Monthly Archives: November 2010

Firefighting women of Portage Lake

[My father, Louis Michaud, was a local volunteer firefighter for years when I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s in Portage Lake, Maine. I recall that he was the fire chief for a time and was in charge of fire suppression at Pinkham Lumber Mill in nearby Nashville Plantation. He worked at the mill, first in the yard, later as the dry kiln operator and foreman, and then he was in charge of the mill’s cogeneration plant. The fire suppression job came along with the territory. And in a small town like Portage in those days, everyone came running when the siren mounted on the Town Hall sounded. It was always exciting when the siren went off, often in the middle of a family meal. He would jump from whatever he was doing and drive off in his pickup to the Town Hall to jump into the fire engine parked in the hall’s basement. While attending the California State University at Chico, I was a wildland firefighter for three fire seasons. I even considered joining the fire services as a career. What I did not seem to know – at least, not until I stumbled across a story in the town’s history, “Portage Lake: History and Hearsay – Early Years to 2009,” was that my mother, Diana (also called Diane) Michaud, also had firefighting training. Other women mentioned in the story are mothers and other relatives of my childhood friends. Bea Cormier used to cut my hair and I played with her sons throughout my adolescence and in high school sports. The story that follows is in a section of the Portage Lake history covering 1970 to 1979 and was likely written by Rachel Stevens, a local woman who also happened to be my first school teacher. Her Maine sense of humor is woven into the writing. The story is on Page 57 of the history, for those of you who have a copy, and it mentions an earlier story in The Bangor Daily News, but fails to mention the date of the story. – KM]

 FIREFIGHTING WOMEN

The Fire Department in Portage was a volunteer organization, which meant there was always a need for more people to help at fires, being willing to be trained in using the equipment and showing up at meetings. At the time, many of the men who were active in the Fire Department worked out of town and were not available during the day. If a fire broke out mid-afternoon, it had a good start by the time someone reported it and the men could get away from work, get the truck and get to the fire.

A group of women, most of them wives of firemen, decided to help. They were all in Portage during the day, so they were immediately available if there was a fire. In a Bangor Daily News article about the group, Diana Michaud said, “We felt we ought to know what to do if a fire broke out.”

Bea Cormier organized the group, which included Diana Michaud, Barbara Paradis, Grace Nason, Shirley Nason, and Avis Bass. They received training from Roger Marquis, a firefighter from Presque Isle, and learned how to operate the truck and the pump. The training included use of a respirator, resuscitator, and inhalator.

Grace Nason described with satisfaction being able to demonstrate how to pop the clutch when taking the fire truck up Hayward Hill. And they put their training to good use.

The Bangor Daily News article described a Monday morning fire when there were more women than men: “Those present have a lasting memory of Mrs. Cormier’s arrival in high boots and hair rollers with axe in hand.” In an interview, Bea, Diana, Barb and Grace agreed the training made them confident. Hearing the siren no longer seemed frightening when they knew they could do something.

Every call presented an adventure. One of the first ones occurred when the information Bea Cormier received had her taking the truck up the West Road, only to have Rena Boutot race out to stop her and tell her the fire was on the Cottage Road. Bea realized with horror that she had to turn the truck around, something she had never done. Fortunately, she was able to drive through the loop at the artesian well and reverse direction.

There was the time they responded to a fire at a camp. A 100-pound propane tank in a shed blew as they were arriving, going straight up and straight down. They were all shaken, but went on setting up. Diana went back for the Jeep, the men arrived and they put out the fire.

On their way to a possible drowning on the West Road, Diana’s car hit a low branch, but she never stopped. When she came home, however, she found her spaghetti sauce burned and the house full of smoke.

This group of women provided a useful service, and was an important part of the Fire Department. They were able to get equipment to a fire and have it ready to work when more helped arrived. Because of what they did, property was saved and less damage occurred.

Coffeehouse observation No. 234

Probably a short day at the coffeehouse today. I forgot the power cord to the laptop. Grr!

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Bookmark and Share

Writing in a circle, from surprise start to ironic finish

For as long as I can remember, I knew that I would be a writer. I just did not think early on that I would ever make a living at it. I thought it was something that I would do on the side, for myself and no one else.

And, now after 22 years as a professional writer and editor, I may never write and edit for a living ever again simply because of the economic atmosphere in which we live.

Such are the circles of life, I suppose.

As a youngster, I wrote stories in a form that most resembles storyboards, sort of a cartoon or graphic representation of a tale. Storyboards are used to outline television commercials, TV shows, movies or other video presentations. My fictional stories – which included plots and characters plucked from the latest adventure television programming – were for fun and to pass away the time during long, cold winters in the North Words of Maine or long, rainy days during summer vacation.

Later on, my high school English teacher, Janice Webster, occasionally encouraged me to write beyond the journal entries she assigned. But a high school boy more interested in sports and girls was embarrassed by the recognition and I mentally shoved aside the idea of writing beyond regular English assignments. Continuing a private journal was one thing, but being a professional writer on any level was out of the question.

Besides, there were far more practical pursuits on which to concentrate – studying for a profession or vocation – but writing was not one of them.

But college professors at the University of Southern Maine where I attended from 1980 to 1983 also were encouraging in critiquing my written work for courses in various areas of study, including English. It was comforting, but it still was not enough to spur me to write more than what my college courses required or what I cared to jot down in my personal journal.

I still have some of those early journals and marvel at how utterly terrible some of my writing was then. There are times I have considered finding an open spot and torching a pile of those journals so that they do not fall in the hands of even mildly intelligent people who will recognize the writing for what it is – dung.

Going west

While I loved the University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine in general, I felt a bit adrift there after three academic years. I was not sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, let alone what I wanted to study to get there.

So, almost reluctantly, I took the advice of several fellow USM students just returning from the National Student Exchange program. The program allowed students to attend courses for either a semester or complete academic year at other universities throughout the country, and then return to the home university. I picked California State University at Chico in Northern California.

Chico is north of Sacramento, but still well within the state’s prime agricultural area. Besides agriculture, the economy was centered on the university, a nearby community college, a major regional medical center, retail outlets, and, because Chico is the county seat for Butte County, social services.

Modern-day Chico was founded by Capt. John Bidwell, who in 1841 travelled to the West and for a time worked for John Sutter. After the discovery of gold, Bidwell tried a hand at gold prospecting. He eventually bought and sold a couple of land grants, eventually buying the Rancho Chico, the basis for modern-day Chico. He became one of the state’s largest landowners and wielded his political influence running for several offices, including for president of the United States.

Bidwell’s mansion is a state historic park on the edge of the campus. He also gave the city land for what was then – and very probably now, as well – the third largest municipal park in the country. Bidwell Park is a lush sanctuary that starts near downtown Chico and meanders along either side of the Big Chico Creek into the lava-formed foothills. Bidwell Park has a couple of swimming holes, bike and running paths, horse trails, ball fields, a fairy tale-themed children’s playground, nude beaches, hiking trails and more. The city’s municipal golf course is in Upper Bidwell Park.

I have not been to Chico in years and that is a shame since it is a fantastic place.

I originally planned to attend Chico State for a semester and then return to USM to finish out my college career. But, as such stories go, I fell in love with a woman. The problem was, of course, she was not interested in me. So, I arranged to stay for the entire academic year, I suppose in the hope of winning her heart.

I did not win her heart, but Chico won mine. I fell in love with the university, the city, and the outdoor activities in and around Chico. So, I settled in and became a wildland firefighter for the summer following my first academic year at Chico State. I was a wildland firefighter for two more summers while attending Chico State, rising from firefighter/sawyer/swamper to squad leader to crew leader my third year.

I very nearly made firefighting my career and still occasionally feel regret that I did not give the idea more thought. By now I would have nearly 30 years in the fire service and would be planning my retirement, whether as a transition into another career or as a transition onto a tropical beach. That – and the fact that I did not really pick a major until they forced me to – might indicate how conflicted I was in trying to pick a career.

Picking a path

Yes, they forced me into picking a major. They forced me because I could not seem to do the deed.

My academic adviser John Sutthoff, a professor in the school of communications, finally put down his foot and insisted that I pick a major. He asked what I enjoyed doing. I thought about and said I enjoyed writing, because I did enjoy writing in my personal journal and enjoyed the positive feedback from professors when it came to writing for my coursework.

He said that the school had public relations and journalism majors and both required much writing. Not wanting to be a public relations practitioner, I said I would try journalism.

I was not sure even then that I would end up being a professional writer.

With several of the basic news writing and editing courses down, I ended up on the staff of The Orion, the campus newspaper. There was only a part-time staff writer position available, but I was able to get full credit because I also became an assistant to the production manager. That meant that I was able to learn a bit about being a reporter and a bit about physically putting together the newspaper, which was much different than it is done today.

Then, the story was reported, written, edited and outputted on a strip of photographic paper. That paper as developed, trimmed to the width of a newspaper column, waxed and then put onto a blue-line grid sheet matching the newspaper page. Headline, cutlines, photos and ads were done separately, waxed and then attached to the grid sheet in the appropriate places. A photo of the page was then taken by a large camera, the negative transferred to a metal plate that was processed and then placed onto the drums of the printing press. Pressmen, who to this day keep secret the exact manner for placing plates on the press and for weaving the web – the rolled paper magically threaded through the press that will become the newspaper – then run a section of the paper. That was taken by conveyor belt to the circulation department where the various sections were combined – either by hand or by machine – to form the complete newspaper.

Now, software allows for stories, complete with headlines, subheds, cutlines, photos and ads, to be placed on an electronic page and output to plating as a single page before converted into a plate, saving much time and effort on the editorial side of the production.

First big story

Even as a part-time staff writer, I ended up with some exciting stories. I was interviewing the campus police chief one day about crime stats or something as banal, when a campus police sergeant came in to update him on an upcoming operation. The chief introduced me and the sergeant asked if I was coming along.

I was stunned, really, because they had been talking in police-speak and I was not clear on what they were talking about. The chief told me a bit about what was going on and said it would be OK if I wanted to come along with a photographer.

As it turned out, there was a ring of Chico State and Butte Community College students who were going onto the Chico State campus and elsewhere to steal coins from vending machines. They also were stealing other property, as it turned out, including stereo equipment and bicycles. (Chico is a big bike town, especially for college students. There used to be an annual road trip to Davis, another bike-friendly college town, to, um, borrow bicycles from University of California, Davis, students. Davis students would return the favor, of course.)

One of the members of the ring, Chico State football player Steven Crittenden, was nabbed doing something else and he pretty much gave up his crew. Officers went to the apartment of the gang and found a pile of coins, bicycles, stereos and other stolen property.

That was my first big story. Front-page of The Orion with photos. It was fun, especially since I believe we beat the local newspaper, The Chico Enterprise-Record. I sort of caught the bug then.

[But the story goes on a bit. Crittenden, the guy who tipped off police about the vending machine thefts, later was arrested in a rape. And then charged, tried and found guilty in the January 1987 double torture homicides of a prominent Chico physician and his wife, Joseph and Katherine Chiapella, in their Chico home. Crittenden’s trial was moved to Placer County, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. He remains on California’s death row. Here’s a link to a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals response to a filing for an appeal in the case with a description of the homicides. WARNING: The descriptions and other factual information are fairly graphic.]

I was the editor of The Orion the next two semesters. I wrote columns and editorials, mostly, and made sure we had enough stories to fill the pages. It was an eventful two semesters, but I think I would have been better served if I had been a writer for a full semester instead of being the editor. Some of the other writers from that time went onto great things, from working in journalism to writing and producing television dramas.

The Real World

After graduation, I hung around Chico for about a month before getting a job as the editor of The Mendocino Beacon. That began my professional career as a writer and editor.

From Mendocino, I went on to be a staff writer at The Ukiah Daily Journal, The Woodland Daily Democrat, and The Reporter in Vacaville. I stayed more than 13 years in Vacaville, moving up to copy editor, assistant news editor in charge of special sections, columnist, and opinion page editor. In a desire to make more money, I moved onto The Record in Stockton to take a job as an assistant city editor.

I stayed with that a couple of years until a newsroom reorganization resulted in me being reassigned to being a staff writer on the newspaper’s website. I was disappointed. There was no other way to look at the reassignment except as a demotion, a demotion not because of my work, but because of someone else’s inability to lead.

However, the year or so I spent working on the website was very beneficial. My main duty was to update content on the newspaper’s website, send out news alerts to mobile subscribers, and write breaking news. It gave me many new skills and helped me refresh old skills.

It was going well – or so I thought – until I was laid off March 5, 2009.

As past readers will know, I have been looking for work ever since. I have been looking for employment in conventional newsroom settings and online news services, and writing and editing opportunities for the federal government, nonprofits, and green industries. So far, a couple of interviews, but no offers.

I know I will find a job – eventually. I just wish it would happen already, especially since I’m quickly running out of unemployment insurance benefits. For that reason, I may have to take any job, whether it is in writing and editing or not.

And that is why I feel that I may not write as a professional ever again. It just may not be in the cards for me.

Epilogue

Irony is wonderful, isn’t it? I wrote this mostly string-of-consciousness blog entry after starting to re-read Rene J. “Jack” Cappon’s 1991 version of “The Associated Press Guide to News Writing,” a manual on how to best write clear, concise news stories. The irony is, of course, that I wrote an entry that is more than 2,000 words; there is nothing clear or concise about that.

Coffeehouse observation No. 233

A guy just walked by the coffeehouse wearing a worn hoodie and a makeshift cape. I’m thinkin’ he’s a down-on-his-luck superhero. … And I have no idea what his superpower might be, so don’t ask.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations at http://coffeehouseobserver.wordpress.com/ .

Bookmark and Share

Coffeehouse observation No. 232

Attractive new table umbrella at empresso swaying slightly in the wind.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations at http://coffeehouseobserver.wordpress.com/.

Bookmark and Share

A meal and more: Thanksgiving Day tradition of food, fellowship continues at Messalonskee High School, elsewhere | The Morning Sentinel, Waterville, ME

A meal and more | The Morning Sentinel, Waterville, ME.

Report lauds quality of NH, Maine health care | The Associated Press via Bangor Daily News

Report lauds quality of NH, Maine health care | The Associated Press via Bangor Daily News

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality 2009 State Snapshots

 

USM team holds DNA clues to spill’s impact on whales | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

USM team holds DNA clues to spill’s impact on whales | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

DEP: Vinalhaven wind turbines too loud | Bangor Daily News

DEP: Vinalhaven wind turbines too loud | Bangor Daily News.

With economy improving, more Mainers hit the road for holidays | Bangor Daily News

With economy improving, more Mainers hit the road for holidays | Bangor Daily News.

Coffeehouse observation No. 231

Hmm, the coffeehouse seems to be playing old police-PI TV show theme songs. “SWAT” was earlier, followed shortly by the theme from “Shaft.” Go figure.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Bookmark and Share

Ski resorts welcome weather | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Ski resorts welcome weather | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Man charged with topless coffee shop arson wants trial moved | Bangor Daily News

Man charged with topless coffee shop arson wants trial moved | Bangor Daily News.

L.L. Bean makes Consumer Reports’ naughty, nice list | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

L.L. Bean makes Consumer Reports’ naughty, nice list | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Maine unemployment rate drops in October | Bangor Daily News

Maine unemployment rate drops in October | Bangor Daily News.

Full speed abed: Hundreds watch raucous MDI bed races | Bangor Daily News

Full speed abed: Hundreds watch raucous MDI bed races | Bangor Daily News.

Addison boy, 9, honored for saving grandfather who fell overboard | Bangor Daily News

Addison boy, 9, honored for saving grandfather who fell overboard | Bangor Daily News.

Coffeehouse observation No. 230

I’ve been trying to be good by not pointing out all of the oddities at the coffeehouse, but … a guy just walked in wearing a motorcycle helmet, leathers and clogs. Yes, clogs. Is it just me or do clogs sort of fit in the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others category? Clogs? Really?

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Bookmark and Share

Tides of promise: Tidal power could help restore economic sustainability to eastern Maine | DownEast.com

Tides of promise: Tidal power could help restore economic sustainability to eastern Maine | DownEast.com

http://www.downeast.com/magazine/2010/december/tides-promise

 

Surrendering in the face of overwhelming odds | DownEast.com

Frankly, I hadn’t heard this story, but the locals seemed to understand the concept of fighting another day. Here’s some Maine trivia from DownEast.com

What gained Fort Sullivan fame in 1814?

Answer

Built in 1810 as a battery and blockhouse in Eastport, the fort gained fame in 1814 when a dozen British warships loaded with two hundred guns came into sight. Against such overwhelming odds, the fort’s six officers, eighty men, and nine guns surrendered upon demand.