How I fell off a 1963 American LaFrance pumper, and why 70% of fire companies fear closing

Swedesburg fir truckUnlike the Army drill sergeant, you can’t recruit the unwilling to become volunteers at your local fire station.

And that is causing a huge national problem – too few volunteers to drive trucks, connect hoses, dash into buildings, douse flames and save lives.

Some 70% of all the fire companies in the United States are volunteer. Instead of the $180 per hour your grumpy plumber charges, these firefighters risk their lives for free – no pensions, no bonuses, just smoke in their lungs and joy helping others.

I’m preaching from personal experience.

In the late 1960s I moved to Swedesburg, Upper Merion, a tiny village in Southeastern Pennsylvania. About 2 AM my first night there, I jumped out of bed, when a fire siren screamed through the window.

That siren was located just next door on top of the local funeral home – some 30 feet from my bed. It served the Swedesburg Vol. Fire Company, directly across the street.

Some nights, especially during thunderstorms, that siren could wail two or three times. After a couple weeks, I decided to volunteer to become a firefighter. If I was to be awakened, why not for a good cause?

It was a grand decision. Not just the 15-cent beers. Not only learning to play pinochle from first generation Polish experts. Not even the sweet agony of mastering the Polka at a fire house wedding.

The magic drama was fighting fires, protecting property, saving lives – being one of a highly-trained team of brave and fearless individuals, who were always pushing harder to improve their skills and guarantee the viability of their fire company.

And I also learned how to fall off a fire truck with minimum resulting bodily damage.

It happened on an early morning run. No time to even drink very necessary coffee.

The fire was in King of Prussia, where the PA turnpike meets the Schuylkill Expressway, and our truck zoomed into Bridgeport and then made a hard left turn up Route 202. Standing on the back bumper, I momentarily forgot where I was and scratched my nose.

Unfortunately, I used the hand holding the bar on the back of the pumper and off I went, skidding on my knees.

Back at the fire house, Bernie Gutkowski – a former fire chief and the township’s sole undertaker – examined my badly scraped knees, and then announced:

I’ll be right back. I have just what you need .

He returned with a small bottle of clear liquid, which he poured on my knees and watched me writhe and scream. Three days later, the scrapes were gone – no infection, no problems.

A week later I had to ask him what was the magic chemical in the bottle. His answer: formaldehyde.

But being a fire company volunteer is not just fun and games. Brush fires can choke you. House fires sadden, when you realize a family’s loss. Downed, sparking electric wires jump and twist at you. And worst of all, the constant specter of death.

In Pennsylvania, more than 90 percent of the state’s fire companies are volunteer, and since my stint in the 60s, the number of volunteer firefighters has declined by 88 percent.

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) reports that younger generations are simply not signing up to volunteer:

Modern lifestyles involve more transience than in past generations. More families consist of two-income households or people working multiple jobs, and often employers impose inflexible schedules that make volunteering to fight fires in off-hours much more difficult.

Today’s Millennials also have far more debt than previous generations carried – particularly from student loans. Many husbands and wives must both work full-time to pay bills, leaving little availability for community service.

The NVFC says that because more than half of the volunteer firefighters in the country are more than 40 years old, there will be dire consequences if departments can’t find ways to attract new, young volunteers.

“A lot of these communities could never replace the service provided by the volunteers with a paid career fire department, because it would be not financially feasible for these municipalities to do that,” Robert Timko, director of the NVFC Pennsylvania Chapter, explained.

Despite expense, inaction is no solution.

“We can’t fight a structure fire with four guys on a truck. If that’s the only truck on the road, I have to call other departments, two or three departments most of the time,” Stroudsburg Township Fire Chief William Unruh said.

“We want to make sure that we all go home at the end of the day.”

Since the 60s, volunteer fire departments have assumed wider roles — emergency medical services, hazardous materials operations, technical rescue operations — and so the cost of training firefighters has soared. These greater training standards and new federal requirements have also increased time demands for prospective volunteers.

“We have to train a little bit harder than when I joined the fire department,” Unruh said. “The essentials class was probably only 30 hours long. The fundamentals of firefighting now is at 180 hours.”

NVPA estimates the time donated by volunteer firefighters saves localities across the country an estimated $46 billion per year.

If you want more information on how to join your local volunteer fire department, contact

Chuck Schumer said he wanted “illegal aliens” to register with government or face deportation, and he opposed calling them: “undocumented workers”

When you recall President Donald Trump’s promise of no income taxes for couples earning less than $50k, which turned out to be a measly $24k, you conclude that he made a promise he couldn’t or wouldn’t keep.

The President’s once trumpeted plan to reduce visa immigration has also gone by the big business-approved wayside. Instead, the Don last week doubled the number of H-2B visas, so now even more low-wage foreigners can compete unfairly with American workers – slashing wages to insure more profits for the investor class.

But Trump is not the only one to break promises. Other Republicans come to mind, especially George H. W. Bush:

Read my lips: no new taxes

Breaking promises is part of politics for both parties, but if someone deserves first prize for promises broken, it’s hard to beat Senator Chuck Schumer, when it comes to immigration:

All illegal aliens present in the United States on the date of enactment of our bill must quickly register their presence with the United States Government —and submit to a rigorous process of converting to legal status and earning a path to citizenship— or face imminent deportation…

Sen. Schumer

… illegal immigration is wrong— – plain and simple. When we use phrases like “undocumented workers,” we convey a message to the American people that their Government is not serious about combating illegal immigration, which the American people overwhelmingly oppose…

People who enter the United States without our permission are illegal aliens, and illegal aliens should not be treated the same as people who entered the United States legally.

To the advocates for strong, fair, effective, and comprehensive immigration reform, I say to you that the American people will never accept immigration reform, unless they truly believe that their government is committed to ending future illegal immigration— and any successful comprehensive immigration reform bill must recognize this fact.

– Senator Charles Ellis “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY)

The comments by the Democrat Senator sound like the words of candidate Trump on the 2016 campaign trail. Has Chuck lost his mind?

No – Chuck is very sane. You might even say: calculating, measuring the lay of the land, saying what donors and voters want to hear – sort of a chameleon capability.

The comments above are from a major address at the Sixth Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference, sponsored by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and Georgetown University Law Center. Schumer was outlining principles of a bill he planned to introduce in Fall 2009.

The video below is about nine minutes and offers more details on an immigration reform plan that many Americans would endorse today, although it no longer represents the views of Democrat Party leadership, including Senate Minority Leader Schumer.

Full text of Schumer’s 2009 address (30+ minutes) has been taken down from Senate website, but is archived here

While Schumer does not publicly agree today with his 2009 principles, he does seem to be the capable politician. Nothing proves this more than his success over Trump with the 2019 spending bill passed last week by Congress.

“They (GOP) sold out the President and their own voters because the President won’t ever get the 55 miles of border fence he wanted,” explained Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies:

Trump was willing to play ball with Congress and to take less than his full demand of $5.7 billion, but even on that, they screwed him. The broader public, that wants the border enforced, also got the shaft in this bill.

I don’t think it is because of malice on the part of Republicans. They were duped, because they were distracted by the offer of more H-2B visas, which is what they care about, and by being able to say there is some money for the fence, even if it will never be built.

The GOP legislators were duped by Democrats, because they wanted to be, Krikorian said:

They fooled themselves, because they said “We’ve got money for 55 miles of wall, and all the rest are just details and we can’t be bothered with that.”

… they aren’t interested enough in the details of enforcement to know what the Democrats were up to. They just don’t think it is important and they did not focus on it.

The H-2B expansion sought by Republicans was added in the last ten pages of the 1,169-page border security bill. In 2017 and 2018, similar language caused the Department of Homeland Security to add 15,000 extra H-2B work visas.

Roughly 1.5 million visa workers are employed in white-collar jobs that are also sought by U.S college graduates.

The spending bill has a poison pill, besides limiting funds for the “barrier.”

This time the “fake news” is about a “fake wall.”

The measure gives Texas municipal officials a veto of Trump’s border wall until at least September, Krikorian said:

Extra fencing is only in South Texas and the local governments – which are monolithic Democrat – have a veto over any fencing … so there won’t be any fencing that is built. The claimed 55 miles is a fake – there won’t be anything built because the local government will veto construction.

“Build that Wall” is starting to sound like “Read My Lips.”

The very rich cannot only pay for QM2-size yachts, they have enough $$ to purchase entire nations!

Captain Kevin Oprey stands in front of the Queen Mary 2.

Instead of playing the lottery or completing my 2018 Income Tax, yesterday I imagined I was Jeff Bezos

It was a typical day with nothing to do except harass the workers at Whole Foods, so I decided to buy a boat.

But not just any boat. A big boat – in fact, a ship. Large enough to carry all my “friends” and impress the other rich folks, including Zuckerberg and Gates and that goofy, Bloomberg guy .

My third-assistant personal manager (day side) had a suggestion – build a yacht that’s a duplicate of Queen Mary 2 (QM2). He explained the benefits:

  • At 151,200 tons, the ship will handle the biggest storms.
  • It will carry 2,620 passengers.
  • The 1,253 crew will give great service
  • The ship will go 30 knots an hour, so pirates – no problem..
  • The cost was only $521 million to create it.
  • Our China connection means we can surely build it cheaper.

Being brave Bezos, I decided to ahead, but I had to ask my accountant, where could we get the money? He was right on top of the problem:

Jeff, not to worry. We’ll only have to use the income that we earned one week last year. We’ll pay cash.

This was surprising. Was there a week last year when I made enough money to pay for QM2?

My accountant explained that the Bezos’ holdings made him personally enough income in 2018 to buy a new QM2 every week.

“Actually,” he said with a pensive stare, “you earned almost enough to buy two QM2s every week last year.”

Enough musing….

Time for me to wake up and finish my income taxes.

Same earnings. Same expenses as last year. New law says I have to pay more, thanks to bipartisan collusion in Congress.

Now, back to Bezos. He is not alone in having obscene wealth.

If we add up the fortunes of the top ten richest persons in the world, the total is $808 billion.

Here’s the list:

1:   $140,000,000,000.00Jeffrey Preston Bezos
2:   $97,000,000,000.00…..Charles & David Koch*
3:   $93,500,000,000.00…..William Henry Gates III
4:   $84,300,000,000.00…..Warren Edward Buffett
5:   $83,200,000,000.00…..Amancio Ortega Gaona
6:   $72,200,000,000.00…..Mark Elliot Zuckerberg
7:   $69,700,000,000.00…..Carlos Slim Helu
8:   $62,100,000,000.00…..Lawrence Joseph Ellison
9:   $53,300,000,000.00…..Michael Rubens Bloomberg
10: $53,000,000,000.00…..Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault

*Two Koch brothers worth $48.5 billion each!

Did you ever wonder what would happen if these rich men decided to pool their $808 billion and make really big purchases – for example – entire nations, based on each country’s net worth?

Pick one or more, depending on where you stand in the top ten:

 South Africa $786 Billion
 Finland $697 Billion
U. A. E.  $684 Billion
 Colombia  $616 Billion
 Malaysia  $598 Billion
 Thailand  $525 Billion
 Czech Rep.  $524 Billion
 Philippines  $518 Billion
 Peru  $467 Billion
 Pakistan  $422 Billion
 Argentina  $345 Billion
 Romania  $317 Billion
 Vietnam  $307 Billion
 Hungary  $294 Billion
 Kuwait  $278 Billion
 Iran  $272 Billion
 Iraq  $272 Billion
 Qatar  $265 Billion
 Bangladesh  $240 Billion
 Morocco  $216 Billion
 Libya  $252 Billion
 Algeria  $241 Billion
 Egypt  $212 Billion
 Luxembourg  $188 Billion
 Slovakia  $151 Billion
 Oman  $144 Billion
 Lebanon  $140 Billion
 Nigeria  $139 Billion
 Iceland  $138 Billion
 Bulgaria  $138 Billion
 Slovenia  $133 Billion
 Croatia  $120 Billion
 Tunisia  $120 Billion
 Ecuador  $116 Billion
 Costa Rica  $111 Billion
 Angola  $102 Billion
 Uruguay  $97 Billion
 Cyprus  $91 Billion
 Sri Lanka  $82 Billion
 Panama  $77 Billion
 Serbia  $73 Billion
 Jordan  $72 Billion
 Kazakhstan  $62 Billion
 El Salvador  $61 Billion
 Estonia  $60 Billion
 Honduras  $58 Billion
 Kenya  $57 Billion
 Lithuania  $57 Billion
 Ukraine  $55 Billion
 Latvia  $53 Billion
 Myanmar  $52 Billion
 Azerbaijan  $52 Billion
 Georgia  $49 Billion
 Malta  $49 Billion
 Bolivia  $48 Billion
 Bahamas  $45 Billion
 Bosnia  $40 Billion
 Paraguay  $38 Billion
 Albania  $37 Billion
 Turkmenistan  $37 Billion
  Nepal  $35 Billion
 Mauritius  $34 Billion
 Ivory Coast  $34 Billion
 Cambodia  $33 Billion

Finally, imagine you plan to please the wife on Valentine’s Day, even though you’re on the bottom of the top ten list:

Hon, have I got a surprise for you. We’re taking a trip on an ocean liner – the CEO Bezo 1. And, we’re going to the Bahamas.

“Why the Bahamas,” she asks. “We’ve been there a dozen times.”

“Because I’m going to greet my people. I just bought the entire country for $41 billion – a ten percent discount off of book value.”

I didn’t mention that Jeff just settled on the combined purchase of Bolivia and Paraguay for his latest mistress. Soon enough, my wife will read about it in the National Enquirer or People Magazine

It’s hard to keep up with the Bezos.

World’s 19th largest economy – San Francisco Bay – now qualifies for Opportunity Zone status, because its median income is “only” $117,000

It’s tax season for the peons, but while you are wondering where your money is going, a few developers and bankers are chuckling.

San Francisco Bay has been designated an official Opportunity Zone – containing areas where you can invest, make a fortune and pay no taxes – income or otherwise. The IRS describes the deal this way:

Opportunity Zones are designed to spur economic development by providing tax benefits to investors.

First, investors can defer tax on any prior gains invested in a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) until the earlier of the date on which the investment in a QOF is sold or exchanged, or December 31, 2026.

… if the investor holds the investment in the Opportunity Fund for at least ten years, the investor is eligible for an increase in basis of the QOF investment equal to its fair market value on the date that the QOF investment is sold or exchanged.

In short, if you hold your investments and profits (could be billions!) for ten years or more, you pay no capital gains or any other tax during the ten years or when you sell.

Sea Cliff house, San Francisco

The goal of establishing Opportunity Zones is to get capital to struggling low-income census tracts.

So, how did the San Francisco Bay area qualify, considering its annual GDP is $748 billion, just behind the Netherlands’ $822 billion?

The answer – the Bay Area has many residents living below the poverty level of $118,000 for a family of four.

That’s correct. Not $11,800, but really, actually, $118,000.

The state decided that $100,000 average income would be the cutoff, resulting in these areas designated for the free tax ride:

The Bay has a median household income twice that of an average American, so the cutoff for creating a zone is twice as high. The richer the neighborhood, the more likely it will qualify.

Willard st., Philadelphia

Of course, this is nuts, so I decided to check out where I grew up (1918 E. Willard st., Philadelphia) and see if it made the cut.

No luck. The white house on right – the four-room row we rented – didn’t make it.

What’s behind this obvious ripoff of the taxpayers?

One answer is that Nancy Pelosi is the member of Congress representing San Francisco, and some of the world’s richest companies are headquartered in the Bay area.

These ultra-wealthy firms should be bottom-line happy, now that the government will boost their local economies, insulating rich shareholders from any extra expense.

This Bay Opportunity Zone area already has more investors than liver pills, and boasts the world’s richest firms. The following is a list of just the tech firms: