Thursday, May 11, 2017

Firefighters union feels cut out of Spokane fire chief selection process

The union wonders why HR rejected a candidate with 22 years experience fighting fires

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 4:44 PM

The firefighters union hasn't necessarily been pleased with the way the national fire chief search has gone so far. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • The firefighters union hasn't necessarily been pleased with the way the national fire chief search has gone so far.

Soon, Mayor David Condon will choose the next boss for the city of Spokane's firefighters. But some local firefighters are feeling like they've had little influence on the selection so far.

"The process, from our perspective, hasn't been as inclusive of labor as we would have liked," says Randy Marler, vice-president of the Local 29 firefighters union. "From that regard, it hasn’t felt like we thought it would go. We thought we’d have more firefighters, more labor, more say in the process."

Instead, no Spokane firefighter was even a part of the screening committee that whittled down the applicants for the next fire chief to five candidates.

"We’ve just been excluded so much, I’ve just stopped asking questions because we aren’t getting anything," Marler says.

City spokesman Brian Coddington, however, points out that the union submitted a letter outlining what they wanted in a fire chief before the process began.

He notes that the final five candidates have been undergoing interviews with three panels today, which includes fire union representation. Coddington says union members are also welcome to attend tonight's public forum at 6 pm at the East Central Community Center.

Compounding frustrations, Marler says that Fire Station 4 Capt. Andrew Bessmer was weeded out before the interview process, despite his considerable qualifications.

"He's a station captain. He’s a full-bird colonel in the Army... He’s managed budgets and done plenty of administrative work. He’s insanely qualified," Marler says. "He was taking out of the process by HR. He never even had a chance to interview, to go to a selection committee."

City Council president Ben Stuckart heard the same complaints.

"There was another internal candidate that had a lot of support from the rank and file," Stuckart says. "Why did that person get eliminated?"

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The Smokes are leaving Spokane, but you have one more chance to see them Friday

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 4:08 PM

The Smokes are moving to the Twin Cities, after one last show Friday night at the Bartlett. - KIRSTEN BLACK
  • Kirsten Black
  • The Smokes are moving to the Twin Cities, after one last show Friday night at the Bartlett.

The first time I heard The Smokes, it was about a year after I moved to Spokane. It was in the aftermath of Windstorm 2015, and power was out at my house for a week. As a result, I was spending quality time bouncing around downtown until I had to go home. I showed up at the Big Dipper and walked in on a couple of guys decked out in colorful tuxedos, doing a garage-rock version of, if memory serves, some James Brown tune.

I was hooked. And here's a fuzzy photo I took that night:

The Smokes in November 2015.
  • The Smokes in November 2015.

I saw them a couple more times, which is pretty easy to do considering the duo of guitarist Himes Alexander and drummer Matt Slater seem to always be playing somewhere. That's one of the things I came to appreciate about The Smokes — they seem willing to share shows with pretty much any other band playing any style of music. And they'd make it work.

About a year ago, I wrote a profile of The Smokes for our Volume music fest issue, as the Spokane garage-rock two-piece was one of our "bands to watch" for 2016. Over some not-great whiskey, we talked music, politics and growing up African American in an overwhelmingly white town and part of the country.

We also talked their longtime plans for the band, and they were adamant about taking The Smokes out of Spokane and on the road. Now, it's happening, and it's not just for a tour.  The guys are moving to the Twin Cities to finish a music degree (Himes) and work at a new job (Matt) and see how The Smokes' tunes go over in a bigger town. And Minneapolis/St. Paul ain't just any music town; you might have heard of some of its more famous musical exports — Prince, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Atmosphere, etc.

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SFCC President Janet Gullickson to resign, take job in Virginia

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 3:11 PM

Gullickson is leaving SFCC for another community college, in Virginia. - COURTESY OF SFCC
  • Courtesy of SFCC
  • Gullickson is leaving SFCC for another community college, in Virginia.

Janet Gullickson, Spokane Falls Community College president, has accepted a job in Virginia and will resign from SFCC effective July 1.

Gullickson has been SFCC president since 2012. She's leaving to take over as president of Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where two of her children live.

"I love SFCC. I love the students, faculty and staff, and it's a fabulous place to work and be," Gullickson tells the Inlander. "But it isn't where my kids are."

Darren Pitcher, SFCC vice president, will take over as acting president for a year while Community Colleges of Spokane conducts a nationwide search to replace Gullickson, according to a CCS press release.

"I am tremendously honored to be chosen as acting president and look forward to supporting the work of our faculty, staff and students here at Spokane Falls Community College," Pitcher said in a statement.

Gullickson points to success SFCC has had in adding three Bachelor's of Applied Science degrees. That includes a new Bachelor of Applied Science in cybersecurity that SFCC won approval for last month. The college recently began remodeling its gym. It also moved its courses in Pullman to Washington State University's campus, a move that allowed SFCC to keep its Pullman branch and cut costs.

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Learning to live with dandelions, Spokane's infectious-disease response plan, and why do we lie?

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 3:01 PM

Maybe dandelions aren’t so bad…
2,4-D: Bad for your pets, bad for your kids, bad for you.
  • 2,4-D: Bad for your pets, bad for your kids, bad for you.

The chemical compound 2,4-D that dispatches weeds without hurting your grass may, unfortunately, be hurting your pets, you or your kids. Originally developed as a chemical weapon to “starve” Axis powers  in World War II by destroying their potato and rice crops, 2,4-D was a failure. Potatoes and rice were untouched by it. But weeds weren’t. Now it is widely used on farms, and is the most common herbicide found in suburban areas. But there are serious doubts about just how safe it is.

According to a report from public radio station KCET in Burbank, California, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health organization, classifies 2,4-D as a possible human carcinogen, mainly due to the chemical’s ability to cause genetic damage. Exposure has been linked to low sperm counts and male reproductive damage in animals, as well as reduced litter sizes. Dogs who lay on lawns treated with 2,4-D have a significantly higher risk of developing cancers.”

Might be better to just learn to live with dandelions.

Practice makes perfect
What if a plane lands in Spokane carrying a passenger suspected of having a highly infectious disease like Ebola? You’ll be happy to know that the city has a response plan for just such an event. The plan will be put to the test next Wednesday in what’s described as a “full-scale exercise” involving multiple players including the fire department, sheriff’s department, state and local departments of health, LifeFlight, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A “patient” will be transported from the airport to the “Special Pathogens Unit” at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, established in response to the Ebola epidemic in 2015.

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
Fake news, alternative "facts"… why do people lie? Explore the psychology of not telling the truth in the current issue of InHealth.

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Bloomsday results book available now throughout the Inland Northwest

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 12:46 PM

Sure, the T-shirt is cool and a nice keepsake, but you'll want to pick up the Bloomsday results book produced by the Inlander to see your named saved for posterity, along with the time it took you to navigate the 2017 course alongside nearly 40,000 of your friends.

The Bloomsday results book is available now, throughout the area or right here at the Inlander office, located at 1227 W. Summit Parkway in Spokane's Kendall Yards.

Just look for this when you're out and about:


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New report shows quality of life in Spokane County lower for minorities, poor, unemployed

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 11:22 AM

Where you live, how much money you make and what your health is like are among factors that contribute to your quality of life, which can vary drastically in Spokane by neighborhood and demographic.

A new report by the Spokane Regional Health District, based on 3,334 survey responses solicited from the community in 2015, shows that "When it comes to quality of life in Spokane, some have it better than others."

The health district announced the Quality of Life report's publication on Thursday, May 11. The first-of-its kind document can be downloaded in parts on the health district's website.

The report is "a holistic look at the health and well-being, comfort, and the overall lived experience of individuals locally — indicates marked disparities between different groups. Spokane's quality of life was lower among blacks and American Indians and Alaska Natives; among the poor; among the unemployed; among residents of certain neighborhoods; and among those who were less healthy."

The report is broken into five major categories:
  • Social capital: how socially connected you are
  • Citizen satisfaction with county and city government and infrastructure (think schools, fire and EMS, roads, jobs)
  • Public safety
  • Physical health and health behaviors
  • Mental health

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Hanford hole filled with dirt, questions and contradiction over Comey's firing, and morning headlines

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 9:24 AM


NEWS: What will happen to the 107 people, most with chronic mental illness, when downtown Spokane's Carlyle Care Center can no longer house them?

MUSIC: D.C.-based rapper Oddisee drops some wisdom on art in the era of Donald Trump, rap music as American literature and the hypocrisy in hip-hop and in all of us. He plays the Big Dipper on Saturday.


Comey over
Questions continue to surround James Comey's ouster as FBI Director in the middle of the Bureau's investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. (New York Times). And with comparisons to Nixon's Watergate scandal, Charles P. Pierce asks, 'Are there any Republican heroes left?' (Esquire)

• DNA match brings confession to unsolved assaults
A Spokane man who pleaded guilty to voyeurism after taking a picture of a stranger in a park bathroom is linked by DNA to other unsolved sex crimes. (KXLY)

Fake opioids kill more
Overdose deaths involving the synthetic opioid drug fentanyl (the same drug that killed Prince) have increased in Washington state, according to state and university data. (Seattle Times)

Rub some dirt on it
Workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation filled a 400-square-foot hole with dirt left by a collapsed waste-storage tunnel. (Spokesman-Review)
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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

FBI director learns from TV news that he's fired, Hanford tunnel partially collapses, and morning headlines

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 9:17 AM


NEWS: While activists are hoping to regulate both oil and coal trains under a local ballot initiative that posits both are dangerous, the evidence is thin that coal trains pose a unique health hazard to Spokane.

NEWS: The roof of a tunnel at Hanford containing rail cars full of contaminated equipment collapsed and was discovered Tuesday morning; an emergency was declared and employees next to the site were forced to shelter in place for much of the day. No one was injured; no leak was detected.

James Comey: The "prank" was anything but. - BROOKINGS INSTITUTION/PAUL MORIGI PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Brookings Institution/Paul Morigi Photography
  • James Comey: The "prank" was anything but.


Definitely not related
President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, specifically thanking Comey for letting him know repeatedly that he was not under investigation; there does appear to be an investigation into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The New York Times
reports that "Mr. Comey learned from news reports that he had been fired while addressing bureau employees in Los Angeles. While Mr. Comey spoke, television screens in the background began flashing the news. In response to the reports, Mr. Comey laughed, saying that he thought it was a fairly funny prank. Shortly after, Mr. Trump’s letter was delivered to FBI Headquarters in Washington."

Digging deeper into Hanford
Turns out, the tunnel that partially collapsed Tuesday at Hanford was supposed to be evaluated for structural integrity by this September. (Tri-City Herald)

After Bloomsday heart attack, runner gets shirt
A Spokane man who had a heart attack about halfway through the Bloomsday course still got his T-shirt, despite not finishing, after his family pulled some strings. (KHQ)

Stealing from seniors
Vandals cut the fuel line on a Meals on Wheels van, stealing the fuel for the second time this year, eating up the organization's maintenance budget and forcing volunteers to use their personal vehicles to deliver food to homebound senior citizens. (KHQ)
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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hanford tunnel breached: No radioactive release or injuries reported

Posted By on Tue, May 9, 2017 at 12:57 PM

"This picture shows a 20-foot-by-20-foot hole in the roof of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long. Surveys of the area show no indication of release of contamination as a result of the cave-in," according to the Department of Energy. - DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
  • Department of Energy
  • "This picture shows a 20-foot-by-20-foot hole in the roof of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long. Surveys of the area show no indication of release of contamination as a result of the cave-in," according to the Department of Energy.

A 20-by-20-foot section of a tunnel used to store contaminated equipment at Hanford caved in; it was discovered during a routine inspection Tuesday morning, according to the Department of Energy.

The discovery prompted an emergency alert at the site, though there has been no indication of any radioactive release. Crews surveyed the site and about 3,000 employees in the area were told to take shelter.

All employees were accounted for and no injuries had been reported. Employees at the rest of the Hanford Site were sent home early as a precaution.

The collapse, in one of two tunnels next to the former chemical-processing Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, known as PUREX, was found Tuesday morning around 8:30.

The two tunnels at the PUREX facility are about 360 feet long and 1,700 feet long, and were used, starting in the 1950s, to store contaminated equipment, an update on the Department of Energy's Hanford website states.

It's still unknown what caused the roof of the tunnel to collapse.

Hanford is a Superfund cleanup site, and the most contaminated of its kind in the country.

The plutonium used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II was made there.

The collapse happened in tunnels to the PUREX facility, which is in the 200 East Area. - DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
  • Department of Energy
  • The collapse happened in tunnels to the PUREX facility, which is in the 200 East Area.

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The evidence is thin that uncovered coal trains pose a unique health hazard to Spokane

Posted By on Tue, May 9, 2017 at 10:32 AM

Coal dust can be hazardous to human health and safety, but there's not much evidence that enough coal dust is escaping uncovered trains passing through Spokane to pose a clear danger. - SARA MIHAILOVICH PHOTO
  • Sara Mihailovich photo
  • Coal dust can be hazardous to human health and safety, but there's not much evidence that enough coal dust is escaping uncovered trains passing through Spokane to pose a clear danger.

This week's cover story is about how local leaders and activists have been fighting against oil trains, warning of a fiery catastrophe that could kill dozens if a train derailed downtown.

But the upcoming ballot initiative that would penalize the owners of certain types of oil train cars when they pass through Spokane would also fine the owners of uncovered coal cars, which don't explode if they derail.

That has critics like county Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich — a former coal miner himself — arguing that the initiative isn't really about health and safety at all. He suggests that environmentalists are using the fears over oil train explosions as a Trojan horse for an anti-fossil-fuel agenda.

But the initiative's proponents argue that uncovered coal trains are a danger to human health and safety, beyond concerns over climate change. They suggest that coal dust from trains coming through Spokane is hurting our lungs, poisoning our water and increasing the chance of derailments.

“The coal dust is impacting lots of communities, including our own,” initiative sponsor Todd Eklof says. “It causes respiratory problems.”

Yet so far, the evidence that coal dust from trains is putting the health of Spokane residents at risk is thin, to say the least.

Let's start with a few undisputed facts. As anyone who's seen Zoolander knows, breathing in enough coal dust can be bad for your health. It can seriously damage your lungs, giving you "Coal Worker's Pneumoconiosis," scarring the lung's connective tissue. It can also cause bronchitis and emphysema.

And coal, in high enough quantities, has the potential to contaminate rivers with mercury, arsenic and other toxic materials.

Finally, BNSF Railway itself has presented extensive evidence that too much coal dust buildup on the tracks can lead to derailments.

According to the New York Times, "after an extensive study, [BNSF] determined a dust buildup can prevent water from draining from track beds, which in turn can push steel rails out of gauge and cause derailments."

"BNSF has been at the forefront of coal dust research because we were the ones who first raised coal dust as an issue in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming more than a decade ago," BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace says in a statement. "BNSF has a vested interest to ensure shippers are in compliance with our coal-loading rule, as coal dust poses a serious threat to the stability of our tracks."

But as anyone who has taken a middle-school science class knows, it's the dose that makes the poison. Even broccoli has a tiny amount of cyanide in it, but we don't consume nearly enough to make it dangerous.

The question isn't whether coal dust can ever be dangerous. The question is whether the coal dust from coal trains traveling through Spokane County is dangerous enough to justify the initiative.

Let's go piece by piece:

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