07 December 2008

Almost a tragedy.

First, here's my story on how I freaked out about the possibility of almost killing John on Friday. Not on purpose just...anyway. Read on.

Somehow, a speaker cable from the retail level got lost or removed, and we were only just notified when the techs were in the IDF room, putting all the low voltage shit in order. All the speaker cables from upper floors had to be routed down to the back-of-house level, which is the level below retail. Anyway, the retail level is finished and already turned over so we couldn't really go crazy and rip walls open and such; the best way we could think of to get it all done was to run it down an air shaft. A great idea, except that in order to keep it up to Code (strapping, fire caulking, etc) was for someone to get down into the shaft as well. A good 50 feet or so.

The shaft itself is full of rigid and thinwall conduit, feeders encased in flex, tons of deep and double strut to keep it strapped down. Not much room for anyone to crawl down, especially with an awkward safety harness. I was going to get in the Hole except that the strut crossbars were 6 feet apart and I couldn't comfortably or safely climb down, as short as I am...that left it to my toolie, John.

John slipped on his safety harness and shimmied down. Once he reached the proper level, I lowered the tool bucket to him with kite string. It was full of straps, his screwdriver, the fire putty knife, a pair of Kleins, the like. I lost control of the bucket for a few feet and panicked as it plummeted and I'll be honest, I freaked out. John said he was still okay, but there's no room for him to hide himself away in that shaft; if anything fell, it'd get him on the head. I was extra careful the rest of the way. Then I lowered the speaker cable to him so he could route that, and then I waited. There wasn't much I could do except wait until he was done securing everything, but once done, he asked for the fire putty.

Since the air shaft was fire-rated, it had to be fire caulked on the inside and outside. (I'm a diva with fire caulking, LOL.) Anyway, the bucket the putty was in weighed something like 40 pounds which really isn't bad at all but after losing control of the tool bucket, I was terrified. I lowered extremely slowly and wrapped the kite string around a post for extra security. About halfway down, I worried that perhaps I should be using 1/4" rope instead of kite string, but it was too late for that. After John positioned it, again all I could do was wait.

Finally he was ready for me to take the fire putty back up and so I did...or rather, I tried. Lowering a load is a hell of alot easier than raising it, at least for me. When I tried lifting it, I kept feeling the kite string slip through my gloved fingers. I briefly thought of taking my gloves off to better the grip but I knew that if I were to lose the load, that kite string would cut right through my hand. I hesitated and thought about my options. Leaving the putty in the air shaft was not an option, having John carry it back up while climbing the shaft was completely unfair, and dropping the bucket while attempting to raise it was unthinkable. After a few moments, I began wrapping the string around my hand as I raised it.

It was fine at first. Pull, wrap. Pull, wrap. It went slowly, but it was secure. The problem was this: that was a good 50 feet of kite string. As I wrapped it around my hand--then wrist, then arm--the weight on the end of the very thin string tightened it so much that I lost all feeling from my elbow, down. All feeling, that is, except an increasing raw pain everywhere the string was wrapped. Every time I wrapped it around my arm, it went against basic self-preservation instinct. I repeatedly called down to John, begging him to somehow shield himself from possible falling objects. About 10 feet below the concrete I was standing on, the bucket caught on some strut. I yanked it, and nothing happened. I started to panic. The pain in my arm was screaming at that point, my strength was running out, and I was afraid of both dropping the bucket onto John (effectively killing him) and the string being severed by a sharp edge of the strut, which would also cause the bucket to fall onto John. In my panic I yelled to him that it was stuck and I think he sensed that I was freaking out, cos he called out very calmly that it was all good, that I'm in control, that he knew I'd get it up with no problem. It was seriously frightening.

So I stopped, forcefully calmed myself, and wrapped the string a few more times around my arm as I ventured closer to the edge of the hole. Then, partially leaning into the darkness, I used my body to swing the string away from the strut as I quickly lifted it, which freed the bucket. I then lifted and wrapped as quickly as I could, and once I got it safely to my level, I kicked it as far away from the shaft as I was able so that I could focus on unwrapping. It took several minutes but in that time, John was able to collect everything else into the tool bucket...meanwhile, I found that the tightly coiled string had bruised and cut into my arm. Rope burns, while wicked-cool, aren't adorable.

The rest of the adventure was uneventful: John strapped the cable as he climbed back up, and I raised the tool bucket (which was remarkably light in comparison) for him as he ascended. All was good, we finished in the middle of lunch, and that was about it. We spent the rest of the day positioning everything to be ready for the next phase tomorrow. I kept quiet about my raw and swollen forearm; after all, I know that the alternative--losing the putty bucket--would be way fucking worse. I swear, I hope I never have that kind of desperate fear of maiming a coworker again. (Though this incident did teach me quite a few lessons...)

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