Friday, February 24, 2012

Being a firefighter, Tim Girard was saying, isn't easy.

"There's a background check, and you have to do training," said Girard, a officer of the Swanton Village Fire Department and the President of the Vermont State Firefighters Association.

And nobody, he said, does it for the money. Even though the Swanton firefighters were among the few in the state who get a small hourly wage, "you're not going to do it to get rich," Girard said. Some are attracted by "seeing the trucks go out, the firefighting gear, the red lights and sirens." For others, there's the "satisfaction of helping the community," whether by putting out a fire or helping a homeowner with water in her cellar, and….


So much for that. Even sitting there in his blue dress uniform, Girard was not in the Swanton Firehouse primarily to get interviewed. Firefighters fight fires, and that alarm was alerting Girard and the two other department members in the building that they had work to do.

In about a minute, all three of them had on their firefighting garb – waterproof overpants and long coats, heavy boots, brimmed helmets. In one more minute, up drove a pickup truck, yellow light flashing, of another member of the Department. Then another. And another. Maybe five minutes after the alarm sounded, the fire truck pulled out of the garage, headed for the fire.

Not, this time, in Swanton. Or even in the United States. The Swanton Department, Girard said, is part of the Franklin County International Firefighters Association, a Mutual Aid system that includes the Canadian towns just across the border, the site of this fire.

"We were lucky in the timing," Girard said later. The call came late in the afternoon, when enough members were home from work so a big enough crew could assemble quickly.

That's usually not a big problem for Swanton, whose fire department has 30 members on its roster, sufficient even though Girard said, "we're always looking for more."

Not every volunteer department in Vermont – or elsewhere for that matter – is in such good shape. There is a firefighter shortage in Vermont that is only likely to get worse over the next several years.

At last count, Vermont had 5,746 firefighters, the vast majority of them volunteers, according to the Department of Public Safety's Division of Fire Safety.

That's not enough. There are 249 departments, and to be fully effective, fire experts say, even a small department should have 25 members. Do the math. There should be at least 6,225 firefighters. That's "only" a shortage of 479. But that still puts the state's overall deficiency at close to eight percent, and the shortages are not evenly balanced, being worse, Girard said, in "the very small towns."

Firefighting officials are not in denial about the problem. "A lot of departments do not have enough people," said Michael O'Neill, the Executive Director of the Division of Fire Safety.

Thanks to Mutual Aid systems, this does not mean that homes and businesses in small towns are in danger of being reduced to ashes before the fire trucks arrive. Fire protection is one of the basic necessities of civilized society – public fire departments go back at least to 19th Century Britain – and is likely to be provided one way or another.

But one way might be more professional – and therefore more expensive – fire departments.

There's nothing mysterious about why Vermont's volunteer fire departments are short of volunteers. Both O'Neil and Girard point to the same social changes that have made it more difficult to recruit men (and, these days, some women) to join fire departments.

A few decades ago, Vermonters were more likely to own their own farms or to work in one of the many factories or shops right in town. If the siren sounded, they were only a few minutes away from the firehouse.

Now, many of those farms, factories, and shops are gone. People are working farther from home, many of them driving a half hour or more to work. When the siren goes off, they are too far away to respond in time.

Furthermore, in the rural areas, there simply are not as many people in what might be called their firefighting years. Vermont's population is rising – if slowly – but largely because of in-migration – the state has one of the lowest birth rates in the country – and many of the newcomers are retirees. Younger newcomers tend to flock to Burlington, which has a fully professional fire department, or its environs, where the firefighter shortage is not as acute.

Though firefighting officials hope that recruitment will pick ups as the economy improves, all indications are that the social trends holding down the number of volunteers – an aging population, job sites increasingly scattered -- will not just continue but accelerate. Finding enough firefighters could get more difficult in the future.

This does not mean fire officials can't do anything about the problem. They can, and they are doing it. For one thing, they are recruiting more actively. "Aggressive promotion," is what O'Neil calls it, and it includes holding open houses at fires stations and visiting high schools. But there's no simple "magic bullet" solution to the shortage, O'Neil acknowledged. "If there were, somebody would have found it," he said.

Firefighting has changed a lot since the days, as Girard put it, when "you just rode in the truck and put the wet stuff on the red stuff." Technology has made the job both a lot safer and a lot more complicated.

But it has not, O'Neil said, really reduced the need for people to do the work.

"The reality is that most of the advances have improved safety," he said, "but they have not necessarily improved efficiency."

One obvious answer to the manpower problem is more centralization. It's a subject Vermont fire officials discuss delicately. As with the question of Vermont's many school districts, O'Neil said, "no one wants to give up local control."

Girard noted that many rural rescue services have started hiring full-time dispatchers, a step some volunteer fire departments might have to consider as the number of people who have the time and inclination to sit in the fire station all day dwindles, perhaps to zero in some small towns.

At some point, as costs rise, several nearby small towns could decide to share that full-time, paid, dispatcher, which could be a step toward consolidating fire departments, and perhaps toward hiring a few more full-timers. Possibly, O'Neil said, a county-based firefighting system of fewer, larger, and perhaps more professional departments, looms in Vermont's future. At this point, no one seems to know much more that might cost.

Despite the shortages, O'Neil said, "Vermont is a pretty safe place," much safer, in terms of fire protection, than it used to be. Not that long ago, he said, "we had the highest fire death rate in the country." Now Vermont has one of the lowest, thanks to education and regulation. Firefighters held fire-prevention lessons at public schools. Laws passed under Gov. Howard Dean require all homes sold or re-rented to have hard-wired smoke detectors. As a result, there are fewer fires – prevention, after all, is the most effective fire fighting – and when there is a fire in a house, its residents are more likely to have time to escape.

Still, that house is more likely to burn to the ground unless an adequately staffed fire truck can get to it fast enough. Finding enough volunteers willing to face the hardships, inconvenience, and in some cases danger to ride on those fire trucks remains a challenge.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How do you like the newest arrivals at J.Crew online?

Here are some of the items that I have already tried on and/or reviewed: 

Dolores Dress in Peacock Paisley

Fitting Room Pictures and Review: next rollout pictures

Colorblock Stripe Boatneck Tee

Fitting Room Pictures and Review: next rollout pictures
Additional pictures on Flickr  

Long No. 2 pencil skirt in abstract leopard

Fitting Room Pictures on   if you don't know it by now and comments on Flickr

No. 2 pencil skirt in ultra eyelet
Fitting Room Pictures  if you don't know it by now and on Flickr

Long No. 2 pencil skirt in sovereign paisley
Fitting Room Pictures on if you don't know it by now and  more on Flickr

Talitha top in peacock paisley

Fitting Room Pictures on if you don't know it by now and more on Flickr

Tipped Linen Blazer
Schoolboy blazer in tipped linen

Fitting Room Pictures and Review: Fitting Room Reviews

Stripe twisted stitch henley
Fitting Room Pictures and Review: Fitting room reviews mid feb 2012 part 2
Jacquard Dot Popover

Fitting Room Pictures and Review on Polka dots make me smile

Are you planning to buy any items from this rollout? What are your favorites?
Please share!
Hello everyone,

It's new arrival rollout time at J.Crew again. Here are my faves from the new pretties:

Spring Fling Dress -- Love the shape, the print, the colors (not the price -- it's Collection)!

Dottie Dress -- Hello, dots, sash, love. It's silk organza, so definitely a party/wedding frock. Price is craz-o.

Circle Eyelet Dress -- So pretty in the admiral blue.

No. 2 Pencil Skirt in Ultra Eyelet -- Tried on the chili color yesterday and love!! Will post pics soon. It was TTS, running towards a bit snug (or I need to lose an inch perhaps).

Silk Kerchief Paisley Skirt -- Ooh, a new and interesting print! I'll have to see it IRL to really judge, but it looks lovely.  Silk twill, love that.  It's Collection, so the price is again, crazy ($398)!

High-waisted Denim Pencil Skirt in Sunwhite Wash -- I love white denim, and this is easier for me to pull off than white denim pants (gets too hot for me). I like the higher waist, but it might be a little long for me. I don't need a mini, but I do like a little more leg showing. We'll see.

Pre-order Shirred Maxi Skirt -- The green, I die! And in bright pink as well! It's a cotton-silk, so with the sheen, it's going to feel like more of a dress-up skirt, don't you think?

Raindrop Lace Top -- Saw this in store in the pink, and took it home (was able to get the 20% off promo). LOVE. Fits TTS compared to other pullover tops recently. (i.e. I have the Talitha in a 2)

Popover Tunic in Lifesaver Print - So fun and pretty in silk. Reminds me of that optic print they had ages ago (I have it in a silk jacket -- anyone remember?).

Popover Tunic in Sovereign Paisley -- I like the print, but I don't like the long pencil skirt for some reason. I like it in this silk top. The colors won't work on me personally, but I know others can rock it.

Keeper Chambray Shirt -- Was this already up before? I don't remember it. I like the washed look of it. I would wear it exactly as styled too.

Colorblock Stripe Boatneck Tee -- Cute in both colorways. Hope it's not super sheer/thin.

Garment-dyed Linen Cable-knit Sweater -- I'm gaga for the neon azalea color in everything this year, it seems. Love the boatneck -- so flattering. It's also available just in solid colors.

Cashmere Boatneck in Colorblock -- Love the colors, the boatneck, but am worried about it the thin cashmere (which I know is appropriate for spring, but JC's thin cashmere is hit or miss.)

Schoolboy Blazer in Tipped Linen -- Very cute update to the tipped hacking for spring. Love the tan/black colorway. Saw in store for a quick second, but didn't try on yet.

Linen Slicker -- Ok, I love this, and maybe others won't. It's water-repellent, has a hood, and those gold clasps...adorable!  Looks a touch see-through in one photo.

Mona Printed Pumps and Kira Printed Sandals and Classic Ballet Flats-- The apple print on pumps is so cute...and I'm so glad they also did a flat sandal...and a ballet flat! I die!

Kira Sandals -- These look very comfortable, like they'll stay on your feet, without any flopping, and the color is perfect to go with literally anything all summer.

Heart Throb printed Classic Ballet Flats -- You all know I love this print, so love these flats. It's a cotton upper, leather sole, man-made lining (why?!)

Stripe Ballet Flat -- I know some people would prefer a pointy toe with these (see below!!)  but the rounded toe is likely a bit more comfortable for many. I tried on my true size in these yesterday, and they fit fine. I should have tried my usual half-size-up, but ran out of time. SO cute IRL.

Viv Stripe Flat -- Hello, they made it in pointy-toe too, which is sort of brilliant. But for (**($%$'s sake, it's a cotton upper and manmade sole/upper -- $200, really?!

Viv Printed Flat -- So cute.

Bubble Necklace -- Love it in citrus lime. Very cheery.

Classic Jenna and Classic Pave Bracelets -- I have previous versions of these and they are my go-to bracelets. That said, reading the pave review (glass encrusted over shiny brass), I was like, $118 for that?

iPhone case -- Sorry, I just love all things nautical. I also am happy that JC doesn't brand their cases. I've been loving mine for months now.

Silk Scarf -- I'm a sucker for pink/orange together. Silk chiffon, so I'm guessing the colors are a touch more muted IRL.

Invitation Clutch in Ribbon Stripe -- Love that this has the chain shoulder strap option!

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hi everyone,

Sorry if I've been a bit slow to post and comment lately. The whole family has been struggling through a virus the past week that has had me falling behind in everything. Ack, is it summer yet?

Speaking of warmer weather, I thought I'd share reviews of two summery items that are on promo right now, the Drawstring Mini and the Amie Maxidress in Skinny Stripe.

J.Crew at ShopStyle

J.Crew at ShopStyle

Drawstring Mini -- So this isn't one of those super special pieces, but it is one of those items that I can see myself living in, and reaching for all.the.time in the warm months. It calls itself a mini, but it's definitely either a long mini or a short pencil, at 19.5" long. For me, this is awesome. I have to be able to reach up to get my kiddo out of the carseat, and minis are just not my friend, unless I want to give a show. Also, there are pockets!! I ordered an XS. It's pretty fitted in the rear, but the bottom part of the skirt isn't as body-conscious/tight. I'm going to try on the small and see how I feel about the two, but I do think this is the right fit. The colors are navy and a very light tan/dark cream (not white like it looks in the product pic), which I actually kind of like. You can see in the pic below, where it is positioned next to a cream sweater, a white tee and a tan/oatmeal cardi. It's a heavier-weight cotton (like the maritime), so it's not a flimsy thing that will turn into a rag.  It's nicely priced at $55, With the promo, it's $44, which I think is quite fair.

Amie Maxidress in Skinny Stripe -- Regularly-priced at $98, it's on promo now for $78 (not final sale), plus the 20% off FABFEB, making it a bit more reasonable at $62.40. I have the striped Amie from last year (navy/white), which I picked up towards the end of summer. I loooove that dress. I wore it well into fall with boots and a sweater or jacket.  It's soft and pretty thin, which is why I like the camoflaging of the stripes in that dress and in this one. I definitely need a slip under it or there's VPL. It's really comfortable, and the blousey strapless top stays up easily and can placed a bit higher up for some modesty. (Er, I was in a rush, so it's not laying quite right in the pics.)  I bought the size small last year, b/c that's all I could get on popback, and it fits just fine. The XS is what I originally tried on and worked, so that's what I ordered here. I don't think this dark colorway is doing me any favors, so unfortunately this one is a pass for me. However, I've heard there's a new red, blue and white version in store, which I'll have to check out.  I did also try on the solid blue color as well, and it just shows waaay too many bumps and lumps and VPL for me.

What do you think of these pieces? Have you taken advantage of the FABFEB promo?

Have a great day!