The doctor says I need to rest, take my antibiotics, and drink lots of fluids. I’m all for sleeping all day whenever I can. While I head off for my next power nap, please enjoy another of Paul Curran’s wonderful stories.
MIKEY DID IT
By Paul Curran
Mike came to us from a Truck Driver Training School. He was one of their best teachers and he wanted to drive with the best.
And that was us – a small boutique tanker company that did contract and on-demand work for all the oil companies. I was their Regional Safety Director and did all the hiring, training and much of the disciplinary action including termination.
Mike had all the paper credentials, experience and records that it took to open the door. He stood about 5 foot 6 inches and had a round friendly face with round spectacles and a round body to match, His interview went well, and he demonstrated a good knowledge of all the required topics along with a positive cheerful demeanor.
And so we scheduled a test drive – a route that I had determined for the specific purpose of checking driver skills on as many different road types and in as many traffic conditions as possible. I took a lot of ribbing from the management about my test drives as they often lasted more than 3 hours and the drivers came back worn out. They used to laugh about the applicants being “run hard and put away wet”, a reference to a horse being driven to its limits while having the rider on his back the whole time.
Test Drive with a Super B Tanker
When Mike and I set out on the test drive, I first had him stop and I bought each of us a coffee. I went over the route and explained what I expected in each section, and I gave him a copy of the rating sheets that I would be using to determine his mark. We used a highway tanker that was empty. His skills with a loaded trailer – which he had on paper – would be rated by his assigned trainer if he passed the driving test.
Mike started off well, and I felt comfortable with his driving. When we entered Chinatown where the streets were narrow, the traffic slow and the pedestrians many, a young man on a bicycle passed us on the inside while we waited at a stop light. When we got going we caught up to him but there wasn’t room to pass safely so Mike had to wait until there was a break in the oncoming traffic in order to move over and go by carefully. We hit another stop light red and the cyclist passed again on the inside. Again we caught him and again Mike had to wait for a break to go by. We stopped at the next light and sure enough the cyclist went by again. And once more we had to wait behind him to get by. Mike was getting very frustrated and started to mutter. I turned to him and said: “That cyclist that I paid $10 to annoy you is doing a good job isn’t he?” He looked at me with wide eyes and a dropped jaw. I grinned and told him I was just kidding and he settled down.
When I looked back on this, I realized that it was an omen – bad things happened to Mike and he inevitably came out OK of situations that were very challenging. The problem was that Mike knew this and to a certain extent he became paranoid. As so often became the case, Mike had a gut-wrenching problem to share with me when we had finished the test drive. He must have gotten to trust me during our 3 hours together and chose to bare his soul. Apparently he had had a dream a few nights before in which his 5 year old daughter fell off the balcony of their apartment to her death. He told me he was going to move. I said that he could lock the balcony door or install fencing from the railing to the top of the balcony or any number of solutions. He asked if I had ever had a premonition as a dream, that had come true and I had to admit that I had but I added that I had also avoided accidents by changing behavior. Dreams were only warnings to my mind, they may be premonitions but they could be changed by the dreamer so it did not happen in real life. He said that if there was even a miniscule chance that it could come true, he had to move, for how would he feel if it happened?
And so Mike made his way through 4 weeks of tanker training and passed his government tests and the oil companies tests and the hazardous goods tests and the defensive driving tests and so on. He was rated high by his trainers and it came the day he would go out on his own. We put him on a local run working hauling within the city with a 4-axle, 5 compartment tanker. This was the smallest we had as most of our trailers were doubles – two trailers hooked together. He loaded gas and diesel in separate compartments and went to his first delivery. In short order he was calling and he was very upset. When I calmed him down he said he had smelled diesel in the gas storage of the station during his delivery. He did all the right things – shut down the delivery, went onto the station and had them close down the pumps (diesel in a gas engine and vice versa will destroy it) and he called me. I notified our customer’s head office, reported to my boss and the corporate safety director and set out to the site with clean up material.
Fuel Delivery to Station
When I arrived, I sniffed the gas storage tank and it reeked of diesel. He had only been delivering gas when he noticed the smell. I checked everything he had done and the compartment levels and determined we had put about 2,000 gallons of diesel in the gas storage but had caught it before it got into any vehicles. I ordered a tanker with only 5,000 gallons of fresh gas aboard plus a pump truck. While we were waiting I called my boss as Mike stood nearby. My boss went ballistic – this would cost about $30,000 to put right and he was livid, He was screaming at me so loud that I had to hold the phone away from my ear. He blamed the driver and called him stupid and incompetent and terminated. There were many, many swear words in there as well. With every passing minute Mike was turning paler and paler. I told my boss that I had reviewed all of Mike’s actions and could find no flaw in his procedure – that I suspected a valve failure. This just set my boss off again and I became incompetent and stupid and lousy at my job – although I did not get terminated. This did not rattle me as he was a very passionate boss for better or worse. I felt comfortable that we had covered all the bases.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Truck depicted in the above photo did not belong to the company referred to in this post. It’s a really good photo, though, isn’t it?
We pumped out the affected tank into the arriving truck, replaced the product with the 5,000 gallons of fresh gas and convoyed the two tankers, the pump truck and myself back to the yard. Our boss had checked with head office and they wanted all the product, even the mixed, loaded back into one tanker and taken to our head office where they could use it for heating. We chose to transfer the product into the replacement truck as it was bigger and could go on to load once empty at the head office. As we were doing this, I climbed up on the top of the offending tanker, opened all the hatches and watched. Sure enough, the pump operator was hooked to a gas compartment and the diesel was draining out. I hollered for him to stop and I raced into the office and grabbed the boss by the arm and told him he had to see this. I dragged him out to the tankers hooked together by hoses and cables and showed him the diesel valve switch was closed, and then made him climb up on top even though he complained that he was afraid of heights. I ordered the pump operator to restart and as he did I showed the boss that the diesel was going down while the valve was closed. Mystery solved – this trailer that was less than a year old had had a valve failure on a part that was rated for life. Not only was the driver blameless, but his sensitive nose and quick actions had saved the company a fortune because none of the mixed product got into cars.
Mike not only got to keep his job, but he got a commendation for his actions put into his file for professional work. And so it was with Mike. He would call regularly in some of the most obscure and unheard of situations and he would always come out smelling like roses regardless of how dark and serious the situation seemed.
Then one cold winter night he was driving a full load of gas on a rural road when he crested a hill and hit black ice. The tanker went sideways when he tried to slow down and he was travelling 40 mph sideways, with the tractor bumper plowing snow on the right side and the rear of the two trailers, plowing snow on the left side. With 15,000 gallons of gasoline aboard the truck had a huge amount of inertia, weighing about 140,000 pounds. Before Mike could get the rig straight, a car came over a facing hill traveling the opposite direction. When he saw the tanker coming sideways, the car driver drove into the snowbank. The tanker missed the car by inches, covering it with snow from the bank. Mike got the truck stopped and when he had caught his breath and parked on the side, he went back to check the car. He had to dig out the driver’s side door to ascertain that everyone was OK. They attached a chain from the car to the tanker and pulled it out of the snowbank. Upon inspection it was determined that there was not one single mark on either vehicle. Incredible and unheard of but 100% Mike.
We had a mandatory semi-yearly safety meeting the following week and Mike came to see me. I was presenting and running the meeting so I arranged to see him afterwards. We sat in my car for privacy and he told his story. He said that the black ice had scared him too much. He was no longer feeling comfortable hauling gas. I pointed out that he had done all the right things and there had been no damage. It was a lesson about being more aware of black ice and that he had learned the lesson and could move on. He said that he had a 5 year old daughter and did not want her to grow up without a father. I pointed out that we had never had anyone killed and personal harm was very rare. Mike insisted that his luck was not good enough for this job and that he would rather flip burgers knowing he would be home safely every night. I asked him to remember that his daughter learned from his behavior and did he really want her working at partial potential when she grew up because she had learned from him that no risk was acceptable. I also pointed out that there had recently been a man in Florida who had been asleep in his own bed – the lowest risk scenario possible – when a sink hole swallowed his bedroom and killed him.
It was not possible to reduce risk to zero and he was well trained and smart and competent and aware of all the risks and how to minimize them. But he was too badly scared and my arguments just ran off without any impact. I felt that regardless of his apparent ability to get into strange situations, he had always done a good job for us. He tendered his resignation that day and I wished him the very best. I heard later that he went back to training drivers.
Women Drivers: Good To Have, Hard to Get
What would you, my reader, do in such a situation? Would you choose a less risky job or would you take the close call as a learning experience and continue on? Do tell!
2016 International with US Tanker
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