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First Waco Citizens Fire Academy participants get firsthand experience with department's work

A handful of McLennan County residents suited up in firefighting gear last week for an up-close look at fire behavior and how it relates to firefighters’ work.

They were in the third week of the Waco Fire Department’s first Citizens Fire Academy and will meet one more time. The program, offering classroom sessions and hands-on experience and demonstrations, is an idea Fire Chief Gregory Summers brought with him when he started in Waco in March of last year. He oversaw a similar program when he was chief in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Lt. Eric Riser, who has been with the department for 23 years, said the program has been a blast, and participants will walk away with good information on the fire department and the fire-safety role they can play day to day.

“It is a push for fire safety awareness for citizens who signed up and had a curiosity to learn more about the department,” Riser said. “We mixed a little taste of what we do on our side of fire safety with what we would want the citizens to do on their side of fire safety.”

Riser said the experience has been well received by both the firefighters and the community members who embraced the program.

“It’s been very positive,” Riser said. “There were a lot of people who we ended up hearing from a little later who said they really wanted to participate.”

Officials have said they hope to make the academy an annual offering, and may expand beyond the initial 25 slots for participants available this year if there is sufficient interest. Instruction took place at McLennan Community College’s Emergency Services Education Center, where firefighters go for training.

Rod Aydelotte, Tribune-Herald 

Citizens Fire Academy participant Diane Rasner looks through a thermal camera during a “dollhouse” fire demonstration Thursday.

Diane Rasner, a longtime supporter of first responders, said she attended the Waco Citizens Police Academy, which got its start 30 years ago, with her son and has volunteered with the police department since. Now it was the fire department’s turn.

“We wanted to find out what the tasks that they had to encounter everyday were,” Rasner said. “We have a newfound appreciation for them putting their lives at risk daily for the people in our community.”

She said she was surprised to learn that Waco Fire, like other departments, responds to emergency medical calls and rescue calls much more often than structure fires.

In one hands-on demonstration, participants used hydraulic tools, often referred to by the brand name Jaws of Life, to cut off car doors in a simulated rescue.

Rod Aydelotte, Tribune-Herald 

Waco Fire Lt. Eric Riser opens and closes doors on a "dollhouse" to demonstrate how airflow can affect a fire, during a session of the first Waco Citizen's Fire Academy last week at MCC's Emergency Services Education Center.

Rod Aydelotte, Tribune-Herald 

Waco Citizens Fire Academy participants and firefighters head to a demonstration Thursday at MCC's Emergency Services Education Center.

On the personal fire-safety side, they reviewed use of a fire extinguisher to put out a kitchen fire. Instructors went over the importance of staying low to avoid smoke when escaping a fire, and told participants how closing doors can help isolate a fire.

Instruction ahead of live-fire demonstrations Thursday went over the phases of a fire and, how airflow affects a fire and how certain fire behavior dictates the best approach to fighting a blaze.

Riser said seeing people participate in the live-fire demos is one of his favorite parts of the academy. During one Thursday, he set a fire in a wooden “dollhouse” built for the purpose to show how apparently small changes affecting airflow, like opening or closing doors, can lead to dramatic changes in how a fire burns.

Rod Aydelotte, Tribune-Herald 

Firefighters help Waco Fire Academy participant Dena Williams get suited up with protective gear ahead of a live-fire demonstration during the academy.

The demonstration brought out plenty of cellphone cameras and questions.

Next, the group got suited up with bunker gear and breathing apparatuses, in preparation for a closer experience watching a fire develop, closely tended by firefighters, in the fire behavior lab.

Dena Williams, who also has participated in the Citizens Police Academy, said she learned a lot about what firefighters do.

“I really thought that firemen just had a hose and put out water,” Williams said. “I had no idea all that it encompasses.”

US has enough COVID-19 vaccines for boosters, kids' shots

MADISON, Wis. — With more than 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccines available, U.S. health authorities said they’re confident there will be enough for both qualified older Americans seeking booster shots and the young children for whom initial vaccines are expected to be approved in the not-too-distant future.

The spike in demand — expected following last week’s federal recommendation on booster shots — would be the first significant jump in months. More than 70 million Americans remain unvaccinated despite the enticement of lottery prizes, free food or gifts and pleas from exhausted health care workers as the average number of deaths per day climbed to more than 1,900 in recent weeks.

Federal and state health authorities said current supply and steady production of more doses can easily accommodate those seeking boosters or initial vaccination, avoiding a repeat of the frustratingly slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country early this year.

“I hope that we have the level of interest in the booster ... that we need more vaccines,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday. “That’s simply not where we are today. We have plenty of vaccines.”

Robust supply in the U.S enabled President Joe Biden this week to promise an additional 500 million of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world, doubling the United States’ global contribution. Aid groups and health organizations have pushed the U.S. and other countries to improve vaccine access in countries where even the most vulnerable people haven’t had a shot.

Among the challenges states face is not ordering too many doses and letting them go to waste. Several states with low vaccination rates, including Idaho and Kansas, have reported throwing away thousands of expired doses or are struggling to use vaccines nearing expiration this fall.

While most vaccines can stay on the shelf unopened for months, once a vial is opened the clock starts ticking. Vaccines are only usable for six to 12 hours, depending on the manufacturer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Moderna vaccines come in vials containing 11 to 15 doses. Pfizer vials contain up to six doses and Johnson & Johnson vials five doses.

“We are going to see more doses that go unused over time,” said Wisconsin’s health secretary, Karen Timberlake. “They come in multidose files. They don’t come in nice, tidy individual single-serving packages.”

State health officials said they have tried to request only what health care providers and pharmacies expect to need from the federal supply. Those numbers have dwindled since the vaccines became widely available in early spring.

But U.S. officials — holding out hope that some of the unvaccinated will change their minds — are trying to keep enough vaccines in stock so all Americans can get them.

That balancing act is tricky and can lead to consternation around the globe as the U.S. sits on unused vaccines while many countries in places such as Africa can’t get enough vaccines.

“Somebody sitting in a country with few resources to access vaccines, seeing people in the U.S. able to walk into a pharmacy and get that vaccine and choosing not to, I’m sure that’s causing heartache,” said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents the public health agencies of all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, said officials anticipate that on-hand doses of COVID-19 vaccines and manufacturers’ ability to supply more will meet needs across the country.

“I think states have tried to plan as if everybody’s going to be offered a booster,” he said, suggesting they will be overprepared for the more narrow recommendations issued by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

California, for example, estimated earlier this month that it would need to administer an extra 63 million doses by the end of 2022 — if initial shots for children under 12 were approved and boosters were open to everyone.

U.S. health officials late Thursday endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for all Americans 65 and older — along with tens of millions of younger people who are at higher risk from the coronavirus because of health conditions or their jobs.

California, with nearly 40 million residents, has the lowest transmission rate of any state and nearly 70% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated. That leaves nearly 12 million people not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary, said the state will rely largely on pharmacies and primary care providers to give boosters to seniors while some large counties and health care groups will use mass vaccination sites.

In Pennsylvania, more than 67% of residents older than 18 are fully vaccinated. Alison Beam, acting secretary of health, said health authorities now have “two missions”: Continuing to persuade people to get vaccinated and serving those eager to receive a booster or initial shots.

“Pennsylvania is going to be prepared,” Beam said. “And we’re going to have the right level of vaccine and vaccinators to be able to meet that demand.”

Baylor tight end Ben Sims (86) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver R.J. Sneed (0) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Waco, Texas.

A woman walks down from the stage inside an auditorium at Kabul University’s education center during a demonstration in support of the Taliban government in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

People line the street around the old Floyd Casey Stadium grounds while viewing dozens of entries in the Latin American Heritage Parade sponsored by Waco Hispanic Museum on Sunday. The event included free candy, cars, live music and a balloon from Baylor University for attendees.

Pelosi vows to pass infrastructure

WASHINGTON — With President Joe Biden’s broad domestic agenda at risk of collapse, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday vowed that Democrats will pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill this week and push ahead on the bigger $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change bill while acknowledging the total amount will drop.

Pelosi had originally pledged to House moderates a vote on the infrastructure legislation by Monday, but she now says that timeline will likely fall to later in the week due to Democratic divisions, giving space for negotiations so both bills could be approved. She is pushing to advance both this week, though that is not at all certain.

The $1 trillion infrastructure plan passed the Senate last month.

“Let me just say that we’re going to pass the bill this week,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes. You cannot choose the date. You have to go when you have the votes in a reasonable time, and we will.”

When asked Sunday if Pelosi had the votes to pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Monday, Biden told reporters at the White House, “It’s going to take the better part of this week.”

Still, in a delicate balancing act aimed at achieving the near Democratic unanimity needed to push the sprawling package through, Pelosi made clear that Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion for social spending and climate initiatives will need to be trimmed.

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they won’t support a bill of that size. Manchin has previously proposed spending of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion, an amount that progressives have called unacceptable for a bill they originally envisioned at $6 trillion.

Asked Sunday if she agrees the final number on the so-called reconciliation bill will be “somewhat smaller” than $3.5 trillion, Pelosi responded: “That seems self-evident.”

“We’ll see how the number comes down and what we need,” she added. “Again, the Senate and the House, those who are not in full agreement with the president, right, let’s see what our values — let’s not talk about numbers and dollars. Let’s talk about values.”

“I think even those who want a smaller number, support the vision of the president, and this is really transformative.”

Her comments Sunday reflected the enormous stakes for the coming week, one that could define the Biden presidency and shape the political contours of next year’s midterm elections.

Pelosi told fellow Democrats over the weekend that they “must” pass the social and environment package in the coming days, along with a separate infrastructure bill and a third measure preventing a government shutdown on Friday. Her letter to colleagues underscored the sense of urgency.

“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” she wrote.

Democrats have few votes to spare in the House and no votes to spare in the 50-50 Senate if there is no Republican support to enact Biden’s massive “Build Back Better” agenda. Republicans are lockstep against the larger measure.

Biden, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon.

The House Budget Committee on Saturday advanced a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs, though one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face. The bill, which is certain to be revised before House voting, would be paid for with taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who led a group of House moderates in pushing a quick vote by Monday on the infrastructure bill, said Sunday he wouldn’t be bothered by a slight delay. He was optimistic both pieces of legislation could be resolved this week.

“If the vote — the way these things work, if you start debating it and it rolls over to Tuesday, ... I think we’re all reasonable people,” Gottheimer said. “There’s too much on the line here for our country.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said members of her group won’t be willing to support the infrastructure plan until there is “ironclad” agreement in the House and Senate on the reconciliation bill. She didn’t rule out additional cuts to the $3.5 trillion proposal to reach agreement.

“If somebody wants to take something out, we need to hear what that is,” she said.

Pelosi didn’t commit when asked about a vote this week on the social spending and climate bill, which Democrats intend to pass with a simple majority without GOP support. She suggested that House-Senate agreement could be reached this week, depending on rulings from the Senate parliamentarian on what provisions could be included.

The overall bill embodies the crux of Biden’s top domestic goals, with billions for rebuilding infrastructure, tackling climate change and expanding or introducing a range of services, from free prekindergarten to dental, vision and hearing aid care for seniors.

But there are broad disputes on paying for the legislation as well as over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax breaks for children and health care, a push toward cleaner energy and higher levies on the rich and corporations.

Republicans say the proposal is unneeded, unaffordable amid accumulated federal debt exceeding $28 trillion and reflects Democrats’ drive to insert government into people’s lives. Its tax boosts will cost jobs and include credits for buying electric vehicles, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes, they said.

Pelosi spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” Gottheimer was on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Jayapal appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”