For Writers

KN, p. 227 “What kind of fire truck is that?”


Several of our pals are firefighters so when we visited the North Carolina cousins, we made sure to stop by the South Atlantic Fire Rescue Expo in Raleigh. We had a blast looking at all the trucks, and I mean ALLLL the trucks, big and small. It’s a terrific family event, with demos all day long, classes for the working firefighters and other rescue personnel, and opportunities for the money guys in the departments to plunk down orders for new, specialized trucks.


Heavy Duty Rescue Truck

When a fire truck rolled down the street, I never used to pay attention to what kind it was. Red was all I remembered as it passed by. Turns out, there are many different types, designed for distinctive situations. Fires are not always the same. There are industrial fires, apartment building fires, private home fires, brush fires miles away from a water supply…and more…so there are a variety of trucks to fit the needs.


On the TV show, “Chicago Fire,” two of the teams at the fire station are assigned to different trucks and have different responsibilities – the men and women on squad and the men and women on engine. They even sit at different tables when relaxing between calls. The squad fire truck has extra material and equipment (big ladders and other tools) for ground support, rescue, and site cleanup. It’s usually more specialized than the fire engine and would be called out for structure fires. The fire engine has hoses and water to fight the fires and is usually the first one sent out to a scene.









The multiple hoses needed are called ‘lines’ at the fire. If they kink while being used, the water won’t flow, so the engine has ladders and equipment to aid in the positioning of the lines, along with the smaller equipment the fire station considers important for the area/fires being fought.


Need more light at the scene for those difficult night fires? The Nightscan can be mounted on the trucks to light up the ground around the work area.



Here are a few of the firefighting vehicles we saw:

Heavy Duty Truck with Aerial Lift

The Heavy Duty Rescue trucks are generally 17’ or longer and carry about 4,000 pounds of equipment. That equipment will vary depending on the type of fires or rescue duty the firefighters face in their region. It might be rigged for wet or dry situations, hazmat, search and rescue, incident command, or even be set up for S.W.A.T. teams, and more. They are built to suit the demands of the purchasing city.


Aerial Truck with Basket

The Aerial trucks are the ones the crowds like to see in action. Small towns with no industrial plants or high rise apartment buildings would rarely, if ever, need one, but big cities often do. The price tag on a new, customized Aerial truck can reach a million dollars, and take over two months to construct, but even so, there is a waiting list at some truck companies of more than six months. While we were at the show, a similar big boy to the one in the photo was sold and paid for. The city had waited a while to get it into the town budget, and considered it a necessary tool for fighting industrial fires and below grade rescues, etc. in their miles long, multi-use municipality. The Aerial truck picture above shows a ladder that extends 100 feet when needed. Some extended ladders have baskets/boxes at the top end for the firefighter to stand in, but many do not.


When that ladder is extended, there are stabilizing ‘legs’ (outriggers) that pull out to keep the truck rock solid steady.


The Aerial trucks in this photo have their ladders extended the full length of their design – one reached 107 feet.


Rotary Lift

That’s a full-sized truck securely supported by this Rotary Lift. Before these came along, trucks had to be driven to the closest service area when needing to be worked on. It’s not like you can drive one of the trucks into your local car dealership or gas station, so the drive might have been 200 miles each way. Now, the Rotary Lift can be transported to the local fire station. Much easier, and most likely a faster turnaround for repair.


Tanker Truck









Sometimes, water is not available at the scene. There are trucks specially built for carrying thousands of gallons to areas with no central water supply.


ATVs are used in places that the big trucks can’t go. This one is used at area football games and can carry a Stokes style basket, as well as a hose (and liquid) to put out a small fire.


This 1905 Steamer is fully functional after having been restored in 2012. It cost $4,500. in 1905.


This year’s Fire Prevention Week messages apply all year round. 80%  of U.S. fire deaths happen at home each year, and the actual count had risen from previous years. With that in mind, most Fire Safety campaigns focus on home fire prevention:

  • Look for places fire can start
  • Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm
  • Learn two ways out of each room


Stay safe everyone!


*Photo credits above: taken by Patti Phillips at the 2018 Fire Rescue Expo, Raleigh, NC.


One of the Kerrian’s Notebook readers sent us this photo:

Courtesy of Ken Shoemaker:
“These firefighting vehicles are at the Cooksville Station of the Octavia Fire Protection District in Illinois. Our 1995 tanker pumper front mount pump on a Peterbilt chassis holds 3000 gallons with a front mount pump. It was the first 3000 gallon tanker pumper in central Illinois. We can put 6000 gallons of water on a structure before we drop a porra tank.”




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KN, p. 225 “Is that poison in your tea?”


Our local TV station provider has one channel dedicated to movies from the late 1940s, 50s and 60s – mostly westerns and mysteries. Last week, a screening of “Arsenic and Old Lace” was in the listing, so we grabbed some snacks and settled in for an evening of murder most nefarious, with a side of laughter.


After discovering a body in his aunts’ house, the sweet little old ladies reveal to their nephew (played by the horrified Cary Grant) that they had spiked their dead guest’s elderberry wine with arsenic, strychnine, and a “just a pinch of cyanide.” And there are more bodies in the cellar.


“Arsenic and Old Lace” was a hit on Broadway in the early 1940s before making it to the big screen, where it became a success as well.


There are several other popular movies that have featured poison as a method of dispatching the victims, but instead of the tried and true ASC (arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide) combo, employ poisonous mushrooms. The victims eat their way to nausea, gastric distress, and death, instead of drinking a ‘lovely’ cup of ‘tea.’


1971’s “The Beguiled” (remake 2017): Confederate soldier takes refuge at a girl’s school, but when he betrays two of the women, he is fed toxic mushrooms.


2017’s “Phantom Thread”: dress designer falls in love with the wrong woman. She makes him toxic mushroom tea, nurses him back to health, and when he doesn’t do what she expects, cooks him a mushroom infused meal. He remains sick enough for her to control him.  


Important dating rule to remember: if your girlfriend cooks for you, always treat her well.


Mushroom poisoning symptoms range from the less severe upset stomach to renal failure and death, which may take days. It all depends on which mushroom is chosen for the deed. Agatha Christie had her favorite chemical poisons in her books and selected them according to whether or not the poison was readily available to the criminal and how much time was needed for the bad guy to get away. Read “What poisons were in Agatha Christie’s books?” here.


All poisonous mushrooms cause vomiting and abdominal pain. Testing and experience has shown that mushrooms causing symptoms within two hours are less dangerous than those that cause symptoms after six hours.


Other movies with poisons in the forefront:


In 1949’s “D.O.A.” (remake 1988): a man, lethally poisoned, rushes around trying to find out who poisoned him and why.


“The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” (1995) was based on a real case. TheTeacup Murderer kills two of his co-workers by poisoning their tea with thallium, a highly toxic ingredient used at the camera factory where he works. He continues to select and at least sicken targeted people until new cups are put in place, confusing his plan.


I mentioned “White Oleander,” a movie from 2002, in Kerrian’s Notebook, Volume 2: Fun, Facts and a Few Dead Bodies. Oleanders grow all over the southern United States, so it’s a really good idea to stay on great terms with that neighbor with the oleander hedges. Don’t bug her about returning the weed whacker. Seriously.


Photo credits: taken by Patti Phillips at The Ferguson House, Antiques and Collectibles in Cameron, NC.




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KN, p. 223 “Underwater Evidence and Recovery: Searches”


Part 2 of “Underwater Evidence and Recovery” covers some of the search methods available to rescue and recovery dive teams.

Read Part 1: “Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies” here.


Evidence has been found and tagged with rope and buoy.

The evidence team works together to place the evidence in the container while underwater.












The divers each have different roles. In a three member team, one does the bagging and tagging and the other has primary responsibility to bring the evidence or a body back. The divers try to stay with the bag on the way up, so it doesn’t get snagged on rebar, fish hooks, or other debris known to be present in ponds and swamps. The large pond near my house has castoff evergreen trees around the edges – great hiding places for fish, but tough to work around when moving retrieval equipment near them.


One search method for remains thought to be in shallow, but cloudy, ponds is to form a ‘skirmish line.’ The team members lock arms and walk the area, to see if they can bump into the body. In deeper water, grappling hooks might be used if there is a suspicion that a body is snagged on a log or other large object. Sometimes, people drown in their cars after going off a road, and must be extricated before the car is towed out.


As upsetting as it might be to the families of missing loved ones, searches cost money. The men and women in charge of the searches must weigh their past experience in finding people under different circumstances and decide when to call it off officially.


Highly experienced divers have found bodies and evidence at a depth of fifteen feet, where it is extremely cold and almost pitch black. It’s not always possible to recover anything at that depth, with currents, storms, or toxic waste in the mix.


Searches are conducted with ropes because of the zero visibility. The bottoms of lakes are silky and murky and the divers see shades of dark. Lights don’t help because they bounce off particles in the water. The divers have to work by feel.


During training, already certified divers practice evidence recovery in clear water, then duplicate the exercise in black water. Some practice dives are done while wearing blackout masks. Trainees have been known to close their eyes and hum when getting used to the darkness. As one diver said, “It’s scary down there the first few times.” The job is definitely not for everyone. I certainly couldn’t do it!


A recovery buoy is attached to the evidence container.


The procedure after finding evidence or a body is to bag it while still in the water. The body bag has fine mesh on side to let the water out, but not the evidence. A design improvement created 6 points of attachment to lift the body bag, allowing more stability during the lift.


For a drowning, the divers buoy the body. For a homicide, the divers wait with a body bag and buoy it. Attaching a buoy allows for easier lifting.


Once out of the water, a record of the chain of custody is kept on the outside of the bag by the Medical Examiner.



Experts say that drowning deaths can be avoided by following some simple rules:


“Ninety percent of our fatalities could be prevented if they were wearing a life jacket (while boating),” North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Hannah Shively explained.


If you see someone in distress, try and throw an object towards them, whether it’s a stick, fishing pole, cooler, or life jacket, to pull them to safety. Don’t let yourself or anyone else become a statistic.



*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at two Writers’ Police Academy events in North Carolina. Many thanks to the members of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department for their informative presentations and to Lee Lofland for organizing the annual events.




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