Monday, February 12, 2007

Fate Was My Partner

It was a hectic year. The Vietnam buildup was in full swing. We were building major projects on the largest military base in the north east. The project we were working on now consisted of 30 barracks a Visitors officers Quarters and a variety of other supporting facilities including several mess halls, refrigeration buildings and a large power plant.

I had a team of 10, we were responsible to inspect, test and accept buildings and systems as the contractors finished the work. This week, everything was moving like clock work, one might even say we were all moving and interfacing like a professional ballet group. Everyone knew what they had to do and when they had to do it. Most of us were working together as teams all year so we knew each other very well and we knew what to expect from each other.

Marty and his team worked for the contractors, they were good very good. This week we were working on the refrigeration building and finishing up some remaining systems that we could not finish before, because we were waiting for equipment. Marty was the Chief welder, he could weld a 6 inch joint with his eyes closed upside down or on his back...he was very good.

It was the Friday before a three day weekend. We all wanted to leave that day at 2 P.M. First thing in the morning I had my usual safety meeting, I rushed it a little. I always covered safety tips during the meeting geared to what we were going to do that day. Marty and his guys were pros, they heard the speech a hundred times before..but they were always polite. After the meeting we had our usual coffee talked about what we were going to accomplish that day and than started work. As we worked we would joke and kid each other and talk about what we were each going to do that weekend. It was a typical day, nothing out of the ordinary.

We broke for lunch, joked, threw a ball around and everyone went back to work as if we were in some kind of a trance...it was just automatic. We were moving at a good clip. It was obvious that leaving at 2 P.M. was not going to be a problem. It was about 12:30, Marty and his team were way ahead of my team and we were trying to catch up. I bent down to pick up a water bottle, Ron on my team, who was standing about two feet from me on my right side was installing a test gage. Sidney on our team was just about a foot next to Ron. At that moment we were all lined up, as if we formed a valley and we three were the sides.

Marty and his guys just finished all the welding for the 6 inch connection for a five foot long, one foot diameter steel exhaust muffler for one of the large compressors, it weighed about 250 pounds. The electricians turned the power on, the compressor struggled at first, coughed and at the instant I bent down to get my bottle of water there was a loud explosion. I spun around, Ron threw his hands up to his ears and Sid just turned to look.

I froze as the 250# steel projectile came flying by me missing my backside by about an inch, Sid hit the deck and Ron moved his arm but not enough. The 250# projectile flew by him but managed to skim his arm, enough to give him a mean third degree burn and break his elbow.

The entire event must have taken just 2 or three minutes but to all of us it seemed like an eternity. I rushed to the emergency base phone and called emergency services. With them came a base safety inspector. We spent that three day weekend going over everything that happened piece by piece to see if we could figure out what happened. Marty's welding and silver soldering was torn apart and inspected over and over again. Nothing was found. The inspectors sent the joints out to a lab to be examined 100 different ways...nothing was ever found.

Fate watched over all of us that day. When we went back to work the following week, it was never the same. Why did it happen? How is it none of us were killed? What made that 250# projectile take the path that missed all of our vital parts?

We never found out, and we knew we would never know. But we all learned that day that once fate is the hunter....the event is taken out of our hands.

Hal