Star Sailors

If you were to ask any local government official what the “purpose” or “primary function” of local government is, almost universally – certainly from the politicians – you will get tan answer that implies that “public safety” is the #1 raison d’être for local government. When budgets need to be cut, local governments threaten public safety cuts because that’s their #1 priority and the public isn’t wise enough to see the waste elsewhere. But before you get too settled on the matter, consider that there is MORE, much more, to public safety than just Police and Fire.

Some years ago when I was the Business Administrator for a local Non-Profit, a Fire Inspector showed up at our facility and explained to me that modifications done to the building twenty years before were not permitted nor were they acceptable for the safe operation of the building. Now look, I am a submariner and fire danger is one of those those things of which I am not only hyper-aware, but also of which I deathly afraid. It’s something I pay close attention to on a regular basis. I clearly wasn’t going to to be blamed for a twenty year old error, but I was on the hook to satisfy the Inspector. We discussed it, fully and frankly, as they say. I finally had to ask him what exactly was the problem?

It turned out that the actual problem was that the permits on file for the building didn’t match the the realities of the existing building. What I learned was that the floor of the area in question had not been designed to support more than a couple of hundred pounds. But on the file, it said that it would. In the event of a fire, a firefighter entering the space would believe that the floor had a certain structural capacity that simply did not exist. It wasn’t that they wanted me to “fix” the building, they wanted to make sure that the information they had on file was correct so that a firefighter would know what he or she was actually getting into should it be necessary.

Make sense? It did to me, once I got past my own ego and stupidity and starting listening to what he was saying. The “fix” took about two hours and a few bucks to file the correct plans.

Why do I bring all of this up? To make the point that “public safety” doesn’t begin with a fire alarm and trucks racing to the scene. It starts long before that with inspections, permits and procedures designed to make sure that everybody is on the same page. And then making regular inspections and reviews to make certain that everything stays up to date. Do you see what I mean?

694940094001_5236010764001_120516-hn-warehouse-1280Which is why we now have to seriously question the City of Oakland’s commitment to public safety” since not a single inspector had set foot inside the now burned out warehouse where 36 people died in a fire trap in more than thirty years. Not one.

We can certainly put some of the blame on the idiot who held the lease and who wanted the world to worship his vision of creativity and expression. But at the end of the day, the City of Oakland failed in its #1 priority and then sent firefighters into something which they had no idea how it was configured or maintained or capable of supporting. It’s a miracle that no firefighters were injured or killed. And it once again shows us that when local officials tell us that “public safety” is their #1 priority, they’re usually not up to speed on things.

So… who will be held responsible for the lack of proper oversight? The current City Council and Mayor? The Planning Department? The Fire Inspectors? It appears that there is plenty of blame to go around, which means that since the problem goes back thirty years it will be whitewashed and diluted until nobody will be personally responsible for not carrying out the #1 priority of the City of Oakland’s government.

I also guarantee that there are more than few lawyers who are doing computations in their heads right now and figuring that there is a huge payday coming their way. And cities everywhere that are digging into file cabinets and wondering what there is in their own city that they don’t know about? And why not?

A coffee can my Grandmother bought for me back in the 70's. Yes... I still have it...

A coffee can my Grandmother bought for me back in the 70’s. Yes… I still have it…

Astronaut John Glenn died yesterday. I started writing a piece to talk about his passing but after about 600 words I realized that it was more about me than it was John Glenn. So I sent it to the bit bucket. In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, I started wondering about it. What if the whole purpose of the Space program, of NASA and of men climbing aboard gleaming silver rockets with a 40% chance of exploding on liftoff was to get us to think about ourselves and our own dreams? I wanted to be an astronaut, a “star sailor.” But it wasn’t in the cards. I became a submariner, which a couple of people have pointed out this morning to me is similar in many ways. John Glenn was a hero to me, along with the other Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, ASTP, Skylab and Shuttle Star Sailors. He and they brought wonderful ideas to me, helped me learn new things and think about things that might be achieved when I put my mind to it.

I think that is what reaching for the stars is supposed to teach us.

G-d speed, John Glenn.



Posted on December 9, 2016, in American, History, It's Science!, Science, Space, Technolgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Good read, Dave. I didn’t know about the lack of inspections but suspected as much. I told my wife last weekend that if this place hadn’t been inspected enough to discover the missing fire suppression systems and warning devices… I’ll bet the fancy hotels, office buildings and restaurants downtown and around Lake Merrit got plenty of attention. Who wants to inspect a dingy old warehouse when you can spend the day in an air-conditioned space with the likely chance of running into a few pretty secretar…er, personal assistants, waitresses, and passersby.


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