Tag Archives: Curtis Love

Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love

Original posted on January 28, 2012:

I vividly remember four events while working at the power plant where I was at the brink of death. I’m sure there were many other times, but these four have been etched in my memory almost 30 years later. Of those four memorable events, Curtis Love was by my side (so to speak) to share the wonder of two of those moments. This is a story about one of those times when you are too busy at the time to realize how close you came to catching that ride to the great power plant in the sky, until the middle of that night when you wake up in a cold sweat trying to catch your breath.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, safety is the number one priority at the power plant. But what is safe and what isn’t is relative. If you are the person that has to walk out onto a plank hanging out over the top ledge on the boiler in order to replace a section of boiler tube before the boiler has cooled down below 160 degrees, you might not think it is safe to do that with only an extra long lanyard tied to your waist and a sheer drop of 200 feet to the bottom ash hopper below (which I incidentally didn’t have to do as an electrician, but had to hear about after some other brave he-man had the privilege), you might not think that this is safe. But the Equipment Support Supervisor who has spent too many years as an engineer behind his desk doesn’t see anything wrong with this as long as you don’t fall. So, he tells you to do it, just don’t fall.

Safety is also relative to the date when something occurs. In 1994 OSHA implemented new rules for confined spaces. A confined space is any place that’s hard to enter and exit, or a place where you might be trapped in an enclosure because of converging walls. So, before 1994, there were no safety rules specific to confined spaces.

No rules meant that when I was on labor crew it was perfectly safe to crawl into a confined space and wind and twist your way around obstacles until the small oval door that you entered (18 inches by 12 inches) was only a distant memory as you are lying down in the bottom section of the sand filter tank with about 22 inches from the bottom of the section to the top requiring you to lie flat as you drag yourself around the support rods just less than 2 feet apart. Oh. and wearing a sandblast helmet…

Sand Blast Helmet

Sand Blast Helmet

and holding a sandblaster hose…

Sand Blast Hose

Sand Blast Hose

with a straight through Sandblast Nozzle….

Sand Blast Nozzle

Sand Blast Nozzle

Which means, the person sandblasting has no way of turning off the sand or the air on their own. If you wanted to turn off the sand, you had to bang the nozzle against the side of the tank and hope that the person outside monitoring the sandblaster was able to hear you above the roar of the Sandblaster and the Industrial Vacuum.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

You also had a drop light that left you all tangled in wires and hoses that blew air on your face so that you could breathe and a 4 inch diameter vacuum hose that sucked the blasted sand and rust away, while the sandblaster blasts away the rust from all things metal less than a foot away from your face, because the air is so full of dust, that’s as far as you can see while holding the drop light with the other hand next to the sandblast hose. The air that blows through the sandblaster is hot, so you begin to sweat inside the heavy rain suit that you wear to protect the rest of you from sand that is ricocheting everywhere, but you don’t feel it as long as cool air is blowing on your face.

The week I spent lying flat trying to prop up my head while sandblasting the bottom section of both sand filter tanks gave me time to think about a lot of things…. which leads us to Curtis Love…. Not that it was Curtis Love that I was thinking about, but that he enters the story some time in the middle of this week. When I least expected it.

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size. If you look closely you can see the seam around the bottom. Below that seam is where I was lying while sandblasting

Curtis Love was a janitor at the plant when I first joined the Sanitation Engineering Team after my four summers of training as a “summer help”. Curtis was like my mother in some ways (and in other ways not – obviously). He was always looking for something to worry about.

For instance, one Monday morning while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Janitor safety meeting and Pat Braden had just finished reading the most recent safety pamphlet to us and we were silently pondering the proper way to set the outriggers on a P&H Crane, Jim Kanelakos said, “Hey Curtis. Don’t you have your mortgage at the Federal Bank in Ponca City?” Curtis said, “Yeah, why?” Jim continued, “Well I heard this morning on the news that the bank was foreclosing on all of their home mortgages.”

Curtis said that he hadn’t heard that, but that as soon as it was 9:00 am he would call the bank to find out what he needed to do so that he wouldn’t lose his house. About that time I gave a report on the number of fiddleback spiders I had killed in the main switchgear the previous week. It seemed like no one was listening to my statistics as Doris Voss was still pondering the P&H Crane hand signals, and Curtis was shuffling his feet in worry and Ronnie Banks was staring off into space, as if he was stunned that Monday was already here again, and Jim Kanelakos was snickering under his breath.

When the meeting was over and we were standing up, Jim told Curtis, “Hey Curtis. I was just kidding. The bank really isn’t foreclosing on their mortgages.” Curtis replied, “I don’t know. I better call them to check anyway.” Jim replied, “Curtis, I just made that up! I was playing a joke on you.” Curtis said, “I better check anyway, because it still is possible that they could be foreclosing on their mortgages”. So Jim just gave up trying to explain.

I know you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me now, but there were only two of us at the plant that were small enough to crawl through the portal into the Sand Filter tanks (Ed Shiever and myself), because not only was it very tight, but the entry was so close to the edge of the building that you had to enter the hole by curving your body around the corner and into the tank.

I have tried to paint of picture of the predicament a person is in when they are laying in this small space about 20 feet from the small portal that you have to crawl through. with their airline for the sandblast helmet, the sandblast hose, the drop light cord and the 4 inch vacuum hose all wound around the support rods that were not quite 2 feet apart in all directions. Because this is where I was when without my giving the signal (by banging the sandblast nozzle on the tank three times), the sand stopped flowing from the nozzle and only air was hissing loudly.

This meant one of two things. The sandblast machine had just run out of sand, or someone was shutting the sandblaster off because it was time for lunch. I figured it was time for lunch, because I didn’t think it had been more than 10 minutes since the sand had been refilled and amid the roaring blasts and the howling sucking vacuum hose, I thought I had caught the sound of a rumbling stomach from time to time.

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

The next thing that should happen after the sand has blown out of the sandblast hose, is that the air to the sandblaster should stop blowing. And it did…. but what wasn’t supposed to happen, that did, was that the air blowing through my sandblast hood allowing me to breathe in this sea of rusty dust shut off at the same time! While still pondering what was happening, I suddenly realized that without the air supply to my hood, not only could I not breathe at all, but my sweat-filled rain suit that I was wearing suddenly became unbearably hot and dust began pouring into my hood now that the positive pressure was gone.

I understood from these various signs of discomfort that I needed to head back to the exit as quickly as possible, as I was forced by the thick dust to hold my breath. I pulled my hood off of my head and everything went black. I had moved more than a foot away from the drop light. I knew that the exit was in the direction of my feet on the far side of the tank, so I swung around a row of support rods and dragged myself along by the rods as quickly as I could unable to see or take a breath. Working my way around the cable, the air hose, the sandblast hose and the vacuum hose as I pulled myself along trying to make out where the exit could be. Luckily, I had figured correctly and I found myself at the exit where in one motion I pulled myself out to fresh air and the blinding light of the day gasping for air.

Furious that someone had turned off my air, I ran out of the sand filter building to the sandblast machine where I found Curtis Love of all people. Up to this point, Curtis had never had the privilege to operate the sandblaster and was not aware of the proper sequence to shutting down the machine…. without shutting off the air to my hood. Incidentally, both the sandblaster and the air hose to the sandblast hood were being fed from the same regular plant air supply (which OSHA might have frowned upon back as far as 1983, and which caused you to blow black oily stuff out of your nose for a few days).

Needless to say, about the time that I came bolting out of the sand filter building Curtis had figured out that he had shut off the wrong valve. He was apologizing profusely in one long drawn out sentence….. “Kevin, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry….” I stopped myself short as my hands were flying toward the area where his neck would have been, if Curtis had had a neck.

I looked over toward the crew cab parked nearby. It was full of hungry labor crew “he-men in training” all smiling and chuckling. At that moment I knew that both Curtis and I had been on the receiving end of what could be construed as a “power plant joke” (refer to the post about Gene Day to learn more about those:  “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“). So, I spent the next 30 seconds as Curtis and I piled into the crew cab telling Curtis that is was all right, he didn’t have to feel bad about it. Evidently, someone had told Curtis how to shutdown the sandblaster, but failed to tell him exactly which valve to turn off when turning off the air to the sandblaster.

Needless to say. Lunch tasted extra good that day. Possibly the rusty dust added just the right amount of iron to my sandwich.

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360 Degrees of Power Plant Grief Counselling

The first time I sat through a Performance Review was with my mentor Larry Riley when I was on Labor Crew.  On a scale of 1000 I was somewhere around 850.  He said that this was the highest he had ever rated anyone so I should be proud, and I was.  As I walked out of the room and returned to work, I suddenly felt depressed.  I thought this was a strange response after just being told I was Larry’s “Star Pupil”.

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Larry Riley 16 years after my first performance review

Throughout the years, the Performance Review process changed a number of times.  The scale was changed to 1 to 10, then 1 to 5, then the numbers were taken away altogether and replaced with, Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, and Fails to Meet Expectations.

The different scales all meant the same thing, and that was that if someone was applying for a job or up for a promotion, then this number became significant.  The number was used to rank employees.  Anyone who had a particularly low score was told they were on probation, and if they didn’t improve, then they would lose their job some time in the future.

The only person I can remember that was placed on probation was Curtis Love.  Later, Curtis was let go because he had dented the truck (while still on probation) when he backed it into a yellow post and didn’t tell his foreman Larry.  Curtis didn’t know that Larry saw it happen standing about 100 yards away in front of the Labor Crew Building.

An example of yellow poles protecting an area

An example of yellow poles protecting an area

For more about Curtis, read the post “Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love“.  Other than that, it was nearly impossible to lose your job… Unless, of course, you upset Jim Arnold.

After the reorganization in 1994, a woman from HR came to our Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma from Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.  She chose some people randomly to interview about how to make the performance review process better.  I happened to be one of the people she randomly chose…  Go figure.  I had my own ideas about Performance Reviews.

I did what I usually did, and waited my turn to speak… Well… sometimes I do that anyway…. like, in this case.  Ok.  This was a rare case.  I wanted to wait until everyone else gave their two cents before I gave her my dollar fifty, so I waited until she asked me specifically what I thought.

I began with the sentence that went something like this:  “I don’t think the performance review should be tied to a person’s promotions, or job opportunities.  I think if the purpose for the performance review is to improve performance, then it has to be uncoupled from any kind of retribution or promotion.”

I continued…. “When the performance review is tied to your promotions, then a game is played with upper management where the scores are adjusted and comments are changed after the initial rating by the manager so that only one person can have the highest rating in a department or a team for example.  If we really want to improve our performance then the program should be changed so that it focuses on behavior and how it can be approved.”

After blurting out… I mean, carefully laying out my ideas…. I could see the HR lady’s wheels turning in her head.  That was what I thought anyway.  I could tell she could see what I was saying and she was ready to take that back to Oklahoma City.  I thought, “Poor young lady, she still has ideals from her youth that the system can be changed.  She is in for a rude awakening when she goes back to Corporate Headquarters and tries to pitch an idea like that.”  In a way I felt like I had set her up for failure.

I was surprised several months later when volunteers were elicited to become “Assessment Counselors”.  Of course, I signed up as soon as I heard about it.  After all, the reason I first decided to work toward a psychology degree was because I was thinking about becoming a High School Counselor.  I had seen the effects of both very bad counselors (I won’t mention all their names here) and a very good one (Mr. Klingensmith at Jefferson Junior High in Columbia, Missouri) and thought it was important to have good counselors in schools.

By the time I decided that my major would be psychology I had already worked at the Power Plant for one summer as a summer help, and didn’t realize that the allure of working with such a great group of men and women had already seeped into my blood, so I still thought there was some other job waiting for me out there besides “Power Plant Janitor”.  Silly me.  I mean, where else do you get to work where you can wear a yellow hard hat, safety glasses, mop floors and still get to look out over a beautiful lake with all the wildlife just a few yards away?

I went to “Assessment Counselor” training and learned that the new “Performance Review” was going to consist of performing a “360 degree Assessment” every two years on each employee.  What this means is that each person will rate their own performance. Then they will rate their coworkers.  Their manager will rate each of their direct reports.  Direct Reports will rate their managers.  Customers from other teams, preferably people that have observed your work throughout the year when you performed jobs for them will rate you.

A 360 degree assessment is when everyone around you rates you.  Sealed packets are mailed to each person that needs to rate each other.  So, each person at the plant would be rating a lot of people.  Then the packets are mailed back in, put in the computer and a final report is created.

The person that is going to be rated either enters who they want to be their assessment counselor, or if they don’t, then one is appointed to them.  That was where I came in.  I was a 360 degree Assessment Counselor for 4 years.   Right up until the day I left the plant in 2001.

The longest lasting benefit I received from being an assessment counselor was that at one point the assessment counselors were given a special High Quality OGIO Sports duffel bag:

My OGIO Sport Assessment Counselor Duffel Bag

My OGIO Sport Assessment Counselor Duffel Bag

This duffel bag has been around the world from Malaysia to Brazil, as I have traveled the world counselling people.  Well, giving them my two cents anyway.  It has finally worn out it’s usefulness and now sits prominently in the Power Plant Museum I maintain in my closet (or what my wife refers to as “pile of junk”).

The way the assessment worked was that I would receive a sealed envelope in the mail with all the material needed to perform the assessment on a person.  I would then schedule a meeting with them to go over their results.  Power Plant Men are very uncomfortable with this sort of thing.  I know I always disliked performance reviews ever since I received my first one from Larry, even though it was a glowing review.

The first thing I would explain to the Power Plant Men was that this review belongs to only them and no one else.  No one will see it except them, and well, myself.  It will not be used to decide your raise or promotions or anything else.  This is solely for their own benefit to see what other people think about how they work and to try to improve.

The real benefit was that you could see the comments left by other “anonymous” coworkers which gave you a pretty good picture how others viewed your work.  Sometimes that can be an eye opener.  Then it was my job to help the Power Plant Men develop a plan to improve their “Areas of Opportunities”.

For the typical Power Plant Man at our plant, it was a difficult job to even find one hidden “area of opportunity” because just about everyone at our plant had been hand picked from a much larger group of workers over the years to be where they were today.  Being the cream-of-the-crop meant that “Opportunities for Improvement” were far and few between.  Well, I say that, but there was always Gene Day….

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

I could sit all day with Gene and come up with 30 ways he could improve himself, but that was because I had been studying him for so many years… Actually, I don’t remember if I was ever Gene’s Assessment Counselor, I was just thinking of who could use the most improvement, and suddenly Gene came to mind.  See the post “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“.

For those unfortunate enough to have me as their assessment counselor, they found that what they thought was going to be the typical 10 minute review of their performance usually turned into a 3 hour session where I wouldn’t let them leave the room until we had three specific action items to work on for the next year.

Many times it came down to one comment from one person that alluded to some small behavior that could be improved.  Even though it might be vague, I would use it to start a discussion about how the person might be able to improve in that area.  Then we would come up with some measurable way the person could work to improve that particular attribute.  It could be “I will do such and such at least 2 times each month for the next 4 months”.

It took a couple of years before the Power Plant Men became comfortable enough to see any benefit at all from the 360 assessment, but one thing for sure…. It was better than going through a performance review that was written by your foreman and then edited three times by people higher up who didn’t know how your really worked before it was presented to you.

By the third year I had a growing reputation as someone that took the 360 degree assessment seriously and like a priest in a confessional, kept everything confidential. That is why even today, I can only tell you all about Gene Day’s performance review and how much he needed to improve because I don’t ever remember being his assessment counselor, although I wish I had, so that I could have helped straighten him out some… But then… you can’t teach an old Gene new tricks and Gene was the oldest of the old (I say that, because I know he occasionally reads these posts).

I mentioned in the post “Power Plant Lock Out – Tag Out or Just Tag Out” that my favorite “roomie” who was/is a foreman at the Power Plant in Harrah, Oklahoma on a lake called “Horseshoe Lake” asked me to be his assessment counselor in 2001.  We met at the Perkins Restaurant in Stillwater to go over it.

Steve Trammel had been my roommate when we were on a 10 week overhaul in Muskogee Oklahoma in 1984 just before Christmas (See the post “Something is in the Water at the Muskogee Power Plant“).  We have always remained good friends, and I was honored that he had asked for me to be his assessment counselor 15 years later.

There were three situations where I felt like I was unable to help the people I was assigned to counsel.  The first situation was when the person reading the comments would focus on trying to figure out who said what.  As we would go over each of the comments, they would say something like, “Yeah.  I know who said that.  They just said that because of….”  Then we would read another comment and they would say something similar.

I could still work with people that initially took this approach because we could talk about why the person would say what they said and figure out how we could go about changing the other person’s attitude toward the person I was counselling.  Maybe by taking the tactics I had taken when Jim Padgett had become mad at me.  (See the post:  “Making Friends From Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes“).

The second situation that I found difficult was when the comments were broad attacks about the person.  In the sense that the person should look for another type of work, or something of that sort.  I had one female operator who was particularly upset about comments like that on her 360 assessment.  Even though we eventually came up with three ways she could improve, most of the time was spent helping her recover from the grief caused by the apparent insult in her assessment.

The third and most difficult situation I encountered while being a 360 degree assessment counselor was when I counseled someone from upper management that was planning to retire in a few years.  This person made it clear by saying right off the bat that it didn’t matter what their assessment said, he wasn’t going to change anything.  That didn’t stop me from going through all of the steps with him to create an action plan to improve his behavior.

All and all, I knew that most people didn’t take their action items and do anything about them.  That didn’t bother me.  I figured that during those three hours where we spent sitting their talking about their behavior was enough for most of them to put a thought in the back of their minds that would help them adjust their behavior at least a little when certain situations would arise.

As I mentioned before.  The people I was chosen to counsel were the best men and women in the Power Plant Industry.  The majority of the time as I watched each of them leave the room after sitting with them for three hours, I was proud to have been given the opportunity to sit with them and tell each of them that their coworkers and customers thought the world of them!

For a counselor who is looking to change the world, having to counsel this particular bunch of Power Plant People would have been very frustrating since there was barely any opportunity for improvement.  For me, this was the greatest job in the world.  “Here Fred (Generic Fred, not Fred Turner, well, it could have been Fred Turner), Look what your coworkers said about you!  Isn’t this great!?!”

360 Degrees of Power Plant Grief Counselling

The first time I sat through a Performance Review was with my mentor Larry Riley when I was on Labor Crew.  On a scale of 1000 I was somewhere around 850.  He said that this was the highest he had ever rated anyone so I should be proud, and I was.  As I walked out of the room and returned to work, I suddenly felt depressed.  I thought this was a strange response after just being told I was Larry’s “Star Pupil”.

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Larry Riley 16 years after my first performance review

Throughout the years, the Performance Review process changed a number of times.  The scale was changed to 1 to 10, then 1 to 5, then the numbers were taken away altogether and replaced with, Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, and Fails to Meet Expectations.

The different scales all meant the same thing, and that was that if someone was applying for a job or up for a promotion, then this number became significant.  The number was used to rank employees.  Anyone who had a particularly low score was told they were on probation, and if they didn’t improve, then they would lose their job some time in the future.

The only person I can remember that was placed on probation was Curtis Love.  Later, Curtis was let go because he had dented the truck (while still on probation) when he backed it into a yellow post and didn’t tell his foreman Larry.  Curtis didn’t know that Larry saw it happen standing about 100 yards away in front of the Labor Crew Building.

An example of yellow poles protecting an area

An example of yellow poles protecting an area

For more about Curtis, read the post “Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love“.  Other than that, it was nearly impossible to lose your job… Unless, of course, you upset Jim Arnold.

After the reorganization in 1994, a woman from HR came to our Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma from Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.  She chose some people randomly to interview about how to make the performance review process better.  I happened to be one of the people she randomly chose…  Go figure.  I had my own ideas about Performance Reviews.

I did what I usually did, and waited my turn to speak… Well… sometimes I do that anyway…. like, in this case.  Ok.  This was a rare case.  I wanted to wait until everyone else gave their two cents before I gave her my dollar fifty, so I waited until she asked me specifically what I thought.

I began with the sentence that went something like this:  “I don’t think the performance review should be tied to a person’s promotions, or job opportunities.  I think if the purpose for the performance review is to improve performance, then it has to be uncoupled from any kind of retribution or promotion.”

I continued…. “When the performance review is tied to your promotions, then a game is played with upper management where the scores are adjusted and comments are changed after the initial rating by the manager so that only one person can have the highest rating in a department or a team for example.  If we really want to improve our performance then the program should be changed so that it focuses on behavior and how it can be approved.”

After blurting out… I mean, carefully laying out my ideas…. I could see the HR lady’s wheels turning in her head.  That was what I thought anyway.  I could tell she could see what I was saying and she was ready to take that back to Oklahoma City.  I thought, “Poor young lady, she still has ideals from her youth that the system can be changed.  She is in for a rude awakening when she goes back to Corporate Headquarters and tries to pitch an idea like that.”  In a way I felt like I had set her up for failure.

I was surprised several months later when volunteers were elicited to become “Assessment Counselors”.  Of course, I signed up as soon as I heard about it.  After all, the reason I first decided to work toward a psychology degree was because I was thinking about becoming a High School Counselor.  I had seen the effects of both very bad counselors (I won’t mention all their names here) and a very good one (Mr. Klingensmith at Jefferson Junior High in Columbia, Missouri) and thought it was important to have good counselors in schools.

By the time I decided that my major would be psychology I had already worked at the Power Plant for one summer as a summer help, and didn’t realize that the allure of working with such a great group of men and women had already seeped into my blood, so I still thought there was some other job waiting for me out there besides “Power Plant Janitor”.  Silly me.  I mean, where else to you get to work where you can wear a yellow hard hat, safety glasses, mop floors and still get to look out over a beautiful lake with all the wildlife just a few yards away?

I went to “Assessment Counselor” training and learned that the new “Performance Review” was going to consist of performing a “360 degree Assessment” every two years on each employee.  What this means is that each person will rate their own performance. Then they will rate their coworkers.  Their manager will rate each of their direct reports.  Direct Reports will rate their managers.  Customers from other teams, preferably people that have observed your work throughout the year when you performed jobs for them.

A 360 degree assessment is when everyone around you rates you.  Sealed packets are mailed to each person that needs to rate each other.  So, each person at the plant would be rating a lot of people.  Then the packets are mailed back in, put in the computer and a final report is created.

The person that is going to be rated either enters who they want to be their assessment counselor, or if they don’t, then one is appointed to them.  That was where I came in.  I was a 360 degree Assessment Counselor for 4 years.   Right up until the day I left the plant in 2001.

The longest lasting benefit I received from being an assessment counselor was that at one point the assessment counselors were given a special High Quality OGIO Sports duffel bag:

My OGIO Sport Assessment Counselor Duffel Bag

My OGIO Sport Assessment Counselor Duffel Bag

This duffel bag has been around the world from Malaysia to Brazil, as I have traveled the world counselling people.  Well, giving them my two cents anyway.  It has finally worn out it’s usefulness and now sits prominently in the Power Plant Museum I maintain in my closet (or what my wife refers to as “pile of junk”).

The way the assessment worked was that I would receive a sealed envelope in the mail with all the material needed to perform the assessment on a person.  I would then schedule a meeting with them to go over their results.  Power Plant Men are very uncomfortable with this sort of thing.  I know I always disliked performance reviews ever since I received my first one from Larry, even though it was a glowing review.

The first thing I would explain to the Power Plant Men was that this review belongs to only them and no one else.  No one will see it except them, and well, myself.  It will not be used to decide your raise or promotions or anything else.  This is solely for their own benefit to see what other people think about how they work and to try to improve.

The real benefit was that you could see the comments left by other “anonymous” coworkers which gave you a pretty good picture how others viewed your work.  Sometimes that can be an eye opener.  Then it was my job to help the Power Plant Men develop a plan to improve their “Areas of Opportunities”.

For the typical Power Plant Man at our plant, it was a difficult job to even find one hidden “area of opportunity” because just about everyone at our plant had been hand picked from a much larger group of workers over the years to be where they were today.  Being the cream-of-the-crop meant that “Opportunities for Improvement” were far and few between.  Well, I say that, but there was always Gene Day….

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

I could sit all day with Gene and come up with 30 ways he could improve himself, but that was because I had been studying him for so many years… Actually, I don’t remember if I was ever Gene’s Assessment Counselor, I was just thinking of who could use the most improvement, and suddenly Gene came to mind.  See the post “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“.

For those unfortunate enough to have me as their assessment counselor, they found that what they thought was going to be the typical 10 minute review of their performance usually turned into a 3 hour session where I wouldn’t let them leave the room until we had three specific action items to work on for the next year.

Many times it came down to one comment from one person that alluded to some small behavior that could be improved.  Even though it might be vague, I would use it to start a discussion about how the person might be able to improve in that area.  Then we would come up with some measurable way the person could work to improve that particular attribute.  It could be “I will do such and such at least 2 times each month for the next 4 months”.

It took a couple of years before the Power Plant Men became comfortable enough to see any benefit at all from the 360 assessment, but one thing for sure…. It was better than going through a performance review that was written by your foreman and then edited three times by people higher up who didn’t know how your really worked before it was presented to you.

By the third year I had a growing reputation as someone that took the 360 degree assessment seriously and like a priest in a confessional, kept everything confidential. That is why even today, I can only tell you all about Gene Day’s performance review and how much he needed to improve because I don’t ever remember being his assessment counselor, although I wish I had, so that I could have helped straighten him out some… But then… you can’t teach an old Gene new tricks and Gene was the oldest of the old (I say that, because I know he occasionally reads these posts).

I mentioned in the post “Power Plant Lock Out – Tag Out or Just Tag Out” that my favorite “roomie” who was/is a foreman at the Power Plant in Harrah, Oklahoma on a lake called “Horseshoe Lake” asked me to be his assessment counselor in 2001.  We met at the Perkins Restaurant in Stillwater to go over it.

Steve Trammel had been my roommate when we were on a 10 week overhaul in Muskogee Oklahoma in 1984 just before Christmas (See the post “Something is in the Water at the Muskogee Power Plant“).  We have always remained good friends, and I was honored that he had asked for me to be his assessment counselor 15 years later.

There were three situations where I felt like I was unable to help the people I was assigned to counsel.  The first situation was when the person reading the comments would focus on trying to figure out who said what.  As we would go over each of the comments, they would say something like, “Yeah.  I know who said that.  They just said that because of….”  Then we would read another comment and they would say something similar.

I could still work with people that initially took this approach because we could talk about why the person would say what they said and figure out how we could go about changing the other person’s attitude toward the person I was counselling.  Maybe by taking the tactics I had taken when Jim Padgett had become mad at me.  (See the post:  “Making Friends From Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes“).

The second situation that I found difficult was when the comments were broad attacks about the person.  In the sense that the person should look for another type of work, or something of that sort.  I had one female operator who was particularly upset about comments like that on her 360 assessment.  Even though we eventually came up with three ways she could improve, most of the time was spent helping her recover from the grief caused by the apparent insult in her assessment.

The third and most difficult situation I encountered while being a 360 degree assessment counselor was when I counseled someone from upper management that was planning to retire in a few years.  This person made it clear by saying right off the bat that it didn’t matter what their assessment said, he wasn’t going to change anything.  That didn’t stop me from going through all of the steps with him to create an action plan to improve his behavior.

All and all, I knew that most people didn’t take their action items and do anything about them.  That didn’t bother me.  I figured that during those three hours where we spent sitting their talking about their behavior was enough for most of them to put a thought in the back of their minds that would help them adjust their behavior at least a little when certain situations would arise.

As I mentioned before.  The people I was chosen to counsel were the best men and women in the Power Plant Industry.  The majority of the time as I watched each of them leave the room after sitting with them for three hours, I was proud to have been given the opportunity to sit with them and tell each of them that their coworkers and customers thought the world of them!

For a counselor who is looking to change the world, having to counsel this particular bunch of Power Plant People would have been very frustrating since there was barely any opportunity for improvement.  For me, this was the greatest job in the world.  “Here Fred (Generic Fred, not Fred Turner, well, it could have been Fred Turner), Look what your coworkers said about you!  Isn’t this great!?!”

Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love

Original posted on January 28, 2012:

I vividly remember four events while working at the power plant where I was at the brink of death. I’m sure there were many other times, but these four have been etched in my memory almost 30 years later. Of those four memorable events, Curtis Love was by my side (so to speak) to share the wonder of two of those moments. This is a story about one of those times when you are too busy at the time to realize how close you came to catching that ride to the great power plant in the sky, until the middle of that night when you wake up in a cold sweat trying to catch your breath.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, safety is the number one priority at the power plant. But what is safe and what isn’t is relative. If you are the person that has to walk out onto a plank hanging out over the top ledge on the boiler in order to replace a section of boiler tube before the boiler has cooled down below 160 degrees, you might not think it is safe to do that with only an extra long lanyard tied to your waist and a sheer drop of 200 feet to the bottom ash hopper below (which I incidentally didn’t have to do as an electrician, but had to hear about after some other brave he-man had the privilege), you might not think that this is safe. But the Equipment Support Supervisor who has spent too many years as an engineer behind his desk doesn’t see anything wrong with this as long as you don’t fall. So, he tells you to do it, just don’t fall.

Safety is also relative to the date when something occurs. In 1994 OSHA implemented new rules for confined spaces. A confined space is any place that’s hard to enter and exit, or a place where you might be trapped in an enclosure because of converging walls. So, before 1994, there were no safety rules specific to confined spaces.

No rules meant that when I was on labor crew it was perfectly safe to crawl into a confined space and wind and twist your way around obstacles until the small door that you entered (18 inches by 12 inches) was only a distant memory as you are lying down in the bottom section of the sand filter tank with about 22 inches from the bottom of the section to the top requiring you to lie flat as you drag yourself around the support rods just less than 2 feet apart. Oh. and wearing a sandblast helmet…

Sand Blast Helmet

Sand Blast Helmet

and holding a sandblaster hose…

Sand Blast Hose

Sand Blast Hose

with a straight through Sandblast Nozzle….

Sand Blast Nozzle

Sand Blast Nozzle

Which means, the person sandblasting has no way of turning off the sand or the air on their own. If you wanted to turn off the sand, you had to bang the nozzle against the side of the tank and hope that the person outside monitoring the sandblaster was able to hear you above the roar of the Sandblaster and the Industrial Vacuum.

Sandblasting machine.  Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

You also had a drop light that left you all tangled in wires and hoses that blew air on your face so that you could breathe and a vacuum hose that sucked the blasted sand and rust away, while the sandblaster blasts away the rust from all things metal less than a foot away from your face, because the air is so full of dust, that’s as far as you can see while holding the drop light with the other hand next to the sandblast hose. The air that blows through the sandblaster is hot, so you begin to sweat inside the heavy rain suit that you wear to protect the rest of you from sand that is ricocheting everywhere, but you don’t feel it as long as cool air is blowing on your face.

The week I spent lying flat trying to prop up my head while sandblasting the bottom section of both sand filter tanks gave me time to think about a lot of things…. which leads us to Curtis Love…. Not that it was Curtis Love that I was thinking about, but that he enters the story some time in the middle of this week. When I least expected it.

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size. If you look closely you can see the seam around the bottom. Below that seam is where I was lying while sandblasting

Curtis Love was a janitor at the plant when I first joined the Sanitation Engineering Team after my four summers of training as a “summer help”. Curtis was like my mother in some ways (and in other ways not – obviously). He was always looking for something to worry about. For instance, one Monday morning while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Janitor safety meeting and Pat Braden had just finished reading the most recent safety pamphlet to us and we were silently pondering the proper way to set the outriggers on a P&H Crane, Jim Kanelakos said, “Hey Curtis. Don’t you have your mortgage at the Federal Bank in Ponca City?” Curtis said, “Yeah, why?” Jim continued, “Well I heard this morning on the news that the bank was foreclosing on all of their home mortgages.”

Curtis said that he hadn’t heard that, but that as soon as it was 9:00 am he would call the bank to find out what he needed to do so that he wouldn’t lose his house. About that time I gave a report on the number of fiddleback spiders I had killed in the main switchgear the previous week. It seemed like no one was listening to my statistics as Doris Voss was still pondering the P&H Crane hand signals, and Curtis was shuffling his feet in worry and Ronnie Banks was staring off into space, as if he was stunned that Monday was already here again, and Jim Kanelakos was snickering under his breath.

When the meeting was over and we were standing up, Jim told Curtis, “Hey Curtis. I was just kidding. The bank really isn’t foreclosing on their mortgages.” Curtis replied, “I don’t know. I better call them to check anyway.” Jim replied, “Curtis, I just made that up! I was playing a joke on you.” Curtis said, “I better check anyway, because it still is possible that they could be foreclosing on their mortgages”. So Jim just gave up trying to explain.

I know you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me now, but there were only two of us at the plant that were small enough to crawl through the portal into the Sand Filter tanks (Ed Shiever and myself), because not only was it very tight, but the entry was so close to the edge of the building that you had to enter the hole by curving your body around the corner and into the tank.

I have tried to paint of picture of the predicament a person is in when they are laying in this small space about 20 feet from the small portal that you have to crawl through. with their airline for the sandblast helmet, the sandblast hose, the drop light cord and the 4 inch vacuum hose all wound around the support rods that were not quite 2 feet apart in all directions. Because this is where I was when without my giving the signal (by banging the sandblast nozzle on the tank three times), the sand stopped flowing from the nozzle and only air was hissing loudly. This meant one of two things. The sandblast machine had just run out of sand, or someone was shutting the sandblaster off because it was time for lunch. I figured it was time for lunch, because I didn’t think it had been more than 10 minutes since the sand had been refilled and amid the roaring blasts and the howling sucking vacuum hose, I thought I had caught the sound of a rumbling stomach from time to time.

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

The next thing that should happen after the sand has blown out of the sandblast hose, is that the air to the sandblaster should stop blowing. And it did…. but what wasn’t supposed to happen, that did, was that the air blowing through my sandblast hood allowing me to breathe in this sea of rusty dust shut off at the same time! While still pondering what was happening, I suddenly realized that without the air supply to my hood, not only could I not breathe at all, but my sweat-filled rain suit that I was wearing suddenly became unbearably hot and dust began pouring into my hood now that the positive pressure was gone.

I understood from these various signs of discomfort that I needed to head back to the exit as quickly as possible, as I was forced by the thick dust to hold my breath. I pulled my hood off of my head and everything went black. I had moved more than a foot away from the drop light. I knew that the exit was in the direction of my feet, so I swung around a row of support rods and dragged myself along by the rods as quickly as I could. Working my way around the cable, the air hose, the sandblast hose and the vacuum hose as I pulled myself along trying to make out where the exit could be. Luckily, I had figured correctly and I found myself at the exit where in one motion I pulled myself out to fresh air and the blinding light of the day gasping for air.

Furious that someone had turned off my air, I ran out of the sand filter building to the sandblast machine where I found Curtis Love of all people. Up to this point, Curtis had never had the privilege to operate the sandblaster and was not aware of the proper sequence to shutting down the machine…. without shutting off the air to my hood. Incidentally, both the sandblaster and the air hose to the sandblast hood were being fed from the same regular plant air supply (which OSHA might have frowned upon back as far as 1983, and which caused you to blow black oily stuff out of your nose for a few days).

Needless to say, about the time that I came bolting out of the sand filter building Curtis had figured out that he had shut off the wrong valve. He was apologizing profusely in one long drawn out sentence….. “Kevin, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry….” I stopped myself short as my hands were flying toward the area where his neck would have been, if Curtis had had a neck. I looked over toward the crew cab parked nearby. It was full of hungry labor crew “he-men in training” all smiling and chuckling. At that moment I knew that both Curtis and I had been on the receiving end of what could be construed as a “power plant joke” (refer to the post about Gene Day to learn more about those:  “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“). So, I spent the next 30 seconds as Curtis and I piled into the crew cab telling Curtis that is was all right, he didn’t have to feel bad about it. Evidently, someone had told Curtis how to shutdown the sandblaster, but failed to tell him exactly which valve to turn off when turning off the air to the sandblaster.

Needless to say. Lunch tasted extra good that day. Possibly the rusty dust added just the right amount of iron to my sandwich.

Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love — Repost

This is a repost and slightly edited from the original post that was originally posted on January 28, 2012:

I vividly remember four events while working at the power plant where I was at the brink of death. I’m sure there were many other times, but these four have been etched in my memory almost 30 years later. Of those four memorable events, Curtis Love was by my side (so to speak) to share the wonder of two of those moments. This is a story about one of those times when you are too busy at the time to realize how close you came to catching that ride to the great power plant in the sky, until the middle of that night when you wake up in a cold sweat trying to catch your breath.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, safety is the number one priority at the power plant. But what is safe and what isn’t is relative. If you are the person that has to walk out onto a plank hanging out over the top ledge on the boiler in order to replace a section of boiler tube before the boiler has cooled down below 160 degrees, you might not think it is safe to do that with only an extra long lanyard tied to your waist and a sheer drop of 200 feet to the bottom ash hopper below (which I incidentally didn’t have to do as an electrician, but had to hear about after some other brave he-man had the privilege), you might not think that this is safe. But the Equipment Support Supervisor who has spent too many years as an engineer behind his desk doesn’t see anything wrong with this as long as you don’t fall. So, he tells you to do it, just don’t fall.

Safety is also relative to the date when something occurs. In 1994 OSHA implemented new rules for confined spaces. A confined space is any place that’s hard to enter and exit, or a place where you might be trapped in an enclosure because of converging walls. So, before 1994, there were no safety rules specific to confined spaces.

No rules meant that when I was on labor crew it was perfectly safe to crawl into a confined space and wind and twist your way around obstacles until the small door that you entered (18 inches by 12 inches) was only a distant memory as you are lying down in the bottom section of the sand filter tank with about 22 inches from the bottom of the section to the top requiring you to lie flat as you drag yourself around the support rods just less than 2 feet apart. Oh. and wearing a sandblast helmet…

Sand Blast Helmet

Sand Blast Helmet

and holding a sandblaster hose…

Sand Blast Hose

Sand Blast Hose

with a straight through Sandblast Nozzle….

Sand Blast Nozzle

Sand Blast Nozzle

Which means, the person sandblasting has no way of turning off the sand or the air on their own. If you wanted to turn off the sand, you had to bang the nozzle against the side of the tank and hope that the person outside monitoring the sandblaster was able to hear you above the roar of the Sandblaster and the Industrial Vacuum.

Sandblasting machine.  Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

and a drop light that left you all tangled in wires and hoses that blew air on your face so that you could breathe and a vacuum hose that sucked the blasted sand and rust away, while the sandblaster blasts away the rust from all things metal less than a foot away from your face, because the air is so full of dust, that’s as far as you can see while holding the drop light with the other hand next to the sandblast hose. The air that blows through the sandblaster is hot, so you begin to sweat inside the heavy rain suit that you wear to protect the rest of you from sand that is ricocheting everywhere, but you don’t feel it as long as cool air is blowing on your face.

The week I spent lying flat trying to prop up my head while sandblasting the bottom section of both sand filter tanks gave me time to think about a lot of things…. which leads us to Curtis Love…. Not that it was Curtis Love that I was thinking about, but that he enters the story some time in the middle of this week. When I least expected it.

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size. If you look closely you can see the seam around the bottom. Below that seam is where I was lying while sandblasting

Curtis Love was a janitor at the plant when I first joined the Sanitation Engineering Team after my four summers of training as a “summer help”. Curtis was like my mother in some ways (and in other ways not – obviously). He was always looking for something to worry about. For instance, one Monday morning while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Janitor safety meeting and Pat Braden had just finished reading the most recent safety pamphlet to us and we were silently pondering the proper way to set the outriggers on a P&H Crane, Jim Kanelakos said, “Hey Curtis. Don’t you have your mortgage at the Federal Bank in Ponca City?” Curtis said, “Yeah, why?” Jim continued, “Well I heard this morning on the news that the bank was foreclosing on all of their home mortgages.”

Curtis said that he hadn’t heard that, but that as soon as it was 9:00 he would call the bank to find out what he needed to do so that he wouldn’t lose his house. About that time I gave a report on the number of fiddleback spiders I had killed in the main switchgear the previous week. It seemed like no one was listening to my statistics as Doris Voss was still pondering the P&H Crane hand signals, and Curtis was shuffling his feet in worry and Ronnie Banks was staring off into space, as if he was stunned that Monday was already here again, and Jim Kanelakos was snickering under his breath.

When the meeting was over and we were standing up, Jim told Curtis, “Hey Curtis. I was just kidding. The bank really isn’t foreclosing on their mortgages.” Curtis replied, “I don’t know. I better call them to check anyway.” Jim replied, “Curtis, I just made that up! I was playing a joke on you.” Curtis said, “I better check anyway, because it still is possible that they could be foreclosing on their mortgages”. So Jim just gave up trying to explain.

I know you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me now, but there were only two of us at the plant that were small enough to crawl through the portal into the Sand Filter tanks (Ed Shiever and myself), because not only was it very tight, but the entry was so close to the edge of the building that you had to enter the hole by curving your body around the corner and into the tank.

I have tried to paint of picture of the predicament a person is in when they are laying in this small space about 20 feet from the small portal that you have to crawl through. with their airline for the sandblast helmet, the sandblast hose, the drop light cord and the 4 inch vacuum hose all wound around the support rods that were not quite 2 feet apart in all directions. Because this is where I was when without my giving the signal (by banging the sandblast nozzle on the tank three times), the sand stopped flowing from the nozzle and only air was hissing loudly. This meant one of two things. The sandblast machine had just run out of sand, or someone was shutting the sandblaster off because it was time for lunch. I figured it was time for lunch, because I didn’t think it had been more than 10 minutes since the sand had been refilled and amid the roaring blasts and the howling sucking vacuum hose, I thought I had caught the sound of a rumbling stomach from time to time.

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

The next thing that should happen after the sand has blown out of the sandblast hose, is that the air to the sandblaster should stop blowing. And it did…. but what wasn’t supposed to happen, that did, was that the air blowing through my sandblast hood allowing me to breathe in this sea of rusty dust shut off at the same time! While still pondering what was happening, I suddenly realized that without the air supply to my hood, not only could I not breathe at all, but my sweat-filled rain suit that I was wearing suddenly became unbearably hot and dust began pouring into my hood now that the positive pressure was gone.

I understood from these various signs of discomfort that I needed to head back to the exit as quickly as possible, as I was forced by the thick dust to hold my breath. I pulled my hood off of my head and everything went black. I had moved more than a foot away from the drop light. I knew that the exit was in the direction of my feet, so I swung around a row of support rods and dragged myself along by the rods as quickly as I could. Working my way around the cable, the air hose, the sandblast hose and the vacuum hose as I pulled myself along trying to make out where the exit could be. Luckily, I had figured correctly and I found myself at the exit where in one motion I pulled myself out to fresh air and the blinding light of the day.

Furious that someone had turned off my air, I ran out of the sand filter building to the sandblast machine where I found Curtis Love of all people. Up to this point, Curtis had never had the privilege to operate the sandblaster and was not aware of the proper sequence to shutting down the machine…. without shutting off the air to my hood. Incidentally, both the sandblaster and the air hose to the sandblast hood were being fed from the same regular plant air supply (which OSHA might have frowned upon back as far as 1983, and which caused you to blow black oily stuff out of your nose for a few days).

Needless to say, about the time that I came bolting out of the sand filter building Curtis had figured out that he had shut off the wrong valve. He was apologizing profusely in one long drawn out sentence….. “Kevin, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry….” I stopped myself short as my hands were flying toward the area where his neck would have been, if Curtis had had a neck. I looked over toward the crew cab parked nearby. It was full of hungry labor crew “he-men in training” all smiling and chuckling. At that moment I knew that both Curtis and I had been on the receiving end of what could be construed as a “power plant joke” (refer to the post about Gene Day to learn more about those). So, I spent the next 30 seconds as Curtis and I piled into the crew cab telling Curtis that is was all right, he didn’t have to feel bad about it. Evidently, someone had told Curtis how to shutdown the sandblaster, but failed to tell him exactly which valve to turn off when turning off the air to the sandblaster.

Needless to say. Lunch tasted extra good that day. Possibly the rusty dust added just the right amount of iron to my sandwich.