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Show Your Sweetheart You Really Care This Valentine’s Day

 
February 11, 2016
 
Candy hearts have never been the most popular sweet treat on Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s because they taste like chalk (chalk or chocolate? That’s a no-brainer) or because it’s hard to seriously profess your love for someone in one or two words like “text me” or “sweet.”
 
Photo: Valentine’s Day is Sunday so you should start thinking now
of who will be your sober ride if your plans include alcohol. ​
That got us thinking: What if candy hearts were emblazoned with actual useful information? As you pop the chalk, er … heart, into your mouth, you’re reminded to pay attention or drive sober.
 
It could be the next million dollar idea.
 
Or not.
 
While we work on the whole candy hearts idea, we’d like to share with you our Valentine’s Day edition of our favorite safety tips.
  1. Pay attention.Taking your true love on a date? Keep your eyes off your phone and on the road. A hospital room is no place for romance.
  2. Stay and look while you cook. You might be cooking a special meal for your special someone. Make sure you stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on your romantic creation. A house full of smoke is hardly the best way to show your honey you care.
  3. Drive sober. Time to call in that favor. Valentine’s Day is Sunday so you should start thinking now of who will be your sober ride if your plans include alcohol. Cupid is not a fan of drunk drivers.
 

Get Your Motorcycle Fix: Sign Up For a Training Course

 
February 1, 2016
 
At this point during the cold and sunless winter, most people are dreaming of beaches. Their thoughts drift to tropical islands and southern states — pretty much anywhere that isn’t Minnesota or the upper Midwest.
 
Then there are Minnesota’s motorcyclists.
 
Dreams of their bikes dance through their heads. They are counting down the days to mostly dry roads and “warm” temps, the definition of which varies by rider.
 
guy using a motorcycle simulator

Photo: Hazardous avoidance skills are put to the test
on the motorcycle simulator.

 

 

Regardless, the days when the roads are peppered with motorcycles are still a ways off. Thankfully there is another way for riders to get their motorcycle fix. Actually, there are two ways and the first starts Friday.
 
The Progressive International Motorcycle Show is at the Minneapolis Convention Center and runs Feb. 5-7. Can’t make it to that show? The Donnie Smith Bike and Car Show makes its way to the St. Paul RiverCentre April 2-3.
 
Both of these shows are a great way for riders to see the latest bikes and safety gear. More importantly, there will be plenty of opportunities to brush up on your skills — they get rusty over the winter months whether you’re a rookie or a long-time rider — on our Motorcycle Safety Center’s SMARTrainer.
 
Anyone can put their hazardous avoidance skills to the test on the motorcycle simulator, which shows you what skills you should polish before getting on your bike again come spring. At this weekend’s show, Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified RiderCoaches will be at the MMSC booth to answer training questions and talk about what courses you can take to get your edge back.
 
The best part is you don’t need to go to one of these motorcycle shows to learn more about training courses. You can do it from the comfort of your own home.
 
Training is everything. It helps make life-saving maneuvers second nature to riders. Motorcyclists of all skill levels should always take advantage of training courses so they can become safer and better riders.
 
Come see us at The Progressive International Motorcycle Show this weekend or the Donnie Smith Bike and Car Show in April. We will have everything you need so you’re ready to stop dreaming and really hit the road in a few months.
 
In the meantime, check out our website for great rider information as well as tips for motorcyclists and motorists on the sharing the road.
 

A 'True Standout,' Veteran Fire Investigator Receives Award

 
January 28, 2016
 
Watching Ron Rahman work a fire scene is quite a site. Donned in soot-covered overalls, a hard hat, gloves and scuffed steel-toed boots, he smells charred debris and climbs around on scorched cars, furniture, appliances and anything else necessary like a kid on an elementary school playground.
 
Ron, a 25-year State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) investigator, chats with everyone on scene. Cops. Other fire investigators. Anyone who can tell him some new detail about the fire is fair game. Most everyone who steps over the yellow “Fire Line Do Not Cross” tape recognizes Ron.
 
The veteran investigator loves what he does. It’s obvious. He’s dogged. Determined. Well respected. Humble. A hard worker. A team player. He wants to find answers for the families who lost a loved one or everything they own in the fire he is investigating.
 
 
Photo of Ron Rahman
Photo: Ron Rahman is a veteran investigator loves what he does.​
We at the Department of Public Safety and the SFMD know Ron is one of a kind. Which is why we are honored — and so is Ron, though he runs from the spotlight — that his hard work was recognized earlier this month by the Minnesota South Central Investigators Coalition.
 
Members of the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office Detective Unit nominated Ron for the coalition’s Law Enforcement Professional Service Award, an honor presented to a law enforcement professional that has provided extraordinary service.
 
The award honors a professional’s actions that far exceed normal expectations and is intended for an individual who displays the highest quality of leadership and excellence in their field over a period of time.
 
We couldn’t think of anyone more deserving. A few highlights from Ron’s nomination letter:
 
• “Ron Rahman is a true standout.”
• “His mood and work ethic are infectious.”
• “Ron Rahman’s experience, knowledge and commitment to professionalism are unmatched in the realm of fire investigators.”
 
Ron is one of 12 State Fire Marshal Division investigators working throughout Minnesota. Each and every one of them works hard to find answers. Fires are never convenient. These men and women work outside in the extreme Minnesota heat and the brutal Minnesota winters. They spend hours writing reports and going to autopsies, talking to families and sifting through evidence the size of a grain of sand.
 
Ron is a key member of this incredible team and anyone who has ever been unfortunate enough to have a fire at their home or business knows Ron and his teammates will do everything they can to get to the bottom of what happened. 
 
A husband, father and grandfather, Ron demonstrates a love and passion for his job and for his family.
 
Ron has investigated hundreds — likely thousands — in nearly every Minnesota county. But he has no plans to hang up his boots. He loves his job. He can’t imagine his world without those never-convenient phone calls.
 
Congratulations, Ron. More about our fire investigation team is on the State Fire Marshal Division’s website.
 

You Crashed Your Car — Now What?

 
January 25, 2016
 
If you have ever been in a car crash, you know it can be a stressful and scary experience. Everything seems to move in slow motion starting the moment you realize something is about to go terribly wrong. You see the crash happening but the forces are already in motion and cannot be stopped. You’re going to make impact.
 
Then BAM! There is smoke, glass, broken car parts. Horns are honking. People are shouting. You’re sore. You’re taking stock and thinking to yourself: “I can’t deal with this right now” or “What the heck just happened” or maybe a little bit of both.
Maybe you were looking at your phone or turning around to scold your son for sticking his gum in his sister’s hair. Maybe it was the fault of the person in the other car.
 
Doesn’t matter — at least not for the sake of this blog post.
 
Photo: In the event of a crash, you are safest
in your vehicle.
What’s done is done. And what’s important is what you do AFTER the crash because, we’ll be honest, most people have absolutely no clue. They drive off. They run out in to the intersection. They don’t exchange insurance information or forget to call 911. If they do call 911, they scream unintelligible information into the phone or have no idea where they are.
 
Guess what? None of the above reactions are helpful. So what should you do if you’re in a crash?
  • Stay at the scene. This may seem like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised at the number of hit-and-run crashes that happen in Minnesota.
  • Don’t walk into traffic. You are safest in your vehicle. Stay there if you can. If you need to exit, try to do it on the non-traffic side of the vehicle.
  • Call 911. It’s the law if someone is injured or killed. Know your location and relay it as calmly as possible to the dispatcher. If a crash only results in property damage, it is not necessary to alert law enforcement.
  • Help injured victims. Administer first aid if you are qualified. Otherwise, do your best to keep injured people comfortable.
  • Exchange information. Exchange names, addresses, license plate numbers and vehicle make and model to other drivers. If anyone asks for insurance information, you are required to provide it.
This brochure tells you what to do if you find yourself in a crash or come upon a crash scene. It also includes a fill-in-the-blank form you can print out and keep handy in your vehicle in the event you need to take down another driver’s information.
 
We also have a video on our YouTube channel — Tip Line: 411 on Calling 911 — that walks you through what information to have ready to help dispatchers help you. 
 
It’s natural to be scared, to feel that rush of panic and adrenaline following a crash. A little preparation now will help ensure you’re ready when slow motion turns back into reality.
 

 Photo of a CO alarm in someone's hands.

Without These in Your Home, You're Gambling With Your Life


January 15, 2016
 
Carbon monoxide poisonings and deaths spike when the temperature plummets. We force our furnaces and fireplaces to work harder and search for other ways to stay warm.

Problem is, those heat-producers also produce carbon monoxide. When a furnace or wood stove is pushed to the max and doesn’t work properly, dangerous and potentially deadly levels of CO start creeping into our homes.

We don’t have to spell out what happens then, do we?

Install CO alarms in your home. Already have them? Test them. Change the batteries if it has been awhile. Those alarms could save your life. Our State Fire Marshal Division has more about CO alarms online.   

 

You Keep Your Driveway Clear of Ice and Snow - What About Your Natural Gas Meter?

 
January 14, 2016
 
Standing outside on a frigid Minnesota day carefully brushing off the gas meter outside your home is probably not high on your priority list.
But it should be. 
 
Officials in our Office of Pipeline Safety will be the first to tell you that ice and snow can easily block the regulator vent on your natural gas meter.
 
Why is that a big deal?
 
​Photo: It is easy to ensure your meter
operates properly this winter.
A blocked regulator vent can easily malfunction and disrupt the flow of natural gas into your home, which could possibly cause a dangerous natural gas buildup. Bottom line: Your home could explode. 
 
Blocked regulator vents are a concern during the winter not only because of snow accumulation on and around the meter but because temperature fluctuations melt and refreeze water on the device. That’s the bad news.
 
The good news: It is easy to ensure your meter operates properly this winter.
 
Office of Pipeline Safety Director Bruce West braved some brutally cold temperatures while shooting this video so he could show you the best way to safely take care of your gas meter.
 
Here’s the gist: Gently brush off the meter with a broom a brush or your hand. Don’t use a shovel. Remove ice with warm water. 
 
Once your meter is clear of ice and snow, make sure it stays that way. Keep an eye out for water dripping from the roof or nearby trees onto the meter and freezing at night.
 
If you smell gas inside:
  • Get out of the home and call 911.
  • Don't smoke or strike any matches.
  • Don’t light any candles.
  • Don't flip light switches on or off.
  • Don't use a telephone.
  • Don’t use any electrical equipment or lights that might create a spark in the area of the odor.
  • Don’t use the doorbell.
  • Don’t adjust thermostats or appliance controls.
 

Assuring Safety Underground

It Takes Patience, Persistence and Engineering Know-How

 
January 11, 2016
 
If you could find 100 people who even know that “pipeline inspector” is a career title, it’s not likely they’d assume it’s an interesting thing to do.
 
Well, news flash: This is not a person standing in a field with a clipboard, gazing into a hole. This is a skilled technician—in the case of the DPS Office of Pipeline Safety (MNOPS), one of 15— and pretty much a walking, talking codebook who knows the people and the infrastructure that deliver hazardous liquids and gas from where they start to where they need to be, so we have heat and transportation and other comforts we take for granted. It’s not an easy job. Sometimes it’s not even a safe one. And it’s definitely not boring.
 
Photo: Underground pipes are checked from
the inside on a regular basis.​
Right now, there are more than 65,000 miles of pipeline underfoot in Minnesota. That’s only the lines inside the borders, and it’s just the big pipe — the transmission lines that cover long distances. It doesn’t include smaller distribution pipes that take gas to our homes and businesses, for instance. Some lines are “intrastate,” like the ones that supply fuel to the airport. Others cross the state border, coming in from North Dakota or going out to Wisconsin or Illinois. They’re all covered by state and federal safety codes, and DPS-MNOPS inspectors work with the pipeline company personnel to keep lines up to code and operating procedures within established guidelines. Their mission is to “keep it in the pipe,” and it’s a complicated process.
 
MNOPS inspectors are assigned to specific pipeline companies—not regions of the state—so their territory includes the entire area covered by that company’s pipelines in Minnesota. They travel constantly, because the inspection process starts at corporate HQ with examination of company policy, and continues the entire length of the line.
 
Pipeline inspectors do work “in the field”— lots of fields, actually— inspecting transmission line or examining new construction at both underground and above ground facilities. They spend time in offices, too, looking at the operations manuals for companies like CenterPoint, Xcel, Enbridge, MERC and Koch. Sometimes they’re working with municipal gas line operators, helping city governments stay on top of codes and regulations.
 
Underground pipes are checked from the inside on a regular basis. There’s a machine called an in-line inspection tool, or ILI — commonly referred to in the industry as a “pig” — that runs through the pipe, collecting data along the way. It finds corrosion, cracks, dents and anomalies of any kind, recording the extent and location of the damage. Engineers use the results, of course, to find and repair spots that don’t meet safety codes. They have the pipe dug up and exposed, inspected and repaired.
 
Despite the best efforts of state agencies and pipeline companies, leaks do occur. When that happens, the pipeline companies are obligated to follow specific procedures very precisely, and they include contacting MNOPS — normally by going through the State Duty Officer — so investigations can take place to determine what happened.
 
Meanwhile, inspections go on. Pipeline inspectors are both partners with industry and regulators for the state. Their responsibilities run from complex engineering to intricate rules and regulations. They need people skills, too, to work with suit-and-tie folks one day and work-boots people the next — all in an effort to keep it in the pipe until it gets to wherever it serves the people of Minnesota.
 

You May Feel Invincible — But Other People Aren’t

 
January 4, 2016
 
Teenagers are well known for their tendency to ignore danger.
 
Extended life experience teaches us that a 17-year-old and a 40-year-old, looking at the same set of circumstances, will see different possibilities. One sees a thrill. The other sees potential disaster. One sees no problem with texting and driving, because nothing bad will happen. The other sees a single impediment — a deer in the road, an overcorrection, unexpected brake lights — and a certain catastrophe. Crash. Roll. Wheelchair. Brain damage. Death. 
 
These days, scientists are confirming what we’ve noticed about 17- and 40-year-old brains. They work differently. Adults may ask, “What were you thinking?”  But the real question is “HOW were you thinking?” A teenage brain, according to Dr. Frances Jensen, for instance, is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it. Teenage brains are different.
 
And so their perception of things like texting and driving may not be the same as adults’. They don’t seem to grasp the concept (not that all adults do, either) that “if it happens to someone else, it could happen to me.” Nor do they consider that if it did, they might not be affected — but they could hurt someone else. Badly.
 
P​hoto: Distracted drivers contribute to
about 25 percent of vehicle crashes.
On Oct. 19, a 17-year-old girl from Little Falls was charged with two counts each of vehicular homicide, criminal vehicular operation and other charges related to the crash she caused while sending and receiving Facebook messages. The July crash killed a 54-year-old dad and his 10-year-old daughter.
 
A year earlier, a Minnesota teen at a Lakeville stoplight “…got a text message and figured I was stopped, so I could look at it. I read the text message, put it back down, and I didn’t look again before I turned left.”  That driver crashed into a young mother whose infant son was in the car with her. Her son suffered a traumatic brain injury. He has seizures now, and future effects aren’t predictable. He could be dealing with it for the rest of his life. Because of a text message.
 
As for the driver — she has apologized and come forward publicly to warn others. She’s doing what she can. But she’ll live with it for the rest of her life, too.
 
The Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety says distracted drivers contribute to about 25 percent of vehicle crashes. A high number of those people are most likely being distracted by electronic devices. The adult way to process information like that is, “If it happens to 25 percent of the people who crash, it could happen to me, too.”  But not everyone will respond that way.
 
If you’re a parent — or have influence over people who should learn to respond that way — remind them of this: They’re vulnerable. And so are other people.
 
People are killed and injured when others text and drive. Babies live with brain trauma, and wives grieve their dead husbands and children because someone checked a message.
 
The process of brain development is slow in humans — maybe because we have so far to go from birth to full maturity. But one of the first places to start practicing adult reactions is behind the wheel. Because you’ll live without that text message — or live with the consequences for the rest of your life.