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Friday, September 28, 2012

Another Sendoff

The power dispatching world is a small one, a very tight community.  I've bounced around a little, as have many of us, and I now know folks in dispatch and operations management all over the country that I have worked alongside literally or figuratively.

The best power companies have an internal family structure very much like the fire department, very familial.  You work with the same two or three guys on a shift for years, it gets that way.  And you bitch about guys on the other shifts who don't clean up or put things in the wrong place.  Sometimes we can get pretty owly with each other about the dumbest things, but none of us would bat an eye at loaning a car to each other or families sharing a cabin for the weekend.  Sound familiar?

For that reason, when something bad happens to a member of the extended family nearly anywhere in the country, just like in the online fire community, it tends to impact someone you know within a degree or two.

Last week the Bonneville Power Administration lost a lineman out on the west coast, near Spokane I think.  He fell from a transmission tower during routine maintenance, and while he was wearing a full harness it is not clear what went wrong yet.

I know the feel in the dispatch center when you get that first frantic field call of an injury to personnel.  Of hearing voices on the radio you're familiar with remaining calm but with that edge that tells you its bad.  Just like the fire service.

Word started to filter around, and I got an email from a colleague the same day.  The name sounded a little familiar, and I couldn't figure out why.  I went to Facebook to contact a former colleague and old friend who dispatches for BPA now, because standard response for all of us is to pass the hat for the family, to get the details we needed to help out.  And right there in his short list of friends on his profile was the fallen lineman.  Probably where I had seen the name before, I guess.

He had just celebrated his first anniversary earlier this month, and his wife is expecting a son.  These never get any easier over time, fire or utility LODDs, but it helps knowing that in this kind of organization (just like fire), his wife and son will be well cared for by the brethren.

My BPA friend emailed over some pictures from the procession today.  The colors of the trucks are different, but the emotion is the same.

Rest easy Matt, your brothers will take it from here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Another Cat Call

So a little girl of nine years old found her kitty up a tree. Being resourceful and with her Mom's permission, she looked up the non-emergency number of her local fire department (not my agency) and asked if they could help.

Now, normally, the answer is of course no, but the LT who took the call just could not bring himself to deny her directly. And hey, they don't get to practice with the old Sqrt that often, so c'mon boys let's call it a drill. The crew of four climbed aboard the rarely-used 1975 American LaFrance with the 65' Telesqrt and headed out to save the day.

Upon arrival, the little girl was pretty calm but clearly concerned. Mom was right there, admirably guiding her daughter through learning how to properly handle emergencies on her own but otherwise staying out of the way. From the accounts I've heard, Mom was pretty terrific about the whole thing.

So, little girl, where's your kitty? Which tree?

She pointed up. Way up. Way, way, waaay up. The LT's face fell. There was no way the 65-footer had a chance to reach up to the crazy height that kitty had ascended to. Once again faced with not wanting to tell the little girl "no", he apologized because they did not have a bigger ladder truck in the fleet and suggested maybe the power company could help. It was a stretch of desperation, sure, but who wants to shut down an adorable little girl who thinks you're the best heroes ever?

Then, like magic, they got an actual call, promptly responding gallantly to a medical emergency, without being forced to slink away in depressed failure.

Ever the resourceful young lady, the lass followed the LT's advice, and we got the call. It routed in here to dispatch (this being the first I heard about it), and my initial reaction was not just no, but hell no. We can't set a precedent for doing non-utility work. This is the fireman in me talking, of course. Then the customer service rep asked if I wanted to speak to the caller. Prepared to do my usual logical explanation of why we couldn't help, she transferred the little girl to me.

Of course, I had no idea the caller was a little girl. And then she told me how the firemen had let her down.

Damn you! I am powerless against her abilities! Like the LT, I looked around for an out. Like magic, there was Gary, having just returned from his service duty tour and filling out his timesheet. Miss, can you hold a second?

I gave Gary a quick rundown of the situation. He kind of relished the idea of outdoing the fire department. No one was using the highline truck (the one we use to reach the really high transmission lines on the towers) and nothing was really going on, so he grabbed the keys and headed out. I attempted to call the fire station she had called but no answer (they were still on that call apparently), left a message.

The highline truck's bucket goes up to 100', and it was pretty much at its maximum extension when he reached the kitty, which thankfully didn't scamper up any higher when he moved in for the grab. Sensibly, he had Mom take the little girl inside while they worked in case kitty decided to take a crazy suicide leap, but kitty was fairly cooperative about getting into the cat carrier.

Gary said the look on the little girl's face will be a permanent highlight on his career, and that beating the fire department in the rescue business was just icing.

I got a call back later from the LT, who filled me in on all that I had missed before we got the call, and was very happy to hear that things worked out well. I arranged for Gary to get a little private attaboy in our next staff meeting, but we can't publicize it too wide or we'll start getting more of these, right?

Good job, Gary. Don't take it too hard, LT.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Would you let this man drive?

Just read the latest post at Notes from Mosquito Hill.

Nostalgia again

While I can't quite yet claim to having spent more than 50% of my lifetime as a firefighter, I am pretty darn close.

Replying to the post was not possible, the network here won't allow Disqus through to add a reply. So hopefully mack505 sees this post and knows that I am not ashamed to admit that it brought me silly goosebump chills. Bells and relay switches and halogens and actual mechanical operating devices.... yes! No, the recruit won't know it was a treat until much later, and even if it was explained now he won't be able to fully appreciate it.

Thanks for taking us along for the ride, 505.

Now then, back to business.

Tooling back to my edge of the world in Engine 51 from an errand across the district, I came upon a transit bus stopped in the road, with the driver in back opening the engine compartment. Apparently a minor uh-oh. The bus is blocking a lane of a busy street, and the driver has no eye at all on traffic, just waltzing out there and exposing his behind to oncoming bumpers.

Let's do him a favor and introduce him to how we turn BRTs into big traffic cones, shall we?

So the passengers are milling, and he tells me that the "check transmission" light came on with an audible warning (he said "beeping"), so he stopped right away. He's telling me he isn't sure what to do, as nothing is smoking or leaking on the ground.

Well, how about we start by checking the transmission fluid level, shall we?

I don't know how to do that, he says.

We have a retired transit bus on our fleet that serves as a mobile command post, so actually I have had some exposure to working on an actual bus. This isn't rocket science. Within a few moments the dipstick tube labeled "TRANSMISSION" has been located.

Wait, he says. I don't know if you're allowed to touch that.

I couldn't help the expression that showed. Are you freaking kidding me? What am I gonna do, make the engine fall out? He deflects the silliness and says he'll check with the bus garage to see if I am allowed to help.

It's not as if we're going to get the bus fixed here on the side of the road, it's just basic early troubleshooting. He asks me what it was I was about to do, and I explain it in simple terms, but the way he describes it to his garage tech by radio it is no surprise the tech declines the help. I hope the tech realizes that the driver is whack in the clue department and that there are not random firemen out there just itching to start pulling his coach engines apart for giggles.

The garage tech asks his driver where the bus is. He looks at me for a second and then says he is on whatever route he was on, on the main route, and if you go past McDonalds you'll find the bus a little ways up.

I should have expected things to keep getting goofy, but this was choice. You see, the McDonalds is about three miles back and in a different municipality. God forbid this guy ever have an emergency and have to describe his location.

Looking about 200' in front of the bus at the intersection with the traffic light, I tried to helpfully tell the driver that he was in fact south of the intersection of 45th and Harper, in the northbound lane.  He got back and the radio and somehow melded McDonalds in with the Harper part, making less sense than before.

That was enough, this guy was a real piece of work. I went back to the Engine and radioed for the City PD to send a unit over for traffic control if one was available.  I wasn't going to stay and play this silliness, but didn't feel like I could leave his passengers alone under his care.

So tell me..... how does a guy get his CDL and expect to make his living by driving when he cannot even locate the transmission dipstick let alone know what it is for, and doesn't know where he is with street signs in his face?

Maybe I am expecting too much, but shouldn't someone who is going to make their living on the road be able to hold a shop rag and dig around a little bit to troubleshoot, and know where he is in broad daylight with clear signage?

With our current levels of unemployment, there has to be better qualified persons out there. That was just scary to me.  Certainly this doesn't reflect on all bus drivers everywhere, but their overall group reputation sure did just take a hit.

Be safe out there.