A close friend always describes situations in terms of the glass being half empty or half full. Sometimes I’ll point out that there may not even be a glass. But in America a lot of us assume there always is a glass, or a bucket, or the water tank belly of a fire fighting aircraft.
Cruising home to Santa Monica from the Valley last week, I took in a sight I hadn’t seen before: A twin engine fire-fighting tanker plane flying across the 405, on its way to retrieve more water to dump on the brush fires. I’d seen images of them countless times on our local news, but I’d never actually seen one in the air, going about its job.
A few moments later, the same plane, or another, flew back in the opposite direction. Help, rescue, water for putting out threatening fires. “A massive, rapid, and well coordinated response…” that resulted in fire fighters saving 2,000 threatened homes, according the LA Times. And the planes kept flying, the fire fighters kept fighting, and the expensive homes continued to be protected.
I won’t fatigue you with a detailed comparison of this rescue effort to the one following Hurricane Katrina. Except to note the new regulations insisting that home owners clear brush away from their homes, or have it cleared by enforcement and then pay for it, played a major role in keeping those homes safe from fire. Maybe the homeowners used some of their own elbow grease and cleared that brush. Or maybe they had the resources to pay someone else to do it.
And there is that small air force of fire fighting aircraft. At the ready, standing by… to save the costly homes, ranches, and livestock. So, we can ignore the elephant in the room and emphasize that “preparedness” and well-coordinated mobilization were the key factors. Or we can concede that when neighborhoods contain homes valued at one million dollars or more each, the emergency rescue service is better than in, say, any number of parishes in New Orleans.
Far from diminishing in any way the human contributions in last week’s efficient fight against the brush fires, it was clear that lessons learned from previous fires had taken hold. Communications were improved, intelligence was shared. The equipment, manpower, and planes… all were there and this time they were more effectively deployed.
But, yeah, they were there. They were nearby. Ready. In New Orleans, local, state, and federal officials had enough paperwork on the deficiencies of the levees that they might have used the reports themselves instead of sand to at least do something about the levees but instead, for years, they did nothing. And then there’s that troubling, “What if FEMA were called to Palm Beach?” conjecture that, ultimately, doesn’t get us anywhere we aren’t already when we witness fire-fighting planes in action over neighborhoods full of lovely, expensive homes.
The accurate measure of Hurricane Katrina’s damage may take years, but when it comes to what the disaster revealed about discrepancies between economic classes, we can get some raw data in a hurry simply by contrasting the quality of our own lives to those of the afflicted areas. A photo on the front page of the LA Times shows a home “unscathed” after fire burned the surrounding hills. Officials involved in fighting the fires were quick to point out the role that luck plays in saving lives and buildings. Yes, it certainly does.
This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz
1) Studio execs concede that box office slowed
(a) because of bad movies.
(b) because “Bewitched” was confusing.
(c) because “Veggie Tales” was confusing.
2) O.J. Simpson appeared at
(a) a horror movie confab.
(b) a new Popeye’s Chicken opening.
(c) a food bank, with a shopping list.
3) Leo Sternbach, the inventor of Valium, has
(a) died at age 97.
(b) not died, but is very calm.
(c) invented the stimulant “Tweakium.”
1) (a) “Which we will never make again.”
2) (a) “Which I don’t exactly ‘get’…”
3) (a) “Which makes me wish I had a…”