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Monday, October 5, 2009

If Only We Knew How Stupid We Were

If only.... if we knew in advance, some of us wouldn't make so many dumb judgement calls.

Calling upon the topic of the previous post, we were dispatched to a report of... what else... power lines down.

Man, is it just me, or does this power company stuff cross with fire department stuff just a bit too often here?

I arrived with the first Big Red Truck, and one of our newer kids had arrived just ahead of me in his personal vehicle.

An aside. If you're one of the new fire kids, I have a general observation for you: Generally, you have no awareness, no fracking idea of 95% of the crap that will kill you in this job. You're thinking, yeah, that's those other new guys, but I read the trades, I participate in training, I work out, I study on my own... he's not talking to me.

Um... yes, I am in fact talking to you, too. But thanks for your extra effort. It doesn't hurt.

You will spend at least the next 20 or so years being continuously surprised at what, except for the grace of God, almost killed you, that you never imagined coming. Get used to that feeling, respect it, and slow down.

Anyway, back to the story....

I get off the Engine and size up the situation. There is no traffic accident at this intersection, so no clear reason for anything to be on the ground. Red Flag. What happened that I can't see? It might just have done falled down, but I don't know yet. It is telecom wire. The three phase primary and neutral are intact. There are no immediate hazards. By my trained eye, it is "probably" safe.

Then I see new kid, walking right up to the wire. Oh no he isn't....

I call at him to hang back. He, being the new young stud who attends more classes than I do and is on the list to get hired at the nearby City, hesitates for a half second and then ignores me, pretending he didn't hear me.

With apologies to Dave Barry, I swear I am not making this up, he kneels down, reaches out to the wire tentatively, and then does this kind of fast-touch-and-pullback thing... kind of like when you're using the least-intelligent way to see if the burner is really hot. What, you're testing for a buzz to see if it's live?

I don't remember what I said after that to get him to back off, but I admit it probably wasn't professional. Even then, he sauntered back like he was done doing what he wanted on his own terms.  Smooth for a guy who has no idea of how dumb he just was.

I brought him behind the engine, mostly out of view and tore him a new orifice right there. I didn't wear an officer's helmet for nothing. Being ignorantly stupid is marginally excusable, but ignoring an order is most assuredly not. But the issue of obeying orders is merely ancillary to the story... I digress.

So here is the rundown:

#1 - The fact that he was 'testing' the wire tells me he is not able to differentiate between the various wires on the pole, and had no idea what he had in the first place.

#2 - If it had been a live service wire, 120V is still capable of killing, so why dink around with it? The ability to turn around and say 'it's hot!'? For what gain?

#3 - If it had been a live service wire, the electric current could have induced a muscle contraction, which would have resulted in his hand instantly and involuntarily grabbing the wire before he could pull his hand away. And then he'd just be there, holding it. Do I smell burning bacon?

#4 - If it had been the 14kV primary live on the ground: Kaboom. Almost certain death, and although a body would have remained for the funeral, a hose line to clean some of the mess would still be in order.

There were no hazards, no threats to life safety, it wasn't lying in the road, there was no traffic problem and not much of a pedestrian problem. All that risk playing with he knew not what, for zero benefit.

I tried to teach him in later days when I calmed down. I don't know if it stuck.

If only he knew how stupid he was. If he survives long enough, I don't expect him to fully grasp his situation from that day until he's at least 40.

To be fair, I've been doing this for many years, and I am only just beginning to realize how stupid I still am sometimes. I blanche to think about the dumb stuff I've done and somehow survived.

If you're a new kid... whatever you do, it won't be enough. You'll still vitally depend on your officers and mentors, and you'll still need a lot of luck. Do your part to not stack the odds further against you.

Now you know how stupid you are. We all are now and then. Now that you know, there are no excuses. Slow down, really slow down, and hopefully you'll go home after every call. Good luck.

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