continued Fortunately, however, a San Diego police officer came running up and asked about the situation. The officer then instructed Grant to lead him to the woman upstairs. The two of them ran up the stairs to the hallway entrance. "The officer tugged on the back of my shirt and yelled, 'Go,' " says Grant.
The two men pushed into the hall as far as they could, but by now, according to Grant, the visibility was eight or ten feet at the most. "Worse than that was the heat and the fumes," he says. "I felt like my chest was about as big as a walnut. You couldn't get air, absolutely couldn't get air. But suddenly, there was the woman, in her motorized wheelchair, coming at us out of the smoke. I guess she finally realized she was going to die if she didn't get out of there."
Grant and the officer guided the wheelchair out to the landing, where they carried the woman down the stairs. Then, while she held on to the stair railing, they went up and retrieved her chair. The woman was quickly reunited with her children, a four-week-old daughter and ten-year-old son.
By this time, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel were shooting water into the burning apartment and blowing smoke out of the building with a fan. Television cameras appeared shortly afterward. And lo, a KNSD reporter was seen speaking with young Huberto. Later, on the evening news, the reporter stated the facts. "Maria Caltette, a disabled woman, was still on the second floor with her ten-year-old son Huberto and her one-month-old daughter." "I thought about things they tell me in school -- not to panic when there's a fire -- so I didn't panic," Huberto said. "I grabbed the baby and I ran out."
Later, by phone, I speak with Maurice Luque, a spokesman for the fire department who was one of the first responders on the scene. Luque tells me he does not know which version of events is correct. I ask Jim Grant if the boy's version bothers him. "No," he says, "it's okay for him to take some credit."
"You know," he continues, "when my sister heard about what happened, she said I must have been crazy to run into that building. When it all comes back to me, I think I might very well have been crazy, because I almost didn't make it. But my company recently paid for me to take a very thorough first-aid class. I don't think that during the fire I was thinking consciously of the things I learned. Maybe subconsciously, though."
The day after the fire Grant returned to the Loma Portal. He tells me that seeing the wheelchair's tracks in the hallway gave him "an eerie feeling." He looked into Caltette's apartment again too. "It had a thick layer of black soot all over the place," Grant tells me. "The acoustical ceiling, the carpets, the couch, everything had been inundated by smoke. You could see the wheelchair tracks crisscrossing on the linoleum of her kitchen floor." nPR move of the year The former public relations aide to Alan Bersin during his stormy tenure as superintendent of schools here made some headlines of her own up the road in Fresno in 2007. After leaving the school district following the buyout of Bersin's contract in 2005 by a newly reconstituted board of education, Peri Lynn Turnbull did PR and fund-raising duties at High Tech High, a favorite Bersin charter school, and the local Red Cross chapter, where she had been hired by then-executive director Ronne Froman, another onetime member of Bersin's crew. Then in August of this year Turnbull abruptly surfaced as the new "chief information officer" for the Fresno Unified School District.
But the sweet terms of her contract, signed by superintendent Michael Hanson prior to school board review, set off a row similar to those Turnbull frequently encountered as Bersin's loyal lieutenant. The deal pays $125,000 a year, plus a monthly allowance of $2075 for meals, travel, lodging, and related expenses. Yet another provision allows Turnbull to work two days a week from her San Diego residence. That drew the wrath of Fresno Bee columnist Bill McEwen, who wrote that the arrangement "violates the first tenet of the public-relations practitioner's handbook: Don't become part of the story." McEwen also complained about Turnbull's monthly expense account, noting it "is more than what some families in Fresno Unified live on. Teachers paying for class supplies out of their pockets rightfully are incensed about the district's giving an administrator two grand a month." The debate came to a head at a rowdy school board meeting in October during which members of the teachers' union hurled catcalls at Hanson and board members when they tried to speak. That drew the ire of Bee editorialists, who called the heckling "shameful," though they counseled Turnbull to "make a connection to the community and not worry about whether she can make an airplane connection from San Diego." The board finally approved the contract, 5-2.
Bad news bloggers Did 2007 finally mark the beginning of the end for KPBS, the public radio and television station pair owned and operated by San Diego State University? With public contributions flat and growing competition from streaming news sources on the Internet, some questioned the station's continuing viability. In August, honcho Doug Myrland abruptly axed Full Focus, KPBS's only regular public affairs television show, on which local policy wonks matched wits with host Gloria Penner. The station's strategy of timing the announcement in the dog days of summer to avoid negative attention backfired when Myrland commandeered a blog on the KPBS website and blasted away at critics of the cancellation. "KPBS has been in existence for 46 years, and NEVER has it been a collective, or even a participatory democracy. I make decisions in the same way every General Manager before me did," wrote Myrland, a state employee. "We aren't elected officials -- every budget line item and every personnel decision and every bit of information we collect is not everybody else's business. Just because you give a contribution or pay taxes doesn't give you the right to decide -- or even influence -- what goes on the air and what doesn't."