Some stories about me

Posted 10 March 2009 by

This isn’t self-revelation. This is three stories of how others perceived me.

One of these stories goes back to when I was in college. Two happened where I was working in the early part of this decade.

John the Baptist

One of my activities in college was playing organ for church services. I did not get rich at this, but it did help to pay for “extras” like auto insurance. (My campus jobs paid for gas, room, and board.)

In addition to my every-Sunday gig at Trinity Episcopal Church in St. James, Missouri, I played every other Saturday evening at St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Rolla, Missouri. For someone who was accepting-but-pretty-Protestant when I arrived at college, playing for mass was a major step in my growth as a Christian.

Actually, I was one of a “Protestant Delegation” that went every Saturday evening to mass. I was sitting with them in the pews when not on the organ bench.

During a sermon in Advent when I was in the pews, the parish pastor wanted to draw a contemporary image of John the Baptist for the congregation. As I listened, I realized that Fr. Fred was describing me as I looked that evening. The hair color, beard, shirt color and type, jeans, and footwear was all me. I was a little surprised.

Lest you think I was reading too much into this, all my friends turned to look at me. At least one person whispered in my ear that Fr. Fred was describing me.

Even if Fr. Fred wasn’t intentionally using me as his example, it is safe to say that my friends saw me in the description he gave.

Decisive Leadership

The company I worked for in the early part of this decade rented the fourth floor of the Renton City Hall for office space. Because of this my company needed to provide two floor wardens that trained with city employees for medical and other emergencies. My employer went along with this, probably because of receiving two employees trained to meet Washington industrial health and safety standards for free.

I was one of the first two people trained. This also meant that I was on-duty during the Ash Wednesday earthquake a few years ago in the Puget Sound region.

Let me rephrase this.

This also meant that I was on-duty during the Ash Wednesday earthquake a few years ago in the Puget Sound region, when the corporate CEO had just left SeaTac Airport on his way back to Boston and the divisional CEO was there–along with the heads of all the operating units that reported through our divisional CEO.

(Earlier that morning I was privileged to sit in during one of the quarterly investor conference calls. The corporate CEO was using the speaker telephone in our conference room and the CFO was participating from Boston. When I was watching the CEO going on-line to monitor and comment on the movement of the stock price on-line while the CFO did his talk, I thought, “O God, please don’t let there be an earthquake or a fire drill during this conference call.” That was one prayer in my life that was answered.)

My compatriot floor warden had his cube in the next bay over from mine. When the shaking and swaying of the building stopped after the earthquake, everyone in our area looked to us for immediate direction. That is, except for the one person I saw run for the fire exit.

To say there was tension would be an understatement.


Compatriot: Do you think we should evacuate the floor now?

Me: Let’s wait a second. Are other floors evacuating the building?

Compatriot, after walking to window: Looks like there is.

Me: OK. Let’s go.

(Note: Standard procedure for high rise buildings is to wait for announcement from building administration to leave. There could be a problem in the stairwells, meaning you are safer where you are. Also, you don’t normally want to evacuate all floors at once, because stairwells aren’t meant for that many people.)

No one needed to be told twice to leave this day.

We don our vests and start searching for any hurt and injured while others are leaving. This meant finding someone with access to a locked server room, as well as walking through every cubical bay and restroom.

It also meant it fell to me to walk into the room with the divisional CEO and other leaders and say, “Sir, I need to ask you to leave the building.”

I need to complement the divisional CEO on something. His body language and tone of voice immediately changed, making clear to everyone that I was in charge. While I expected him to leave without a problem, I wasn’t expecting this change in our rolls.

We cleared our floor without a problem. And we did it quickly.

Soon, the rest of the floors evacuated. Everyone was outside. Well, everyone but the prisoners in the city jail had evacuated. The prisoners waited inside for a possible order to evacuate.

While the emergency plans for city hall were going into place very well, city officials noted one thing was not covered. They did not have command and control in place for the floor wardens so we could assist with crowd control and limiting access to the building for people and cars (there is an underground garage for cars).

The police chief, fire chief, and city safety officer also noticed that the tenants from the fourth floor were organized and accounted for fairly quickly. The three of them quickly decided that I was going to be the point of contact for the floor wardens. When pointing out that I wasn’t a city employee, the response was, “We don’t care. You’re it.”

I still had my long pony tail at the time. I think I was wearing jeans that day. It didn’t make any difference. I became a part of the city’s emergency plan.

You will need to leave now

People normally don’t take fire alarms seriously, unlike what happens after an earthquake. When is the last time most of us have been in a building when there was a fire?

On another morning at work, I was minding my own business when the fire alarms went off unexpectedly. Again, people in my area looked in my direction and waited to be told what to do. As I don my green vest I have to tell people, “It’s the fire alarm. You are supposed to leave.”

As I walked around the floor, there was one person in her cube that only considered the electronic siren and strobe lights to be annoying. She continued to teach a class over a conference call. On my first pass around I said she was going to have to leave. And, on the second pass around I said she was going to have to leave.

After making sure everyone else was out, I went back, and she was still there.

I didn’t say anything this time, but I think she read me eyes clearly. I was about to reach over her to hang up the telephone. She apologized to everyone on the call, glared at me, and left.

On my way out on the first floor, I went by the emergency control panel. Various city officials asked me if had smelled anything when I left. I hadn’t, but it started me wondering what was really going on.

Soon the fire trucks pulled up.

There really was a fire. It was on our floor in the heating and air conditioning ducts. A fan motor had burned out and started a small fire.

Where was this fan motor, you may ask? It was almost directly over the cubicle of the person who wasn’t going to go, that’s where.

When we were back inside, smelling the remains of the electrical fire and seeing the ceiling tiles removed over her cubicle, she apologized to me.

Not only that, I became a positive example company training courses being taught by all instructors. You do what you know to be right, even when it isn’t popular with other people.

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