CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 ARRON CHAMP
B Troop, 4-6 Attack Reconnaissance Squadron
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Although many years have passed, I distinctly recall the practical exercise on changing a tire as a young private just starting my military career. The reason why this memory stands out is due to a run-in with a particularly loud and brash drill instructor that happened to see me working without eye protection. The ensuing 15-minute PT session ensured I learned one thing — personal protective equipment is important.
About a decade later, just after flight school, I began to notice that I was now a bit more safety conscious about certain things than I had been in the past. I take flying seriously and have always incorporated safety into all of my duties. As I became more aware of the safety measures I was taking as a Soldier, I also started to incorporate those same measures at home. Those safety measures are what saved my vision. Here’s how.
My unit was about 30 days away from our next deployment to Iraq, and the list of fix-it chores around the house was growing. One of the issues I was tackling was a leaky basement window. The wooden frame around the window was rotten, and when it rained, water from the driveway poured into our finished basement. My plan was to remove the window, tear out the old frame and then put it back together with treated lumber.
After spending the morning gathering the needed supplies and tools, I donned my eye protection and started the destruction process. One of the tools I was using that day was a 15-inch steel pry bar. It came in handy after I removed the window and started to pry loose the rotten wood around the frame. Most of the pieces came out without too much pressure, but, of course, there’s always that one stubborn piece that refuses to budge. In this case, that stubborn piece was the 36-inch-long block of wood seated (firmly, I might add) horizontally across the bottom of the frame and fastened to the cement with sinker bolts.
I’d tried to remove the bolts with a ratchet, but they were so old that the heads of each one snapped off with any reasonable amount of force. I then moved on to Plan B, wedging the pry bar under the wood and forcing it free. Being that this was a basement window, the lowest point of the frame sat right at the six-foot mark from the floor. As I tried to get an angle that allowed me to use as much leverage as possible, I found myself directly under the tool with my foot braced against the wall. After a few minutes of applying steady pressure with no luck, I decided my next course of action was to yank on the pry bar in a bouncing motion to use my body weight. On the fourth or fifth bounce, it happened.
The wood gave way right as I was applying the maximum amount of pressure on the bar. I came crashing down on the floor with pieces of wood landing around me. Stunned disbelief quickly turned to shock when I realized the pry bar was still in my hands and the claw end firmly embedded in my nose!
I took off my safety glasses, gently removed the pry bar from my nose and applied pressure to the wound. I then made my way upstairs — rather calmly, I must say — and went to the bathroom to assess the damage to my face. My fears were confirmed when I looked into the mirror and saw my nose had shifted considerably to the left side of my face. To make matters worse, there was also an almost three-inch gash where my nose had once been.
I grabbed a clean hand towel and reapplied pressure as I pondered my next step. Obviously I needed medical aid, but since we lived in a fairly rural area, that meant I’d have to call 911 and then wait about 15 minutes for the volunteer fire department to arrive. Rather than wait for assistance, I just drove myself to an emergency room a short distance away. It took about an hour for the doctor to properly clean the wound and glue it shut. I was lucky. My nose was broken, but that and the large cut on my face was the extent of the damage.
Later that evening, when I recreated the accident to explain to my wife what had happened, I noticed the safety glasses. Dead center on the right lens was a two-inch gash that started just above the eye and ran down to the bottom, toward the bridge of my nose. The glasses worked as advertised and deflected the blow away from my eye. That’s when it dawned on me that had it not been for the safety glasses, I probably would have lost my right eye, or worse.
I consider my incident as a lesson learned. I did contribute to national accident statistics due to my fall, injury and hospital visit, but it could have been much worse. Next time you decide to work around the house, remember this: PPE has its place during all jobs, whether at home or the hangar, no matter how trivial the work may seem.
Did You Know?
July is officially recognized as Eye Injury Prevention Month. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Federal Occupational Health website at http://www.foh.dhhs.gov/public/nycu/eyeinjury.asp.