Bureaucrat Beat Peers into Fire Bureaucracy, Shares Tuxedo and Scolds Big Oil

July 13th. Friday the Thirteenth. The birthday of my ex-husband and of a beloved uncle. It’s a day with mixed messages. If you are superstitious, this Friday could make you uncomfortable. If you are not but still have doubts, you’re still squirming.

The Bureaucrat Beat staff will not succumb to the archaic notion of superstition, that is, unless we see a black cat today. Just kidding. Speaking of black cats, Tuxedo – my pet cat – has grown into quite the celebrity. We placed him into a pet carrier and shuffled him into the evacuation from Independence during the Inyo Complex Fire. He was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times and in our stories. Many have asked about him. His photo, snapped Thursday, July 12, is posted on the website by popular request.

Why is it, that no matter what they do for us, the Forest Service and all the other fire agencies, never do it quite right, in the eyes of the public. That’s what we now hear from folks around the community. Yes, they did largely prevent the annihilation of Independence. The fact that the wind virtually stopped blowing at a critical point also helped. Maybe it’s also a deal like “disaster spins horrific problems and we’re lucky to survive.
Tuesday, we said not a discouraging word about the bureaucrats and firefighters. We felt they saved us, but we did say Friday would bring more analysis. Let’s back up to Monday. A town meeting in Independence brought out some 200 people. Many applauded the firefighters. Others threw bitter pills at officials who, they said, failed to make fast, practical decisions like allowing residents to stamp out a small fire that grew to consume a house in the Oak Creek area.

Fire officials said they could not allow citizens to endanger themselves this way. They said they did the best they could. Behind the scenes, some say that local agencies had resources to help fight the towering inferno, but the fire bureaucracy was too big and failed to make decisions.

The Bureaucrat Beat staff will consider it a sworn duty to investigate. We will first repeat a phrase heard more than once during the hideous conflagrations: Life is messy. Yes, and it was a very messy fire scene. Flames everywhere, crazy winds, suicidal brush, and, yes, humans.

We don’t have the facts yet, so we won’t speculate on any real failings. Instead, we will construct Utopia as what can be. Here goes.

Say lightning strikes high in the mountains. A severe drought has laid upon the land and fire flares. Fire Volunteers, the Forest Service, CalFire, CDF – they all get here and get to work. One person takes command. That person activates what was set up in advance – a totally cooperative relationship with counties, DWP, cities, law enforcement, other agencies. Equipment and manpower flow freely to points of need. The person in charge directs the resources as his lieutenants in the field report conditions. Bulldozers needed here? No problem. Water needed there? Right away. Citizens want to help? Here’s what you can do.

Okay. This might be dreaming, but first dreams, then reality. Hey, now that we’ve mentioned it, maybe the way to plan is to sit down and conjure the dream. Write it down and work to make it real.

Back to the Independence town meeting. An hour and a half into that packed house session, the fire PIO Jim Wilkins said that’s it. Meeting’s over. One man, who wanted his questions aired publicly in front of the other 199 people present, angrily marched out of the room. Others groaned that the bureaucrats would end the meeting.

Okay. We know that the bureaucratic types had enough and from experience knew that the worst was on the way from the public, but that’s what the people pay for – servants with open ears for as long as we want.

Here’s a story that proves bureaucratic agencies have the capacity for real kindness. Mammoth Police took the time to rescue a raccoon, trapped in a storm drain where another raccoon had already drowned.
Mammoth Police were dispatched to a report of an animal screaming in a storm drain. Police said that the raccoon was about 8 feet down the storm drain with just its head above water. He was standing on the body of another raccoon that had already drowned.

Police removed the storm drain grate with a large pry tool kept in patrol cars. The Mammoth Lakes Fire Department also responded. Firefighters brought out a push broom that they lowered down into the vertical storm drain. The raccoon got the message and quickly climbed onto the broom and was hoisted up. He scampered off down the street.

Now a word from the older and the younger. According to a recent poll by AARP, 63% of Americans think that this year they will pay $4 a gallon for regular, unleaded gasoline. 57% of Americans under 50 and 45% over 50 have reduced spending in other areas to offset high gas prices. Nearly half of each age category has reduced visits with family and friends. How nice for Big Oil and their record profits.

Signing off for Bureaucrat Beat, this is Benett Kessler. Please share your views on how we live here and beyond.


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