Letters to the Power Plant #103 — OSHA at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and third letter I wrote.  Keep in mind that at the time when I originally penned this letter I didn’t intend on it being posted online.

9/2/04 – OSHA at Dell

Hey Sooner friends, and friends of Sooneridians,

Last week was interesting.  OSHA came and inspected our building to see if we were complying with all the OSHA regulations.  Of course we were.  They gave us some Star or some kind of Plaque to put on our wall down at the front entrance to say that we were a “Stellar Site”!!!

I was invited to eat lunch with the OSHA team twice last week.  The OSHA people asked us to tell them stories about when we did something dangerous and/or was almost killed.  My biggest problem was figuring out which story to tell them.  I had so many.  I finally settled on telling everyone about the first time I ever went inside the Precipitator.

It was when I was on the Labor Crew and Bill Rivers told me (and Curtis Love) to go in the precipitator and wipe down insulators on the sides of the hoppers.  Bill told us not to drop anything in the hopper or we would have to go get it because we couldn’t leave anything in there or it would clog up the feeder at the bottom.

I confidently told Rivers that I wasn’t going to drop anything.  This was when the fly ash suits were not very good.  They only went down to your ankles and didn’t have a hood or elastic around your wrist.  They were basically useless.

So anyway.  I went in the precipitator and worked my way back with flashlight in one hand and a scotch brite pad in the other.  I climbed down onto the edge of the first hopper that I was going to work on.  The hoppers at the top are 12 feet by 12 feet square.

It happened to be full of ash up to about two feet from the top.  I sat down and started scrubbing the insulator with the scotch brite pad when “bloop”, I dropped my yellow flashlight in the hopper.  It disappeared into the ash, and it was suddenly very dark in there.  Well.  The first thing I thought was, “So that’s why Bill had a string tied to his flashlight.”

Well, anyway.  I leaned forward and reached down into the ash trying to feel for the flashlight.  I couldn’t find it, so I thought it must have sunk farther down in the ash.  So I slid down into the hopper holding onto the edge by one hand and reaching down into the ash with my other hand.

I reached down far enough that the side of my head was laying on the ash and clogging up one half of my half face respirator (yeah.  This was before I had a Full Face Respirator.  This only covered my mouth and my nose).  Anyway.  I thought maybe it had gone a little farther over to the left, so I climbed around the side of the hopper reaching down into the ash, and at one point I was hanging on by only a couple of fingers when I thought, “maybe I ought to just bail off into the ash and find that flashlight.”

I made my way back to the ledge where I had been sitting.  My eyes were starting to get used to the pitch dark, so that I wasn’t bumping into things anymore.  And I climbed out of the hopper and made my way back to the door on the side of the precipitator.  —  I was covered with fly ash from my head to my toes.  It was hard to breathe through my respirator because I had clogged it all up with ash.

Anyway.  I went and told Bill Rivers that I had dropped my flashlight into the hopper, and I showed him which one.  So he gave me a key and a big hammer and told me to go down and open up the door on the side of the hopper and see if I could get it out.

So Curtis Love and I went down and opened up the door.  As soon as we opened the door, out flowed a huge stream of ash, re-covering me with fly ash so that I looked pretty much like an albino.

The ash poured through the grating and made a big pile on the ground below.  It was then that I realized that if I had bailed off into that ash, I would have been suffocated right quick.  I hadn’t realized how deep the hopper was.

Anyway.  After all the ash came pouring out there still wasn’t a flashlight.  So I started digging out the ash from the hopper below the door.  I dug and dug until I had my whole body upside down inside the hopper and Curtis Love was holding my legs and I was reaching down into the throat of the hopper which was an 8 inch pipe.

I could just feel the flashlight with the tips of my finger when all of the sudden my whole head went dipping down into the remaining ash as Curtis let go of my legs.  I grabbed the flashlight, and my newly cleaned respirator was again all of the sudden clogged with ash and I couldn’t breathe.

I was so furious.  I backed myself out of the hole by pushing against the hopper walls, all while trying unsuccessfully to breathe through the respirator and hold onto the flashlight.

I came out of the hopper door all ready to jump all over Curtis when he said, “I’m sorry Kevin, I’m sorry.  Those guys were tickling me.  I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it.  They were tickling me and I couldn’t help it.  I”m sorry.  I didn’t mean to let go.  I’m sorry.  Kevin, I’m sorry.”

So what could I say?  —  anyway.  I recovered the flashlight, and I didn’t die.  So there were two good things that came out of that.  —  By the way.  I never dropped a flashlight a hopper again.  —  But isn’t that interesting that the flashlight fell through over 10 feet of ash down into the throat of the hopper?

Note to Reader:  To learn more about my adventure that day in the fly ash see the post Angel of Death Passes by the Precipitator Door.

Well.  I didn’t tell this whole story to OSHA.  Just the part about my climbing around looking for my flashlight at the top of the hopper and almost bailing off into the fly ash.

I do have a few other stories about near death experiences and Curtis Love.  I don’t know if you guys would want to hear about them or not.  Anyway.  This letter has been way overdue for an ending, so I’ll just finish it here.

Stay Safe!!!

Your friend from Dell,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile


Kevin J. Breazile

Global Financial Systems I/T

Dell Inc.

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