Saturday, April 24, 2010

earning my paycheck

I'll go ahead and say this now, there is nothing cycling related about this post but I figured it was a good enough story to tell here.
Last Wed. I rolled into work for hopefull for a slow nightshift to find out that my plant had shut down due to an electrical failure of some sort. Not good, when the plant is down that means alot of work for me and I was already running on fumes from a lack of zzzz's. There were a few jobs to be done so it was a hurry up and wait situation well past midnight. I was hoping to hurry up and get things going instead of stringing it along into Thurs. At around 2am I got the call on my radio to do a job and on my way through the plant I smelled methanol, a toxic and very flammable chemical that we use in our process. The fact that I could smell it was not a good thing, that meant we had a leak somewhere. Leaks are not an uncommon thing especially for a plant that runs 24/7, 365 days of the year. When we do have a leak it's really important to find it and fix it but they are never much more than a small drip. I went ahead, did my job and hurried back to the origin of the smell to try and find the leak. It didn't take me long to find several puddles forming on the ground and a small shower coming down from up above. I looked up through the sea of pipes until I realized it was coming from high up on one of the columns. We have several columns in our plant some that are 200 ft. tall but only about 8 ft. in diameter. Because it was dark out and the column was so tall actually pinpointing the source of the leak was impossible from the ground. I contacted my boss and we began the process of putting a plan together on how we were going to find and fix the leak. The only real way to do this was to climb up the column until the found the source. Since I am one of the younger operators I'm always the one who gets volunteered to do the climbing which is fine with me. I'm always up for an adventure.
As we were talking things over another co-worker scaled a platform nearby to get a closer look and realized that everytime the wind blew it blew the methanol into the ladder we would use to climb up the column.
Right then we decided that our fire dept needed to be called in case a fire were to break out. It would not have been a good thing if it caught fire with us on the column. When the fire dept rolled in we were suiting up in rain coats, rubber gloves, goggles, and face shields in case we were doused with methanol. The fire dept immediately let us know they were no comfortable with us climbing the column with a shower of methanol raining down the column just a a couple of feet from us as we climbed. After a few minutes of discussion the fire dept stated that they could have a crane brought in to lift us in a basket to the source. Normally the crane crews do not work nights but this was an emergency situation so the call was made and some poor group of guys were woken up and called into work. The longer this went on the more nervous I became. It went from me and my crew to the entire fire dept., safety, several big whigs from our dept., a lift crew and a crane crew. I also went from wearing a yellow raincoat with rubber gloves to a fire retardant suit, a full body harness and oxygen. The fire dept set up the big ladder truck with flood lights so my flashlight was a waste of time and a water hose in case a fire broke out and we were in the middle of it.
After the crane was in place we suited up, strapped into the crane basket and were lifted up the column until we found the leak. Riding in a crane basket is a little like riding the first giant hill on a roller coaster but without a seat or bar strapped across you. The scary part about it was the fact that once we got to the leak I had to climb out of the basket and onto the column which was around 100 ft. up. Thank goodness the leak was only halfway up. Climbing columns and riding in crane baskets is something I've done before but with the crowd of emergency folks and their flashing lights and several of my bosses all on the ground watching me as I attempted to fix a leak that was holding up a multi million dollar process not to mention the highly toxic/flammable liquid leaking from the column I was about to climb onto was making me a little bit nervous just to say the least.
Once we reached our destination I attached my harness to the column and climbed out of the basket and onto the column. Once on the column I realized we had not one but two leaks but thankfully they were very close together. My buddy who rode up with me stayed in the crane basket so it would not sway away from the column while I worked, that too and there was not a whole lot of room where I was at.
The leak was pretty bad but the fix was pretty easy and I was back in the crane basket within 10 minutes and one my way back down to earth. From the time I found the leak at 2 am almost 4 hours had passed by the time I was done. With that said we were still down and the next night looked to be just as busy if not worse.
It's times like these that I realize why they pay me for the job we do. A majority of the time we are just hanging out watching over things. That night I felt like I earned my paycheck and then some.
Never fear, next week I will be back to rambling on about riding bikes and talking trash. Until then you can read this post over and over and try to live vicariously through me as you sit in your cubicle staring at a computer all day.


Anonymous said...

It sure is easy for someone else to tell you to get your ass up there and fix the problem now isn't it..

After all it's not their asses up there a fleeting instant away from becoming a man sized Roman Candle.

Great to hear it all worked out well.

Riding with dogs said...

I didn't mean to sound like they were forcing me up there. There were several times I was asked by different people if I was ok with going up. I was nervous but excited about the adventure just the same.

Joshua Stamper said...

I feel your pain.
When you are the youngest or most athletic/agile you are typically the one that "gets handed a pistol and a flash light and sent down the proverbial dark hole". When I was in college we ran a hog operation over a pit system (where the poo goes). Pit pumps not cycling? Send in Stamper!