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Friday, May 2, 2014

Well, now ya gotta do it anyway

Over four years ago I first told you about the bowling alley.

Within a year of that tale, the bowling alley was torn down.  It has been a gravelly rubble-strewn vacant lot for years.  The only thing left is the dead end power pole that used to serve the building.

Within a few months of the teardown, I submitted a recommendation to our planning group to have the pole, with the 3-phase transformers hanging on it, be removed to reduce our exposure to outages.  It is clear nothing is going to be built there for years, and those energized transformers weren't doing anything but asking to be smacked.  This is sort of what it looks like:

And of course, my dear readers, you can see where this is going.

Tonight we got a call, car vs. pole, wires down, transformers in the road, wires on the car.  This is bread and butter so I didn't think much of it until I pulled up the map.

Oh yes, they did.

Two of the transformers are leaking oil on the road, the haz mat contractor is en route, and we've got a hell of a mess out there.  The road is blocked, and it is very late on a Friday night so my dispatchers are still struggling to get enough manpower rounded up to head out there.

My recommendation is now being followed, out of necessity.

That's all this post is, just one long ungracious I-told-you-so moment.  Carry on and be safe out there.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What you don't see will still kill you

We got a call at the power company early one morning during the commute, reporting a broken power pole.  Before we arrived, several callers had notified us directly and many more had called it in to 911.

We doubted that it was ours at first, because we had no reports of power outages, figured it might be a telecom pole.  But lo and behold, upon arrival, we have a broken pole with all three phases of the primary under tension from neighboring poles helping to hold it up.

The first arriving serviceman also noted some absorbent applied to the road about midspan to the left of the pole as shown above.  Upon further inspection over there he found random car parts debris, and signs of trauma intervention (bandage wrappers and sundry litter).

A little more research revealed that fire and law enforcement had been out here shortly after dinner time the previous evening for this wreck, a rollover.  Either no one noticed the broken pole, or word never got to us.  Probably no one noticed.

This was a very close call for two reasons.

First off, if you look at the close-up below, you'll note there is something amiss with the center phase.

What you see there is that the insulator stack holding the center phase up off the tip of the pole is broken, and the bare wire is laying on the crossarm.  Sometimes when this happens, the voltage is able to push through the damp wood of the pole and find a track to ground that results in an arc flash and line trip.  Other times, it never finds a good track but nevertheless has a (relatively) low amp sustained fault to ground.  When the latter occurs, touching the pole or even walking too close to it can easily injure or kill you.  Close call.

Secondarily, of course, there wasn't much holding this thing up, and it just as easily could have gone ahead and collapsed into the scene while the guys were working it.  We never had an outage, so those lines stayed hot the entire time until we got out there for repairs.  Close call.

So here's today's message.  Remember that wrecked cars will leave damage for quite a ways, and it behooves the IC or safety person, if not the guy doing the outer circle scene survey, to try to find out where the car came from and what happened along the way.

Saying you didn't notice it doesn't bring dead people back to life.  I don't want to second guess the crew on this job, but I do want them to go home to their families.

Stay safe out there.

Friday, January 24, 2014

From Hero to Goat in ten minutes

Engine 56, Engine 51, Small City Engine, Tanker 56, Tanker 55, structure fire.....

E56 arrived first with the duty crew, running short handed with just two guys.  Had a fire going in the attic of a large shop outbuilding.  By the time Tanker 56 arrived with me in E51 right behind, they had the knock. 

Small City's crew showed up soon after, and we collectively didn't have much to do.  We released everyone but the first three rigs, did some cleanup and overhaul, packed the attack lines and were in service within an hour of arrival.

The Engine 56 boys were feeling pretty good, and rightfully so.  Not ideal working with a tiny crew, but some days things work out, and at least for the next few shifts they would be the staff heroes.  Five years ago the Small City was light years ahead of this agency, but these days with our staffing changes we tend to cover more of their calls than they do ours.  It feels good when we do not require their services, though we always appreciate them coming out.

We were still motoring home to our various stations when the tones dropped again.  Chimney Fire, not too far off.  Same rigs, sans the Small City.

The heroes of E56 got the jump on the call, seeing as how they were aimed in the right direction and already rolling.  The address was on one of the main roads, easy to find. 

As long as it is on the main part of that main road.

Unfortunately, if you go far enough north, it veers off to other exciting locales and changes names, but if you turn off early and then wind around the back way far enough, there is another section of that road in line with the original, with the same name.  Aaaaaand you can see where this is going.

So, E56 asked for the Small City engine to go ahead and respond with us again, since they were short-staffed.  And then E56 went up the road to la-la land, and you could hear it in the officer's voice when he eventually said "in the area, attempting to locate" a couple of minutes after we expected him to arrive.  Not a good sign.

Small City engine was not fooled, and arrived first.  Tanker 56 was next, then me.  The first-due Engine 56 heroes, by the time they figured out what went wrong and had doubled back to correct for their ways, arrived fifth.


Small City engine canceled and cleared everyone before E56 could even exit the piece.


C'mon guys, read the map!  Hero to goat, just like that.

So they'll have to carry that mantle for a few days or weeks until someone else gains infamy.  Builds character.

Stay safe out there.  And Read. The. Map!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Look again, you probably missed something

There were four of us working that night when the tones dropped for a police assist.  They were asking for scene lighting for something.  It was about 0230, and I was the junior guy on a very cold wintry night, so seniority played a role in me being sent out alone with the utility rig while the other guys stayed warm inside and went back to sleep.

As I rolled up, there were about six police cars arrayed along the edge of one of the city parks with a gaggle of cops not too far off the road in the soccer field, standing next to a pile of clothing that looked like it had been collected elsewhere and dropped for further review.  I tried to figure out where the clothes might have come from so I could figure out where they might want me to park the truck, but it was a mystery.

So I walked on over towards and then around the pile of clothes to get some directions.  They seemed a little annoyed at my proximity to the pile and the body language was clear as they moved away that I should as well.  Just put the lights right there on that, they said, as if it was obvious.  And walk back to the road that-a-way, one of them added, pointing to a longer return route.

It was not until I fired up the generator and was raising the scene lights that I was able to get a better glimpse of the now lighted scene.  There were tire tracks all over the field and a lot of damage, looked like someone was doing donuts, typical midwestern hooliganism.  I was still perplexed, though, at what warranted such an extensive middle-of-the-night investigation.  Then the ME's van showed up..... the heck?

I just stayed in the truck and watched as the ME and cops conferred, and then as they walked over to the pile of....... holy cripes!

It's a frickin' BODY.  It had been run over several times.  There was not enough blood to draw my attention, apparently because the person was dead before being run over several times.

One of my career's most epic situational awareness fails, I was traipsing and blundering through a murder scene, atypical of the stereotype that cops have for firefighters in crime scenes.  Lived it out right there.  At least I could try to blame it on being the new guy without experience.  I am amazed to this day that the ten or so cops there showed such amazing restraint when I would have expected to get a new one torn open by them, and rightfully so.

Pay attention you guys, things are often not at all as they seem, even when you think you've looked everything over.  Chances are you've still missed something.  Try to not let that something be a murder victim's body.

As dawn was breaking, I was released to return to quarters, and broke the utility truck on the way when it snapped the serpentine belt, and I had to fight the power steering pump the rest of the way back.  When it rains, it pours.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

THWS: Life Hacks

Been a while since I posted a Totally Handy Web Site, and I'm bending the rules slightly with this one.

Strictly speaking, instead of posting a specific site that is handy, I am posting to a specific post on a page that is handy, but you can find examples of this kind of thing by googling "life hacks".

Below are eight examples of the 99 pictures of amazing and sensible "I wish I had thought of that" life hacks listed at this page.

See them all, go here:

Some of these are some seriously Totally Handy hacks!