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August 22: A behind-the-scenes look at a State Fire Marshal Division fire investigation
 
August 18: DWI: The unsung victims
 
August 15: Heroin: It’s not just rock stars and city junkies
 
August 11: Strength in numbers: Partnerships for disaster relief
 
August 8: The 811 Run: Race for a number that saves lives
 
August 4: Motorcycle deaths: What the statistics tell us
 
August 1: What do you do behind the wheel?
 
 

‘This is not Hollywood:” A behind-the-scenes look at a State Fire Marshal Division fire investigation

 
August 22, 2016
 
The movies make it all look so simple — and fast. A fire investigator strolls up to a scene, picks up a few pieces of debris and voila! They know the fire was caused by Col. Mustard in the library with the candlestick.
Investigators at the scene of a fire with local law enforcement officials.
​Photo: Investigators work closely with local fire and law enforcement officials at a fire scene.
 
But as veteran State Fire Marshal Division Investigator Ron Rahman will tell you — and show you in the latest video from our Department of Public Safety Mic’d Up series — that is nowhere near what happens.
 
You’ll see in this behind-the-scenes video of an actual fire investigation that the process takes a lot of time, patience, hard work, dedication, knowledge, partnerships and resources.
 
As Rahman puts it: “This is not Hollywood.”
 
The type of building, the number of jurisdictions involved and whether or not there is pending litigation all can impact the length of an investigation. Also, these investigators are working with evidence that is many times burned beyond recognition. They need to sift through ashes and dust to find what they are looking for — and sometimes what they are looking for something as small as a grain of sand. This evidence is then sent to a lab where it needs to be analyzed, another step that takes time.
 
Our investigators must follow the guidelines in the most current edition of the National Fire Protection Association Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations. There are hundreds and hundreds of guidelines.
 
Ask any investigator and they’ll tell you their No. 1 goal is to find answers to help provide closure to the people affected by the blaze, whether they lost a friend, loved one, family pet, their home or their belongings. 
 
Investigators want to find those answers quickly but nothing can be left to chance. This isn’t a guessing game.
Investigating fires is one of the most important things the SFMD does and it’s something the investigators take very seriously. They take pride in doing a thorough and professional job.
 
You’ll see when you watch the video that it’s not as easy as it seems on TV.
 

DWI: The unsung victims

 
August 18, 2016
 
When we think about crashes caused by drunk drivers, we often think of the victims who die as a result. Same with the media: A DWI crash most often makes the news when someone is killed. And of course, those tragedies are worthy of our notice, in hopes they don’t happen again. But they aren’t the only victims of drunk drivers.
 
Photo: Designate a sober driver, take a cab or public
transit so you don’t crash on the road.
Take, for example, Erica Bodell and her three children. On Nov. 21, 2015, a drunk driver in Isanti County hit their vehicle head-on. Erica’s two sons suffered severe injuries, while her daughter Havana, who spent three months at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare recovering, was paralyzed.
 
Although the Bodells are fortunate to have escaped with their lives, those lives will certainly never be the same as a result of that drunk driver’s selfish choice to get behind the wheel. And they’re not alone: Each year, an average of 253 life-changing injuries involve alcohol-related crashes. And in the last five years (2011 – 2015), there were 462 drunk driving-related traffic deaths in Minnesota, with 95 people killed in 2015 alone.
 
That’s why Bodell decided to speak out about the crash for the first time in a news conference today. You can see the recorded version on the Department of Public Safety’s YouTube channel. The news conference kicked off enhanced DWI enforcement on Minnesota’s roads from Aug. 19 through Sept. 5. And considering that, from 2011 through 2015, an average of 27,000 drivers were arrested each year for DWI, Bodell’s message has merit.
 
She’s hoping that her story encourages people to think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking. She doesn’t want anyone’s life to change ever again – either by severe injury or by ending altogether – because of drunk driving.
 

Heroin: It’s not just rock stars and city junkies

 
August 15, 2016
 
What do you think of when you hear the word “heroin”? Rock stars like Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix, trying to deal with increasing fame and fortune by using dangerous illicit drugs? If you do, you’re probably not alone. Unfortunately, though, heroin use is not unique to the rich and famous – in fact, it’s not even unique to city dwellers. It’s happening in your own backyard, and it’s killing people.
 
Heroin in small packets called “bindles.”
​Photo: Heroin sometimes comes in small packets like these,
called “bindles.” It’s extraordinarily dangerous and addictive.
In 2011 in Minnesota, authorities seized 8 pounds of heroin. By 2015, that number had more than doubled to 18 pounds. That’s a staggering 82,120 doses. So why is it suddenly so much more popular?
Some authorities think it may be linked to the overall opioid drug abuse epidemic. Inappropriate use of prescription opioid pain relievers is on the rise, and can be the beginning of a road that ends with heroin addiction and death. To make matters worse, some recent shipments of heroin coming into Minnesota have been laced with a synthetic opioid called Fentanyl, which makes it stronger and adds to its already considerable danger.
 
Heroin comes in several forms, including white or brown powder, folded up in small packets called “bindles,” and as a sticky black substance called black tar. Users inject it, smoke it, or snort it, and often develop high tolerances quickly, so that they require more and more of it to achieve the same high. And since large doses of heroin can cause the lungs to stop working, fatal overdoses are common. Because it is an illicit drug (as opposed to prescription medication, which is regulated), it’s impossible to tell how strong it is from one batch to the next. The same amount that merely gave you a high yesterday could kill you today.
 
In fact, 114 Minnesotans died of heroin overdoses in 2015 alone, many of whom lived outside the Twin Cities area. So how can you and your loved ones avoid a similar fate? You can start by being very careful with prescription drugs, especially painkillers, and taking them only as your doctor directs you to. Also, if you have prescription medication you no longer need, you can call your local law enforcement agency to find out where to dispose of it so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. And you can also report any drug activity you see in your community to the local authorities.
 
 

Strength in numbers: Partnerships for disaster relief

 
Posted August 11, 2016
 
You see it almost every summer on the news: some warehouse or school gym converted to a shelter with rows and rows of cots, families escaped from a natural disaster with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Maybe you’ve donated money or toiletries in an effort to contribute to the community’s recovery. Maybe you’ve even volunteered.
 
But for many people, these fleeting images are all they know about the intricate machine that is disaster relief. Its inner workings are a mystery. So how does that machine’s cogs come together and get put in gear?
 
When a disaster strikes, victims can call 211 to be connected to essential community services. Their information is put into a computer system that volunteer agencies all across Minnesota have access to. They look at all the requests and determine which ones they can fulfill based on their resources and strengths, then deploy their services within hours of the storm. You can think of them as being in the middle of a three-stage disaster recovery for private citizens: first responders, volunteer organizations, insurance companies. This is especially important for vulnerable populations that can’t help themselves, such as the elderly, disabled, and low-income.
 
A group called Minnesota Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (MNVOAD) works with Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) to determine the needs of a community and what resources are available to get them the help that they need. HSEM and MNVOAD conduct a conference call with emergency managers to discuss the critical needs, what’s necessary and what parts the voluntary agencies can help with.
 
The most recent example of these partnerships in action was the July 21 storm in Duluth. HSEM worked with MNVOAD so volunteers could help clear downed trees, cut up debris and supply equipment for those tasks, and involved such volunteer groups as Christian Aid Ministries, Team Rubicon, Headwaters Relief Organization, NECHAMA, Catholic United Support, Salvation Army and Red Cross (who helped with feeding and hydration of volunteers and first responders). This important work is still taking place almost three weeks later. In fact, these organizations often provide help for weeks and even months after a storm.
 
Next time you see those rows of cots in a school gymnasium on the news and want to help, consider doing so with a monetary donation rather than unsolicited goods such as clothing or canned food, because there is a cost involved in transporting the latter to the people who need it (assuming that it is, in fact, something they need, which is not always the case). If you’re close enough, consider volunteering through a MNVOAD organization. There is, after all, strength in numbers.
 
Damage from the July 21, 2016 storm in Duluth, Minnesota

​Photo: After the July 21 storm in Duluth, HSEM worked with MNVOAD so volunteers could clear this and other downed trees.

 

The 811 Run: Race for a number that saves lives

 
August 8, 2016
 
811 Run flyer on table
​Photo: The 811 Run will take place at Lake Calhoun on Saturday, Aug. 13.
When you think about phone numbers that can save lives, the one that immediately comes to mind is 911.  But what about 811? Calling before you dig may not seem glamorous or exciting, but it’s an important safety measure. It’s a free service that marks your utility lines at no cost, so that whether you’re planting a new garden or building that dream deck, you can rest assured you won’t inadvertently cause a deadly gas leak or electrocute yourself.
 
But 811 isn’t nearly as well-known as 911, which is why awareness is key—and that’s where the 811 Run comes in. It takes place on Saturday, Aug. 13 at Lake Calhoun, and the five-kilometer run/walk starts at—you guessed it—8:11 a.m. There’s also a kids’ run that starts an hour later. Stick around after the run for an awards ceremony, prize giveaway and family safety fair. All proceeds from the 811 Run will go to Twin Cities Firefighters Operation Warm, an organization that provides warm winter coats to children in need.
 
The 811 Run isn’t the only way of spreading the word about the importance of calling 811 before you dig to avoid hitting underground utility lines. The I-35W and Lowry Avenue bridges will be lit green on National 811 Day (which is, of course, Aug. 11, or 8/11). Gov. Mark Dayton has also signed a proclamation declaring that Aug. 11 is 811 Day in Minnesota.
 
So remember that calling 811 two days before you dig can save lives, and sign up for the 811 Run.
 
 

Motorcycle deaths: What the statistics tell us

August 4, 2016
 
If you’ve ever thought it’s harder to see motorcycles on the road than other cars, you’re right. Because they’re smaller than cars, their speed and distance are more difficult to judge. And if you ride a motorcycle, you’ve no doubt felt invisible more than once.
 
guy riding a motorcycle
Photo: So far in 2016, 29 people have died in 26 motorcycle crashes.
These safety tips can help keep that number from rising.​
Unfortunately, the numbers bear this out. Of the 26 fatal motorcycle crashes thus far in 2016, 16 of them involved another vehicle. That’s why public safety officials urge motorists to look twice for motorcycles before entering a roadway or changing lanes; and, when they are sharing the road with motorcyclists, they should give them room, check blind spots, pay attention and drive at safe speeds. Likewise, motorcyclists should be prepared for inattentive drivers by staying focused on riding and keeping their speed in check. In addition, they should always ride within their skillset (for example, avoid riding in the rain if you have little experience with wet road conditions), use good judgement, and maintain a three-second following distance.
 
Helmet use is also a major factor when it comes to surviving a motorcycle crash. The 26 motorcycle crashes so far this year have resulted in 29 deaths. Of those, 10 riders were wearing a helmet, but 18 were not (and one is an unknown). This makes it clear how important it is to wear a DOT-approved helmet and brightly-colored protective gear for visibility and protection when riding a motorcycle.
 
And although 19 of the motorcyclists in this year’s fatal crashes had valid motorcycle license endorsements or permits, four did not (and three are unknown). Public safety officials recommend taking a training course every couple years to dust off and improve their riding skills. There are courses available for advanced riders, not just beginners. Training is available April through September, with some courses running into October. Riders can find a training site and register online here.
 
There were 61 motorcycle fatalities in 2015. If riders and drivers alike follow these safety tips, they’re less likely to become statistics to look back on next year.
 
 

What do you do behind the wheel?

August 1, 2016
 
We all have stuff to do. Phone calls to make. Emails to send. Meals to eat. And it often seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day, what with work, family, friends and other commitments. Which is why it’s so tempting to multi-task behind the wheel. Or think if we speed a little faster, we’ll save time. Or hurriedly buckle our kids in their car seats without double-checking that they’re secure.
 
This deadly crash was the result of drunk driving.
​Photo: Designating a driver for a night of partying can help you avoid
a deadly crash like this one, which was the result of drunk driving.
But doing anything other than driving behind the wheel can get you killed, as evidenced by 2016’s 206 traffic deaths in Minnesota as of August 1. And although it’s not more than last year (Minnesota reached 216 road fatalities on August 1 of last year), it’s still not good. After all, even one traffic death is one too many.
 
Take, for example, the 25-year-old Rosemount man whose pickup rolled after he ran off the road and hit an embankment. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, and he paid for it with his life. Or the Cannon Falls couple who, along with their baby, died when their car was hit by an oncoming semi while they were trying to pass another vehicle.
 
What’s heartbreaking about these 200 deaths—and the thousands that came before them in preceding years—is that they are preventable. Buckling up, putting the distractions away, obeying speed limits, and designating a driver when drinking: These things save lives and are relatively simple to do.
 
But last year distracted driving deaths were up 21 percent and drunk driving deaths were up 8 percent, compared with 2014, which means there’s still work to do.
 
When you’re in the car, speak up: offer to send that text or find the perfect song on the radio for the driver so that he or she can concentrate on the road. Make sure everyone has a safe ride home when you’re out with friends, or offer your couch if you’re hosting the party. Buckle up, and remind everyone else to as well.
 
Because even though multi-tasking behind the wheel seems like a great way to save time, all the saved time in the world won’t help you in a deadly crash.