Tag Archives: Self Contained Breathing Apparatus

Hot Night on the Power Plant Precipitator

Scott Hubbard and I weren’t too sure why we had been called out that night when we met at the Bowling Alley on Washington Street at two o’clock in the morning in Stillwater Oklahoma to drive out to the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  Something about a fire on the top of the precipitator.

I was glad that Scott was driving instead of me when I climbed into his pickup and he began the 20 mile journey up Highway 177.  I wasn’t quite awake yet from the phone call at 1:45 am telling me that there was a fire on the Unit 1 precipitator roof and they were calling Scott and I out to put it out.  I figured if there was a fire it should be put out long before the 45 minutes it takes me and Scott to arrive at the plant.

We had all been trained to fight fires this size, so it didn’t make sense why we had to go do this instead of the operators.

This is am actual picture of the OSU Fire Service training plant workers to fight fires.

This is am actual picture of the OSU Fire Service training plant workers to fight fires.

My head was still swimming from the lack of sleep when we arrived at the plant, and headed to the Control Room to find out more about the fire we were supposed to fight.  The Shift Supervisor explained that there was an oil fire under one of the high voltage transformers next to some high voltage cables, and the operators that were on duty didn’t feel comfortable climbing under the transformer stands to try and put it out because of high voltage cable tray that ran alongside the fire (ok, now it made sense.  Electricity was involved.  Electricians had to work on anything that had an electric cable attached even if it was a fire).

The size fire extinguisher you would find in your home

The size fire extinguisher you would find in your home.  The ones we used were bigger

The operators had already brought a number of fire extinguishers appropriate to putting out an oil fire to the precipitator roof, and they had an SCBA (Self Contained Breating Apparatus) waiting there as well.

Man wearing an SCBA

Man wearing an SCBA from Google Images

Scott and I went to the Electric Shop to get a couple of pairs of asbestos gloves just in case we needed them.

Asbestos Gloves worn when putting hot bearings on a motor shaft (for instance)

Asbestos Gloves worn when putting hot bearings on a motor shaft (for instance)

When we arrived on the precipitator roof we could smell the fire smoldering right away.  The operator explained that some oil soaked insulation was on fire under the transformer stand for Transformer 1G9 and that he had tried to put it out using the extinguisher, but since the transformer oil was soaked into the bricks of insulation, it didn’t seem to do any good.

The transformer stands are about 18 inches tall, so climbing under them reminded me of the time I was sandblasting the water treatment tanks and Curtis Love turned off my air (see the post:  “Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love“).  This time I had a self-contained breathing apparatus, so I was in control of my own air… only there would only be about 30 minutes of air in the tank.

After assessing the situation Scott and I decided that the only way to put the fire out was to remove the blocks of insulation that were burning.  This meant that I had to lay down under the precipitator transformers and come face to face with the burning insulation and pull them out while wearing the asbestos gloves and put them in a barrel.

The plan was that we would then lower the 55 gallon barrel down to the ground and extinguish the fire by filling the barrel with water.

Barrel of LPS Electro Contact Cleaner

A barrel this size, only it was empty and the top was removed

The precipitator is on the outlet end of the boiler.  The boiler exhaust blows through the precipitator and the ash in the exhaust is removed using static electricity generated by the large transformers on the precipitator roof using up to 45,000 volts of electicity.  When the precipitator is on, the roof is generally a warm place to be.

When a person is laying on the insulation under a transformer, the temperature is somewhat higher as the heat is trapped in the enclosed space between two enclosures called “Coffin Houses” (how appropriate).  When the insulation is soaked with burning oil, the temperature seemed to rise significantly.  Luckily the insulation was not fiberglass as you may have in your attic, because I was wearing nothing but a tee shirt and jeans.  So, I was not subject to the itching I would have if the insulation had been fiberglass.

I had turned the air on the SCBA without using the “Postive Pressure” setting.  That meant that when I inhaled, I pulled air from the air tank, but the air didn’t apply pressure on the mask to keep out the bad air.

I did that because, this looked like it was going to be a long job and I wanted to conserve the air in the tank, and I found that on this setting I was not breathing the smoke pouring up around my face.  Otherwise I would have reached down to the valve on my belt and changed the setting to positive pressure.

I kept wondering while I was lying there with my face a few inches from the smoldering blocks of insulation why I was so calm the entire time.  The hot temperature had caused my sweat reflex to pour out the sweat so I was quickly drenched.  I would just lay my head on the insulation as I reached into the hole I was creating and pulled a glowing brick of insulation out using the asbestos gloves.

I knew I was only half awake so I kept telling myself… “Pay attention.  Work slowly.  One step at a time.  I tried to work like Granny would when she was digging Taters on the Beverly Hillbillies (see the video below):

In case you are not able to view the video above, try this link:  “Granny Digging Taters“.

It’s funny when you’re half dreaming the various things that come to mind.  I’m not sure how picking up smoldering bricks of insulation translated in my mind to Granny teaching beatniks how to pick “taters”…. but it did.

There was also something about this that reminded me of eating chocolate…. oh wait… that was probably left over from the dream I was having when the phone first rang back at the house.

For the next hour or so, I filled the barrels with the burning insulation and then lowered them down to the alleyway between Unit 1 and 2.  During this time I was still groggy from the lack of sleep and the entire process seemed like a dream to me.

I remember lying on my stomach next to the burning insulation.  Pulling the blocks out one at a time, layer by layer until I reached the precipitator roof underneath.  I placed each block of smoldering insulation in the barrel that had been lowered down by an overhead chain-fall near me.

When the barrel was about 3/4 full, we would work the chain fall over to the motorized hoist that would lower it down to the pickup truck bed 100 feet below.  When the barrel left the confines of the precipitator roof and the night air blew over the top of it, the insulation would burst into flames.  By the time the barrel landed in the back of the pickup truck the flames would be lighting up the alley way.

Scott doused the flames with a hose and an extinguisher and hauled the barrel of insulation off to a hazardous waste bin while I repeated the process with the next barrel that Scott attached to the hoist.

By the time we were through I smelled like something that crawled out of a damp fireplace.  My shirt and jeans were soaked with sweat and caked with pink insulation.  The SCBA was out of air after using it for an hour and we were ready to go home.

The operators said they would bring the empty extinguishers back to the plant and send the SCBA off to have it recharged.  We checked back in with the Shift Supervisor in the control room and told him we were heading for home.

I don’t remember which Shift Supervisor it was, though Gary Wright comes to my mind when I think about it.

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

Gary Wright is the red haird man in the front row with the big round glasses

I don’t remember which operator was helping us on the precipitator roof either.  I would usually remember those things, but like I said, I was still dreaming during this entire process.

Normally at this time, since it was close to 3:30 in the morning, we would opt to stay over and just do some odd jobs until it was time to start work because the 6 hour rule would still require us to come back to work at the regular time (see the Post: “Power Plant Black Time and Six Hour Rule“).  Scott and I decided that we both needed a good shower and if we could catch even one hour of sleep before we had to head back out to work, that would help.

So, we climbed back into Scott’s truck and headed back to Stillwater to the bowling alley where I had left my car.  I don’t remember the drive home.  I don’t even remember taking off my shirt and jeans in the utility room where I walked in the house and placing them in the washing machine straightaway… though that’s what I did.

I know I took a shower, but all that was just part of the same dream I had been having since the phone rang earlier that night.  Usually I didn’t have trouble waking up when the phone rang in the middle of the night, but for some reason, this particular night, I never fully woke up.

Or… maybe it’s something else….  Could I have dreamed the entire thing?  Maybe I never did receive that call, and we didn’t have to go out to the plant in the middle of the night to put out a fire.  I mean… how crazy is that anyway?  Does it make any sense?

I suppose I will have to rely on Scott Hubbard to confirm that we really did fight that fire.  How about it Scott?

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

As Bill Gibson asked one time…. “Is the Fact Truer than the Fiction?”

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Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle

The first time I saw Ray Eberle was during my first summer as a summer help in 1979.  He was standing in the midst of a group of mechanics who sat around him as school children sit around the librarian as a story is being read.  Ray was telling a story to a group of mesmerized Power Plant Men.

Many years later I heard that Ray was invited to tell stories to hunters who were hunting elk in Montana around the campfires at night as an occupation.  I think he passed on that opportunity.  Who would think of leaving the comfort of a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to go sit around telling stories by campfires in Montana?

For many years I didn’t have the opportunity to work with Ray.  He had joined the Safety Task Force that we had created at the plant.  He had also become a member of the Confined Space Rescue Team, and was a HAZWOPER Emergency Rescue responder.  I was on all of these teams with Ray, but I really had never worked side-by-side with him.

I know that at times, I had disappointed Ray by not living up to his expectations of what a True Power Plant Man should be.  When we were on the Safety Task Force, after the reorganization, we had shifted gears to be more of an “Idea” task force instead of one that actually fixed safety issues.  I was pushing hard to have the company move to a “Behavior-Based Safety” approach.  It was a misunderstood process and if not implemented correctly would have the exact opposite effect (see the post “ABCs of Power Plant Safety“)

Book about the Behavior-Based Safety Process

Book about the Behavior-Based Safety Process

I know this bothered Ray.  He let me know one day when I received an intra-company envelope with a memo in it.  It said that he was resigning from the team:

Ray's Memo

Ray’s Memo

I hang on to the oddest things.  Some things that lift me up and some things that break my heart.  I figure that there is a lesson for me in this memo.  That is why I have held onto it for the past 20 years.  I suppose this enforces my philosophy of trying to make a “Bad First Impression” (See the post:  “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).

Ray Eberle told me once that he had always thought that I was a lazy stuck up electrician that didn’t like to get dirty and just sat around in the electric shop all the time. (read the post:  “Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“)  He said that he saw me as a “higher than thou” type of person that looked down on others.  Then one day I said something that totally changed his perception of me.  I said, “Don’t get twisted.”

It’s funny to learn sometimes what people actually think of you.  Then it’s even funnier to think what makes them change their mind.  You see… when Ray Eberle was sharing his thoughts about me, we had become very good friends.  He said that he felt that he finally understood me when I uttered those three words “Don’t get twisted.”

I remember the moment I had said that.  As members of the Confined Space Rescue Team, we were responsible for inspecting the SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) each month.  We were standing in the control room and had a couple of the SCBAs sitting out while the instructor was showing us the proper way to inspect them.

Man wearing an SCBA

Man wearing an SCBA

Ray had asked a few “what-if” questions (like “What if the pressure is right at the minimum amount?”  or “What if we send a tank off to be refilled and we have an emergency?”) and his questions weren’t being answered.  He was getting a little hot under the collar, so I said, “Don’t get twisted.”

I remember Ray’s reaction.  He turned to me and said, “What did you say?”  I looked him straight in the eye with a grin on my face and repeated “Don’t get twisted.”

At that moment I didn’t know if Ray was going to haul off and belt me one, so I was mentally preparing my various responses…. like…. get ready to duck… just try to stand there as if nothing had happened… run and call a therapist because my ego had been shattered (no… wait… that wasn’t then)….  Anyway… instead Ray just smiled at me and said calmly, “I thought that was what you had said.”  I could see that he was in deep thought.

It was a couple of years later that I found out that at that moment Ray Eberle’s perception of who I was had done a 180.  Isn’t it funny what causes someone to change their mind sometimes?  Maybe he saw a spot of dirt on my tee shirt.

One day during the spring of 1998 my foreman, Alan Kramer told me that Jim Arnold wanted me to be assigned to create “Task Lists” in SAP.

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

Task lists are instructions on how to perform jobs associated with trouble tickets.  Jim Arnold (probably to keep me out of trouble) had assigned me to write task lists and Ray Eberle to write Bill of Materials (or BOMs).  Thus began our three year journey together working side-by-side entering data into the computer.

Writing task lists didn’t mean that I just sat in front of the computer all day.  In order to create them, I had to find out what tools a person would use to fix something, and what procedure they would perform in order to do their job.  This meant that a lot of times, I would go up to a crew that was working on something and I would ask them to tell me all the tools they used and how they did their job while standing at the job site.

I will write another post later about how I actually did the task of writing task lists, so I won’t go into any more detail.  After a short while, Ray and I figured out that we needed to be in the front office close to the Master Prints and the room where the “X-Files” (or X-drawings) were kept.

X-Files didn’t have to do with “Aliens”.  X-Files were files in cabinets that had all the vendor information about every piece of equipment at the plant (just about).  They were called X Files because their filing numbers all began with an X.  Like X-160183.

About 50% of my time for the next three years was spent creating task lists.  The rest of the time, I was still doing my regular electrician job, and going to school.  After the first year, I moved into the Master Print Room and Ray and I set up shop working on the computers next to each other.

Ray was a collector of Habanero Sauce bottles.

Habenero Sauce comes in colorful bottles

Habanero Sauce comes in colorful bottles

He would travel the country looking for unique Habanero Sauce bottles.  Each day, Ray would bring a bottle of habanero sauce to work and pour some on his lunch.

I ate the same boring lunch every day.  It consisted of a ham sandwich with a slice of American cheese.  Then I had some kind of fruit, like an apple or an orange.  Since I was no longer eating lunch in the electric shop where Charles would give me peppers with my sandwich, when Ray asked me if I would like some hot sauce for my sandwich I was quick to give it a try.

There is something very addictive about habanero sauce.  After a few days of having this sauce on my sandwich, I went to the grocery store and bought some of my own bottles of habanero sauce and salsa.

Ok.  One side story…

I was sitting at home reading a school book at the dining room table, my 9 year old daughter Elizabeth walked up to the table and took a tortilla chip from my paper plate, dipped it in the (habanero) salsa in the bowl next to it, and began to put it in her mouth.  Without looking up from my book, I said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Thinking that I meant that she shouldn’t be stealing my chips, she went ahead and put it in her mouth.  Grinning because she had stolen my chip, she began to walk away.  Then she started to squeal a little.  Moments later she was hopping all over the kitchen trying to find some way to put out the fire.

I told her the best remedy is to eat more chips.  Don’t drink water.  It makes it worse.  Eat chips without salsa.

End of side story…

I mentioned above that Ray Eberle is a very good storyteller.  He told me a series of stories that I call the “Walt Oswalt Stories”.  These were real life stories about a Power Plant Man at our plant.  They were so funny that I would go home and share them with my wife and she would fold over laughing at them.  She said that Ray needs to write a book about Walt Oswalt.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

I have shared some of these stories with various people in my later career and the reaction is always the same.  These stories belong in a book.  Later this year, I will share some of the Walt Oswalt stories in a post or two then you will see what I’m talking about.

One time in 2007 when I worked for Dell, I was meeting with the CEO of the world’s leading timekeeping company called Kronos.  His name is Aron Ain.

Aron Ain, Kronos CEO

Aron Ain, Kronos CEO

My director, Chris Enslin was with us in Massachusetts.

Chris Enslin

Chris Enslin

Aron  had taken us out to eat dinner, and Chris asked me to tell Aron some Walt Oswalt stories, so I shared a couple.

Then a couple of years later in 2009, Chris told me that he was at a meeting with CEOs from companies all over the United States, and there was Aron standing in the middle of a group of CEOs telling them a Walt Oswalt story.

Here is a picture of Ray Eberle sitting next to me at our computers in the master print room at the power plant:

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Each day at lunch, after we had eaten our sandwiches, Ray would reach into his lunch box and pull out a worn black book and begin reading it.  He would spend about 10 to 15 minutes reading.  Sometimes he would stop and tell me something interesting about something he had just read.  When he was done, the book went back into his lunch box and we continued working.

I remember some of the interesting conversations we used to have about that worn black book in his lunch box.  One time we talked about a story in the book about how a hand just appeared out of nowhere and began writing on a wall when this guy named Belshazzar was having a party.  Then this guy named Daniel came and told him what it meant, and that night Belshazzar was killed.  Ray said,  “…. God sent the hand that wrote the inscription.”  What do you think about that?  My response was…. “Yeah.  God sure has class.  He could have just struck the guy down right there and then.  Instead he has a hand appear and write something on the wall.  That way we can now have the saying: The writing on the wall’.”

I always thought if you were going to pick a good friend to have, if you pick one that reads their Bible every day during lunch, they are bound to be trustworthy.  I could tell that I could trust Ray with anything.  So, I spent the three years with Ray telling him everything I knew about myself while Ray shared a good deal of his life story with me.  Of course… being nine and a half years older than I was, he had lived a lot more life than I had.

When I left the Power Plant in 2001 to work for Dell, one of the things I missed the most was sitting next to Ray talking about our lives, eating our lunch with Habanero Sauce, and listening to Ray’s stories about Prominent Power Plant Men!  I have considered Ray a very dear friend for many years and I am honored to have him take me into his confidence.  I only hope that I could be as much of a friend to Ray as he has been to me.

Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle

The first time I saw Ray Eberle was during my first summer as a summer help in 1979.  He was standing in the midst of a group of mechanics who sat around him as school children sit around the librarian as a story is being read.  Ray was telling a story to a group of mesmerized Power Plant Men.

Many years later I heard that Ray was invited to tell stories to hunters who were hunting elk in Montana around the campfires at night as an occupation.  I think he passed on that opportunity.  Who would think of leaving the comfort of a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to go sit around telling stories by campfires in Montana?

For many years I didn’t have the opportunity to work with Ray.  He had joined the Safety Task Force that we had created at the plant.  He had also become a member of the Confined Space Rescue Team, and was a HAZWOPER Emergency Rescue responder.  I was on all of these teams with Ray, but I really had never worked side-by-side with him.

I know that at times, I had disappointed Ray by not living up to his expectations of what a True Power Plant Man should be.  When we were on the Safety Task Force, after the reorganization, we had shifted gears to be more of an “Idea” task force instead of one that actually fixed safety issues.  I was pushing hard to have the company move to a “Behavior-Based Safety” approach.  It was a misunderstood process and if not implemented correctly would have the exact opposite effect (see the post “ABCs of Power Plant Safety“)

Book about the Behavior-Based Safety Process

Book about the Behavior-Based Safety Process

I know this bothered Ray.  He let me know one day when I received an intra-company envelope with a memo in it.  It said that he was resigning from the team:

Ray's Memo

Ray’s Memo

I hang on to the oddest things.  Some things that lift me up and some things that break my heart.  I figure that there is a lesson for me in this memo.  That is why I have held onto it for the past 20 years.  I suppose this enforces my philosophy of trying to make a “Bad First Impression” (See the post:  “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).

Ray Eberle told me once that he had always thought that I was a lazy stuck up electrician that didn’t like to get dirty and just sat around in the electric shop all the time. (read the post:  “Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“)  He said that he saw me as a “higher than thou” type of person that looked down on others.  Then one day I said something that totally changed his perception of me.  I said, “Don’t get twisted.”

It’s funny to learn sometimes what people actually think of you.  Then it’s even funnier to think what makes them change their mind.  You see… when Ray Eberle was sharing his thoughts about me, we had become very good friends.  He said that he felt that he finally understood me when I uttered those three words “Don’t get twisted.”

I remember the moment I had said that.  As members of the Confined Space Rescue Team, we were responsible for inspecting the SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) each month.  We were standing in the control room and had a couple of the SCBAs sitting out while the instructor was showing us the proper way to inspect them.

Man wearing an SCBA

Man wearing an SCBA

Ray had asked a few “what-if” questions (like “What if the pressure is right at the minimum amount?”  or “What if we send a tank off to be refilled and we have an emergency?”) and his questions weren’t being answered.  He was getting a little hot under the collar, so I said, “Don’t get twisted.”

I remember Ray’s reaction.  He turned to me and said, “What did you say?”  I looked him straight in the eye with a grin on my face and repeated “Don’t get twisted.”

At that moment I didn’t know if Ray was going to haul off and belt me one, so I was mentally preparing my various responses…. like…. get ready to duck… just try to stand there as if nothing had happened… run and call a therapist because my ego had been shattered (no… wait… that wasn’t then)….  Anyway… instead Ray just smiled at me and said calmly, “I thought that was what you had said.”  I could see that he was in deep thought.

It was a couple of years later that I found out that at that moment Ray Eberle’s perception of who I was had done a 180.  Isn’t it funny what causes someone to change their mind sometimes?  Maybe he saw a spot of dirt on my tee shirt.

One day during the spring of 1998 my foreman, Alan Kramer told me that I had been assigned to create “Task Lists” in SAP.

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

Task lists are instructions on how to perform jobs associated with trouble tickets.  Jim Arnold (probably to keep me out of trouble) had assigned me to write task lists and Ray Eberle to write Bill of Materials (or BOMs).  Thus began our three year journey together working side-by-side entering data into the computer.

Writing task lists didn’t mean that I just sat in front of the computer all day.  In order to create them, I had to find out what tools a person would use to fix something, and what procedure they would perform in order to do their job.  This meant that a lot of times, I would go up to a crew that was working on something and I would ask them to tell me all the tools they used and how they did their job while standing at the job site.

I will write another post later about how I actually did the task of writing task lists, so I won’t go into any more detail.  After a short while, Ray and I figured out that we needed to be in the front office close to the Master Prints and the room where the “X-Files” (or X-drawings) were kept.

X-Files didn’t have to do with “Aliens”.  X-Files were files in cabinets that had all the vendor information about every piece of equipment at the plant (just about).  They were called X Files because their filing numbers all began with an X.  Like X-160183.

About 50% of my time for the next three years was spent creating task lists.  The rest of the time, I was still doing my regular electrician job, and going to school.  After the first year, I moved into the Master Print Room and Ray and I set up shop working on the computers next to each other.

Ray was a collector of Habanero Sauce bottles.

Habenero Sauce comes in colorful bottles

Habanero Sauce comes in colorful bottles

He would travel the country looking for unique Habanero Sauce bottles.  Each day, Ray would bring a bottle of habanero sauce to work and pour some on his lunch.

I ate the same boring lunch every day.  It consisted of a ham sandwich with a slice of American cheese.  Then I had some kind of fruit, like an apple or an orange.  Since I was no longer eating lunch in the electric shop where Charles would give me peppers with my sandwich, when Ray asked me if I would like some hot sauce for my sandwich I was quick to give it a try.

There is something very addictive about habanero sauce.  After a few days of having this sauce on my sandwich, I went to the grocery store and bought some of my own bottles of habanero sauce and salsa.

Ok.  One side story…

I was sitting at home reading a school book at the dining room table, my 9 year old daughter Elizabeth walked up to the table and took a tortilla chip from my paper plate, dipped it in the (habanero) salsa in the bowl next to it, and began to put it in her mouth.  Without looking up from my book, I said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Thinking that I meant that she shouldn’t be stealing my chips, she went ahead and put it in her mouth.  Grinning because she had stolen my chip, she began to walk away.  Then she started to squeal a little.  Moments later she was hopping all over the kitchen trying to find some way to put out the fire.

I told her the best remedy is to eat more chips.  Don’t drink water.  It makes it worse.  Eat chips without salsa.

End of side story…

I mentioned above that Ray Eberle is a very good storyteller.  He told me a series of stories that I call the “Walt Oswalt Stories”.  These were real life stories about a Power Plant Man at our plant.  They were so funny that I would go home and share them with my wife and she would fold over laughing at them.  She said that Ray needs to write a book about Walt Oswalt.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

I have shared some of these stories with various people in my later career and the reaction is always the same.  These stories belong in a book.  Later this year, I will share some of the Walt Oswalt stories in a post or two then you will see what I’m talking about.

One time in 2007 when I worked for Dell, I was meeting with the CEO of the world’s leading timekeeping company called Kronos.  His name is Aron Ain.

Aron Ain, Kronos CEO

Aron Ain, Kronos CEO

My director, Chris Enslin was with us in Massachusetts.

Chris Enslin

Chris Enslin

Aron  had taken us out to eat dinner, and Chris asked me to tell Aron some Walt Oswalt stories, so I shared a couple.

Then a couple of years later in 2009, Chris told me that he was at a meeting with CEOs from companies all over the United States, and there was Aron standing in the middle of a group of CEOs telling them a Walt Oswalt story.

Here is a picture of Ray Eberle sitting next to me at our computers in the master print room at the power plant:

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Each day at lunch, after we had eaten our sandwiches, Ray would reach into his lunch box and pull out a worn black book and begin reading it.  He would spend about 10 to 15 minutes reading.  Sometimes he would stop and tell me something interesting about something he had just read.  When he was done, the book went back into his lunch box and we continued working.

I remember some of the interesting conversations we used to have about that worn black book in his lunch box.  One time we talked about a story in the book about how a hand just appeared out of nowhere and began writing on a wall when this guy named Belshazzar was having a party.  Then this guy named Daniel came and told him what it meant, and that night Belshazzar was killed.  Ray said,  “…. God sent the hand that wrote the inscription.”  What do you think about that?  My response was…. “Yeah.  God sure has class.  He could have just struck the guy down right there and then.  Instead he has a hand appear and write something on the wall.  That way we can now have the saying: The writing on the wall’.”

I always thought if you were going to pick a good friend to have, if you pick one that reads their Bible every day during lunch, they are bound to be trustworthy.  I could tell that I could trust Ray with anything.  So, I spent the three years with Ray telling him everything I knew about myself while Ray shared a good deal of his life story with me.  Of course… being nine and a half years older than I was, he had lived a lot more life than I had.

When I left the Power Plant in 2001 to work for Dell, one of the things I missed the most was sitting next to Ray talking about our lives, eating our lunch with Habanero Sauce, and listening to Ray’s stories about Prominent Power Plant Men!  I have considered Ray a very dear friend for many years and I am honored to have him take me into his confidence.  I only hope that I could be as much of a friend to Ray as he has been to me.

Hot Night on the Power Plant Precipitator

Scott Hubbard and I weren’t too sure why we had been called out that night when we met at the Bowling Alley on Washington Street at two o’clock in the morning in Stillwater Oklahoma to drive out to the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  Something about a fire on the top of the precipitator.

I was glad that Scott was driving instead of me when I climbed into his pickup and he began the 20 mile journey up Highway 177.  I wasn’t quite awake yet from the phone call at 1:45 am telling me that there was a fire on the Unit 1 precipitator roof and they were calling Scott and I out to put it out.  I figured if there was a fire it should be put out long before the 45 minutes it takes me and Scott to arrive at the plant.

We had all been trained to fight fires this size, so it didn’t make sense why we had to go do this instead of the operators.

This is am actual picture of the OSU Fire Service training plant workers to fight fires.

This is am actual picture of the OSU Fire Service training plant workers to fight fires.

My head was still swimming from the lack of sleep when we arrived at the plant, and headed to the Control Room to find out more about the fire we were supposed to fight.  The Shift Supervisor explained that there was an oil fire under one of the high voltage transformers next to some high voltage cables, and the operators that were on duty didn’t feel comfortable climbing under the transformer stands to try and put it out because of high voltage cable tray that ran alongside the fire (ok, now it made sense.  Electricity was involved.  Electricians had to work on anything that had an electric cable attached even if it was a fire).

The size fire extinguisher you would find in your home

The size fire extinguisher you would find in your home.  The ones we used were bigger

The operators had already brought a number of fire extinguishers appropriate to putting out an oil fire to the precipitator roof, and they had an SCBA (Self Contained Breating Apparatus) waiting there as well.

Man wearing an SCBA

Man wearing an SCBA from Google Images

Scott and I went to the Electric Shop to get a couple of pairs of asbestos gloves just in case we needed them.

Asbestos Gloves worn when putting hot bearings on a motor shaft (for instance)

Asbestos Gloves worn when putting hot bearings on a motor shaft (for instance)

When we arrived on the precipitator roof we could smell the fire smoldering right away.  The operator explained that some oil soaked insulation was on fire under the transformer stand for Transformer 1G9 and that he had tried to put it out using the extinguisher, but since the transformer oil was soaked into the bricks of insulation, it didn’t seem to do any good.

The transformer stands are about 18 inches tall, so climbing under them reminded me of the time I was sandblasting the water treatment tanks and Curtis Love turned off my air (see the post:  “Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love“).  This time I had a self-contained breathing apparatus, so I was in control of my own air… only there would only be about 30 minutes of air in the tank.

After assessing the situation Scott and I decided that the only way to put the fire out was to remove the blocks of insulation that were burning.  This meant that I had to lay down under the precipitator transformers and come face to face with the burning insulation and pull them out while wearing the asbestos gloves and put them in a barrel.

The plan was that we would then lower the 55 gallon barrel down to the ground and extinguish the fire by filling the barrel with water.

Barrel of LPS Electro Contact Cleaner

A barrel this size, only it was empty and the top was removed

The precipitator is on the outlet end of the boiler.  The boiler exhaust blows through the precipitator and the ash in the exhaust is removed using static electricity generated by the large transformers on the precipitator roof using up to 45,000 volts of electicity.  When the precipitator is on, the roof is generally a warm place to be.

When a person is laying on the insulation under a transformer, the temperature is somewhat higher as the heat is trapped in the enclosed space between two enclosures called “Coffin Houses” (how appropriate).  When the insulation is soaked with burning oil, the temperature seemed to rise significantly.  Luckily the insulation was not fiberglass as you may have in your attic, because I was wearing nothing but a tee shirt and jeans.  So, I was not subject to the itching I would have if the insulation had been fiberglass.

I had turned the air on the SCBA without using the “Postive Pressure” setting.  That meant that when I inhaled, I pulled air from the air tank, but the air didn’t apply pressure on the mask to keep out the bad air.

I did that because, this looked like it was going to be a long job and I wanted to conserve the air in the tank, and I found that on this setting I was not breathing the smoke pouring up around my face.  Otherwise I would have reached down to the valve on my belt and changed the setting to positive pressure.

I kept wondering while I was lying there with my face a few inches from the smoldering blocks of insulation why I was so calm the entire time.  The hot temperature had caused my sweat reflex to pour out the sweat so I was quickly drenched.  I would just lay my head on the insulation as I reached into the hole I was creating and pulled a glowing brick of insulation out using the asbestos gloves.

I knew I was only half awake so I kept telling myself… “Pay attention.  Work slowly.  One step at a time.  I tried to work like Granny would when she was digging Taters on the Beverly Hillbillies (see the video below at 9:30 to 11:00 into the show):

In case you are not able to view the video above, try this link:  “Granny Digging Taters“.

It’s funny when you’re half dreaming the various things that come to mind.  I’m not sure how picking up smoldering bricks of insulation translated in my mind to Granny teaching beatniks how to pick “taters”…. but it did.

There was also something about this that reminded me of eating chocolate…. oh wait… that was probably left over from the dream I was having when the phone first rang back at the house.

For the next hour or so, I filled the barrels with the burning insulation and then lowered them down to the alleyway between Unit 1 and 2.  During this time I was still groggy from the lack of sleep and the entire process seemed like a dream to me.

I remember lying on my stomach next to the burning insulation.  Pulling the blocks out one at a time, layer by layer until I reached the precipitator roof underneath.  I placed each block of smoldering insulation in the barrel that had been lowered down by an overhead chain-fall near me.

When the barrel was about 3/4 full, we would work the chain fall over to the motorized hoist that would lower it down to the pickup truck bed 100 feet below.  When the barrel left the confines of the precipitator roof and the night air blew over the top of it, the insulation would burst into flames.  By the time the barrel landed in the back of the pickup truck the flames would be lighting up the alley way.

Scott doused the flames with a hose and an extinguisher and hauled the barrel of insulation off to a hazardous waste bin while I repeated the process with the next barrel that Scott attached to the hoist.

By the time we were through I smelled like something that crawled out of a damp fireplace.  My shirt and jeans were soaked with sweat and caked with pink insulation.  The SCBA was out of air after using it for an hour and we were ready to go home.

The operators said they would bring the empty extinguishers back to the plant and send the SCBA off to have it recharged.  We checked back in with the Shift Supervisor in the control room and told him we were heading for home.

I don’t remember which Shift Supervisor it was, though Gary Wright comes to my mind when I think about it.

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

Gary Wright is the red haird man in the front row with the big round glasses

I don’t remember which operator was helping us on the precipitator roof either.  I would usually remember those things, but like I said, I was still dreaming during this entire process.

Normally at this time, since it was close to 3:30 in the morning, we would opt to stay over and just do some odd jobs until it was time to start work because the 6 hour rule would still require us to come back to work at the regular time (see the Post: “Power Plant Black Time and Six Hour Rule“).  Scott and I decided that we both needed a good shower and if we could catch even one hour of sleep before we had to head back out to work, that would help.

So, we climbed back into Scott’s truck and headed back to Stillwater to the bowling alley where I had left my car.  I don’t remember the drive home.  I don’t even remember taking off my shirt and jeans in the utility room where I walked in the house and placing them in the washing machine straightaway… though that’s what I did.

I know I took a shower, but all that was just part of the same dream I had been having since the phone rang earlier that night.  Usually I didn’t have trouble waking up when the phone rang in the middle of the night, but for some reason, this particular night, I never fully woke up.

Or… maybe it’s something else….  Could I have dreamed the entire thing?  Maybe I never did receive that call, and we didn’t have to go out to the plant in the middle of the night to put out a fire.  I mean… how crazy is that anyway?  Does it make any sense?

I suppose I will have to rely on Scott Hubbard to confirm that we really did fight that fire.  How about it Scott?

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

As Bill Gibson asked one time…. “Is the Fact Truer than the Fiction?”