SAFETY THIRD: Sacked DPW Dispatch Manager Blows the Whistle on Safety Issues

by Whatsblem the Pro

Earlier this year we reported on a spate of firings at Burning Man, including that of DPW Dispatch manager Palmer ‘Gameshow’ Parker. Technically, Gameshow wasn’t fired; the corporation that owns Burning Man simply declined to renew his contract. The reality of the situation, though, is that a long-term Burning Man employee in a management position was rather abruptly sacked after a decade with DPW.

Now Gameshow is speaking his mind about his tenure with the Man — and the reasons they fired him — and wants to share his thoughts with all of you, along with a letter he wrote to Charlie Dolman, the fledgling Event Operations Director that the Burning Man Org hired just last December. In a nutshell, Gameshow says he was fired largely for not keeping silent about the woeful state of the radio equipment his department was forced to work with, despite the safety issues involved.

[NOTE: “EMBER reports” are after-burn reports written by managers from every department of the Burning Man Org, to document in detail every significant success or failure.]

Former DPW Dispatch Manager Palmer 'Gameshow' Parker

Former DPW Dispatch Manager Palmer ‘Gameshow’ Parker

AN OPEN LETTER FROM PALMER ‘GAMESHOW’ PARKER

Greetings, friends and Burning Man family,

As most all of you know I received a phone call last March which said, in essence, I no longer had the job of Burning Man Department of Public Works Dispatch Manager because the new BM Operations Manager desired a closer working relationship between Emergency Services Division and DPW. Since then I have spent a LOT of time thinking about what happened and why. My primary concern as DPW Dispatch manager was always safety, not politics. It still is. The result is a letter to Charlie Dolman, the Operations Manager, along with the creation of a website which consists of that letter along with past manager reports, pictures, and other relevant information.

I invite you to learn more or, if you wish, stop here. Either way, know that I feel that your inclusion in this invitation was important. You have my permission to pass this information along to others if you wish.

The letter below was sent to Charlie Dolman with cc: to Burning Man Board, Executive Committee, and DPW Council of Darkness members. This is what my intro was in the email to Mr. Dolman et al:

“My apologies for the timing of this letter, it and the creation of a website have been a work in progress for months and now is when all was finally completed. . . if you encounter any difficulty in opening the file I can resend it in Word form.

I have attempted to cc: the Board, the Executive Committee, and the DPW Council of Darkness in particular though I was not able to verify all email addresses through the Burning Man website. I am sending it to others in the extended Burner community as well.

If you do choose to read my letter and go through the website I’ve created, I have one question for you: What would you have had me do differently?”

August 20, 2013
Charlie Dolman
Operations Manager
Burning Man
995 Market Street
15th Floor
San Franciso, CA 94103

Dear Mr. Dolman:

My name is Palmer Parker, playa name Gameshow. I held the position of DPW Dispatcher for 10 years, manager for nine of those. On March 13th of this year my immediate supervisor, Playground, informed me by telephone that Burning Man’s new Operations Manager “wished a closer working relationship between ESD and
DPW Dispatch” therefore my employment with Burning Man was terminated. This effectively also fired my wife Katy from her five year position as Dispatcher and my de facto assistant manager though no one from Burning Man has contacted her directly about that. It also served to eliminate my stepdaughter Aimee’s (Paws Off) two-year volunteer position under Bettie June in Art Support Services and removed my two step-sons’ (Andrew “L’il Dog” and Benny “Rooster Tail”) two-year volunteer efforts with Shelly in the Commissary. Over the months since that phone call I have spent many, many hours – including way too many times waking in the wee hours of the morning – processing what happened and why. This letter is one result of that pondering and, for clarity’s sake, it is not an effort to regain employment by Burning Man.

To the best of my knowledge you and I, sir, have never met or communicated directly in any way prior to my writing this – I didn’t know your name until I went looking for it on the Burning Man website after that phone call. No grievance has ever been filed against me, no request for mediation has been made toward me, and no conflict resolution efforts have been initiated by anyone but me. I have never been accused of theft, lying, assault, or any other criminal act at Burning Man. I will grant you that I was accused of sending a page about a death to a Board member at a very early time one morning. As that method of relaying such news would be entirely inappropriate regardless of the hour, when I asked for proof of the page I did not remember having sent, Joseph Pred told me that the paging log was corrupted and he was therefore unable to provide that record. In truth I may not have even been on shift that night despite what the posted Dispatch schedule listed.

There were no discussions of need for personal improvement plan or other HR-related activity (Charles of ESD COMM – a Burning Man contractor rather than employee – threatened on occasion that he would talk to HR about me or others who commented on the poor state of the radio system), no mention of probation or other change in my Burning Man employment status. I was directed to not speak ill of the state of radios last year and I followed that directive to the best of my ability. I was honest in my ten years of post-event manager EMBER reports. Given the very succinct presentation of the reason I was given for your firing me, I can only surmise that you based your decision on information, documentation, opinion, and/or otherwise provided by Joseph in his position as head of Burning Man’s Emergency Services Division (I find it ironic that I had, through my supervisor, requested mediation with him in 2011 and he refused). It is a sadness to me that the friendship he and I once shared has also been a victim of the continued state of radio service his department provides to DPW.

My primary concern as DPW Dispatch Manager was always safety with a close second being effective, reliable, and efficient radio service. The quality of the tools Burning Man provides to DPW Dispatch to establish the umbrella of communication creating that safety and efficiency is controlled entirely by ESD: DPW Dispatch is completely dependent on that department for equipment and programming.

Among myself and the Dispatchers who worked with me it had long been a grave concern that we would be unable to respond to an emergency because we could not hear a radio call or could not be heard when we attempted to transmit. A life lost or a serious injury is a horrible burden for a Dispatcher to bear even when equipment works as it should. And it appears to me that rather than work to solve the real problem(s) you chose, instead, to be convinced by Joseph to kill the messenger. Your action has relieved me of responsibility if someone may suffer injury or death because of defective radios but, in doing so, I believe you have taken that responsibility on yourself.

I have no idea whether you’ve read any of my EMBER reports or not. They have long included appreciations for jobs well done and concerns for shortcomings. Examples from last year’s EMBER (sort of extra-appropriate since when I added this example to my letter it was Fence Day 2013 and congrats to the crew there for this year’s record time):

  1. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT WORKED WELL AND WHAT DIDN’T THIS YEAR

WHAT WORKED WELL:

  • 4508 (CONTAINS THE DISPATCH OFFICE) WAS IN POSITION IN THE DEPOT-TO-BE ON FENCE DAY MORNING EVEN BEFORE THE FIRST LEG OF TRASH FENCE T-STAKES WERE IN ~ THANK YOU INSANE AND HEAT!! INSANE WAS ALSO KIND ENOUGH TO TAKE US TO BREAKFAST – IN 4508 – ONCE THE COMMISSARY WAS UP AND RUNNING.
  • SUPPORT FROM THE IT DEPARTMENT WAS, YET ANOTHER YEAR IN A ROW, STELLAR ~ COMPLETE WITH NEW (FASTER) COMPUTER, NEW (IT WORKED!!) PRINTER, ALL OF WHICH, ALONG WITH VOIP PHONE, WERE INSTALLED AND OPERATIONAL BY 2PM ON FENCE DAY. IT STAFF ALSO CHECKED IN ON US REGULARLY THROUGHOUT OUR TIME ON PLAYA AND, WHEN DISPATCH CALLED WITH A QUESTION OR PROBLEM, THEY RESPONDED IMMEDIATELY. IT IS TRULY WONDERFUL TO BE SO FULLY AND PLEASANTLY SERVED AND SUPPORTED BY THAT CREW.
  • SUPPORT FROM MANY FORMERLY KNOWN AS SENIOR STAFF AND/OR DPW COUNCIL OF DARKNESS.

WHAT DID NOT WORK WELL:

  • RADIOS
    • SADLY THIS IS YET ANOTHER YEAR’S EMBER IN WHICH I’M NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN.
      • DISPATCH WAS EXPECTING TO HAVE UP TO FIVE MOBILE (POWERFUL) RADIOS PROGRAMMED CORRECTLY AND COMPLETELY INSTALLED ON FENCE DAY IF NOT SOONER (THE RADIOS COULD’VE BEEN INSTALLED WHEN 4508 WAS ON THE RANCH). DISPATCH WAS WITHOUT EVEN A SINGLE MOBILE RADIO UNTIL TUESDAY (FENCE DAY WAS MONDAY SO THAT’S ESSENTIALLY TWO DAYS INTO TRANSPO) WHEN I (WITH PERMISSION) WENT TO THE RANCH AND REMOVED THE MOBILE FROM THE COMMON SHOP AND MOVED IT TO DISPATCH. TWO MORE ANALOG MOBILES WERE INSTALLED ON WEDNESDAY.
      • THE RENTAL BRICK TO RENTAL DIGITAL SNAFU WAS A HORRENDOUS TIME AND ENERGY SUCK. IT SET DISPATCH BACK IN TERMS OF OFFICE ORGANIZATION, STAFF TRAINING, AND PLAYA-WIDE DISPATCH SERVICES WHICH DOES NOT INCLUDE THE AMOUNT OF WORK TIME RADIO USERS LOST IN THEIR PART OF THE SWAPPING PROCESS.
      • CHANNELS 4 (PRIMARY DPW ANALOG CHANNEL) AND CHANNEL 911ALT (FORMERLY 912, THE BRICK RADIO’S VERSION OF ESD911) WERE TAKEN DOWN WITHOUT WARNING TO DISPATCH OR OUR USERS.
      • THE MORE DIGITAL RADIO USERS THERE WERE, THE MORE DPW’S PRIMARY CHANNEL BECAME UNUSABLE DUE TO HARMONIC INTERFERENCE.
      • WHEN 4508 WAS SWITCHED FROM GENERATOR TO LIGHT TOWER FOR POWER POST-EVENT THE UNINTERRUPTIBLE POWER SUPPLY (UPS) PROTECTING THE MOBILE RADIOS WENT CRAZY. SOLUTION WAS TO BYPASS THE UPS (THERE WERE NO COMM TECHS ON PLAYA OR IN GERLACH). THAT WOULD NOT HAVE OCCURRED IF THE RADIOS HAD BEEN POWERED AS REQUESTED IN LAST YEAR’S EMBER.
      • RADIO COMMUNICATION WITH THE RANCH BECAME DIFFICULT TO IMPOSSIBLE ONCE THE SWITCH TO DIGITAL OCCURRED. THAT PRESENTED SAFETY AND LOGISTICAL SIDE EFFECTS.

If you would like to read about my history at Burning Man, view, pictures, and browse other information you are welcome to visit www.gameshow.me. If you
would like to learn more of the DPW Dispatch side of ESD/Dispatch history, I can provide that as well. I started this letter several months ago and let it sit, I’m not usually the letter-writing type in a situation like this. Much more likely, typically, to recognize the hierarchy and move on. But I keep coming back to the issue of the safety of those on the playa. I have spoken of my firing with very few in the Burning Man organization (or elsewhere for that matter except by way of explaining why I wasn’t going to TTITD to those who expected me to be gone by now). It was suggested to me at one point that a way of airing my safety concerns might be by filing a grievance myself. I thought about that suggestion for a while and decided to try that route rather than airing dirty laundry, so to speak. I called Playground and asked her what procedure there might be. She said she would get back to me in a day or two and she did, saying that there was no procedure but if I’d like to write a letter to her she would forward it to Human Resources or, if I preferred, I could write to HR directly. As I had been told in March that it was you who had made the firing decision, I have decided to send this letter to you instead with copies to the Board, Executive Committee, DPW Council of Darkness, and others in the Burner community.

You can read the entire text of Gameshow’s letter to Charlie Dolman at gameshow.me

20 comments on “SAFETY THIRD: Sacked DPW Dispatch Manager Blows the Whistle on Safety Issues

  1. Pingback: BLM to Review Chocotacos, if BM Lifts Their Safety Game | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. on the plus side, now gameshow can go to burning man and enjoy it as a participant with no responsibilities. he is off duty all the time. He can still volunteer there. And he’ll probably get a better paying job. whats he doing now?

  3. Margy sid “I await Burning Man Organization’s rebuttal.”

    Big laugh there… radio silence is all you will EVER get from them. The same treatment you’d get from IBM, Microsoft, Charles Schwab or any other corporate kleptocracy. And if they do respond to anything, all you’ll ever get is how WRONG everyone else is. Every time. There exists NOWHERE a more dysfunctional group of insipid, vapid people then the board of BM. Just desperate people looking to seem important, but all they really do is order portable toilets and deal with our garbage. They are the least important people in this community.

    We should really get around to firing them and starting a democratically controlled city just like every other city in this great nation we were blessed to be born in.

    We should also write a constitution, that guarantees us rights and privileges.

    And BM should be a members only organization, to keep out people that are tourists.

    These 3 things are my recommendations for actual radical inclusion and participation. Not that lip service broad brush double talk ten principles crap. You can see any number of the ten principles at PTA meetings, Boy Scout camp outs, AA recovery or monasteries. We need concrete rights and privileges and consequences. We need representation, and we always have. We don’t have that now. We have a bunch of money hungry ego maniacs with bitter, hateful dispositions that are NOT part of our community leading us.

    It’s the worst thing I have ever been a part of. And yet, BM continues (despite their best efforts) to be the best thing I have ever been a part of.

    chicken

    • Chicken,

      A lot of this has been on my mind for some time; it bears some serious thought before any action can be taken, and I would look askance at any such effort made by any individual, because I think it will take a group of exceptional people to do it properly. . . but if you want to put your labor where your mouth is, I’d love to work with you on a first draft of a Burner Constitution, and a blueprint for action.

      You know where I am, and you know I’ll tell you without hesitation if/when I think your head is up your ass. Get in touch.

  4. Sounds like every other person “let go” from the organization. People are labled “Hard To Work With” if they want to spend a few bucks on safety or they want people to do what they said they were going to do. It’s just another good person dumped because they had too much respect from the people they worked with, which is a threat. Marion and Larry and their cast of idiots wanna cast the net as wide as possible and get as many people through the door and put 80,000 or 90,000 people in a remote desert location but they don’t wanna spend any money on safety stuff is the story we’ve all been telling for decades.

    • The part of this that boggles me is that the reason the Org gave for originally putting a fence around our Temporary Autonomous Zone and selling tickets to it and making rules for it (thus co-opting and destroying a healthy anarchy). . . was their supposed concerns over SAFETY.

      They make it clear time and time again that they simply don’t care about safety, as long as they can’t be held responsible. The people on the Board of Directors at the corporation that runs/owns Burning Man care about MONEY and POWER; they don’t care about safety. They don’t even care about the things that made the event so great in the first place.

      As with almost anything so irresistibly great, the biggest threats don’t come from outsiders, who can be easily won over. . . the biggest threats come from within. The barbarians at the gate do not signify; the cancer and rot eating away at the heart of the thing are where the threat lies.

  5. My question to ALL VET BURNERS…. Why do we play the political games. WHY DO WE NOT START AGAIN?? Under the guide lines and rules we set in place?? Why do we as a whoke continue to place “Our” art in “their” hand being the Org. And not take back our original rights. Why do we continue to comform? We ALL bitch a b d still comform to the new rules. We grew this for the world to see. There are many dates of tge year in which tge playa is free and all is possible yet we conform and bitch a bout conforming… To all “real” un commercial burners who seek the arts and freedom please tell me why we are not setting our own dates in which diddys and squats arent involved let alone army commanders in charge of distorting life and killing are involved. Seems to me a change is needed and it starts with us…. those who first gave this life and a breathe. Seem this “event” is in need of an over haul not involving egos and taco bell….

    • Easier said than done. Burning Man handily eats up and ties up nearly all the resources that might be available to anyone wanting to do something similar. Even if you held a new event in the off-season, you’d run into a huge brick wall with a Burning Man logo on it when trying to drum up participation from the makers and builders so necessary to pulling it off, as many of them spend all year prepping for Burning Man.

      Yes, there are many times during the year when the playa is free; a good part of that time it’s flooded out or otherwise even more inhospitable than it is during the slot that Burning Man occupies. Any BM alternative would necessarily take place elsewhere, and would still need to overcome the problem of industrial/artistic resources being dedicated en masse to Burning Man. This being the case, the strategy of shedding the corporate bloodsuckers and reclaiming Burning Man for burners — as difficult as that would be — seems much more viable than what you’re proposing.

      I love your spirit, but your solution is half-baked.

  6. Gameshow. He won’t be replaced by someone more capable. Whatever the truth and circumstances The Playa has lost a valuable asset.

  7. For those not familiar with the BMORG, they are more like Scientologists every day. There is NO access to question ANYTHING. Even THEY can’t ruin Burning Man, but it’s not for lack of trying. Think of the Peter Principle writ large.

  8. I am concerned about this grievance in several ways. First of all not everyone knew about this firing. Second whistle blowing is done prior to firing not after. Being these allegations are being stated after the firing verses before I question the reasoning for this letter. What is the end result desired in airing these concerns in this forum after the fact? Had such concerns been posted prior to firing then the merit would be much stronger. Now it reads as venting and that there is a desire to do damage to the Burning Man organization. This states one side of the situation. If correcting the problem was the end result why not reach out to the new person in charge and communicate directly? Also just because new measures have not been divulged does not mean that measures are not taking place. I think it is dangerous to sound the alarm in this forum in this way. I await Burning Man Organization’s rebuttal. At this stage I think it is important that they step in and advise what the measures are.

    • I think it’s clear that the “end result desired” is GREATER SAFETY. This isn’t some disgruntled jerk spewing venom and venting; maybe you should read Gameshow’s letter again.

    • i don’t think you read his letter. he was surprised at being fired. he didn’t vent his issues publicly because he was still being a company guy, but, apparently he was grousing unreasonablly about equipment which doesn’t function in emergencys. not much of a complaint to make. in the desert, smoke signals would have worked just as well. from the sound of it, there won’t be much a rebuttal coming.

    • Well said. I would have immediately spoken with Charlie Dolman. That either might have taken some persistence or been a snap, who knows. But if I am told that someone(A) told someone(a) to tell me that a contract, at the end of it’s term, was not going to be renewed, I would find out why from someone (A) directly while the contract was ongoing.

  9. hmm i wonder why the others were “effectively” terminated? sounds like an assumption that could have been made in error, at best.

  10. This is a very sad state of affairs. I have known Palmer for years, and he is top-notch at dispatch and safety. Burning Man has lost someone very special.

      • Amicus……I’m not a Burner. I do consider myself a friend of Palmer’s, but have also worked many years with him at another gathering where he does exactly the same thing….and does it extremely well. Palmer doesn’t have a mean bone in his body (Mr. Laid Back would be an understatement,)…. and always does his work to bring the best to the event. I’ve seen him deal with some very interesting security situations…..and he’s damned good. I don’t know what kind of hierarchy you’ve got going at BM, but it seems to me Palmer deserves a one-on-one with the powers that be to clarify what’s going on. Then at least everyone will know the dynamics and find a solution or move on.

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