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Blog Archive: September 2015

Bikers Say Goodbye to Summer — and Plan Ahead for Spring

Posted September 28, 2015
The Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC) exists to save lives through education. You’re probably familiar with the “Start Seeing Motorcyclists” campaign for drivers in four-wheeled vehicles. But education for riders is a major part of the MMSC mission, too.
Training classes started in April, and as of September, 5,583 people had taken courses in 2015. If you’re not among them, now’s the time to plan for next spring.
How to Ride Smart
Basic Rider 1 and Basic Rider 2 courses make riders aware that there are key skills that can keep you alive — skills you can actually practice — and if you spend any time on two wheels, they’re well worth knowing. Advanced classes teach more skills and maneuvers that can save a rider’s life out on the road.
When you ride, for instance, do you have a strategy? Are you thinking every minute about where you are, where the traffic is, and where you’ll go if things get dangerous fast? Nobody plans on a crash — but planning to avoid one is a great idea on a motorcycle.
Photo: As of September, 5,583 people
had taken a course in 2015.
By the way, in MMSC riding classes, you’re likely to meet — and learn from — people who can do their own motorcycle maintenance. It’s a good idea to know what that funny noise might mean, or where that vibration is coming from. Your life can depend on it. So create an opportunity to get inside that thing and learn how it works.
The MMSC offers beginning, intermediate and advanced motorcycle rider courses (scooters are welcome), moped courses, three-wheel training for new and experienced riders, and Group Riding and Street Smarts seminars your group or club can sponsor.
Why You Should Do It
Why? For the same reason you carry insurance. Something could happen, and insurance helps you get through it. Similarly, something could happen when you’re on a motorcycle, and training can help you survive it.
Preliminary numbers (the season’s not over yet) say that 47 crashes have killed 51 motorcyclists on Minnesota roads this season. They took place all over the state:
• Seven-County Metro: 13 fatal crashes
• Southern Minnesota: 15 fatal crashes
• Central Minnesota: 16 fatal crashes
• Northern Minnesota: 3 fatal crashes
Twenty-two fatal crashes happened while motorcyclists were negotiating a curve — a skill that trained motorcyclists can master.
Significantly, 27 of the fatal crashes were “single-vehicle,” involving only the motorcycle. That means more than half the riders who lost their lives this year might have survived, had they reacted differently. Possibly. Maybe. It’s worth learning enough give it a try.
The ages of the riders who died this year were pretty evenly split between the 20-49 year-old group and those ages 50 and older. Interestingly, the fatality numbers go up with age, so experience may not be a survival factor — but training, it appears, could help at any age. Older riders say the Basic 2 class improves their skills, and the Civilian Police Motorcycle Courses is not only enlightening; it can be a lifesaver.
Many of the people who take MMSC classes show up with a friend to share the experience. Others make new acquaintances during the class that they end up riding with for a long time. Here’s a brochure you can download to look at with a friend if you want to buddy up for a class.
And remember this, too. Your bike should be your friend — not a constant challenge, but a happy, safe experience. Motorcycle classes not only make you a better rider. They’re a great way to bond with your bike and experience the joy of riding safely and confidently.
So take a look at the options and make the phone call. You’ll have fun this fall, or a great time to look forward to next spring.

Spontaneous Combustion: Surprise!

Posted September 24, 2015
A  Twin Cities newspaper recently ran an article about spontaneous combustion — but not the science-fiction kind, where a person just bursts into flames for no reason.  This was the real thing. It has to do with rags soaked with certain staining products. People use the products for home fix-up and repair, mostly. Then they leave the wadded-up rags in the garage or the basement, where the oxidation process begins…and within a couple of days…boom!  The rag bursts into flames, the garage burns down or the house goes up, and everyone is surprised.  They can’t believe these kinds of things just…happen!
The problem is, they can. And they’ve been happening far too often across Minnesota lately. Early fall is a natural time to take care of outside maintenance chores. We all know what’s coming, and it’s not conducive to deck-staining. But fall is also the time that fires caused by oily rags become more frequent.
And as with most unintentional fire problems, the answer to this one is education— so here are the facts.
Photo: Rags soaked with certain staining products can
oxidize and burst into flames.
Some kinds of oils — notably the ones used in most staining products — undergo a process called oxidation when they’re exposed to the air (which contains oxygen.) The oxidation process releases energy in the form of heat. Everyone knows that if you create enough heat close to something that burns, you make a fire. The rag is soaked with a flammable liquid. The rag gets very, very hot. The rag combusts and sets everything around it on fire.
Heat, fuel and oxygen. That’s all it takes.
Further, it doesn’t have to be a rag in order to combust. Anything you soak with certain kinds of products can heat up to the flaming point, including sawdust, wood chips, cardboard and absorbent mats.
And once you know that, the solution becomes pretty clear. Remove one of the necessary “ingredients,” and remove the risk of fire.
Put the rags (or whatever you’ve soaked with stains or oils) into sealed containers, removing the oxygen. Not large containers…there’s too much air in there. Use small ones that become completely full.  Or use sealed bags and get the air out. Remember the oily material is toxic, and find out how to dispose of it legally.
An alternative is to dry rags before disposing of them. Place them in a single layer, out of direct sunlight, and let them dry completely. Check the environmental rules in your area in order to dispose of them safely and legally.
And have an enjoyable autumn — despite the outdoor chores.

Public Education Awards Go to Minnesota Fire Departments

Because the Best Kind of Fire is the One That Never Starts

Posted September 21, 2015
The National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) Fire Research and Education Foundation decided this year that 10 Minnesota fire departments belonged among the 117 they singled out nationally for recognition. Those departments received Life Safety Achievement Awards for their efforts to educate the public and prevent fires in their communities.
NASFM is headquartered in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and comprises the most senior fire officials in the U.S.  Members are the people ultimately in charge, state by state, of fire code adoption and enforcement, fire and arson investigations, fire data reporting and analysis, public fire-safety education and advice to governors and legislators on fire protection issues. It’s a 501(c) not-for-profit organization run by a board of directors whose mission is (1) to protect human life, property and the environment from fire, and (2) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of State Fire Marshal operations in every state.
Photo: Protection begins with education; the fire service has
a responsibility to teach fire safety, and individuals have a
responsibility to behave safely around fire.
Their foundation works with companies, academic institutions, government agencies and various associations who want to advance fire safety. They believe that protection begins with education — that the fire service has a responsibility to teach fire safety, and that individuals have a responsibility to behave safely around fire. “Human life is our highest priority,” they say, as they note that more than 3,000 people in the U.S. die and another 17,000 are injured in fires every year. So their calling is an important one, and each year they recognize those fire departments that are effectively preventing fires locally.
In order to qualify for the award, a fire department must:
  • Have zero fire deaths in residential structures during the year, or show a 10 percent reduction from the previous year.
  • Demonstrate commitment to preventing residential fires in their communities.
  • Sponsor an active, ongoing fire prevention program.
Minnesota award recipients are:
  • Albany Fire Department (Paid-on-Call)
  • Alexandria Fire Department (Paid-on-Call)
  • Cloquet Fire Department (Fulltime and Paid-on-Call)
  • Hastings Fire Department (Fulltime and Paid-on-Call)
  • Eden Prairie Fire Department (Fulltime and Paid-on-Call)
  • Excelsior Fire District (Paid-on-Call)
  • Hopkins Fire Department (Paid-on-Call)
  • Maple Grove Fire-Rescue (Fulltime and Paid-on-Call)
  • Minnetonka Fire Department (Fulltime and Paid-on-Call)
  • White Bear Lake Fire Department (Fulltime and Paid-on-Call)
Minnesota State Fire Marshal Bruce West says he’s pleased with the recognition and happy for those departments that received it, but he’s not really surprised by the honor. “Minnesota firefighters know that education is the key to safety, and in a perfect world, they’d never have to fight another fire.”
“Minnesota has 782 fire departments,” West says. “Eighty percent are staffed by volunteers, and many of them spend time in classrooms, at churches, and with kids’ organizations to teach fire safety. It’s part of their promise to keep Minnesotans safe, and they’re keeping that promise.”

It's Child Passenger Safety Week - And You May Not Know As Much As You Think

Posted September 17, 2015
Yes, it’s another “awareness” week — but this one’s a little different. This time it’s about kids, and protecting them in a situation where they’re helpless. In a vehicle operated by an adult, children’s safety depends entirely on the awareness of the person in charge. In the last five years, 10 children who were not properly restrained died in crashes on Minnesota roads. There are little lives at stake every day in traffic, and that makes our awareness essential.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS) runs child-seat clinics all over the state. They’re attended by parents, grandparents and others who care for or transport young children.
Photo: ​Correctly installing a child in a safety seat
will maximize protection.
Participants bring their vehicles and car seats to the clinic, where the devices are checked by experts. At the clinics, people learn about fitting the restraint device to the child; they’re not infinitely adjustable, and you need the right-sized seat. They also learn to install the seat in the car correctly, and how to install the child in the seat to maximize protection. There’s more to know than how to operate a seatbelt, and they’re surprised, sometimes, to be learning things they thought they understood adequately. The experts answer frequently asked questions and provide information on free car-seat distribution facilities.
The clinic instructors also learn.  Over the last few years, for instance, they’ve learned that as many as 75 percent of car seats in use in Minnesota are improperly installed. Some of the seats are installed right, but they’re far too large or too small. Or the child is being seated wrong, with straps in places that could (1) fail to restrain the child or (2) injure a child in a crash.
DPS-OTS is reminds parents, grandparents, and all caregivers this week that Minnesota’s laws require children to be in a child restraint until they are 4’9” tall, or at least age 8, whichever comes first.
The Child and Restraint Systems (C.A.R.S.) curriculum provided by the DPS-OTS educates child care and foster care providers on occupant protection laws, federal safety standards, choosing the right child restraint and common mistakes when using child restraints. Thousands of providers have benefited from the course, and even more thousands of children ride safer because of it.
Call to Action for Parents
Child car seat laws and recommendations are in place to protect children, and even younger kids are able to understand if you explain how important their car seats are. They may try to pressure you to get rid of the booster seat or sit up front as they get older, but wise parents obey the law and insist that their children stay protected. They also replace a used child restraint after about six years, or any time after it’s been in a crash.
Parents and caregivers are encouraged to visit for instructional videos for installing and using various car seats, and to find a local car seat check location.

Shared Services Are Moving Minnesota Fire Safety Forward

Posted September 14, 2015
According to U.S. Census data posted at Minnesota Demographics, there are 1,308 cities and towns in Minnesota; 981 have populations of fewer than 2,000.
There are 781 fire departments in Minnesota that serve all the people in all those towns and everyone in the rural spaces between them.
There are about seven categories of fire trucks in common use by urban and rural fire departments, and all of them are very expensive. Some are used more often than others, but here’s the problem: when you need an aerial ladder truck, nothing else will do the job.
Further, firefighting requires lots of training and education. Training costs money and takes time. Specialty training for hazardous materials and confined space rescue costs more money and takes more time. And 80 percent of Minnesota firefighters are volunteers.
Do you see where this is going? There’s trouble brewing, and something needs to be done.
​Photo: Firefighting requires lots of training
and education. Training can be costly
for small fire departments.
One solution — the Shared Service Grant Program —appeared about five years ago, and it’s beginning to make a difference. Five years is quite a while, and that’s okay. The Shared Services concept isn’t meant to fix everything immediately. It’s a thoughtful, measured approach to carefully tailored solutions that will keep Minnesotans safe.
And it’s not about money; it’s about effectiveness. It’s designed to use resources efficiently and encourage departments to build on the “team think” that already exists in the fire service. If they can do a good job as a fire department, maybe they can do an even better job as a group of cooperating departments.
A committee led by the Commissioner of Public Safety developed the “Blueprint for Shared Services.” It’s a guide to introduce fire departments to shared-service studies and show them a process that works.
And the fire service has responded. In 2010, 2012, 2014 and again this year, the State Fire Marshal Division has distributed $200,000 to departments that see an opportunity here and want to pursue it. Grants ranging from $10,000 to $40,000 have allowed cities, townships and entire counties to engage professional consultants to help them consider their options.
And yes, the process can require help from outsiders. When you begin to reorganize public services, you run into issues of territory, taxes and tradition. Sensitive negotiations conducted by experienced leadership can lead to practical, satisfying solutions.
Example: In one jurisdiction, the town may not have charged what they really needed for a while, and now they need to raise taxes dramatically to pay for fire service. In another case, there are 140 people in a town, but 700 living on a lake outside of town. In that case, the tax base for fire service can be more fairly balanced, but it takes finesse. If those two towns merged fire departments, the tax rates would change for both cities — but if planners figure out how to average tax rates over ten years, nobody goes into shock. That kind of thing can require a professional consultant to lead a community through the process.
Here’s one example of a shared-services solution that’s working: In Polk County, they did a study and decided to appoint a county fire chief to coordinate 13 fire departments. Rather than duplicating services, they specialize. The small Mentor Fire Department, located on a lake, has developed water-and-ice rescue capability. East Grand Forks and Crookston, with more staff members, have taken on the haz-mat response specialty. Over time, they’ve reached consensus on who needs to do what, creating a scenario in which everyone wins.
In metro areas, shared services grants are helping departments solve issues of automatic aid vs. mutual aid. Mutual aid agreements have long benefitted Minnesotans by assuring help from other fire departments when requested. They’re based on a signed agreement. Auto-aid is a fairly new concept. It means that pre-determined departments will show up at any fire event to which a department is called. It’s been more heavily used in metro areas, but it’s now being looked at by rural departments, too.
At first, Shared Services Grant applications came in from two or three fire agencies that wanted to cooperate. Five years later, some requests cover whole counties. The biggest one so far involves a huge section of the Iron Range and the very occasional need for an aerial ladder truck in Kewatin. That one resulted in another solution — one tailored specifically to the individual needs of a department and a geographical area.
The shared services concept is not going to change Minnesota tomorrow, and it’s not going to save anyone piles of money in the immediate future. But five years into a well-designed process, it’s already making a difference. There are much-needed fire departments that might have gone away, had the shared services option not been available. And there are departments waiting for the results of their studies right now in places where the residents will be safer a year or two down the road.


Oh, The Places You Really Don’t Want to Go!

Posted September 10, 2015
When famed children’s author Theodor Seuss penned his lyrical ode to human potential, he called it, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”
It’s a great title. It’s also a phrase that police officers and special rescue teams might borrow as they’re pulling motorists out of situations they should never have entered in the first place.
Oh, the places they’ll go. Sometimes you wouldn’t believe it.
Seuss, of course, was talking about good decisions — about moving forward — not decisions that result in getting stuck, sprayed with tar, hung up on chunks of concrete, floated away and flipped over, or ticketed for driving around a barricade.
These infractions are not high-profile because nobody makes much noise about them. The Minnesota State Patrol doesn’t keep stats on driving-around-barricade violations, because they’re typically categorized as “Unsafe Lane Use” along with other types of stops. The legality or illegality of driving into flood water is situational — but “legal” and “wise” can be two different things.
When people fail to recognize the limits of their vehicles, or assume that because there’s a way into a construction zone or a flooded road, there will also be a way out, they usually end up causing themselves and emergency responders significant trouble and expense.

​Photo: Motorist that made a bad assumption and decided to
go around construction barricades.
These photographs here were taken by Troopers who responded when motorists made bad assumptions, and they illustrate the results of just two incidents where drivers decided to go around construction barricades. These both happened within about five days in August. Imagine what an entire road-construction season is like for responders.
Almost every time there is a serious flood, someone’s camera records a vehicle driving through flood water, and the image makes its way to television and Internet sites. While those photos make it easy for the viewer to judge water depth relative to the size of a familiar vehicle, the message they send is misleading. Driving in flood water is not safe. It takes only a couple of feet of water to float an average vehicle, so you can easily wind up somewhere you don’t want to go — lodged in the front of a building, for example, or sliding over the edge of an embankment.  And that’s the best-case bad scenario. In the worst cases, people drown.
In construction zones, drivers find themselves surrounded by huge equipment they can’t drive around. They try to turn around and become stuck. Or they run over something that ruins their tires. Or splash into something meant to cover a road — not a windshield.
Driving around a barricade is a misdemeanor in Minnesota. The law states that no driver may “drive over, through, or around any barricade, fence or obstruction erected for the purpose of preventing traffic from passing over a portion of highway closed to public travel or to remove, deface or damage any such barricade, fence or obstruction.” (MS160.2715 subd. 14)
So please, when you see a barricade, remember what Dr. Seuss said: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose…”
Then steer yourself in another direction and save everyone a lot of trouble.

You've Got to Ask Yourself: Do You Feel Lucky

Posted September 3, 2015
It’s one of the most famous movie lines of the 20th Century. Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department holds a handgun that may or may not be loaded. He’s looking at a cornered bank robber who’s trying to retrieve his shotgun to challenge Callahan.
Explaining that he’s not sure whether his 44 Magnum has a shot left in it, Harry tells the robber, “…you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’”
In the end, the robber doesn’t. Harry takes the shotgun, and the day is saved. But here’s the point: September is National Preparedness Month. Do we need to pay attention? Or do we just feel lucky?
You know that weather emergencies arise unexpectedly in communities just like yours. Watches and warnings tell people about problems, but they don’t prevent disaster. Things like tornadoes, floods and snowstorms tend to be seasonal, but they don’t follow timelines. To wit: last year a tornado touched down north of Foley, Minn. just before Labor Day. Flash flooding can happen anytime, with no warning.
Photo: Create an emergency kit; include a three-day supply
of water and non-perishable food.
 People die in these situations. Vehicles float away. Family members get separated. Cell towers blow down and water mains break. Gas lines sever and fires start. Responders try to manage the chaos, but they can’t be everywhere. And some of the worst things happen because people are unprepared. They aren’t ready because they didn’t believe it would happen to them. Maybe they felt lucky.
Those who plan — during Preparedness Month, or any other time — are ready to survive a few days on their own. They’re in less danger, they recover sooner and they suffer less.
And you can do it. Here’s a start:
Create an Emergency Kit
Get a waterproof container. Put in a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food. Toss in a first-aid kit…a flashlight or two…plastic bags, toilet paper and some hand tools. Consider medications you can’t be without, the needs of your pets, and whether you might want to get someone’s attention with a whistle, or sanitize something with rubbing alcohol. Once you make your kit, you’ll add to it over time. Then you’ll want to put one in your car. When you start asking yourself, “What if…” you’ll figure out what you need.
Make a Plan
If disaster struck when you were at work, one child was at school…another at soccer practice…another family member on the road…and the cell phones didn’t work…how would you find each other? Would friends or relatives know where to look for you? Is contact info stored anywhere other than inside a device that may not work? Here’s a form you can use for kids; adults should have a similar list. An extensive communication plan is the best idea. Write it down and keep it safe.
Stay Informed
Do you know what kinds of weather hazards have affected your community in the past? Are you ready to handle them again? When you travel, you probably know whether the hotel has a pool. Do you know whether it has a tornado shelter?
Knowing what to do…how to plan and survive…can keep you and the people you care for safe in an emergency. More likely than not, someone is counting on you. Time spent now, getting informed, will keep you from feeling helpless later.
You can’t spend your life anticipating every imaginable horror; you’d never experience happiness. But hoping you’re lucky doesn’t work, either.
And it’s funny how things work. The more you prepare, the luckier you get.