Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Marvelous Mansion in Maine, Part One

The Captain Lord MansionMy recent trip to a beautiful bed & breakfast inn located in Kennebunkport, Maine was really supposed to have happened almost nine years ago but a trip that was planned for October of 2002 unfortunately never happened.  At that time, I was head-over-heels back in love with the guy who'd had my heart tied in knots for years and it seemed that after 17 long years, we were finally going to be together as we made plans for his very first trip to New England.

One of John's priorities during his visit was to be a trip to Maine for a chance to see a coastline as different from that of California as possible so I spent a lot of time searching for what I wanted to be the perfect place to stay and that's when I came across the Captain Lord Mansion.  Just looking at their website, I knew I had found the ideal spot and made reservations only to have to cancel them a few months later when life threw yet another curve ball and things got complicated once again.  As my heart broke for the third and final time, I vowed that someday I would still go stay at the Captain Lord Mansion even if I had to go by myself.  Not quite nine years later I finally got that chance.

As I made the 175-mile drive from Norwich to Kennebunkport I couldn't help but think that this wasn't the way that it was supposed to be but over the past 8+ years I'd had plenty of time to accept that it was a trip that I'd never make with John and I'd had lots of time to fall back, regroup, and repair my heart. Even though there was going to be a small "ghost" going along with me on this trip, I thoroughly planned on enjoying my time away at one of the "most romantic Bed & Breakfasts in Maine" even though I was going there alone. Better alone than not at all, right?

Kennebunkport Town Sign

As you might expect, though, the story of the Captain Lord Mansion starts a lot more than nine years ago.

Our story begins almost 235 years ago with Nathaniel Lord, the second son of Lieutenant Tobias Lord and Mehitable (Scammon) Lord, who was born June 1st, 1776, at Moulton's Mills in Sanford, Maine. On July 2nd, 1797, 21-year old Nathaniel married 16-year old Phoebe Walker, the daughter of Captain Daniel Walker and Lois (Stone) Walker of Arundel. The young couple settled in Kennebunkport where Nathaniel was a shipbuilder and they then proceeded to have eight children from 1798 to 1814: Mehitable Scammon Lord, 1798; Daniel Walker Lord, 1800; Lois Walker Lord, 1802; Phoebe Lord, 1804; Charles Austin Lord, 1806; Nathaniel Lord, 1808; Betsey Watts Lord, 1810; Susan Lord, 1812; and Lucy Jane Lord, 1814. In addition to his children with Phoebe, Nathaniel also had an illegitimate son with his housekeeper Sarah Estes Day when William Lord, Jr. was born on September 3rd, 1803. Needless to say, with all of those children, the family was in need of a big house!

Nathaniel Lord Family Tree

In doing some research on Nathaniel Lord, I was able to find the following biographical sketch in a privately printed manuscript entitled: "The Ancestors and Descendants of Lieutenant Tobias Lord" written by Charles Edward Lord in 1913. According to that manuscript, Nathaniel Lord:
"... was a business man of excellent standing, and was noted for his remarkable memory. It is said that he kept no account books, but carried the details of his large shipping business in his head, meeting all obligations promptly.

Records in the old Custom House at Kennebunkport, dating from 1800, make mention of Mr. Lord's name as consignee of various cargoes received from many different ports in the West Indies, and also some from Liverpool, with additional information as to duties imposed, tonnage of vessels, and other interesting statistics regarding the shipping of those early days.

His ships, the largest being about 250 tons, brought iron, coal, salt, etc., safely to port when the enemy's ships-of-war were already on the seas in search of American commerce. Mr. Lord built a large mansion house at Kennebunkport during the War of 1812-14, chiefly, it was said, to furnish work to otherwise unemployed ship carpenters."
With his shipwrights sitting idle due to the imposed British blockade, Nathaniel decided to put them to work building him the most impressive home in the area.  In order to achieve that goal, Nathaniel chose the famous housewright/architect Thomas Eaton to design his mansion. Eaton had previously designed another home in the area for William Taylor, a successful Kennebunk merchant.  The Taylor-Barry House, designed in 1803, is a great example of the Federal Style architecture that was prevalent during the heyday of Kennebunk's shipping industry and I'm sure it's design was what prompted Nathaniel to engage Eaton as architect and dream of an even more impressive home.

Julia Fuller - Age 8Unfortunately, Nathaniel didn't get to enjoy his grand house for very long as he died on February 24th, 1815 (most likely from influenza) at the young age of 39.  His wife Phoebe - who had popped out a baby just about every two years - lived on for another 49 years and the house stayed in the family for another four generations until great-great granddaughter Julia Buckland Fuller sold the house to a gentleman who would eventually sell the house to Rick Litchfield and his wife Bev Davis, current owners and innkeepers of the Captain Lord Mansion.

Refugees from the corporate world of advertising, Bev and Rick found themselves in Kennebunkport on Saint Patrick's Day in 1978 staring at the 3-story Federal Style former home of Captain Nathaniel Lord and his family knowing that they just had to own it.  At that time the mansion was being used as a home for elderly ladies though it was properly licensed for the rental of 16 rooms as well as serving meals to guests which seemed to fit the bill perfectly for their goal of owning an antique-filled, intimate bed and breakfast inn.

On June 15th, 1978 the couple closed the purchase on the 20,000-square foot mansion and began the sizable task of renovating the building into a first-class country inn with five of the seven senior ladies staying on as residents during the process.  Neither Bev nor Rick had any experience in running an inn but I'm pretty sure they could have fooled anyone as they completely renovated the mansion and made it into one of the finest destinations in all of New England.  The couple is going on close to 35 years as innkeepers while the mansion nears it's 200th anniversary in 2012 when an entire year of special events and activities is planned.

Side View of the Mansion

Now, of course, I didn't know any of this back in 2002 when I was first planning on staying at the mansion.  I just knew that it looked absolutely gorgeous and plush and luxurious and like the perfect place to spend time with the person you love.  Having now spent a night there I can tell you that I was right on all counts as even though I have no one who loves me in a romantic-bed-&-breakfast kind of way, I met a lot of guests who did and they couldn't have looked happier or more in love if they'd tried.  While I'm sure they can attest to the "perfect place to spend time with the person you love" aspect, I can most definitely attest to the "gorgeous and plush and luxurious" aspects!  And you can bet that if I ever do meet someone who loves me in a romantic-bed-&-breakfast kind of way that I'll be hauling him directly up to Kennebunkport!

Even though I've hopefully got your curiosity piqued as to what makes the Captain Lord Mansion such a marvelous place, I'm going to make you wait just a little longer until I show you around the house as there are just too many wonderful little details and pictures to cram it all into one post.  Just remember - "good things come to those who wait" and I promise you that it will be worth the wait ... just like it was worth the nine-year wait that I endured before I had a chance to spend a night in one of the most luxurious places I've ever stayed.

Reception Signage

Friday, April 29, 2011

Five on Friday - The Road Trip Version

This week's Five on Friday was inspired by some of the music that I listened to while making my recent drive up to Maine and back. I think that one of the reasons that I enjoy driving as much as I do is that it gives me the chance to listen to music and when I get the opportunity to drive somewhere on my own that means that I actually get to listen to my music rather than to what's on one of the girls' iPods. Of course, a lot of the music that's on my iPod is also on one or the other of theirs so I guess it's not really my music so much as music that I heard when either Amanda or Jamie was in the car with me and then I stole it!

That very thing had me laughing a little bit on this last road trip as I was trying to picture me as a kid trying to get one of my parents to play the music that I liked and knowing that there was no way that would ever have happened - never mind them actually liking it and listening to it themselves! Honestly, my kids have no idea how lucky they are sometimes!

Anyhow, all that aside here are my five choices for the week with the first three songs coming courtesy of Jamie and the second two by way of Amanda. Oh, and just for the record, I do actually sing along with these songs while I'm driving which probably makes it a good thing I'm in the car by myself as I'm afraid I'm not a very good singer no matter how much I might like to try to be!

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Oh hey! Don't forget to swing by Trav's Thoughts and check out of the other FoFers to see what their musical choices were for the week. And as always, you're more than welcome to join us and share some of your music no matter whether it's your own or you "stole" it from your kids!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Meandering Back to Maine

With the sun just starting to break through the clouds around 11:00 a.m. yesterday morning, I left Connecticut and headed north to a state that I've rather come to like recently in spite of all of those Stephen King books that I've read that have kept me far, far away from Maine for many, many years! The way I look at it now, until I see a maniacal clown while I'm here then it's all good as there is just too much good stuff in Maine to not go there! I'd had a wonderful time in October when my mom, Jamie, and I spent time there and I was really looking forward to this trip even though it was going to be a quick overnight jaunt.

NH State Liquor Store

Of course to get to Maine from Connecticut, one has to pass through New Hampshire (albeit briefly) where they have these humongous state-run liquor stores that are feast for the eyes and the palette if you're a drinker at all. Even if you aren't much of a drinker, the stores are a great place to stop and use the restroom and stretch your legs - especially if you haven't gotten out of the car since leaving Norwich!

For Barb

I took the above picture for Barb as I know she loves her wine and the selection at the state-run stores is quite wide and varied! I don't know much about the cost of wine but I'd willing to bet it's quite reasonable if for no other reason than that there's no tax on it in the State of New Hampshire. You really have to love a state that has their own supermarkets for alcohol and no tax!

95 North

Interstate 95 through Portsmouth is no stranger to me at all having traversed it many, many times over the years and I'd have to say that the stretch through New Hampshire is probably one of the best parts of I-95 on the entire East Coast. Granted, it's only about 17 miles from the Massachusetts border to the middle of the Piscataqua River Bridge where you cross over into Maine but those 17 miles are in darned good shape. So good in fact, that I really don't mind paying the $2 toll to drive on it!

Crossing the River into Maine

Speaking of the Piscataqua River Bridge - here it is ... and yes, I took these pictures while I was driving but I took them quickly and carefully - honest!

Piscataqua River Bridge

Speaking of taking pictures, I took this one shortly after crossing over into Maine and I'm glad the state was open for business as otherwise I'd have driven that whole way for naught!

Welcome to Maine
Snack Wisely

I took the picture above at the Kittery Information Center as I thought it was rather amusing that the State of Maine cared about what I ate!  Of course after I'd thought about it, what it mostly did was make me feel guilty about the chocolate chip cookie I'd had for breakfast and lunch as I was pretty sure that didn't count as a meal at all!

Arriving at my destination - the seaside village of Kennebunkport - around 2:30, I figured that I was probably too early to check into the Bed & Breakfast I was spending the night at so I took a drive up Ocean Avenue out of town towards the north. Unfortunately, the blue skies of Connecticut had not followed me up to Maine so it was a bit overcast AND it looked like the tide was out but that certainly wasn't going to stop me from taking a few pictures of the ocean!


I found a place that had a spot for cars to park for 15 minutes and climbed out to take a few pictures of the ocean and the anchor that was there. Not being the most observant person in the world, I didn't exactly realize where I was until I read the inscription on the plaque with the anchor.

Bush Anchor & Compound
George H.W. Bush Anchor Plaque

As a light bulb slowly came on, I realized that I was looking across at Walker's Point - the summer home of the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush. D'oh!  That would explain why so many other cars were pulling over, snapping pictures in that direction and then driving away.

Walker Compound

The estate, which sits on a piece of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean that was originally named Point Vesuvius and then Walker's Point, was purchased in the late 19th century by St. Louis banker George H. Walker who built a mansion there in 1903. Later, the estate passed on to his daughter Dorothy Walker Bush and her husband Prescott Bush. President George H. W. Bush spent much of his childhood at the Kennebunkport estate and upon the death of his parents, he inherited the property which came to be known as his "Summer White House".

Craggy Maine Coastline

I really can't say that I blame the man for taking the chance to go there as often as he could during his Presidency as it certainly had to beat the heck out of being in Washington - or even Texas for that matter as you can't get these kinds of views in Texas! Oh, and I should probably mention that it never even dawned on me to pull out my zoom lens to try to get closer pictures of the house though in retrospect, perhaps I should have. Oh well, next time?

The Atlantic Ocean

I traveled a short ways further up the coast but as there wasn't much to see that was near the ocean that I could get to, I eventually turned around and headed back down to Kennebunkport but I stopped a few times along the way to take a few more pictures.  The skies were trying to clear up and the sun had come out a little bit but it wasn't exactly ideal conditions for picture-taking.

Maine House

Can you imagine living in that house in the picture above and being able to look out your windows and see the Atlantic Ocean spread out before you?  I don't think I'd ever get tired of it if I had that view! 

St Ann's By the Sea

This is St. Anne's By the Sea Episcopal Church which is built on a piece of land that was donated by the Kennebunkport Seashore Company and is constructed from sea-washed stones that were gathered from the local area. Work on the chapel began on May 27th, 1887 and upon its completion five years later, the church was consecrated on August 24, 1892 by the Rt. Rev. Henry Adams Neely, Bishop of Maine. Since that time it has been in continuous use as a summer chapel as one of 18 historic summer chapels in the Diocese of Maine. Unfortunately, though, that means it's only open mid-June through Labor Day and the best I could do was take a picture through the closed gate. I'm thinking that another trip to Kennebunkport will be in order during that time as I'd love to go back when visitors are welcome as the grounds looked absolutely gorgeous.

Speaking of absolutely gorgeous, by now you're probably wondering what my final destination was for this trip, aren't you? Well I'm not going to tell you just yet but I'll give you a hint ...

The Captain Lord Mansion

... it was the absolutely gorgeous yellow house above that is located on the top of a sweeping lawn which is known locally as the River Green because it overlooks the Kennebunk River and if you think the house looks nice from a distance, wait until I show it to you up close! I guarantee at least a couple of you will jealous!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Heading North to ME for Me!

Between the cold that has still lingered outside and the cold that knocked me for a loop last week, I've been feeling kind of overwhelmed and under-motivated lately.  Spring hasn't exactly sprung in New England nor has there been any sort of spring in my step either.  Time to change that I believe.

Now granted, I can't do anything about the weather even though I'm hoping Mother Nature decides to finally remove the grip that Old Man Winter has had on her and starts warming things up a little (minus quite so much rain) but I can do something about me and my general lack of enthusiasm and I shall be commencing that undertaking starting today as soon as I get the battery on my Nikon charged, my overnight bag packed, and directions programmed into my GPS.

I've been presented with the opportunity to spend the night at a Bed & Breakfast in Maine that I have been wanting to stay at for years - for almost ten years as a matter of fact! - and I'm taking that chance and planning on enjoying every single minute of it including the 3-hour drive to Kennebunkport, Maine to get there.  I'm looking forward to the drive north with just my iPod for company, the opportunity to take more pictures that are eventually going to need to be edited, and finally being able to spend the night in a beautiful former sea captain's mansion.

Even if the weather still isn't cooperating, I'm totally looking forward to this trip.  Hopefully you'll look forward to the posts to come that will tell you all about it!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A California Appeals Court Upholds the Ruling That We Have the Constitutional Right to Lie

I will be the first to admit that I don't always keep up with the news or current events but that doesn't mean that I'm not paying attention to what's going on in my country even though there are times when I think I would prefer to stay blissfully unaware as we stroll down an extremely liberal path in order to not offend anyone in any way, shape, or form or restrict one's rights under the Constitution of the United States which is open to very broad interpretation depending on which side of the court you're sitting on. That said, I have recently been reading up on a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California that seems to have deemed it constitutionally acceptable to lie.  As a matter of fact, based on this ruling not only does it seem like it's constitutionally acceptable to lie but that it's all part and parcel of being human and it's to be expected.  Well ... that pretty much goes against anything I was ever taught by my parents but I guess the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Chief Judge Alex Kozinski know better.

The law in question for this particular decision is the 2005 Stolen Valor Act which was designed and passed to "enhance protections relating to the reputation and meaning of the Medal of Honor and other military decorations and awards, and for other purposes." The Act was first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 19, 2005 by Representative John Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, as House Resolution 3352 and then introduced into the Senate by Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, on November 10, 2005, as S.1998. The Bill was passed in the Senate by Unanimous Consent on September 7, 2006 and in the House of Representatives on December 6, 2006 before it was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 20, 2006.

The Enrolled Bill [Final as passed by both House and Senate] (which you can read in full here) provides that:
"Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both."
The final Bill contained an "Enhanced Penalty for Offenses Involving Certain Other Medals" which amended the Bill by adding:
"If a decoration or medal involved in an offense described in subsection (a) or (b) is a Distinguished-Service Cross awarded under section 3742 of title 10, a Navy Cross awarded under section 6242 of title 10, an Air Force Cross awarded under section 8742 of section 10, a Silver Star awarded under section 3746, 6244, or 8746 of title 10, a Purple Heart awarded under section 1129 of title 10, or any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law, in lieu of the punishment provided in the applicable subsection, the offender shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both."
In a nutshell without all of the legal mumbo-jumbo, the Stolen Valor Act was introduced and designed to protect the reputation of military medals and awards so that people couldn't falsely claim to have earned them in order to benefit themselves.  Since learning from our mistakes in how veterans and military members were treated before, during, and after the Vietnam War, the country has diligently worked on a resurgence in military pride and those who have earned military awards - or even served in the military - are treated much better than they were when thousands of troops came home from Vietnam and were met by either the sound of crickets chirping at airports or contempt and derision by those who thought the war was wrong. Today troops are welcomed home with a great deal of fanfare and are thanked for their service to the country rather than treated like lepers and pariahs of society. Granted, this doesn't change the way that my father and thousands of other veterans were treated when he came home from Vietnam but at least those who defend our country will now - hopefully - never have to feel like he did when society thought it was okay to take their anger of the war out on the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who answered the call to duty.

In getting back to topic, though, in introducing the Bill to Congress, Senator Conrad stated that, "there are some individuals who diminish the accomplishments of [military] award recipients by using medals they have not earned. These imposters use fake medals – or claim to have medals that they have not earned – to gain credibility in their communities. These fraudulent acts can often lead to the perpetration of very serious crimes.” Or provide the person falsifying the information with an over-inflated sense of worth and a misplaced gratitude from a nation that now wants to acknowledge our military members rather than shun them. The intention of the Bill was to adequately protect “the reputation and meaning of military decorations and medals." In other words, if you didn't earn them, then you sure the heck shouldn't be wearing them and falsely telling people what a hero you are/were.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the Stolen Valor Act to be ruled unconstitutional and a violation of a person's First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech - the first time on July 16, 2010, when a federal judge in Denver ruled the Stolen Valor Act is "facially unconstitutional" in the case of USA v Strandlof (Strandlof - using the name Rick Duncan- claimed to be a wounded and decorated Iraq War Veteran who had been awarded a Purple Heart on four separate occasions in 2006 and 2009 and falsely represented that he had been awarded a Silver Star on one occasion in 2009) and again on August 17, 2010 in California in USA v. Xavier Alvarez (Alvarez had conditionally pleaded guilty to one count of falsely verbally claiming to have been a U.S. Marine who had received the Congressional Medal of Honor during a Thee Valley Water District Board meeting in Ponoma but later appealed after being convicted and fined $5,000 and sentenced to three years of probation which required 416 hours of community service at a veterans hospital). In a 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, the majority said there's no evidence that such lies harm anybody and there's no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies.

Excuse me?

In the court decision which was filed on August 17, 2010, majority Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. stated that, "The right to speak and write whatever one chooses - including, to some degree, worthless, offensive and demonstrable untruths - without cowering in fear of a powerful government is, in our view, an essential component of the protection afforded by the First Amendment." Dissenting Judge Jay S. Bybee however felt that Alvarez had been convicted under a law that did not violate his Constitutional Rights and that “the right to lie is not a fundamental right under the Constitution” and “the erroneous statement of fact is not worthy of constitutional protection.”

The majority of the judges felt that by blatantly lying about his service time and medal earned that Alvarez intended no malice and caused no harm but was just your basic run-of-the-mill liar therefore they stated in their ruling that, "We have no doubt that society would be better off if Mr. Alvarez would stop spreading worthless, ridiculous and offensive untruths but, given our historical skepticism of permitting the government to police the line between truth and falsity, and between valuable speech and drivel, we presumptively protect all speech, including false statements."

I really need to take exception to this as whether or not there was malice intended and he "meant no harm" what Alvarez did was just out-and-out wrong. To misrepresent yourself by stating that "I’m a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired back in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy. I’m still around." is truly pathetic. Do his lies take away from the distinguished career of any other Marines or uniformed service personnel? Well, maybe not directly but that shouldn't matter as the law is the law and it clearly states that "Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States ..."  which is exactly what Alvarez did.  Alvarez knew he had violated the law and plead guilty but it wasn't until he was convicted and sentenced that he opted to appeal.  He knew he was lying, he knew that it was wrong, and yet he did it anyway but now according to the 9th Circuit Court in California, that's perfectly okay.

Following the 2-1 ruling in favor of it being okay to lie and still be protected by the Constitution, a strong dissent was filed by other judges urging that the case be reheard but on March 21st of this year a majority of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeal for the 9th Circuit refused the request for a rehearing en banc (the hearing of a legal case where all judges of a court will hear the case rather than a panel of them).  That decision allowed the panel's ruling to stand. In denying the right for the case to be reheard, 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski stated, "It doesn’t matter whether we think that such lies are despicable or cause more harm than good. An important aspect of personal autonomy is the right to shape one’s public and private persona by choosing when to tell the truth about oneself, when to conceal and when to deceive."

"If false factual statements are unprotected, then the government can prosecute not only the man who tells tall tales of winning the congressional Medal of Honor, but also the JDater who falsely claims he's Jewish or the dentist who assures you it won't hurt a bit," Kozinski wrote in defense of the First Amendment. "Phrases such as 'I'm working late tonight, hunny,' 'I got stuck in traffic' and 'I didn't inhale' could all be made into crimes. Without the robust protections of the First Amendment, the white lies, exaggerations and deceptions that are an integral part of human intercourse would become targets of censorship."

You can read the entirety of the Order Denying Petition for Panel Rehearing and Hearing En Banc at the 9th Circuit Court's website but most of it seems to be a lot of legal-ese to basically say that the Constitution guarantees you your right to lie - at least in Chief Judge Kozinski's honored opinion as according to him, "Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying."

Fortunately, Kozinski's opinions aren't necessarily law at this point as the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles is deciding whether to take the 2-1 Appeals Court decision to the Supreme Court and I get the feeling that it will definitely find itself before the highest court in the land as with the dissenting judge (whose opinion was joined by six other judges) writing that "the decision puts a match to 40 years of Supreme Court decisions" how could it not? I get the feeling you don't put a match to Supreme Court decisions without the Supreme Court having something to say about that. At least I would sure hope not.

In my humble opinion, this is a joke and a travesty and just another example of how the law can get twisted around depending on who is sitting behind the bench.  The Stolen Valor Act was implemented for very good reasons and it should be enforced for those same reasons.  If there hadn't been a need for a law to be enacted then one never would have been but obviously there was cause enough for the law to not only be suggested but put through and onto the books.

The main thing that those dishonest individuals who are breaking the Stolen Valor Act tend to forget is that when you get right down to it, those men and women who have legitimately earned medals in military service are generally the last ones to talk about those medals because chances are really good that they never wanted them in the first place as who wants to go through what they did to get them?

My father came home from Vietnam with a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, shrapnel that was embedded in his leg, and exposure to Agent Orange which ultimately put him in his grave long before he should have been there.  As a child I distinctly remember him saying that he didn't want to go to the ceremony where he received those medals as he didn't want them and I can guarantee you that we never ever heard him talk about them - never mind see them come out of the drawer in his dresser where they were kept.

It's been my experience as both an Air Force brat, a member of the Air Force myself (and please don't thank me for my service as I served during a time of peace and did nothing to earn those thanks), and the friend of many men and women who have served or do serve with honor that real heroes don't talk about themselves - especially to gain admiration or a foothold in life - and it ticks me off that the courts in our country seem to think that it's okay to protect those who lie about a service career or accomplishments they never achieved during that career in order to make themselves look better for whatever reason.

It's just not right and I sincerely hope that if/when this case reaches the Supreme Court that the judges there take into account what dissenting Judge Jay S. Bybee wrote in his opinion of the case in that it was George Washington himself who enacted the very first Stolen Valor Act at Newburgh on the Hudson on August 7th, 1782 shortly after he created the Badge of Military Merit which was the predecessor to the Purple Heart.
"The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward. Before this favour can be conferred on any man, the particular fact, or facts, on which it is to be grounded must be set forth to the Commander in chief accompanied with certificates from the Commanding officers of the regiment and brigade to which the Candadate for reward belonged, or other incontestable proofs, and upon granting it, the name and regiment of the person with the action so certified are to be enrolled in the book of merit which will be kept at the orderly office.

Should any who are not entitled to these honors have the insolence to assume the badges of them they shall be severely punished. On the other hand it is expected those gallant men who are thus designated will on all occasions be treated with particular confidence and consideration."*
I hope that no one had the insolence to lie about their service to our fledgling country back when the Badge of Military Merit was instituted but if they did, I also hope that they were met with a swift and appropriate justice without needing a court to determine whether they had done something wrong or not.

To quote Judge Bybee and his dissenting opinion from the Alvarez case:
"Such false representations not only dishonor the decorations and medals themselves, but dilute the select group of those who have earned the nation’s gratitude for their valor. Every nation needs to honor heroes, to thank them for their selflessness and to hold them out as an example worthy of emulation. The harm flowing from those who have crowned themselves unworthily is surely self-evident."*
Hear, hear to President Washington and Judge Bybee both and here's to hoping that the Supreme Court can turn this travesty of justice around before too many more people like Mr. Strandlof and Mr. Alvarez think it's okay to fabricate stories of service and heroism in order to feel better about themselves while posing as or declaring  themselves to be heroes that they are not nor ever will be.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Five on Friday - Another Five Degrees of Musical Progression

Travis, our host for Five on Friday, had suggested that for this Friday we all take another run at the fun twist he developed to his meme called Five Degrees of Musical Progression with yet another twist thrown in as he gave us all the first song to start off with - Gordon Lightfoot's Sundown. So where did this one take me? Glad you asked!

I pretty much love everything Gordon Lightfoot who has also written a lot of music that other artists have recorded including Marty Robbins who was one of my Dad's favorite country and western singers. Of course, I can't think of Marty Robbins without thinking of his 1959 hit and signature song El Paso which my former dispatch partner Cyndi and I used to sing on slow nights in the Stockton PD dispatch center!

Cyndi and I weren't the only ones who liked El Paso has it became one of the favorite songs of the Grateful Dead who began covering it in 1969 long before Cyndi and I were ever warbling it in dispatch! The song became the band's "most requested number" and they performed it a total of 386 times. When I think of the Grateful Dead I don't think of El Paso though, I think of Cherry Garcia ice cream by Ben & Jerry's and the song Truckin'.

Truckin' was written by Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh along with lyricist Robert Hunter who co-wrote all but one of the songs on Bob Dylan's 2009 album Together Through Life which included the song Beyond Here Lies Nothin' which was nominated at the 52nd Grammy Awards for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' is also the title of the 12th and final episode of the second season of HBO's True Blood.

True Blood brings me to song number five - Bad Things by country singer Jace Everett which is the opening theme song for HBO's popular show set in the fictional town of Bon Temp, Louisiana and based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, a New York Times bestselling author who has been writing mysteries for over twenty years.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we go from a folk-rock legend from Canada to a popular TV series in America in just five easy steps!

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Don't forget to stop by Trav's Thoughts and check out some of the Five Degrees of Musical Progression!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Few Moments at Montserrat

Even though it was not the best of days with the weather (what else is new this spring?) I made the drive back up to Beverly yesterday as Amanda's college, the Montserrat College of Art, was holding their annual Open House at which, to quote their website:
"Each year, Montserrat pulls out all the stops and displays student artwork on every available surface. Classrooms, galleries and hallways are bedecked with recently made paintings, prints, photos and drawings; sculptures rise from the floor and hang from ceilings, and videos play from screens and projectors."
Amanda had four pieces of art that were chosen to be displayed by her teachers so it seemed like a good time to take my mother with me so that maybe she could see what exactly her oldest granddaughter had been doing with her advanced education and my former retirement money!  Jamie accompanied us and we arrived at the college around 2:00 or so and took a walk through the artwork that was displayed throughout pretty much the entire building.

Art from the Montserrat Open House

As per usual with art, some of it I got and some of it totally went over my head but I've more or less gotten used to that over the past few years and I fully understand that art is objective to whomever happens to be looking at it.  My Mom, being a traditionalist, probably had even more of it go over her head and I had rather expected that but as I told her, as a freshman the students have to learn a lot of different techniques and styles before they can declare a concentration.  Kind of like freshmen going through all of the trades in a tech school before they choose their field except at Montserrat they're doing it with paints and brushes and charcoal and other mediums.

I really didn't take too many pictures as I'm fighting a nasty chest cold and wasn't exactly feeling up to par but I did take pictures of the pieces that Amanda had on display.  Those of you who have followed Amanda's artwork on this blog aren't going to be at all surprised by the subject matter for two of her pieces:

Gas Mask Still Life #2 in Oil Paint & Charcoal by Amanda
"Gas Mask Still Life #2 in Oil Paint & Charcoal"

Gas Mask Still Life #3 in Oil Paint & Charcoal by Amanda
"Gas Mask Still Life #3 in Oil Paint & Charcoal"

Her 3-D sculpture is made up of gears from clocks that she cut out from wood herself:

Clock Gears Sculpture by Amanda

And my favorite piece that she had in the show was her self-portrait in charcoal as I've got to believe that it's very hard to draw yourself. I mean, heck, I don't even like having my picture taken never mind having to draw it and if I did try to draw myself, it sure the heck wouldn't look like me!

Self Portrait in Charcoal by Amanda

My mother did like the artwork that was from the Illustration Department which is what Amanda hopes to concentrate in but which she couldn't take as a freshman but which, if we can figure out the financing for future years, I'm sure she'd be very good at. That's still up in the air though so it's back to college financing stress for us. Fun.

It's kind of hard to believe that her freshman year is going to be over in just about a month ... where did the time go? ... but in another month I'll be making the trip back up to Beverly to bring Amanda home for the summer - a summer which I hope doesn't have bad written all over it as I have two unemployed teenagers hanging around the house. One can only hope that there really are jobs out there like people keep claiming there are!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Of Dispatch Conferences and Such - Redux

Note: This being National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, I thought that I'd go back through some of the old posts that I've written in regards to dispatching and post them over again. Some of them you may remember, some of them may be brand new to you, and some of them are almost-new to me as I sure the heck don't remember writing them! Today's post is from Thursday, April 17th, 2008.

My internet connection has been doing some hinky things the last two days so as I'm writing this post I'm also keeping my fingers crossed that the connection will last until I can get through it. In speaking to the good folks at Tech Support at AT&T this morning we have come to the conclusion that my modem, which is four years old, is probably in need of replacement so I've got a new one ordered but it won't arrive until Monday. Until then, my DSL is going to be sort of like a magic act - now you have it, now you don't! So, if I don't get around to everyone's blogs (or catch up with the various games I have going on over at Facebook) it's not that I don't want to but that I cahn't get theyah from heeah as they say in Maine!

Now, technical issues and excuses aside, I first off want to thank everyone for the thanks and best wishes that they have left in comments in regards to this being National Telecommunicator Week. I was telling Mimi the other day that when I make mention of the fact that it is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week I almost feel like I'm throwing that out there so that people will say "Oh! Thank you for the job you do!" but that's not the case at all. I mention it because I want people to be aware that there are some truly fantastic people who play a major role behind the scenes (or behind the phone and radio lines) that are very rarely thought of - never mind thanked. I don't do it for me, I do it for every man or woman who has ever answered a phone with the words "911, what's the address of your emergency?" because - honest to God - we never know what that emergency is going to be and how it's going to affect us. And affect us it does. I have taken more calls home with me then I care to remember and there are those that haunt me to this day but this profession chose me (do you think anyone in their right mind would actually choose this profession themselves?!?) and it's what I do. There are times I like to think I do it well but then there are probably more times when I question my ability - as well as sanity! - in doing it.

Anyhow, to get off of my soap box now - this week has been wonderful. I was able to attend a great Telecommunicator Conference on Monday where I got to eat some darned fine prime rib and listen to one of the most dynamic speakers I've heard in a long time. Kevin Willetts, a dispatch supervisor from the Redwood City Police Department in California, is the kind of supervisor that every dispatcher would love to have and he was not only extremely funny but extremely inspiring. He makes me proud to be a dispatcher though there are times when I want to run screaming from the room .  The man could probably do a complete stand up comedy act on "You Might Be a Dispatcher If ..." (but unless the audience was made up entirely of dispatchers as it mostly was on Monday you probably wouldn't get it). I honestly haven't laughed that much in a long time and I want to thank my company for sending me to the conference. It was more than worth the 100 mile round-trip drive.

Speaking of my company, they have been plying us with edible goodies this past week that have ranged from muffins and bagels to veggie platters to this fantastic fruit and cheese platter you see here to pizza and salads from one of my favorite pizza places. If there's one thing that we dispatchers appreciate it's food and we've been having some really good stuff this week!

In addition to that, one of my favorite EMTs, who happens to be just too cute for words (I swear, they never made guys that looked like that when I was that age!), brought me up some cookies and chocolate covered pretzels yesterday along with a hug and a kiss. I shared the cookies, brought the pretzels home for myself, and cherished the hug and kiss. Seth - don't feel like you need to wait for a special week to do that again!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Five on Friday - The Shinedown Version

Bonus post for today as I didn't want to miss yet another week of Travis' Five on Friday meme considering I missed it last week due to a major case of the "Mehs". Next week we'll be doing Volume 3 of Five Degrees of Musical Progression with a twist included in that we'll all be using the same jumping off point - "Sundown" by Gordon Lightfoot. I'm sure it's going to take us all in totally different directions which should be fun as it's always interesting to see where songs lead other people. If you'd like to join in click on the link above, read the post that explains how to play, and please do!

In the meantime, this week I'm featuring a group that's relatively new to me courtesy of my youngest daughter, Jamie.  As you may recall I've definitely widened my listening range through Amanda's musical choices and the same applies to Jamie as nine times out of ten if she's in the car with me it's her iTouch that we're listening to and not my iPod.  After every car ride there's usually at least one song from her Apple product that makes it's way to my Apple product and this week's group is no exception.

I knew absolutely nothing about Shinedown, a band that hails from Jacksonville, Florida, other than they had a song that was featured on Rock Band titled "Devour" but that changed recently while driving up to Salem a couple of weekends ago when a song came on that I found myself really liking called "If You Only Knew" and that Jamie now likes to say that she got me stuck on.  Yep, she did!  She thinks the lead singer for the band, Brent Smith, has an incredible voice and I'm not going to argue there either.

Those of you who are American Idol watchers may remember a song that Chris Daughtry did titled "I Dare You" which is a Shinedown song while "Second Chance", the second single off of their second album The Sound of Madness, is Shinedown's biggest hit to date being their first top 10 song on the Billboard Hot 100. Naturally it's a song that they band hated when they first wrote it!

Anyhow, I couldn't decide on just five songs this week so you get a bonus sixth that I hope you'll enjoy. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go update my iPod with a few more songs ... thanks to my youngest darling daughter!

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Eight Things I Know - Redux

Note: This being National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, I thought that I'd go back through some of the old posts that I've written in regards to dispatching and post them over again. Some of them you may remember, some of them may be brand new to you, and some of them are almost-new to me as I sure the heck don't remember writing them! Today's post is from Wednesday, June 13th, 2007.

Another good meme has been making its way through the Blogosphere and I was tagged for it by Jamie of Duward Discussion. This one is called "Eight Things I Know" and, from what I can gather, it can be about any eight things that the writer knows.

Jamie's post is excellently written, as always, and has some very good "life lessons" that we could all learn from. Sandee over at Comedy+ also wrote a great post on the eight things she knows and brought to light a lot of really good blogs.

After reading the posts by those two ladies, I wasn't sure what direction to take this in and then decided that since I was on a "dispatch" kick these past few days that I would write about eight things I know when it comes to dispatchers.

Eight Things I Know About Dispatchers (from years of experience!):
  1. A dispatcher has the bladder capacity of 5 people
  2. A dispatcher can talk on the phone, listen to the radio, and type a request into the computer at the same time without missing anything
  3. A dispatcher can tell a 10-minute story over a two-hour time period after many interruptions without losing his or her place; or, he or she can follow a story told in like manner
  4. A dispatcher sees stress as a normal state of life
  5. A dispatcher refuses to allow anyone to say "Have a quiet shift."
  6. A dispatcher views caffeine as one of the major nutritional minerals
  7. A dispatcher has answered his or her phone at home at least once with, "911, what is your emergency?"
  8. A dispatcher can only tell time with a 24-hour clock, as in, "Yes, I have an appointment at 1430."
As a bonus 9th thing I know about dispatchers - no matter how long ago you stopped being a dispatcher, most of these things will always apply - guaranteed!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Semi-Wordless Wednesday, Circa 1986 - Redux

Note: This being National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, I thought that I'd go back through some of the old posts that I've written in regards to dispatching and post them over again. Some of them you may remember, some of them may be brand new to you, and some of them are almost-new to me as I sure the heck don't remember writing them! Today's post is from Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

This picture was taken sometime in 1986 (my feeble mind forgets exactly when) when my dispatch team was being broken up due to seniority bids in the Command Center at the Stockton Police Department.

For those who read regularly, my good friend Miz Cyn is the one on the left in the snazzy sweater (she was pregnant with her third child) and I would be the one in the middle with the, er, 80's hair. The others are Chris with her arm around my shoulder, Kathy to my right, and Dianne down by the cake.

We were quite the team and I hated going to another shift and leaving these people behind. Matter of fact, it was the beginning of the end for my time at SPD. Just goes to show that the old adage of "if it ain't broke don't fix it" really rings true.

Oh, and for the record, I thought I was FAT in this picture. Sigh ... to be that size now!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs." ~ Henry David Thoreau - Redux

Note: This being National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, I thought that I'd go back through some of the old posts that I've written in regards to dispatching and post them over again. Some of them you may remember, some of them may be brand new to you, and some of them are almost-new to me as I sure the heck don't remember writing them! Today's post is from Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

One of the biggest differences between police/fire dispatching and ambulance dispatching is that ambulance dispatching is more personal.  We dispatch a lot of "scheduled" calls - calls for patients going to doctor's appointments, dialysis treatments, visits to a hospital for some sort of treatment or test, and even trips home on holidays or other special occasions.  These were things that I never knew about when I was across the street at the Norwich Police Department dealing with the nameless and faceless people who called for things like barking dogs, illegally parked vehicles, loud stereos, domestic violence cases, etc.  Certainly there were some names that repeated themselves and were recognized (frequent fliers we call them) but they were no where near the number that I have encountered in my current job.

The road crews become attached to a lot of our patients, especially patients who have multiple transports sometimes either daily or at least several times a week.  They get to know the people, the stories of their lives, their families; they know when they're having a good day or a bad day; and they come to care about them as more than just patients.  When a patient succombs to kidney disease or cancer or whatever ailment they had, the crews that have transported and treated them grieve at their loss and sometimes even request a day off to attend a funeral.  If that isn't personal, I don't know what is.

As part of our system of keeping track of our regular patients we have a write-erase board in dispatch/scheduling on which we write the names of patients that we either no longer transport, are in the hospital and not going to their regularly scheduled appointments, or are deceased.  Sometimes the left side of the board that lists the patients who are in the hospital is empty and other times it's full; the right side of the board that lists the deceased is - sadly - full of names.

Unlike the road crews, I have no faces to associate with the names but those names have become as familiar to me as those of my friends and family. Even though I've never met a single one of those patients, I feel like I know them to a small extent and it saddens me to see a new name go up on the deceased side of the board.

A couple months ago we took on a new patient (who shall remain nameless in deference to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) who had what I thought was a very cool name.  I conjured up the image of a very dignified man with ruddy cheeks and a beaming smile who was quick with a joke and a laugh, a man who was well-loved by his family, and who had a kind word for everyone.   Shortly after we began his transports, he was admitted to the hospital  and stayed there for a very long time.  A couple of times he was scheduled to be returned to the nursing home that he was residing at but each time his transport would get cancelled and he would remain in the hospital.  Still, he wasn't horribly old and I always thought he would eventually come out of the hospital and resume his normal dialysis treatments.  Sadly, that was not to be the case.

Not even halfway through my shift today, Baby Liz (one of our schedulers) told me that my favorite name on the admit board had to be moved to the deceased side as his obituary had appeared in the newspaper this morning.  The man with the cool name had died on Monday having never left Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.  Now maybe it was because I hadn't been feeling too good all morning or maybe it was because I was feeling a bit snoggily around the edges but when Baby Liz told me that he had passed away, I actually began to cry a little bit.  I guess it seems silly to shed tears over a man I had never met, one whose name I knew only from the spreadsheets or computer, but I was very saddened at the news of his passing.

Out of curiosity, I looked up his name in the obituaries in the hopes that there might be a link to one of the many memorial pages that are on the web these days and sure enough, there was - complete with a picture of a man with ruddy cheeks, a beaming smile, and what looked to be a twinkle in his eye behind the glasses he wore.  He looked like a loving husband and father, a beloved grandfather, and a man who had enjoyed his life to the fullest.  In short, he looked just like I had pictured him to. The family has posted quite a few pictures in the "slide show" section of his memorial page and it looks like he had a done a lot of traveling in his life and that he'd had a fine time doing it.  The pictures show what looks like a life well-lived and well-loved.  No doubt his wife of 44 years will miss him greatly as will his children and grandchildren and I'm sure his memory will live on for a very long time in all of their hearts.

I only knew his name but maybe that's all I needed to know.  I only know a lot of their names.  And I guess if I'm going to be in this business for any length of time, I'm going to have to get a thicker skin ...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Listen carefully and I'm going to tell you exactly what to do next." ~ NAED Emergency Medical Dispatch Protocol - Redux

Note: This being National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, I thought that I'd go back through some of the old posts that I've written in regards to dispatching and post them over again. Some of them you may remember, some of them may be brand new to you, and some of them are almost-new to me as I sure the heck don't remember writing them! Today's post is from Monday, January 22, 2007.

I thought maybe it was about time that I wrote about something that frustrates me on a fairly regular basis as a 911 dispatcher. It isn't anything new - it's something that I've been frustrated about ever since I first picked up a headset and answered a 911 call but despite the fact that I have heard the same thing over and over and over again for so many years, it still amazes me what the mindset of most people seems to be.

911 is not an instant fix no matter what people might think; no matter what the movies or television has portrayed it generally doesn't work like that. No one has yet to invent the technology that will "beam over" a police officer or paramedic or firefighter to the scene of an emergency - I wish someone would but until then it takes a bit of time for emergency personnel to get from Point A to Point B and, believe it or not - yelling in my ear to just "get the blankedy-blank-blank ambulance here!" (or cops) is not going to make them get there any faster.

I understand the frustration that people have during times of emergency, I understand the desire to get a trained professional to the patient as soon as possible, and I understand that five minutes can seem more like five hours when you're waiting for that help to arrive. I am not discounting the panic, the anxiety, or the fear. I get it, I really do.

But - here's the thing - I can offer help to that panicked caller who can then offer help to the patient and that might just make the difference as to the outcome of the call. The State of Connecticut requires all emergency dispatch centers like the one I work in to have training in Emergency Medical Dispatching. That doesn't mean that I just answer the phone, get the address, and then send an ambulance tearing out of the bay with lights flashing and sirens wailing. What it means is that I ask a specific series of questions designed to send the patient the best level of care possible - questions that seem to frustrate a lot of callers as some of them will interrupt me with "do you have to ask all these stupid questions, can't you just send the ambulance?!?"

What some people don't seem to understand is that generally my partner has already started the ambulance while I continue to ask the caller questions (if I've got no partner then I will put the caller on hold just long enough to get the ambulance going and then come back to continue the call). Even though I tell the caller that my partner has already started the ambulance most of the time that part seems to go unheard. Because of that the person on the other end of the phone feels like the ambulance hasn't even been started yet but help is already on the way. And more importantly, help may very well be the person that I'm talking to on the phone.

Part of the Emergency Medical Dispatch system is the ability for myself and other trained 911 operators to give life-saving instruction over the phone - instructions that could make the difference between life and death for some patients - instructions that give the caller the ability to render aid before the ambulance crew arrives. I can give step-by-step instructions on how to perform CPR, I can tell someone how to perform rescue breathing, I can tell a person what to do if someone is experiencing a seizure, I can even give instruction on how to control a nosebleed until help arrives.

The bottom line is I can help the caller to help the patient but the caller has got to let me do that. He or she has got to take a deep breath, calm down, and listen to the instructions that I'm giving. Together we can help the patient until the trained emergency medical services arrive and rather than feel frustrated and stressed and panicked, the caller can have a feeling of accomplishment knowing that they helped the patient.

There is nothing in my job that makes me prouder than when I know that I've helped someone help someone else - when I've had the opportunity to use the resources at my disposal to help save a life or at least give someone the chance to make a difference. Sadly, even with these great resources at our disposal, it isn't always possible to save someone but it's a far cry better than just taking down the address, saying I'll send someone, and hanging up on the poor person on the other end of the phone so that they can pace the floor and wring their hands helplessly while waiting for help to arrive.

All I ask in return is for the caller to understand that I'm not just asking a bunch of stupid questions, that I'm not delaying the help that is needed, and that the blankedy-blank-blank ambulance has already been sent.

As I said before, I know that minutes can seem like hours but together we can make those minutes count.

Monday, April 11, 2011

There's No Crying in Dispatch - Redux

Note: This being National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, I thought that I'd go back through some of the old posts that I've written in regards to dispatching and post them over again. Some of them you may remember, some of them may be brand new to you, and some of them are almost-new to me as I sure the heck don't remember writing them! Today's post is from Friday, February 15th, 2008.

I'm a 911 dispatcher, a professionally trained and certified emergency medical dispatcher with years of experience under my belt. I help save lives. I have the knowledge. I have the well-scripted protocol. I have the ability. Sometimes all of that doesn't add up to a hill of beans.

Experience has taught me that whenever I pick up a 911 call and can hear the screaming before the receiver even reaches my ear it's not going to be good. Sometimes that screaming isn't a precursor to a totally hideous call, sometimes it's just the way that people react to situations that aren't life-threatening but scary and sometimes, well ... sometimes it's the precursor to a call that's not going to end well. Such was the case with a 911 call I picked up towards the end of my shift yesterday.

"American Ambulance, what's the address of your emergency?"

"Aaaaiiiiiiii ... help me, please somebody help me .... aaaaaiiiiiii!"

"Ma'am, please calm down, I need the address of your emergency so I can send you help."

"Help me, help me, help me - please send help! Oh help me!"

The dispatcher at the police department who had transferred the call over told me that the caller's husband was unresponsive and gave me the address and the phone number as well as the name that had popped up on their 911 screen (we don't have an enhanced system at our company so have to rely on the PD for the info when we can't get it out of the caller).

"Ma'am, can you tell me, is he breathing?"

"No, no, he isn't. Send help! Please send help!"

I tried to tell her that my partner was dispatching an ambulance and the fire department had also been started but she wasn't listening to me. Instead I heard her counting ... "1-1,000; 2-,1,000; 3-1,000; 4-1,000; 5-1,000; 6-1,000; 7-1,000". A pause and then a big breath. I turned to my partner and told him that she was doing CPR and he started a second ambulance to assist with what we call "a working 100", a code that means there is a potential cardiac or respiratory arrest and the patient could be dead already or could be brought back with the proper interventions and medications. In other words, it means we need more manpower and we need it there fast.

The caller finally came back to the phone still screaming for an ambulance and I attempted to calm her down using repetitive persistence, a technique whereby you tell the caller the same thing over and over in a calm and reassuring voice in an attempt to break though the hysteria. It wasn't working, I couldn't reach her as she cried to her husband to not leave her, to not die on her, that she loved him, that he had to wake up as she called his name over and over. They were the most anguished, heart-wrenching cries I had heard in a very long time and my heart went out to this unknown stranger on the other end of the phone.

I was finally able to get through to her enough to find out a little bit of information about his medical history and that he had gone to take a nap a half hour ago before she started to do what a lot of callers do - she started to blame herself. She should have checked on him, she never should have let him take a nap, she should have known something was wrong. I'm sure that my words of reassurance that she had done nothing wrong and not to blame herself went pretty well unheard but it was all I could think to say at the time. Where, oh where, was that ambulance or the fire department? The address wasn't far from us - what on earth was taking so long? Minutes seem like years when there is a life hanging in the balance.

The poor soul on the other end of the phone once again began imploring her beloved not to leave her, not to go, that she loved him and he couldn't die, he just couldn't. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I heard the ambulance crews arrive and the first responders come through the front door. I told her I was going to let her go and she said thank you before she hung up.

"Thank you"? For what? I didn't do a thing. I couldn't do a thing. All of my training, all of my years of experience, all of the well-scripted protocol, all of my knowledge and ability meant nothing with that call. I was simply a human voice on the end of a phone line; a person who heard the grief, the heartbreak, and the flat-out horror of someone finding a loved one no longer breathing and gone from this world. I was of no help to that poor woman at all. None.

After I hung up the phone I sat and stared at the spreadsheet in front of me, barely able to see it for the tears welling up in my eyes while feeling like a complete and total failure in my chosen profession and grieving for the poor woman whose name I didn't even know. But there's no crying in dispatch as there just isn't time. The wheelchair vans that I was dispatching that day were calling on the radio and I needed to acknowledge them even though I could barely speak around the lump in my throat. The phones were still ringing and couldn't be ignored. Life went on. At least in the dispatch center.

In spite of the best efforts of the paramedics, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, and police who arrived on the scene of that 911 call the patient didn't make it. He was 49 years old. It was Valentine's Day.

There's no crying in dispatch but there is in the car on the way home.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

“The very first step towards success in any occupation is to become interested in it.” ~ William Osler - Redux

Note: This being National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, I thought that I'd go back through some of the old posts that I've written in regards to dispatching and post them over again. Some of them you may remember, some of them may be brand new to you, and some of them are almost-new to me as I sure the heck don't remember writing them! Today's post is originally from Friday, October 13th, 2006:

"Back in the old days my family participated in what was known as "dinner-time". This was when families gathered around the dining room table at night and would actually partake of a meal in the company of each other. It was a great opportunity to catch up on what was going on in each other's lives, lavish compliments upon my mother for her prowess in the kitchen, and invariably get insulted by one of my three brothers for one reason or another!

During the course of this ritual, it was also quite common for my father to put his fork down, look me in the eye, and declare "you're going in the Navy when you get out of high school." I, of course, would answer "oh no I'm not" every single time. Now that's not to say that there's anything wrong with the Navy, I'm sure it's a fine branch of the military service, and I was even a Navy wife for awhile during the course of my second marriage. However - when I was 16 - 17 years old, I was just as stubborn as my father and if he said I was going to do something, invariably I would want to do the opposite. I later found out that this was my father's intention all along and that he had practiced a great deal of reverse psychology on me in my youth. I can still remember when I called him on that one evening and he said, "well, it's about time you figured it out." This was, of course, when I was home on leave after I had joined the Air Force and not the Navy as my father had decreed!

For some reason, the memories of this were going through my head yesterday while I was at the doctor's office getting my weekly infusion of iron and looking out the window at the nurses leaving for the day. I wondered how people decided what they wanted to do for their lives, how they picked the occupations that eventually defined who they were in life, how many people were really doing the things that they wanted to do, and how on earth did I get to be a dispatcher of all things???

I always knew that I was going into the military after high school. When others were taking the PSATs and SATs I was taking the ASVABs (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). While my friends were all taking college prep courses, I was taking business courses because I knew I wasn't going on to college directly after high school. I was raised in a military family; my Dad was career Air Force and it was what I knew best in life.

At the age of 17, my Dad found himself on a troop ship heading over to Korea before he even had his high school diploma in hand. He later went on to earn not only his GED but took many college courses and always scored high in his classes. He got out of the service a few times but always went back in and in 1974 he retired after twenty years of service with a long, distinguished career record complete with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star medal awarded during his time in Vietnam.

At the age of 17, three days after I had my diploma in hand, I found myself on a plane to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for six weeks of basic training to be followed by eight months at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi for training as a ground-to-air radio communications equipment technician. It was never my intention to become an electronics technician when I first decided to go into the Air Force. I wanted to be a Law Enforcement Officer but I had scored high on the electronics part of the ASVAB (how - I just don't know!), there were no openings in Law Enforcement at the time of my enlistment, and my recruiter talked me into giving radio repair a try. In retrospect, perhaps I should have been as stubborn with him as I was with my father but it turned out okay and I met some great people throughout my career - even though I spent most of it stationed in New Jersey!

As for how I ended up in dispatching ... well, I needed a job after my first husband exited stage-right from mine and Michael's lives and I eventually saw an ad in The Stockton Record for telecommunicators. Even though I had no idea what the job entailed, the pay looked good so I applied, took the test (which I thought I had failed miserably!), and soon found myself emerged in the sometimes exciting but most times frustrating life of a 911 operator and police dispatcher. I've left dispatching a time or two in the past vowing to never put a headset on again but it must be my calling because I've invariably gone back to it over and over again. If you had asked me when I was a kid if I wanted to be a 911 dispatcher when I grew up I would have probably looked at you like you were crazy! Most people don't even know what a 911 dispatcher is - never mind want to be one! And usually once they found out what one is, they still don't want to be one! We are a unique breed unto ourselves!

If I had it to do over again, I would still have gone into the Air Force and I think I probably still would have been a radio repair technician for awhile but I also think I would have gone onto college and become a history teacher. For those of you who are sitting there and reading this and thinking "but you could still do that now!" let me just say - no, I can't. I know that a lot of people start their careers over even when they're older than I am but I'm not one of those people. Maybe I don't particularly relish the thought of myself dispatching for another 15 years or more but it's what I do best in life; I have a gift and a talent for it even if it does drive me crazy from time to time! I like the people I work with and they seem to like me and sometimes in careers, that's half the battle - finding something you like to do, something you can do well, and liking the people that you're doing it with."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The 374th Anniversary of the National Guard's "First Muster"

Clouds Over Salem Common

Last Saturday, April 2nd, Jamie and I took a semi-last-minute trip to Salem, Massachusetts in order to witness the commemoration of the 374th anniversary of the “First Muster”. For those of you wondering exactly what the “First Muster” is allow me to explain!

When early American colonists set up their defense system, they adopted the English militia system which obligated all males between the ages of 16 and 60 to possess arms and participate in the defense of the community. The militia drilled once a week and provided guard details each evening as there was a growing threat to the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Pequot Indians who were a pretty ruthless tribe and they needed to be in a high state of readiness just in case the call to arms was sounded.

On December 13th, 1636, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered the organization of the colony’s militia companies into three regiments: the North, South, and East Regiments. By organizing the militia into smaller groups it increased the efficiency and responsiveness of the militia and gave the colonists better protection. The first muster of the East Regiment took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1637 and, though the exact date is unknown, it was the first time a regiment of militia drilled for the common defense of a multi-community area and laid the foundation for what would become the Army National Guard.

The "First Muster" is commemorated each year in early April by historical groups and military re-enactors as well as the 101st Engineer Battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard who, for 374 years, has continued the East Regiment’s proud heritage of service as the National Guard continues its historic mission of providing the first-line of defense for our nation.

Alrighty then … we’ve got history … we’ve got patriotism … we’ve got men in uniform … and we’ve even got a band … what more could a gal with a camera want? It should come as no surprise that I am a self-professed sucker for military gatherings, something which I probably come by naturally being that I was raised as an Air Force brat and then joined the Air Force myself right out of high school. (I guess I should probably also mention that I was a Navy wife for awhile, too, but I really don’t remember too much from that time in my life.)  Let’s also not forget that Jamie graduated from a military school in June that was part of the Florida National Guard and this just seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up so I loaded the car up with the kid and the camera and off we went in search of history and maybe even a little eye-candy in uniform!

The 2nd Corps Cadets Veterans Association of Salem hosts the event which began at 10:00 a.m. when they gathered for a ceremony in front of St. Peter’s Church where they laid a wreath, played taps, and fired a 21-gun salute at the grave of Captain Stephen Abbott, founder and first commander of the 2nd Corps of Cadets of the East Regiment. The lineage of the 2nd Corps is now proudly carried by Battery A, 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.  Jamie and I missed this part of the celebration as we were running just a bit late but had plenty of time to witness the next part of the day’s events which was a memorial service at Armory Park in front of the old armory (now the Salem Visitor Center).

At that service, the assembled military re-enactors, members of the 101st Engineer Battalion, and others who had gathered to mark the occasion listened to remarks by Lt. Cmdr. Larry Conway of the 2nd Corps as well as from Mr. Jay Finney, Chief Marketing Officer of the Peabody Essex Museum, and Army Lt. Col. Richard M. Bertone, Commander, 101st Engineer Battalion.  Another wreath was laid, "Taps" was played by a member of the Air National Guard Band of the Northeast, and another 21-gun salute was given to honor the soldiers that were killed in the battles of Lexington and Concord.

Lt Colonel Larry Conway, Second Corps Cadets Veterans Association of Salem
Army Lt. Col. Richard M. Bertone, Commander, 101st Engineer Battalion
Lt. Col. Richard M. Bertone (right) and Mr. Jay Finney (left), Deputy Director of the Peabody Museum, lay a wreath at the ceremony
Gun Salute to the Fallen
At Attention in Front of the Salem Armory/Visitor Center

From there, the soldiers and assembled groups marched down Essex Street to Salem Common where the Massachusetts Army National Guard units assembled with the historical military groups for a ceremonial inspection that was performed by Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, along with Salem Mayor Kimberly Driscoll and U.S. Representative John Tierney of the Sixth Congressional District of Massachusetts who proposed a bill designating his home city of Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard just prior to leaving Washington to attend the muster.

Air National Guard Band of the Northeast
Honor Guard
Air Force Band & Mount Unit
Second Corps Cadets Veterans Association of Salem
Civil War Re-enactors
Colonial Re-enactment Unit
Second Parish Minuteman 1732
Re-enactors with the Salem Trayned Band
Speakers at the Salem First Muster
Distinguished Guests on the Salem Common Gazebo
Maj. Gen. Carter, Congressman Tierney, Mayor Driscoll Begin Troop Review
Mayor Driscoll, Congressman Tierney, and Maj. Gen. Carter review the troops
Ceremonial Review of the Troops

The 101st Field Artillery Salute Battery fired a 13-gun salute to honor past and present troops using Howitzer cannons that not only shook the field but activated several car alarms in the area and near the end of the ceremony an F-16 performed a very quick fly-over that was darned hard to get a picture of because I was on the wrong side of the Common to get a good shot - not to mention they fly really, really fast!

Members of the 101st Field Artillery Battery
The 101st Field Artillery Salute Battery fires a 13-gun salute to honor past and present troops
F-16 Flyover

The ceremonies ended with a Pass in Review where the assembled units marched across the Common and past the reviewing area with the Commander and other assembled guests.

Start of the Pass in Review
Massachusetts National Lancers
Honor Guard
The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts
Second Corps Cadets Veterans Association of Salem
Salem Trayned Band - a group that re-enacts the 17th century Salem militia
Colonial Re-enactors
Civil War Re-enactors

All in all, I'm quite happy that I made the drive from Connecticut up to Salem to witness the commemoration and ceremonies and will most definitely try to get back next year for the 375th Anniversary.  I think it's great that Salem honors the men and women who serve as citizen/soldiers in the Guard and Reserves - especially this year considering that members of the 101st Field Artillery Regiment and the 101st Engineer Battalion just returned in December from a deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq where they lost one of their own on April 19th, 2010 when Sergeant Robert J. Barrett from Fall River, Massachusetts was killed in an IED attack while on dismounted patrol just south of Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan. Sgt. Barrett was only 20 years old and left behind a 2-year old daughter.

When you stop and think about what risks the men and women of the National Guard take and the fact that they put their lives on hold and on the line for the rest of us, it really makes a lot of sense to commemorate, celebrate, and thank them as often as possible. Don't you agree?

The above video is one that I put together with pictures from the muster - there are also additional pictures from the muster on my Flickr account if you're interested in seeing more of the day's events.

In conclusion, a big THANK YOU to all of the men and women of our military no matter if you are Active, Reserve, or Guard. I really can't say it enough.