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Thursday, November 10, 2022

Hell Day

Hey faithful readers. If you are still here, know that I appreciate you still checking back once in a while, I know it is a long dry spell between posts.

Been here at my current power company gig now for about 18 months.  Really liking it, really glad I made the move, and fully intend to retire from here.

When I wrote this post, I talked about how I was one of three hires.  They actually only hired two at first, myself and an internal guy I'll call Eric.  Then, one of the other companies I had applied for called, offering me a job that I turned down because I had accepted this one. Turns out, one of the existing operators here also put in for that other company, and after I declined, he got the offer and subsequently left. So my bosses went back to the list that Eric and I got chosen from, and grabbed the #3 guy, Dave.

Eric started first because he was already an employee and didn't need to relocate.  I had to give two weeks and then move across the country, so my start date was almost a month later.  Dave was an internal employee like Eric, and came in just a week or so after I did

We all went through training more or less together, but it was understood by everyone that I was the fast track guy because I was the only one coming with experience and there was a hole in the rotation that needed to be filled. I was released to operate first as expected, before the year was out.

What wasn't expected is that Eric would struggle as much as he did.  This job just isn't for everyone.  There are so many moving parts, so many things that you need to understand, and it requires substantial capacity to maintain situational awareness of everything going on.  That and the confidence to do your job, be decisive, and take actions as needed without delay.  Then there's loads of mundane abilities you have to master, mostly having to do with navigating procedures and software and such.

Still, Eric was making progress, but despite starting a little later, Dave was progressing more.  About four months after I was cleared to operate, Dave got the blessing and went on shift as well.  Eric and Dave actually were friends before coming in here, they worked together in the field for years before this. Dave being released first was hard on Eric, for sure.

Today was finally Eric's big day to make the final hurdle. Hell Day.  After completing myriad task checkoffs and required courses, getting all of your documentation completed and certifications filed, and after passing a final written exam, you have an all-day intensive review in the training room on the system simulator, getting grilled by four or five other operators and supervisors. Various operating scenarios and system events are loaded into the simulator so the trainee can demonstrate recognition of what is wrong and what to do about it.  Lots of questions, and maybe a few curveballs.  You don't have to get everything exactly right, but you do have to demonstrate that you can function under pressure and are teachable, and that you at least don't do anything to wreck the system.  Better to be decisive even if imperfect, than to do something seriously wrong, or to freeze up and do nothing. It's high pressure, no doubt.

So about three hours into Eric's Hell Day review, during a break, he came out, went to the restroom, and then... left the building without telling anyone, and never came back.

I mean, not everyone is cut out for this line of work, but usually this is discovered in the course of training well before Hell Day or whatever various companies do, and the operator candidate is allowed to coast along and help out as able until they are able to bid back out to a job in another department. Violently flaming out like this is, well... I know it happens, but I've never personally seen it happen before.

It left a dark cloud hanging over the place. Everyone feels bad for Eric. He's a nice enough kid, but maybe he never really recovered his confidence after Dave moved ahead of him. I do fully expect the company will work with him to find him a home elsewhere, probably in his previous department. But man, it's just a horrible thing to have happen.

I'll try to get back to you guys to let you know how it all ends up working out for him. My hopes and prayers are that this ends up ultimately being a good thing, that he finds a job he likes and can thrive at, instead of suffering in here over his head.

Keep the faith, my friends.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Bygone Golden Blogging Age

While trying to spin this place back up, I've been looking over my old blogroll, and found so many of them more or less abandoned. Others are still "active" but have been.... hijacked. Someone bought the domain and is making posts, but they're just trolling for referral link traffic now, clearly not the original author or content.

Removed most of these now, but it's sad, there's still a lot of good (but old) content out there on some of them.  Maybe I'll circle around and re-add the ones abandoned in place under the heading of Dead Blogs I Liked, lol.

It shows how long I've been sidelined from the blog scene that I didn't even notice them also going dark, though. The golden age of blogging has apparently passed us by.

There must be some good ones left somewhere, though.  I especially liked the fire, cop, EMS and 911 dispatch blogs that were personal in nature. I was able to look around and find a handful of candidates to add and we will see where they go.

I'm not sure how many readers I still have (surely not as many as I once had since I was gone for so long myself) but if you're still there and know of some other good ones still going, please comment below so I can check them out and we can all try to stick together.

Monday, January 3, 2022


There have been a few challenges in this great reset.  But it seems to be working out so far.

Let me just say, though, that in many ways it is a hell of a lot easier to be a new guy who knows nothing, than a new guy who knows things. How much that helps or hurts, as it turns out, is greatly dependent on the culture of where you land.  Between the cultures of the new power company and the new (old) fire department, the differences have been stark.

It turned out that my new power company historically is known for basically never hiring external power dispatcher candidates. If I had known that going in, there's a fair chance that I would not have even put my name in the bin due to the long odds. But as luck would have it, out of a staff of fourteen dispatchers, they had three openings in short order due to retirements and other factors. Normally they could have handled this because they had enough notice, but COVID gummed up the hiring processes and they ended up behind the ball. As a result, when the logjam was broken, they needed one of the three new hires to be experienced so they could get up to speed within like six months or so instead of the normal 18-24 month training period. And that person ended up being me.

Now it is no secret that I think that I'm really good at what I do, but it still felt pretty good to be the #1 pick for this rare external hire out of a nationwide search. Yeah.

Also, for the record, I put my name in the bin for jobs at other power companies in my plan to relocate. I was offered a job at another one just two days after I was offered this one, before I made it a point to call around and withdraw myself from those other processes.

#1 pick for two nationwide searches in the same week? Yeah, that feels nice.

Anyway... culture.....

At the new power company, open discussion and questioning is encouraged.  My new supervisors and coworkers have all been very open to me talking about my previous jobs. They know very well that this company tends to hire from within, there's not a lot of external influence and therefore not a lot of diversity in ways of thinking about how to do things. When I see something that I think could be done better, they have encouraged me to talk about it, which is pretty amazing really. To be fair, after I say "this is how we did it at this other place", more often than not the response is "that's nice, and interesting, you make some very good points, but we're probably not going to change that right away".  And I'm fine with that.  It's just wonderful being invited to contribute ideas that get a genuine listen. What an amazing culture. Open to discussion, challenges to the norm, respectful discourse. Glorious.

At the fire department, not so much.

I resolved from the very beginning to try to not be "that guy", particularly since in this case I was returning to an agency where there was still some familiarity, a handful of guys I worked with in my earliest Fire days are still here. Still.... mouth shut. Smile and wave. Yeah.... I'm not always very good at that.

Fell in with the old guys well enough for the most part, as I had found and then stayed in touch with many of them via social media, so I was not a total unknown to them.  But there are also of course a lot of newer guys here.  "New" being relative, of course, a lot can happen in 20+ years of absence.  Namely, the agency went through a couple of painful Chiefs, the second of which was so bad that as far as I can tell nearly the entire staff threatened a collective resignation to the City unless something was done. The City got rid of that guy, but the culture damage done over almost two decades of poor leadership had taken root. 

Cases in point: One of the first things I helped with upon rejoining was hose testing. Quite a few recruits and fellow probies there. When three of them grabbed LDH to drag them out, I tried to tell them it was easier work if they'd space themselves out. When multiple people grab hose and they're just a few feet apart, the last person ends up doing the actual pull while the others are carrying just the few pounds of hose in their hands. Also, almost no one was wearing a lid when the LDH and attack lines were pressurized. I've personally seen hoses fail during tests and had couplings launch. That crap can kill you. Tried to suggest people get those helmets on. At least one of the (relatively) older members was greatly affronted by me offering advice (some of it potentially life saving), and he talked crap to a few other members, and that greatly set back my reintroduction to the agency. Maybe I didn't need to give advice about the hose pull and should have just smiled and waved, but I was a trainer for too long, it is in my nature. I won't apologize for suggesting lids be worn, though.

People are just showing up and doing their jobs. People are easily butthurt. People are not open to discussion or mutual improvement to the team. Basically, unless you see something so dangerous that injury is probable, it seems that you mind your own business and look the other way.  And sometimes even in those cases....

This is a horrible culture that is going to get someone hurt or killed.

This has also led to a culture of insecurities and jealousy for some. We don't have room for that in this business. Check your feelings at the door. If I do something wrong or could do it better, I want you to tell me so we can have a rational conversation about it, and if necessary we can do some mutual investigation and fact finding to find the best answers. I might have been right all along, or I might be wrong, and there's also probably more information to inject into the conversation that properly sets context, instead of  just operating with the base assumptions that started the discussion, and until we know, we.... don't. That's how we all improve ourselves professionally. It's not personal. That attitude is lacking amongst several members here, and those members cannot process how much of a barrier that is to their professional development. And as such, in their positions of relative experience and authority, they are passing those errors downstream to new recruits who don't know better.

If I could just bide my time and wait until I am re-established here, then I would be able to gradually try to bend the culture back in the right direction. But there's a wrinkle.... my lovely new bride also decided to join the department.  She is totally new to Fire.  You think you worry about your crew getting home safely, and your trainees being able to absorb enough to keep themselves alive? And now that person is your spouse. Pressure? Worry? Yeah.

So in like our second month back, the wife and I were going over SCBA, just the two of us, with the blessing of the on duty captain whom I've known for a long time. Sean comes into the station, sees us on the floor with a pack.  Being a new (and insecure) Captain who wants to assert his superiority and position, he asks if we need help. Now, I know he is insecure and I want to help him feel better about himself, and I don't want him to feel challenged by me, so I gratefully defer and let him take over.

In my best Dave Barry voice, I swear I am not making this up, he starts going over the various components of the SCBA, and when he gets to the emergency bypass valve, he says "you can use this thing to defog your mask if you need to", and then moves on.  Never identifies it by its actual name. Never mentions what it is actually for, never explains how to operate it, never discusses why you might need to use it.

Dude, you're a Captain.  Really?

Mouth shut. Smile and wave. I can fix this with her later. Right?

Then he moves on and shows her the ICM.... the module with the analog and digital pressure gauges, and the motion sensing unit, that hangs in front of your chest, and says "here's the regulator..."

I can't. I just can't. But still trying to defer to his insecurities and not be "that guy", I try leave him an escape. I know people have different names for the ICM... or just don't know what to call it in the first place.

"What's that? We called it the ICM where I came from, but what is it called here, so I know?", and I casually pick up the actual regulator and make like I'm verifying the bypass is closed.

"We call it the regulator. It's the regulator."

"I thought this was the regulator." I hold it up.

Dave Barry voice. I swear I am not making this up. He doubles down. "No, that just goes on the front of your mask, this is the regulator."

I simply couldn't find the strength to keep my mouth shut. "I've never heard that called the regulator. I'm pretty sure this is the regulator..." (holding it up) "... because this is the emergency bypass which allows higher pressure into your facepiece in case the regulator fails. If that was the regulator, there would not be higher pressure available here at this valve."

I honestly don't remember what all happened after that, but I do know that I basically said we would have to agree to disagree and that he abbreviated the rest of the session and bugged out, but let's just say our relationship has not been the same since. I've watched him bluster through a few other situations, and felt bad for him and his insecurities.... to a point. He's had a couple of times to condescend towards me about "you said you have all this experience when you interviewed, but I haven't really seen it". If you knew how much I wasn't saying, you'd know a thing or two about my experience, Sean.

A part of me dies inside every time we run a call and the chauffeur and officer are more concerned with stomping the Q to death and using the airhorn - through green lights at 3AM - than driving with due regard. Dude, let go of the airhorn chain and put both hands on the wheel.  If something goes wrong, yanking on that chain is not going to be the thing that saves us. Did I mention that our rig, the third out of the house on one of those calls, was halfway out of the bay when the unit that responded before us was canceled by Command, yet we responded anyway by carefully not announcing that we were en route? In order for Sean to sit in the front right seat and make noise and feel important for a few minutes?

Smile and wave.

A few months have gone by since these episodes, and the waters are finally beginning to settle. Thankfully the number of guys with butthurt and insecurity are not in the majority, though their influence is still significant.  There are years of poor formation that will take more years to undo, because so many people just turn the other way because what should be a minor behavioral correction with minimal coaching has turned into hills no one wants to die on.

Next task: Convince certain influential people here that 100psi at the tip is absolutely not appropriate for smoothbore nozzles. They train here to operate all lines for 100psi at the tip no matter what hardware is on the end of the line. Getting zero traction on this so far, but I'm a new guy so I can only push so hard without making those waves. Help.

I'm not trying to bag heavily on my new (old) fire agency.  There are a lot of great people here, and it is a great organization overall, but I remember what it was and know where it can be again. There's work to do here.

If you have a good culture, be ever so thankful for it, and cultivate it constantly.  Recovering it when it is lost is an enormous task. I sure wish some certain new fire compadres could know what it feels like to work in a cooperative atmosphere, one where everyone is on the same team and has the same goals unhindered by sensitive feelings, where a conflict is seen as a growth opportunity, not an attack, without the fear that someone is going to undermine them and pin them with gotchas. Bad culture is toxic. It's not entirely their fault, but they have now become the obstacle to progress... the trick is making some of them realize it. If they were to read this, would they even recognize themselves as such.... or just be offended some more and allow the cycle to continue? I want to bring them to the power company job and let them see what it is like to, you know.... actually selflessly work together.

Or, maybe.... maybe I'm just an insufferable know it all pain in the ass.  Can't rule that out I guess.

All that said, overall it is GREAT to be back.

Stay safe out there, and hug your loved ones.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021


My mind comes back around to thinking about this blog from time to time. But most days it feels like I've already told the best stories, and then of course it also seems like the golden age of blogging came to a close in like 2014, you know?

A big part of why I stepped back was that, frankly, my new power company job that I started in 2011 just turned out to not be that interesting. Don't get me wrong, it was a great job that I enjoyed very much, but it didn't provide much the way of blog fodder. And then, after a heavy dose of personal burnout combined with incompetent leadership and growing toxic culture at my last fire job, I had to step away from that. So I really didn't have a source for fire blog fodder any more, either.

So, Three Mouse Clicks went pretty much idle.

In the intervening years, other stuff broke down. In 2018, my wife of 26 years, after too much personal stress not entirely under her control, decided she didn't want to be who she was any more. She walked away from us, her professional life, and nearly all of her family and friends, to start a new life. Three years on, it hasn't worked out so well for her, but you know, choices....consequences. I wish her well anyway.

Then, 2020.


Don't get me started.

I have spent the last 15 years in a land of predominantly liberal leadership, and closer to one of the cities renowned for 2020's senseless nonsensical violence and rioting than I'm comfortable with. I never took this blog to political places much, but suffice to say I was done living in a region lacking leadership that also couldn't seem to allow people to make choices for themselves. Between that and losing interest in my power company job there, I hit my limit.

Time to hit the reset button.

I took a new job as a dispatcher for a very large midwestern utility. This job is very similar to my first one, but with a better company. Nice, spacious control room. Chill personnel. Big map board. Lots of consoles. High security all the way around. An interesting system with lots of complexity. I like it.

I also have moved back to the small town where I got my first fire gig. The FD there runs 10 pieces out of a large central station, including three paramedic ambulances. It's been 24 years since I left there, but there's still a handful of guys there I know. Dropped in with pie and ice cream to visit the duty shift a few days ago, and all signs point to me ending my five-year hiatus from Fire as soon as things get settled in. I'm still got a few years left in me, and this time I want to go out on my own terms.

Anyway, this place has been filled with nothing but echoes of old tales for a long while. But now I'm picking up the pieces of those earliest echoes, when I was happiest. The reset button worked beautifully.

Oh and yeah.... I'm getting married again. Found a great partner, making it permanent, and no longer going to have to fight the single-parenting struggle with my youngest kids who are still at home.

Life is what you make it, right?

And maybe my new adventures will lead to new stories for this place.

If anyone is still out there reading this, drop a comment so I know this didn't just get broadcast into a black hole.

God bless and stay safe out there.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Postcards and tales

Hey guys.

Lots of life changes, that I may or may not go into on here at some point.  We all go through them, we all have drama.  I'm still at my power company job, though, that hasn't changed.  Sometimes I think about this place, and wonder if I've got some more writing in me.  Not quite yet, but I was successful in getting dear old dad, the Smooth Substation Operator, to write me up one of his tales.  He has so many!

This one is an easy one, won't require too much gray matter, but just so you have a chance to get to know the man.  Hopefully he will do a lot more guest articles for us!  So here is where he went when we talked about poor storage of 9 volt batteries.  As a refresher, by the time he retired about 10 years ago, he was the senior all-knowing "oracle" of the substation operations staff, and tended to be the mother hen for everyone in the shop.....


The 9-volt thing was something that I came across online years ago, about how some loose 9 volt batteries had gotten together in someones kitchen 'junk' drawer, heated up, started a fire, and set the house on fire.  Whatever it was, the article had a couple of 'impressive' pictures.  But the writer's recommendation was to put some kind of tape across the snap contacts.  OK, good idea.  At least his house wasn't a total loss.

But same basic thing.  6 volt lantern batteries, the kind with two coiled-in-a-cone-shape contacts on top.

Each year, winter-coming-on time, I would go through the emergency kits and check / replenish as needed.  Finding the occasional red plastic hand lantern with a run down battery or otherwise dim beam of light, I'd replace the battery.  At some point (the particular event escapes me) I began to pack an extra lantern battery in each bag.

Again, the event escapes me, but somebody told me that there was a smell of hot metal?  hot plastic? coming from one of the bags a day or so after I'd done my yearly check / replenish thing.  I found the bag (hard to miss) and emptied it out.

What I found was a discolored (like when a piece of steel or iron gets too hot and the too-hot area looks like the colors of the rainbow?) clipboard clip.  It was touching the vinyl lining of the emergency bag, and had a couple of melted (from the heat) spots.

What the!?  The 'hot' place on the clip was actually two spots, about an inch and a quarter apart - the 'colors' had blended.  Heat?  Two spots?  I picked up the spare lantern battery - needless to say the 'points' of the cones were also discolored.  OK.  Remembering the thing about the 9 volt batteries, I proceeded to wrap 333 (electrical) tape across the contacts and around the body of the battery.  Problem solved.  I thought.

A couple of months into winter, and we had a snow storm, you know the kind, big sloppy wet flakes landing on tree branches, branches breaking off and falling on the 12.5.  Sometimes they'd bounce off or fall off, one reclose, and everything's fine (lots of those you never find unless one of the callers happened to have seen the flash).

Of course, you're never that lucky all the time.  If the branch lands across the 3-phase and happens to be 'balanced', it will sit there, light up the neighborhood several times until the PCB goes to lockout.  Bottom line, we were busy for a couple of days.

OK, the party is over, everyone has their lights back on, and I have some emergency kits to check.  A lantern in one had been left on when it was dropped back into the bag.  Easy fix, I'll just put the spare in and pack a new spare, right?

No.  The spare was dead.  Huh?  Got the spare out of another kit, put it in and same thing - dead.  Checked them all, and all dead.  They were just fine when I packed them, so I'm scratching my head.

OK, think.  They were all good when they went in, and none of the installed batteries had gone dead (I checked the other lanterns).  What's the common difference here?  The ones in the lanterns, of course, had no tape, while the spares did.  But 333 is an insulating medium.  Isn't it?  Well, isn't it!

Donning my imaginary Sherlock Holmes hat, I deduced that there was a clue worth pursuing; check out the 333.  Take out the weakest of the still working lantern batteries, check the voltage, write it on the body of the battery, and wrap some tape across the terminals as I had been doing.

The next day I checked the voltage - it had dropped about half a volt.  OK, leave it for a few more days, and I'll check on the last day of my shift.  Down to about 4-1/2 volts.  First day of my next shift I check it  again -  a little over 3 volts.  The voltage on the other lantern batteries had not dropped at all.  Checked it again on the last day of that shift, and it barely moved the needle of the voltmeter.

(Voltmeters with moving needles dates me, wouldn't you say?  Today, we have $3.99 digital multimeters from Harbor Freight.  Ain't science wonderful?)

OK, how do we fix this.  The battery contacts need to be protected / prevented from shorting out against the random piece of meta while they're flopping around in the emergency bags.  Gotta be durable AND dependable.

High-tech fix, coming up!

Find a piece of what I call "shoebox" cardboard, cut it into 3" by 1-1/2" chunks, fold it into an 'L' shape lengthwise, place it across the contacts, and THEN tape it into place.

Never had a problem again for as long as I was with City Light, doing my Senior-Substation-Operator-who-wears-the-hats-of-MANY-jobs thing.

- Smooth Substation Operator


And there you have it.  Honest to goodness, a material intended to INSULATE actually CONDUCTS!  I mean, just a little.... but still!

If you're still reading, drop me a note, would love to know if anyone is still out there.  Stay safe!