Sunday, June 30, 2013

19 Gone

Sunday was a horrible day for first responders as 19 firefighters are now reported dead; all of them succumbed while fighting a monstrous wildfire in Arizona.

The deceased were members of the Prescott Fire Department, a city of 39,843 (about the same size as Amherst.)  The entire crew of 19 were part of an elite unit known as the  "Granite Mountain Hotshots."

Only one survived because he was in a different location when the conflagration overran their position.  As a last desperate measure the firefighters attempted to dig in and deploy emergency fire shelters, but to no avail.

Last resort Emergency Fire Shelter

This is the greatest loss of life for firefighters in a single incident since 9/11, when 343 perished at the World Trade Center.


 Granite Mountain Hotshots.  Entire crew lost.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Anatomy of a False Alarm

 The Boulders, East Hadley Road, South Amherst

The attention getting call first came in 9:47 PM Friday night June 21 from a passerby reporting a "small fire on the roof" of the Boulders Apartment complex in South Amherst, scene of a good sized structure fire a few months back. 

It's a hot summer night and the moon is bright.  Dispatch, otherwise known as "The 729," instantly issues a "box alarm"-- a major step up from the routine "still alarm" that AFD responds to almost all of the time.
 What light through yonder window breaks?

Both on-duty, off-duty and call firefighters are alerted,  knowing instantly from the sound of the tone that this has a higher likely hood of being the real thing.  Every Amherst firefighter remembers all too well the box alarm siren call from major structure fire at Rolling Green Apartments last January.

The beast claimed a victim that day, despite the best efforts of a well-trained coordinated army of first responders.

Amherst Police are first on the scene, as is usually the case since they are always in their vehicles patrolling the town. They too know the meaning of the term "box alarm."

Engine 1 first on the scene

Engine 1 out of Central Station, with three men aboard, is the first AFD vehicle on scene.  A police officer assists the firefighters unravel hose.  Engine 2, with an aerial platform, soon arrives.

 Police officer assists unraveling hose

The glow on the roof reflects off a large tree directly in front of the two story wood building.  The bright moon overhead illuminates huge puffy clouds:  from the ground looking up at the edge of the building the clouds in the background resemble smoke, exactly where you would expect it.

When the moon hits your eye ...

The puzzling thing is the glow does not seem to grow -- an indication the beast is not present.  A police officer and fire fighter ask a tenant on the second floor of an attached building, what can she see?
Engine 2 (the quint) allows a firefighter direct access to the roof

Before she can respond another voice from the roof shouts, "Stand down, no fire." A security light had become misaligned to now mimic the telltale glow of a fire.

The busy motion on the ground -- police, firefighters, spectators -- seems to suspend for just a moment, heralding a collective sign of relief. 

Then everybody packs up and heads back to quarters.  Awaiting the next call that everyone knows will come.


In all, 18 firefighters (including 3 chief officers)  and close to a half dozen police officers responded, over the 45 minute duration of this call. Total extra cost for the two off-duty and 10 call firefighters who responded, about $400.  

The more concerning cost is not so much the money, but the other potential cost that's sometimes paid:  Units in a rush to get to the scene of an emergency are at a higher risk of being in an accident.

But mainly it's the "opportunity costs" of having assets tied up dealing with what turns out to be a non emergency when a real emergency arises on the other side of town. 

And in the emergency business, delay can equal death.

Friday, June 28, 2013


At least they spelled my name correctly

In basketball when a player misses a shot because of a hurried release fearing that a defender is bearing down from behind at full speed when in fact nobody is near, they call it "hearing footsteps."

Apparently these "artists" put on a show last night somewhere in Amherst.  They were pretty secretive about it on Reddit and nothing appeared on Facebook or Twitter, so it probably did not draw all that many music aficionados.  

I have not even thought much about the hip "underground DIY music scene" in Amherst lately, mainly because the schools are out and the party scene goes on hiatus.  So I was a little surprised when a reader spotted this "advertisement" on the Amherst subreddit today soon after it was first posted. 

Since no one has contacted me "for booking" at my email they posted, I guess it's fair to say the ad is not overly effective.  And I'm not so sure my funeral is near at hand, but if so -- I wonder if they even know "Danny Boy?"

Downtown Food Shuffle

104 North Pleasant Street, Amherst

Souper Bowl, a 2,200 square foot, five-year-old downtown restaurant could be calling it quits, but another somewhat unique food establishment could soon replace it.

All Things Local Store, a sort of indoor farmers and crafts market, is attempting to raise $15,000 by July 31 in order to transition from cyber dream to bricks-and-mortar reality. 

The operation would act like a consignment store allowing farmers and crafts persons to sell their wares and simply pay a small commission to the store for each item sold.  Organizers are currently negotiating to buy all the restaurant equipment from Souper Bowl which would allow for safe food preparation and storage.

The building is owned by Barry Roberts, a tireless advocate for a thriving downtown.

Certainly demand is there:  The Amherst Select Board just approved an expansion request for the 42-year-old downtown "flagship" Amherst Farmers Market, allowing them to use a piece of Boltwood Avenue in front of the Lord Jeffery Inn.

Last winter the Amherst Middle School hosted a Saturday Winter Farmers Market. And the outdoor Wednesday Farmers Market at Kendrick Park seems to be growing.

Wednesday Farmers Market Kendrick Park

 Amherst Community Market, another competing group, has organized around the concept of a cooperative food (super) market jointly owned and operated by workers and consumers.  In the late 1970s Amherst supported a thriving natural foods coop, Yellow Sun.

Thus, a year-round indoor facility could certainly find a successful niche -- especially in health conscious Amherst.

Indeed, the business will still involve farming

Thursday, June 27, 2013

We're Number Seven!

Amherst:  Where education is King (and Queen)

Yes, ever since some Search Engine Optimization geek discovered "top ten lists" (or even top 100) are hit magnets everybody in the Internet publishing world has a top list about something.

Last week it was a list of words used in emails or phone calls that would draw the attention of NSA snoops.  "Amherst" made the list.  Bad.

Today it's a much better list:  Business Insider is hawking a list of the "50 Smartest Cities in America;" and yes overly-enlightened Amherst comes in at #7.  Good.

Of course Amherst is a town not a city.  And to be more precise we're a "college town."  But that's why we're soooooo smart.

Now if only we could keep that tiny minority of students from painting the town red every weekend when schools are in session.

Maybe then we could move up the list a few notches. 

Open Government?

Eastern Hampshire District Court, Belchertown

Sign out front

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Remembering Those Who Served

Amherst's "Sacred Dead Tablets" (before the renovation)

Too many of our men and women have laid down their lives in service to our country in far flung wars across the globe.  We remember them on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and perhaps -- in Massachusetts anyway -- Patriots Day.  Or 9/11.

The Civil War was distinctly different.  That terrible conflict produced America's greatest loss of life because each side engaged in battle were the good guys, fighting on home turf.  Americans killing Americans.

On many, many days it was more like a slaughter. 

Amherst men answered the call to "defend the Union."  Over three hundred of them, including 21 African-Americans.  In all, 57 perished.

All of those who served in "The War of the Rebellion" are remembered -- their names etched in stone on the Sacred Dead Tablets.  Four years ago Amherst Town Meeting appropriated $45,000 out of Community Preservation Act funds to have all six tablets restored.

Today State Senator Stan Rosenberg announced the town won a $5,000 MA Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission matching grant, which will cover interpretive signage relating to the tablets when they go on display at Town Hall, in the Town Room -- our seat of government.

Slow Climb

 These signs spring up like mushrooms on a moist summer morning

If business takes you further south past Atkins Country Market by way of Route 116, be prepared for a slow bumpy ride up The Notch.

Yes, construction continues in the southernmost part of Amherst where the state has expended $10 million in the past two years installing two roundabouts and now this realignment project.

Country Corners Road, Amherst

C & A Construction from Ludlow was the low bidder at $3,128, 938 coming in under the state's "initial construction estimate" of $3, 354, 684.  The project started last fall with the clear cutting of trees and is currently less than 20% completed.   Completion is not expected until the spring of 2014.

 Start of the .6 mile climb

In other words, it's going to be a l-o-n-g hot summer for travelers trying to negotiate that gauntlet.

New section of road center, old road on left
Near top, new road on right

Editors note:  This photo shoot occurred after 5:00 PM when construction was done for the day 

UPDATE Wednesday afternoon:  Arrived at base of mountain at 1:47 PM and made the summit at 1:58 PM.  Once I started moving, total time for climb was three minutes.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Block Party Sequel

In perhaps his final public appearance as Director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, Alex Krogh-Grabbe this evening gave the Amherst Select Board a heads up on the downtown block party as it enters its sophomore year.

The event happens September 12, almost exactly one year after the first one brought thousands of people to the downtown.  This year the North Pleasant Street road closure will be more constricted on the northern border, but still runs directly through the heart of the downtown. 

With that prime stretch of road closed to cars, town center becomes a safe, friendly party zone.  Music, food, and friends = fun.  And it's all free! 

What more could you ask for? (besides good weather).

Anatomy of a Bust

Returned Search Warrant, 11 Phillips Street, Amherst

So I guess you could argue this well publicized APD operation was a waste of time and resources since no charges were ever brought before the District Attorney concerning the operation of an  illegal cash bar in the basement of 11 Phillips Street.

11 Phillips Street, Amherst

Just as you could argue the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong never won an individual battle large enough to have a name during the US intervention in Vietnam.

But in the end what matters is, well, the end.

By most accounts Vietnam cannot be chalked up as a US victory; and I would argue the raid on 11 Phillips Street turned out to be a turning point in the battle against rowdy student party houses.

For  that particular house at least.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summer Sunday

War Memorial Pool 3:00 PM

After running into technical difficulties the War Memorial Pool missed the Saturday target date to open, but fortunately -- with the temperature in the 90s -- opened for business this morning.

And by 3:00 PM it was happily keeping a boatload of folks cool.

Meanwhile ...
Kendrick Park: Never too hot to hula hoop

Ziomek Field:  Ladies softball left, Men's baseball right

Amazing maze:  Amherst/Hadley border

Historic West Cemetery:  A road runs around it

South East Street  8:45 PM

That Which Survives

 Camperdown Elm: A priceless $100,000 shade tree

The majestic Amherst College owned  Camperdown Elm seems to have weathered the recent relocation just fine, knock on wood. 

Three months ago a bevy of trained workers gingerly moved the ancient but healthy shade tree a distance of 90 feet to avoid being run over by a running track.

Amherst College officials must be relieved, since the tree is irreplaceable ... and the lifesaving procedure is said to have cost $100,000 or just over $1,100 per foot.

 Pratt Field, Amherst

But then Amherst College is our #1 landowner.  Even though a tax-exempt institution the #2 liberal arts college in America is still the town's #1 taxpayer.   The Pratt Field renovation project was budgeted at $12.5 million, although rumor has it the cost of the project is over by half. 

But, like the Camperdown Elm, Pratt Field will be pretty stunning when completed. 

I wish I was in Dixie

Dixieland Band on the grounds of the First Congregational Church

A large somewhat older crowd gathered to enjoy Dixieland Band music, lemonade, and strawberry shortcake under the shade trees on the lush grounds of the First Congregational Church yesterday just across the street from the Dickinson Homestead.

Where's Rockwell when you need him?

Meanwhile, dead in the center of town, a lone guitarist tests the theory of the tree falling in the forest with no one around ...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

DUI Dishonor Roll

Daniel Dodman's rolling weapon disarmed (note teenagers in close proximity)

Let me count the ways the ways this Bad Boy is an embarrassment to the human species -- that is supposedly differentiated from animals by, umm, sentient intelligence.

And Daniel S. Dodman is 21 -- old enough to die for his country -- so youth is not exactly an excuse.

The telephone pole won

Driving south (away from UMass) on Triangle Street around 6:15 PM Thursday, he sideswipes a WMECO utility pole with two large, potentially explosive transformers on top,  and completely loses control of his heavy duty Volvo.

He then crashes into a line of large landscaping boulders bordering Bertucci's Italian Restaurant, which was relatively busy at the time.

 Dodman ended up with "a piece of the Rock"

Meanwhile almost a dozen teenagers near the busy DB Mart are within 25 yards of the crash scene and provide eye witness testimony to the police.  Dodman abandons his destroyed vehicle, now leaking chemicals, and takes flight heading north.

 Dodman's vehicle hit hard enough for both airbags to deploy

Yes, the auto is registered to a Daniel Nicholas Dodman; and yes, that is the very first thing a police officer does when dealing with any sort of "motor vehicle stop."

Dodman did not get very far from accident scene

APD soon catches up with him on Chestnut Court and attempts to place him under arrest.  He resists.  They arrest him anyway and add "resisting arrest" to the complement of charges headlining with DUI, and leading with "open container of alcohol" in the vehicle.

In order to cut down on drunk drivers,  perhaps the Department of Motor Vehicles should institute an intelligence test for license requirements.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Secret Revealed

War Memorial Pool
Sunday morning update 11:00 AM:
Pool did not open yesterday due to high levels of chlorine but did open this morning.  Yeah.

Saturday morning update 10:20 AM:
War Memorial Pool did not open for 10:00 AM as chlorine levels spiked during the overnight.  Facility director Alan Snow is currently working his chemical magic and reports the pool should still open today.  Although that can't help with consumer confidence.  


Original Post:
Pssst, don't tell anyone but the town's two main outdoors pools open for business today just in time for, well, summer.  As you may remember last year the War Memorial Pool, after a $200,000 makeover, missed the opening date by a week or so.

War Memorial Pool was filled Thursday

The Mill River Pool and wader opened last week for a school function so they are ahead of schedule.
 DPW worker paints the Groff Park Wading Pool

Neither of the stand alone wading pools will be ready to host children however.  I'm told Groff Park should be open Tuesday and War Memorial wading pool by Friday, but my source is none too optimistic about how long the 50+ year old facility will last.

 War Memorial Wading Pool this morning looking a tad forlorn

Two years ago Town Meeting appropriated $200,000 for the War Memorial Pool renovation but then a state grant rained down money from the heavens.  The funds has been sitting in an account collecting dust ever since.

Amherst formed a "Community Field Study Group" that seemed to like the idea of turning the War Memorial wading pool into a splash park, which is cheaper to operate (no lifeguards needed) and uses water a lot more efficiently.  But most of all is easy get up and running each season. 

And that $200,000 stashed away would more than cover the cost.