Dogs and the Fire Hydrants

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While walking our dog Maximus, a black Labrador, every mornings and evening on a 5 km route through the City of Mississauga, Canada, it was intriguing to see him stop at nearly all fire hydrants (non-existent in India) and expel a part of the contents in his bladder.  Maximus it seems has developed an art of dispensing a small quantity each time so that he can cover all the fire hydrants dotting the entire route.  I observed other dogs also doing the similar act and hence concluded it as a canine act.

Why do dogs get attracted to the fire hydrants?  As the fire hydrants are located is most likely closer to the sidewalk, all it takes is one dog peeing on it to get it to be a popular spot.  Once one dog marks it, the rest follow.   Dogs like something that extends above the ground level to mark their scent on.

Male dogs are attracted to pretty much anything they can lift their leg up and pee on. Urine is a dog’s visiting card. They will mark their territory on pretty much anything. A fire hydrant is no different than a telephone pole, light pole, or a sign pole. That is how they tell the other dogs who has been there and who is the boss.

Females aren’t much different except they are less dominant and obviously don’t lift their leg, making it harder to aim.   Dogs urine-mark in a number of situations, including while on walks, when in their own homes and yards, and during visits to other locations. A dog must be at least three months of age to urine-mark.

What makes fire hydrants so special?  It cannot be the bright red colour as like all other animals, the canines see in different shades of grey and not in colour.  Height! The three feet high fire hydrant appears ideal for the canine act.  The higher a dog can lift his leg to urinate, the bigger the dog they must be, and the stronger probability they have in making their mark last. A small dog is no match when it comes to masking the smell of urination from a bigger dog.  The shape of the fire hydrants and they being placed at a near constant interval of about 50 meters may also be the cause of attraction.  The association between the dogs and the fire hydrants are more a media creation and also a marketing gimmick by dog toy and treat manufacturers, who make these in the shape of a fire hydrant.

A fire hydrant is an active fire protection measure, and a source of water provided in most urban, suburban and rural areas with municipal water service.  This enables firefighters to tap into the municipal water supply to assist in extinguishing a fire.

In areas subject to freezing temperatures like Canada, only a portion of the hydrant is above ground. The valve is located below the frost line (about 10 feet deep) and connected by a riser to the above-ground portion. A valve rod extends at the top of the hydrant, where it can be operated with the proper wrench. This design is known as a “dry barrel” hydrant.  In this model, the barrel, or vertical body of the hydrant, is normally dry.   It is only in movies you see the fire hydrants spewing out water when hit by a car in a chase.  It is unlikely to happen as the control valve and the water is at least 10 feet below and it would be difficult for any known car of the day to break the cast iron column.

The invention of a post or pillar-type fire hydrant is generally credited to Frederick Graff Sr, Chief Engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works around the year 1801. It had a combination hose/faucet outlet and was of ‘wet barrel’ design with the valve on 4top. It is said that Graff held the first patent for a fire hydrant, but this cannot be verified because the patent office in Washington DC caught fire in 1836 destroying many patent records from that period.

In the earlier days, at least the 17th century, when firefighters responding to a call, would dig down to the wooden water mains and hastily bore a hole to secure water to fight fires. The water would fill the hole creating a temporary well, and be transported from the well to the fire by bucket brigades, or later, by hand-pumped fire engines. The holes were then plugged with stoppers, normally redwood, which over time came to be known as fire plugs. The location of the plug would often be recorded or marked so that it could be reused in future fires. This is the source of the colloquial term ‘fire plug’ used for fire hydrants today. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, the city installed water mains with holes drilled at intervals, equipped with risers, allowing an access point to the wooden fire plugs from street level.

In most jurisdictions it is illegal to park a car within a certain distance of a fire hydrant. In North America the distance is commonly 3 meters or 10 ft. In the UK, yellow lines are used to keep cars from parking over underground hydrants. The rationale behind these laws is that hydrants need to be visible and accessible to the fire engines in an emergency.  The fine for breaking the rule can be anything from $25 upwards in Canada.

In India we have no fire hydrants and hence no such laws and so no fear of fines.

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Canadian Report Card

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The competition we faced back home always prompted us to cross-examine our children when they came home with a report card or a test result.  We always wanted to know as to who got the maximum marks, where does our child stand in the class,  etc.  At the end of Grade 11 of Nikhil in June 20114, when our son came home with the report card, he declared “do not ask me how others did as I have no clue as I did not ask anyone about it”.  It is indecent to ask someone their marks in Canada and the marks are confidential and is never announced in public.   The report cards are handed over to the students in a sealed envelope, obviously to ensure confidentiality.

The aim of a progress report in Canada is to enable the students to reach their potential, and to succeed. It is a real challenge for the school as every student is unique and they got to ensure each student gets adequate opportunities to achieve success according to his or her own interests, abilities, and goals. The reporting is fair, transparent, and equitable for all students. It supports all students, including those with special education needs and all those learning the language of instruction (English or French). The curriculum is carefully planned to relate to the expectations, learning goals and cater to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students.

All aspects of learning are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course.   The reporting provides a descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement. It also develops students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning.

The high school report card looks more like the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) in the army – it appears as if it leaves no aspects of learning skills and work habit of the child uncovered.  The aspects covered in the report are Responsibility, Organization, Independent Work, Collaboration, Initiative and Self-Regulation.  Strengths and Steps for Improvement are listed out for each subject separately.

My mind raced back to our Sainik School days and even our army course days; where no marks were ever kept confidential and were mostly put up on a notice board.  I always looked at the mark list on the notice board to make sure that I was not the last.  What an injustice, especially to those who did not fare well.

Once I perused his report card, I asked him a few questions to find out some details about the steps for improvement and we discussed in detail as to how he is going to prepare for his Grade 12.   After discussing the same, I casually asked our son as to how his friends did.  Our son theorised that students want to either show off their marks or feel a bit good when they have really done well or in case they haven’t, they are looking for someone who did worse.  He was not in either and hence did not find out how others did.  I realised that what he said was what I had been doing all throughout my life, either blow the trumpet, or look for someone who did worse to feel happy that you are not the worst.

Our son had done exceptionally well in French and the teacher rewarded him with a recommendation for a cultural and educational exchange program in France.  He went to  Paris (01 July 2014) and returned  on 31 Jul with a French Grade 11 Student, Guillaume Le Floch.  Nikhil stayed with the Le Floch family for a month in France.  Guillaume stayed with us and returned to France on 31 Aug.

While Nikhil was away for a month, I felt a vacuum, both in my mind and at home.  Our dog Maximus seemed pretty depressed and had been running all over the house looking for Nikhil.

We will all got to get used to such absence of the kids and this will prepare us to learn to live without them in times to come.

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Academy Drill Instructors

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“Drill is the bedrock of discipline” and the Drill square is often compared to a potter’s yard, wherein clay of various hues and textures are shaped into commendable works of art; each piece unique in itself and yet part of a whole. Passing the Drill Square Test (DST) entitles every cadet to the two ‘Ls’ he craves for; the Lanyard and Liberty. Here the ‘Liberty’ is a pass to go out of the Academy on a Sunday.

Every Defence Service Officer would always remember their Drill Instructors – the Havildar Majors (Sergeant Majors) and Subedars (Warrant Officers) – who taught them the basics of drill. These Drill Instructors have to constantly maintain a high standard of military bearing and a super intense level of performance while they are training Officer Cadets. They are always under the microscopic eye of the Cadets.   They are in a competitive environment against other Drill Instructors of other Squadrons/ Companies to ensure that their Squadron/ Company emerge as champions at drill in the Academy competitions.

Above all, they take on a huge challenge to accomplish, making soldiers out of raw teenagers, coming from different parts of the country, speaking different languages (I could hardly understand Hindi when I joined the Academy), from different family/educational backgrounds.

There is a lot of prestige associated with being a Drill Instructor at the Academy. The training to become a Drill Instructor is tough and the job has long hours and can be extremely demanding. These Instructors, mostly from the Infantry Battalions, are real go-getters and are always looking for opportunities to push themselves. It is one of the highest honours a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO)of the Indian Army can get. Only the most qualified NCOs are chosen to attend Drill Instructor Course and from them the cream is selected to be appointed at the Academies.

The Drill Instructors train the Cadets under the watchful eyes of the Drill Subedar Major (Master Warrant Officer) and the Adjutant of the Academy has the overall responsibility for the Drill Training.

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Our course-mates stationed at Mumbai organised a get together on 26 February 2016, to honour our Drill Subedar Major(SM), now Honorary Captain Ghuman Sinh. He was the first Drill SM when we joined the Academy and he was the best Drill SM I have come across in life. As a cadet both at the National Defence Academy (NDA) and at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), I had seen a few more, but he was easily the best. He had a roaring thunderous voice at the Drill-Square, but had the softest tone elsewhere. He had mesmerisingly penetrating blood-shot eyes at the Drill-Square, which metamorphosed into large pools of kindness when outside the square. He was surely a soldier to the hilt, perfect with his drill and above all a great Guru.

SM Ghuman Sinh never believed in punishments. At times we got late for the Drill class by virtue of previous class getting delayed and our drill instructors got into the act of punishing us for being late. SM Ghuman Sinh would reprimand these drill instructors saying “These Cadets do not deserve punishments as they are not responsible for the delay. Treat them like your sons and teach them Drill.”

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One Sunday morning, cycling my way to the Church, (the route was through the Drill Instructors’ Quarters), I met a soft-spoken, humane person, dressed in his civvies, waiting with the NDA cycle near the church. He inquired as to where I was off all alone in a hurry. I said I was off to the church and the mass was to commence in about ten minutes. This person I knew from his bearing and being with the NDA cycle was a Drill Instructor and he spoke to me with a lot of compassion, care and love ( for NDA Cadets, it’s a rare experience). At the end of the conversation, I bid goodbye to him and assuming that he might be a recently posted Drill Instructor, my last question  was – “By the way who are you?” The man said “I am your Drill SM Ghuman Sinh”. I just could not believe my ears and eyes, as the man in the civvies was really humane and I had seen him only in his military uniform until then.

At the NDA, in Echo Squadron, we had Subedar Kalyan Chand from the Dogra Regiment as the chief Drill Instructor with Regimental Havildar Major Karnail Singh Chauhan from the Para Commandos as his deputy. They were really good at their job, thoroughly professional and real hard-task masters.

Two years after my Academy Training, as a Lieutenant, I was leading the Artillery Brigade Athletic team for a competition at Dehradun. On reaching the ground for the march-past, I realised that a button was about to come off my blazer and I needed a needle and thread to fasten it. I looked around and saw SM Kalyan Chand there. He, a roaring salute. me, a bear hug! I then requested him for the much needed needle and thread. The service came in no time, but SM Kalyan Chand insisted on fixing the button himself. He said that it would be a matter of honour for him to do the favours for his cadet. I was pleasantly taken aback by his kind gesture.

In 1990, our Regiment moved to Udhampur and was co-located with a Para Commando Battalion. An officer from the battalion was my neighbour and while conversing with him he said that their SM was Karnail Singh Chauhan. Next day I walked into the SM’s office and he could immediately recognise me. He introduced me to all the Havildar Majors of his battalion who had assembled there as “My Cadet at the NDA, now a Major in the neighbouring Artillery Regiment.” After that the two units developed such a great rapport that they would help each other with troops, vehicles and other resources whenever needed.

Our classmates’ from the 1979 batch of Sainik School Amaravathinagar had a reunion at the NDA on 22 December 2015.  It  commenced with the wreath laying ceremony at the Hut of Remembrance, to pay homage to the martyred officers, who had passed out of NDA. The solemn ceremony was an acknowledgement of the courage, valour and sacrifice of those who served the country. The ceremony had a patriotic impact on everyone present, especially the children.

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The Drill Instructors (Havildar Majors) provided an excellent ceremonial guard for the occasion. At the end of the ceremony, I thanked them and spoke to them to say that the Drill Instructors at the Academies are the most blessed lot of Gurus as they are the only ones to see their wards placed above them on completion of training under them. Hence, they are doing the most divine job and must always strive to impart the best Drill education to the cadets.