Many times in my life I have been in both the right place at the right time and avoided the wrong place at the wrong time. I have attributed this to either a very persistent Guardian Angel, or the sheer luck of someone who usually walks around in a mist more as an observer than a commander. Either way, it has made for an interesting life.
One spring day in 1996 I had a job to perform at the Intake pumps (Condenser Water Pumps). These are the pumps that pump lake water through the condensers just below the Turbine Generators at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. Each pump can pump 189,000 gallons per minute. This particular day I had to work on the overhead crane at the intake because it wasn’t working correctly.
It was a perfectly cool sunny morning, so I decided instead of finding a truck or a four wheeler I was going to just walk the quarter of a mile to the intake.
So, I grabbed my tool bucket and headed for the intake.
Just as I left the maintenance shop, I could glance to the right and see the sand filter building next to the water treatment plant directly across the road. This was where I had worked with Ed Shiever 13 years earlier when I had rambled on for days testing his sanity. See the post “Ed Shiever Trapped in a Confined Space with a Disciple of Ramblin’ Ann“. This was also where I had my first brush with death at the hands of Curtis Love. See the post “Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love“.
Just beyond the water treatment plant are the large fields of grass where 16 years earlier I had learned my lesson about listening from Ken Conrad. See the post “When Power Plant Men Talk… It Pays to Listen“. When I first came to work at the plant years earlier, this large field was nothing but dirt. On this day, the fields were green from the spring rain.
The intake was just across the field. It was a perfect day for a walk, and I did need the exercise.
The picture of the plant above shows how the intake is across a field from the main plant. On the very far left in the picture you can see the edge of a large tank.
In this picture you can see the four pumps at the bottom of the picture. You can also see why people who live around the plant love their beautiful countryside. In the distance you can see glimpses of the Arkansas River. The lake was formed by pumping water from the river up hill. The Intake overhead crane is just above the white truck parked at the intake. That was my destination this particular morning.
As I walked down the road toward the intake a company truck drove by rather slow. It was being driven by someone from Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City. I recognized Julia Bevers sitting in the passenger seat. She was in the Safety Department. Toby O’Brien may have been in the truck as well. They slowed down enough to have a good look at me.
I waved at them and they waved back. They had curious grins on their faces. With years of Power Plant Jokes under my belt, I recognized that grin as one indicating that something was up. So, as I continued walking, I watched them closely. They turned left at the road across from the large Number 2 Diesel Oil Tanks. Each tank could hold up to one million gallons of oil, though, we never kept that much oil in them.
In the picture above you can see two white round circles just right of the center of the picture. These are the oil tanks. The long line running from the coalyard to the plant is called 10 and 11 conveyors. They carry the coal from the crusher to the plant. The truck from Oklahoma City turned left on the road from the right side of the plant by the tanks. I was about halfway up this road when they drove by.
After they turned the corner, they parked their truck under the conveyor. You can see this area clearly in the first picture of the plant above taken from across the intake. All three occupants climbed out of the truck and walked into the field. They were all looking around as if they knew something was out there and were trying to find it.
My curiosity was definitely stirred by now, so as I walked by their truck, without saying anything, I gave Julia a funny look. She looked at the other two as if she should say something. Finally one of them said, “There has been an oil spill right here in this field. A Diesel oil truck spilled a bunch of oil here and it’s going to be flowing into that drain over there and if it does, it’s going to end up in the lake.”
I could see that obviously there was no oil in the field. Now that I think about it, the third person may have been Chris McAlister. He had worked on the labor crew at our plant before the downsizing. He was given a job in the safety department and had been assigned to track hazardous materials for the company.
Julia said that this is a drill for the Hazwoper team at the plant. In a few minutes they are going to sound the alarm that an oil spill has taken place, and they are going to see how long it takes for the Hazwoper team to arrive and alleviate the problem. Julia grinned again, because she knew that I was a member of the hazwoper team.
The word Hazwoper is an acronym that stands for “Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Rescue”. Our team was the “ER” in HAZWOPER. We were the Emergency Rescue team. Julia told me to just go about doing what I’m doing. In a few minutes they would sound the alarm.
I walked over to the Intake Switchgear. This is the little building next to the road at the very bottom of the picture above taken from the smoke stack. This was my first stop when checking out the overhead crane. Since the crane wasn’t working, I wanted to make sure that the power to the crane was turned on before assuming that there was a more complicated problem. You would be surprised sometimes. Those are best problems to solve. Just close the breaker and the problem is solved.
Instead of checking the breaker to the crane, I was more interested in the Gray Phone on the wall by the door.
This was our PA system. You could page someone on it and wherever you were in the plant, you could usually find the nearest gray phone and immediately be in touch with the person you were trying to find. At this point, we all carried radios, so we rarely needed to use the gray phones.
We kept the Gray Phones around for safety reasons. There were some places where the radios didn’t work well. At this moment, I didn’t want to talk on the radio where anyone could listen. — well, they could on the gray phone, but only if they went to one and picked it up and turned to the same channel.
I paged George Pepple, our head Chemist and the Doctor that did the Jig in the puddle of acid 17 years earlier in the Water Treatment plant. See the Post “A Power Plant Doctor Does a Jig in a Puddle of Acid“. Doctor George was also the leader of the Hazwoper team.
When George answered the phone, I told him about the oil spill drill that was about to happen. Julia had told me to go about doing what I was doing, but she hadn’t told me not to tell anyone, so… I did. I explained to him that the Hazwoper team was about to be called to respond to an oil spill by the intake. We will need some oil absorbing floats to put around the pipe where the drain in the field empties into the intake. We also needed something to block the drain so that the oil won’t go down the drain in the first place.
George understood and I left him to it. A few minutes later, a call came over the radio that the Hazwoper team was required at the intake to respond to a Diesel Oil Spill. It’s interesting, but even though I was anticipating the call, when it came over the radio, a lump of excitement went up in my throat. I become emotional over the silliest things some times.
I left my tool bucket in the switchgear, and took only my radio as I jogged back to the three people standing in the field. About the same time that I arrived, Dr. George pulled up with a truckload of Hazwoper Heroes. They piled out of the back of the truck and began spreading out oil booms to catch the oil before it went down the drain. A couple headed for the intake, but the Safety team said that wouldn’t be necessary. I can remember Ray Eberle, Randy Dailey and Brent Kautzman being there. There were others. They can leave a comment below to remind me.
The final result of the Hazwoper Oil Spill Drill was that our Plant Hazwoper team was able to respond to the oil spill in four minutes. Much faster than any other plant. Of course, this was partly because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. The Safety Team said that was perfectly all right. The drill was setup so it took place during the normal operation of the plant, and I just happened to be working nearby that day.
I know this isn’t what you were waiting to hear. I know that you are sitting at the edge of your seat wondering if I’m ever going to tell you what was wrong with the overhead crane. Well. It wasn’t as simple as turning the power back on. Actually, when it came down to it. We didn’t even have a wiring diagram or a schematic of how the overhead crane worked.
So, I took a bunch of notes in my 3 x 5 handy dandy pocket-sized Sparco Notepad:
After I made my way back to the plant, I went pulled out a ruler, and a blueprint stencil
and I drew the following wiring diagram for the Crane Hoist Controls:
After troubleshooting the controls with Charles Foster, it turned out that the problem was in the push button controls. A button was malfunctioning and needed to be fixed.
Anyway, not long after the Hazwoper Spill Test, our Confined Space Rescue team was also tested. We received a call that someone was down in the Truck scales and had passed out. The Confined Space Rescue team was called to rescue them.
This consisted of taking our equipment bags with us and arriving at the truck scales to rescue a person that had climbed down inside and had passed out. When we arrived, we found that this was only a drill. The Safety department from Oklahoma City was testing our Confined Space Rescue team to see how long it took us to respond.
I could point out in the overhead picture of the plant exactly where the truck scales are, but it would take a long time. Let me just say that they are in the upper left part of the picture where that road looks like it widens at the corner where that smaller road branches off to the upper left.
Our response time? Four minutes and 30 seconds. And this time, we didn’t know this one was coming.
About being in the right place at the right time…. I was in the right place when I first became a summer help at the plant. I was in the right place when Charles Foster asked me if I would think about becoming an electrician. I was in the right place when I was on Labor Crew and the electricians had a opening in their shop. But most of all, I was in the right place in history to be able to spend 20 years of my life with such a great bunch of Power Plant Men and Women at the best power plant in the country.