (other class-members, plus a couple fire department volunteers) trapped beneath things, plus one ringer, a deceased mannequin. I triaged all the victims (or so I thought) then returned to the one who needed immediate care.

That a large man who demonstrated his decreased mental status by insisting, in French, that his name was Dick Cheney. We first tried to manually lift him, but realized that would probably cause back strain. Then we tried a chair lift. The chair broke when we put him in it, to his visible chagrin, although he was not so heavy that he broke the chair even though that's what it looked like-- the chair must have been broken when they were setting up the room. Then two rescuers got him on a blanket and did a blanket drag. They didn't need me and my buddy for that, so we went to the next victim and blanket-dragged him back to the treatment area, which was in another room and where the IC seemed extremely harried.

At that point the search and rescue team leader informed us that all victims had been removed to treatment except the corpse. He asked the IC if we should take the corpse to the morgue, the IC said yes, so me and my buddy went to collect it. That was when we discovred that it was not a light Red Cross mannequin, but a Fire Department one which simulated the weight of an actual person. I switched places with my buddy, so I got the legs and he got the shoulders, and we hauled the corpse to the morgue, thoughtfully avoiding walking it through the treatment area so as not to upset the other victims.

We returned to our team leader to see if he wanted us to be re-assigned... and were informed that there was a missing victim, and dispatched to search for her. We found her hiding in a room, where she was hostile and started screaming at us. We were attempting to calm her down and assess her mental status when the exercise was concluded. It turned out that she had been on the other side of the room (which was why I never saw her) and had been fine once the desk trapping her was removed. But once she was left unattended, a firefighter instructed her that her mental status had deteriorated and she should go hide somewhere. (He was wandering around making things harder for everyone, such as informing the fire suppression squad that the fire they had put out had started up again, and telling previously stable patients to suddenly go into shock.) Luckily the IC did a head count and realized that someone was missing.

Then we did a lengthy debriefing. Actually, for twenty hours of training, I thought it went pretty well, despite the lack of organization. Plus it was gratifying to see that a former Army medic in the class also fell prey to the tempation to rush about without planning, and was rushing about without planning just like everyone else. One of the firefighters asked me why I hadn't been the IC, and I rather guiltily explained that I had wanted to do search and rescue so neglected to tell anyone of my prior experience. I assured him that in a real disaster I would let people know what my credentials were.

And then we got our shiny official vests!

ETA: CERT is a nationwide program in the USA. If you live there, you can find a program near you here: https://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/

If you do not live in the USA, similar programs probably exist under different names.
rachelmanija: (Heroes: Save the world)
( Jan. 20th, 2007 05:41 pm)
Today I learned how to drag a person with a blanket, and that sprinkling any powdery substance like salt or sugar over rough ground will facilitate that.

Also, I learned that with a lever and fulcrum, a ninety-pound woman can lift a car. Alas, that was not a demo, but only an anecdote.

I brought in my transparent backpack/survival kit in for show-and-tell. Everyone loved its handy transparency. (No need to go digging around for items, possibly losing some in th process- you can see without opening it exactly where everything is.

Apparently the last day (next Saturday) is a massive hand-on simulation. No idea how far they're going to go, but I overheard one of the instructors saying something like, "Don't you think it would be too difficult to make them search the entire structure?" (We're in one room of a very large complex.)

One of the teachers is a hazmat (hazardous materials) specialist. I asked him about the incident last week in which a man, apparently transporting medical supplies, apparently accidentally spilled mercury on the subway platform. He reported the spill to a subway manager, then hopped on a subway, presumably confident that it would be treated with all proper seriousness and immediately cleaned up in a matter befitting a toxic chemical spilled in a public location.

It was eight hours before the station was cleared and the mercury was cleaned up. Most of this delay was due to the subway officials not bothering to report it or do anything else useful for about seven hours. I think LA officials are still trying to figure out what happened and who to fire. Now, it was a very small amount of a chemical which, albeit toxic, is at least not likely to harm anyone by having tiny amounts tracked around a subway platform. But still.

The hazmat guy agreed with me that MTA clearly had its collective head up its ass needed better protocols for handling hazmat incidents.
rachelmanija: (Heroes: Save the world)
( Jan. 20th, 2007 05:41 pm)
Today I learned how to drag a person with a blanket, and that sprinkling any powdery substance like salt or sugar over rough ground will facilitate that.

Also, I learned that with a lever and fulcrum, a ninety-pound woman can lift a car. Alas, that was not a demo, but only an anecdote.

I brought in my transparent backpack/survival kit in for show-and-tell. Everyone loved its handy transparency. (No need to go digging around for items, possibly losing some in th process- you can see without opening it exactly where everything is.

Apparently the last day (next Saturday) is a massive hand-on simulation. No idea how far they're going to go, but I overheard one of the instructors saying something like, "Don't you think it would be too difficult to make them search the entire structure?" (We're in one room of a very large complex.)

One of the teachers is a hazmat (hazardous materials) specialist. I asked him about the incident last week in which a man, apparently transporting medical supplies, apparently accidentally spilled mercury on the subway platform. He reported the spill to a subway manager, then hopped on a subway, presumably confident that it would be treated with all proper seriousness and immediately cleaned up in a matter befitting a toxic chemical spilled in a public location.

It was eight hours before the station was cleared and the mercury was cleaned up. Most of this delay was due to the subway officials not bothering to report it or do anything else useful for about seven hours. I think LA officials are still trying to figure out what happened and who to fire. Now, it was a very small amount of a chemical which, albeit toxic, is at least not likely to harm anyone by having tiny amounts tracked around a subway platform. But still.

The hazmat guy agreed with me that MTA clearly had its collective head up its ass needed better protocols for handling hazmat incidents.
rachelmanija: (Naked and dripping wet)
( Jan. 13th, 2007 04:59 pm)
So, I spent the day today doing the CERT three-Saturday crash course, mostly stuff I already learned but nearly ten years ago, so it's good to refresh. I am way too tired to actually describe it. But we all put out small propane fires with fire extinguishers, which was something I had never done before so that was cool. Someone asked if I'd ever used an extinguisher before and I said no, but I'd smothered a "pillar of flame" type cooking fire with a saucepan once. Decided not to mention my other major fire extinguishing experience, the naked and dripping wet incident, until and unless I know those people much better.

I was a little disappointed that we only discussed triage and did not do a simulation, especially after I was all revved up after we repeatedly set fire to a bubbling tub of propane in the parking lot. When I did similar but more in-depth training with the Red Cross, I took an entire class on triage. To simplify, this is sorting mass casualties into no injuries and minor injuries (who will not need help), moderate injuries (who can be dealt with at one's leisure), life-threatening problems that can be dealt with really quickly and should be, and people who are either dead or require extreme and time-consuming aid like CPR/rescue breathing to give them an unlikely shot at survival-- and so are treated as if they are dead already. They are marked with colored tags to indicate which category they fall into. Obviously, this is something one would only do in extreme circumstances.

For the final exam, we were given a flashlight, a pen, and a bunch of tags, and then were individually thrust into a pitch-black room full of overturned furniture, a radio blasting white noise, and "victims"-- some made up with injuries, some with tiny tags in appropriate places saying stuff like "no pulse," some mobile and hysterically screaming "WHERE'S MY BROTHER?! YOU HAVE TO HELP MY BROTHER!" Meanwhile we were followed by the instructor with a stop-watch. We had to find and appropriately tag each victim in something like thirty seconds each. By the time I got to the last victim, I had lost my tags in the confusion. I took my pen and was about to write an appropriate category on her forehead (she, another classmate, cringed away in horror) when the instructor grabbed my wrist and informed me that I'd made my point.

Anyway, we didn't do anything like that today. Too bad.
rachelmanija: (Naked and dripping wet)
( Jan. 13th, 2007 04:59 pm)
So, I spent the day today doing the CERT three-Saturday crash course, mostly stuff I already learned but nearly ten years ago, so it's good to refresh. I am way too tired to actually describe it. But we all put out small propane fires with fire extinguishers, which was something I had never done before so that was cool. Someone asked if I'd ever used an extinguisher before and I said no, but I'd smothered a "pillar of flame" type cooking fire with a saucepan once. Decided not to mention my other major fire extinguishing experience, the naked and dripping wet incident, until and unless I know those people much better.

I was a little disappointed that we only discussed triage and did not do a simulation, especially after I was all revved up after we repeatedly set fire to a bubbling tub of propane in the parking lot. When I did similar but more in-depth training with the Red Cross, I took an entire class on triage. To simplify, this is sorting mass casualties into no injuries and minor injuries (who will not need help), moderate injuries (who can be dealt with at one's leisure), life-threatening problems that can be dealt with really quickly and should be, and people who are either dead or require extreme and time-consuming aid like CPR/rescue breathing to give them an unlikely shot at survival-- and so are treated as if they are dead already. They are marked with colored tags to indicate which category they fall into. Obviously, this is something one would only do in extreme circumstances.

For the final exam, we were given a flashlight, a pen, and a bunch of tags, and then were individually thrust into a pitch-black room full of overturned furniture, a radio blasting white noise, and "victims"-- some made up with injuries, some with tiny tags in appropriate places saying stuff like "no pulse," some mobile and hysterically screaming "WHERE'S MY BROTHER?! YOU HAVE TO HELP MY BROTHER!" Meanwhile we were followed by the instructor with a stop-watch. We had to find and appropriately tag each victim in something like thirty seconds each. By the time I got to the last victim, I had lost my tags in the confusion. I took my pen and was about to write an appropriate category on her forehead (she, another classmate, cringed away in horror) when the instructor grabbed my wrist and informed me that I'd made my point.

Anyway, we didn't do anything like that today. Too bad.
I am in Santa Barbara for the weekend and staying at my parents' place, where I have been joined by one relative and two family friends, one of whom is having a birthday. My parents were going to take us all out to some nice restaurant, and the birthday girl voted for lobster. (OK, so I encouraged her.) So we went to the only restuarant in Santa Barbara that offers live Maine lobster.

I called to make the reservation for 7:15, which I changed to 7:30 at the restaurant's suggestion. The six of us arrived at 7:30. Our table wasn't ready. The bar was full. So we stood in the aisle, getting bumped into, for twenty-five minutes. Just as we were about to be seated, an irate man pushed forward, exclaiming that he had been waiting an hour for a table.

We were seated next to the open grill station/wait station-- the part of the kitchen adorned with festoons of paper noting everyone's orders, which the waiters would go to, check, then pick up the matching plates. As the evening wore on, this turned into an impromptu crisis management center, or perhaps lack-of-crisis-management center, with semi-hysterical waiters clustered around, patting each other soothingly on the back and giving thousand-yard stares to the plates.

After a long wait, our waitress, who seemed to have been attacked and mugged by her uniform, came over to take our drink orders. She was a pretty, slim blonde woman, but her too-tight black pants were riding low and her too-tight black blouse was riding high, so that a bulging roll of fat (which was just about the only fat on the poor woman's body) was squished out and exposed between them. It was strangely hypnotic.

After another long wait, the drinks arrived. Sensing more long waits in the future, we quickly placed our orders. It was then that the waitress informed us that they were out of broccoli, jambalaya, and lobster. Annoyed, the birthday girl switched her order to the mixed seafood grill, I switched mine to the steamed Dungeness crab, and my visitig relative ordered the salmon.

About half an hour later, the waitress returned. "I'm really sorry about this, but there's a party in the back and they ate a lot... Um..." We all glared at her, guessing what was coming. "Um... we're out of the crab and the mixed seafood grill. I'll let you think about what you want to switch to!"

"I want to talk to the manager," said Dad ominously.

"I'll let her know," said the waitress, and fled.

Fifteen minutes later, neither waitress nor manager had arrived at our table. The crisis station at the grill was in full force, with waitress comforting each other and consulting in great confusion over the order slips. Dad got up and stomped over to demand to see the manager. At that moment, our waitress directed him to the manager, and he and the manager vanished into a back room together, and our waitress returned to the table.

"We're out of salmon," said the waitress, looking ready to duck. "But you don't have to switch!" she assured my visiting relative. "We do have one plate of salmon left. Just not enough for the seafood grill."

"Can you make the seafood grill without the salmon?" asked the birthday girl. "You do have shrimp and scallops, right?"

"Um... yes," said the waitress, rather doubtfully.

"Are you out of the cioppino?" I asked.

"Oh no, we've got some of that left."

"OK, I'll have that."

The waitress split, and Dad returned with a report. As he had been entering the office, another customer barged in, swearing and bellowing, "I'm not paying for this meal! You can call the police to chase me out of the restaurant!"

"We're not calling the police," said the manager.

"Everyone at my table is finishing dessert, and I never got my entree," continued the irate customer.

"I'm so sorry," said the manager. "I'm afraid we've had a total breakdown in the kitchen."

She comped both angry men the meals for their entire table, apologized profusely, gave them a seventy-five dollar gift certificate, then came over to our table to apologize and explain. Apparently the restaurant runs on half-staff on Sunday nights, but they had forgotten that the holiday on Monday made this particular Sunday the equivalent of Saturday, which is their busiest night. "I've been here for five years, and I've never seen anything like this," she said.

The waitress appeared with our meals. The visiting relative looked down at his plate. "Why do I have rice and mashed potatoes? I ordered steamed vegetables."

"We're out of everything," explained the waitress. "Vegetables, baked potatoes, cole slaw... I just grabbed whatever we had left, and threw it on your plates."

And then came the most unexpected twist of all: the food was really good.
I am in Santa Barbara for the weekend and staying at my parents' place, where I have been joined by one relative and two family friends, one of whom is having a birthday. My parents were going to take us all out to some nice restaurant, and the birthday girl voted for lobster. (OK, so I encouraged her.) So we went to the only restuarant in Santa Barbara that offers live Maine lobster.

I called to make the reservation for 7:15, which I changed to 7:30 at the restaurant's suggestion. The six of us arrived at 7:30. Our table wasn't ready. The bar was full. So we stood in the aisle, getting bumped into, for twenty-five minutes. Just as we were about to be seated, an irate man pushed forward, exclaiming that he had been waiting an hour for a table.

We were seated next to the open grill station/wait station-- the part of the kitchen adorned with festoons of paper noting everyone's orders, which the waiters would go to, check, then pick up the matching plates. As the evening wore on, this turned into an impromptu crisis management center, or perhaps lack-of-crisis-management center, with semi-hysterical waiters clustered around, patting each other soothingly on the back and giving thousand-yard stares to the plates.

After a long wait, our waitress, who seemed to have been attacked and mugged by her uniform, came over to take our drink orders. She was a pretty, slim blonde woman, but her too-tight black pants were riding low and her too-tight black blouse was riding high, so that a bulging roll of fat (which was just about the only fat on the poor woman's body) was squished out and exposed between them. It was strangely hypnotic.

After another long wait, the drinks arrived. Sensing more long waits in the future, we quickly placed our orders. It was then that the waitress informed us that they were out of broccoli, jambalaya, and lobster. Annoyed, the birthday girl switched her order to the mixed seafood grill, I switched mine to the steamed Dungeness crab, and my visitig relative ordered the salmon.

About half an hour later, the waitress returned. "I'm really sorry about this, but there's a party in the back and they ate a lot... Um..." We all glared at her, guessing what was coming. "Um... we're out of the crab and the mixed seafood grill. I'll let you think about what you want to switch to!"

"I want to talk to the manager," said Dad ominously.

"I'll let her know," said the waitress, and fled.

Fifteen minutes later, neither waitress nor manager had arrived at our table. The crisis station at the grill was in full force, with waitress comforting each other and consulting in great confusion over the order slips. Dad got up and stomped over to demand to see the manager. At that moment, our waitress directed him to the manager, and he and the manager vanished into a back room together, and our waitress returned to the table.

"We're out of salmon," said the waitress, looking ready to duck. "But you don't have to switch!" she assured my visiting relative. "We do have one plate of salmon left. Just not enough for the seafood grill."

"Can you make the seafood grill without the salmon?" asked the birthday girl. "You do have shrimp and scallops, right?"

"Um... yes," said the waitress, rather doubtfully.

"Are you out of the cioppino?" I asked.

"Oh no, we've got some of that left."

"OK, I'll have that."

The waitress split, and Dad returned with a report. As he had been entering the office, another customer barged in, swearing and bellowing, "I'm not paying for this meal! You can call the police to chase me out of the restaurant!"

"We're not calling the police," said the manager.

"Everyone at my table is finishing dessert, and I never got my entree," continued the irate customer.

"I'm so sorry," said the manager. "I'm afraid we've had a total breakdown in the kitchen."

She comped both angry men the meals for their entire table, apologized profusely, gave them a seventy-five dollar gift certificate, then came over to our table to apologize and explain. Apparently the restaurant runs on half-staff on Sunday nights, but they had forgotten that the holiday on Monday made this particular Sunday the equivalent of Saturday, which is their busiest night. "I've been here for five years, and I've never seen anything like this," she said.

The waitress appeared with our meals. The visiting relative looked down at his plate. "Why do I have rice and mashed potatoes? I ordered steamed vegetables."

"We're out of everything," explained the waitress. "Vegetables, baked potatoes, cole slaw... I just grabbed whatever we had left, and threw it on your plates."

And then came the most unexpected twist of all: the food was really good.
Several people have inquired about this icon. Here is the origin story for "naked and dripping wet."

When I was in grad school, I had a job interview at 7:30 am. I am not a morning person. I mean, I am really not a morning person. So when, having woken up that morning at 6:30 and found that my nice burgundy pants that I meant to wear to the interview were still not dry from having been washed the night before, I decided that it would be a really good idea to dry them as I showered by draping them over my tall halogen lamp.

Just as I began to shampoo my hair, the fire alarm went off. I dashed into the living room, and found that my pants, still draped atop the lamp, had burst into flames. I yanked them off the lamp, and they came apart into three flaming pieces, one of which remained in my hands but the other two of which flew off in opposite directions and set my carpet on fire in two places. I hurled the piece I was wearing into the kitchen sink, turned on the faucet, grabbed the second piece, which was by the front door, and hurled it into the hallway, where it set the hall carpet on fire and made the fire alarms for the entire building go off.

I ran into the bathroom, grabbed a totally inadequate towel to attempt to cover my nakedness, retrieved the third flaming pant piece from the carpet, flung it into the sink, dumped water over the carpet fires, went into the now smoke-filled hallway, grabbed the still flaming last pant piece, and hurled it onto the fire escape. People kept opening their doors, then closing them. I got more water, put out the hall fire, then went to the fire escape where the pants were still burning, but had not set the fire escape on fire because that was metal. Then I put the last flaming pant piece out.

I didn't get the job.

When I was later telling my grad class about the incident, one of my classmates interrupted to say, with a lascivious look in his eye, "So the whole time, you were naked and dripping wet?"

"Pretty much," I said.

The postscript to this story is that the apartment manager fled to Mexico along with his family and everyone's files seven hours before the cops busted in his apartment for selling crack out of his apartment. Consequently, I told the new management team that my burned carpet had been like that when I moved in, and that marked the only time I've ever gotten my security deposit back, although it was also the only time I've ever damaged an apartment I rented.

I have other tales of disasters that occurred while I was naked and dripping wet, but I have to get to work now. They all happened pre-morning coffee.
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