What does today hold for us?

Discussion in 'Incident and Near Miss Discussions' started by bruce holsted, Jun 26, 2008.

  1. bruce holsted

    bruce holsted Friend of the Community

    It was February of 1995 and I sent two crewmen to Piedmont, MO to paint a 240 ft. tower owned by the US Corps of Engineers. It was unseasonably warm. We all felt fortunate to have painting weather in what was normally a cold month and were looking forward to the good work and the money.

    I sent them out on a Sunday. I was busy rigging and climbing in Northern Arkansas. I checked in with them by phone Monday evening and all was in good order with the weather looking good for Tuesday.

    When I hit the ground Tuesday afternoon I got the call. The caller was the public information officer with the US corps. He was matter of fact and business like. When he spoke he sounded like he was talking about any construction process or legal matter. It was straightforward and simple. There had been a fall. The man had been pronounced dead. His name was Phillip Petersen. it was my obligation to contact OSHA, etc.

    After I heard the words "dead" everything else seemed like an echo. Dead. Dead. The word kept ringing. Not alive. Dead.

    The story goes on from here. There was a funeral. There was a lawsuit. There was the revelation that they knew the tower was defective. There was the evidence that this information had been kept from us. The lawyers for the widow found out and all hell broke loose. The US Government wrote a check for 1 million. The widows and surviving children even were lucky enough to get a couple of hundred thousand. I thought that it was generous of the lawyers to allow them that.

    That story is about money, lawyers, a women getting paid.... general bullshit. Mechanics. Cash. Greed. It is a story about those left behind. It is not the story about him. Him. That is the story I want to ask about. Him.

    It was the ultimate "Oh shit!" moment. You know. The moment we have when the ole' positioning device slips on the ladder. The moment when a piece of angle that we thought was tight comes loose. It is the moment when we are hanging down off of a piece of rope trying to get to that connector that is below the platform. It is that moment of truth when it appears it is all over. Fortunately, however, it is not all over for us. Something catches. Something holds. Something intercedes with our date with eternity. Not so for Phillip. Nothing was there. His decel was not hooked up. As he waited for the familiar jerk of safety all he got was the sheer panic of knowing that the tower was 3 feet from him and there was no way to bridge the gap. Damn. What was that like?

    I'll not think further about that incident. Oh sure, I'll think about it. I do every day and have each day for the past ten years. What I mean is that I'll not think past the point of him being three feet out from the tower. I won't think about the next ten seconds. I can't do that. Actually, I can. I just refuse to. Like men going down in a B-29 in Germany or those that jumped from the 90th floor on September 11...
    it's just
    a barrier we'd rather not cross. But after that ten seconds.

    What happened? Where did he go? Where is he now???

    The place he went is the place that others do not want to go.
    Others despise that place. They fear it. They detest it. It is a cold alien place. A place so repulsive that they find every way imaginable to avoid it. Yes. Every was imaginable. They know what to do. They have the key...
    They call YOU AND I !
    Yes brethren, they can avoid the possibility. They can call a towerdog. And that they do. And we are glad to get their call. We need the cash. We need the money. We have women that want to get paid. We have child support. We have rent and car payments due. We have MBNA, Advanta and Capital One credit cards due. yeah. We'll take that call. We want that money. We NEED that money. We want to feel that paycheck hitting our hands. Like a warm
    woman on a cold winter night.... we want it. We want to feel that money in our jeans.

    So we go. We go. We strap on that belt and we go. We wake early, we eat little, we gulp coffee, and we go. When we get there we feel good. We get out of the truck stiff and sore because we had too little rest between the last job and this one and we go. But before we go we have to get out of the truck and take a deep breath. Hands on the hips. Deeeeeep breath. Look it over. Think about it. Will this be the one? Will this be our final call? When we take that first step up the steel will the jaws of death silently chuckle knowing that this time they will not be denied? Can we sense that? is that the funny feeling that we get deep in our gut as we first leave the ground? We have cheated death so many times. So many close calls, so many stories, so many rounds of beers in some joint 400 miles from home. We've always come out on top in the past. Will this time be different?

    We don't know. But we go. We always go. We go because others are too gutless. We go because others won't. We go because we have bills to pay. We go.

    Let's see... I was talking about death when I started but somehow got distracted. I'll get back to my original thoughts in a bit. Right now I'm tired. I've been on the steel today and I'm tired. My shoulders ache. I'm 48. Too old. Can't quit. Can't do it. Gotta go. Yes... We go. Have no choice.

    Where did he go? I know what it was like for all of us. Lawyers, Co-workers, (Yeah.... BC was there. He saw it happen. How he still climbs I'll never know. He's more of a man that most. Way more. If you knew him you would understand) widows, kids. Sure we know what it was like for all of us. but... what was it like for him? Him. that is the question I need answered. I want to know. What was it like for him? When the ambulance crew was there...when Steve was doing CPR.... when all Hell was breaking loose for everyone...
    Where was He? Was he seeing it all take place? What was he doing?

    OK - I've started this diatribe. I may write more later. I may not. I may leave the business tomorrow. I may free climb 500' tomorrow and hang from a 7/16" rope without a safety. I don't know. OF course, neither do you. You don't know. Phillip didn't know. None of us knows. Gravity beckons. It seeks us. All of us that climb. It wants us. We can say we will not fail.... but we really don't know. Do we ?

    I'll end this now. The ending is the worst part. It brings me fear and pain for Phillip's family. You see, the summer prior to the accident I was on the same tower. I was up there for a lamp job. My oldest son was about 12 years old at the time. He was on the ground watching me. I was doing the lamp when a storm blew in. One of those typical late afternoon thunderboomers. It caught me off guard. I took off down the tower as fast as I could. It was a close call as these things usually are, but I was glad to be safe on the ground with my boy. We packed up the car and left the site in a driving rain.

    I thought nothing more of that descent until the accident. After that point, however, the thought of that descent has sent shivers down my spine. Why Phillip? Why not me? Did I touch the same diagonal that he clipped off to? If so, why did it not give way with me as opposed to him? How close did I come that day? How close will I come tomorrow? How close will any of us come tomorrow?

    Bruce
  2. Rob Warner

    Rob Warner Guest

    I worked in the industry for 8 years. Always for my step-dad as my PM or Co-owner. He was great to work for and he trusted my judgment. He is still in the industry, and now I teach fall protection and rescue classes. Although we did mainly cellphone work we did do some maintenance. That being said, the tallest tower that I ever had to climb was only 800' of a 1200' tower, to do a bulb change. But as we all know, any height will kill. I have had close calls and near misses. I teach my classes and I always tell people that at any given moment anything can happen. Most of our business is offshore. But since my background is towers, I teach most of our comp climber classes. Needless to say, a company that I taught a class for, had a fatality in May. In a way I feel responsible. Most of the guys in that class were young, when I see a group with a lot of young guys I try to spend a little extra time with them to kind of share my experiences. I have found the tower industry to be full of guys and women that are generally very accepting. Its like a large spread out family. I just say this because now that I don't climb much, I have allowed myself to reflect on my past experiences and I honestly thank my guardian angel. Be him or her an ex tower dog or departed family member, I know someone has been beside me through some tough times. And unless you ar3ee in the industry, no one understands all the circumstances you deal. Loss of time with family members when you are stuck on the road. Failed marriages because of the same thing. And in some cases loss of friends from mishaps in the industry. So to anyone reading this, if you've never climbed before, ask a towerhand what it truly feels like to be just another hand.
  3. Linda  Ballasch

    Linda Ballasch Friend of the Community

    Dear Bruce,
    Thank you so much for putting your innermost thoughts down for all (who are interested) to read. Our son Steph did what you do. He was a Master Electrician who one day became bored with his job and decided to become a tower tech. I remember asking him why he did it and after a few moments, and with one of his sideways grins, he replied saying, "because it makes me feel so alive".

    On Feb 25th 2005, something went wrong and Steph fell 180 feet to his death off of a freestanding tower in Yuma Colorado. OSHA is investigating and will release their report in August 2005. Although Steph had been using a "borrowed" safety harness (because his equipment had been put onto the wrong truck) it had been revealed to have a defect that would not allow the safety catch on the hook to remain in place, OSHA says that they cannot prove that this condition was "pre-existing" or occurred "because" of the fall.

    The company that he worked for had not given Steph one minute of safety training in the year and a half that he had worked for them. And besides that, when two of his friends and co-workers that were there when Steph had died, ignored the company order to "not talk to the OSHA investigators without a company representative present" and went ahead and made a full statement to OSHA, were then fired as being too "emotionally unstable" to work.

    Steph had bills, child support, and a new bride of only a month and a half. He was a good husband and father to three daughters. Five other tower tech's have died this year mostly due to greed and profits. The state of Colorado has very few (if any) safety laws for communication tower erectors that are mandated. Lots of rhetoric, but few laws that are mandated. Who do you think lobbies against these laws being passed? I wonder?

    From painfully new and raw experience, I will not tell you not to think of what your friend was feeling because you cannot help doing so. But I would like to tell you this, when I was a child I fell about 50 feet from a high tree house and why I wasn't killed I will probably never know. But I do know this, people that were there said that I screamed all the way down but all that I remember while falling was the feeling that I now recognize as shock and disbelief. I'm not saying that that is what Phillip and Steph were feeling but I hope so. Have a good and wonderful life Bruce and find peace in the fact that there are many others that worry and pray for you and all of the others in your profession.

    Best Wishes,
    Rich and Linda

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