Thursday, January 20, 2022

Sparks and Smoke at the Sawmill

 I worked as a weekend oiler at a local sawmill in my last three years of high school.  As a grease monkey, my assignment was to ensure the chains and machinery on the outside log decks, cut-off saws, and 2 debarkers were greased and lubricated.  I worked the early shift on Saturdays, starting at 5am and getting off work at 1pm in the afternoon.

There's a lot of potential to get a workplace injury at a sawmill.  We had to be well versed in lockout procedures that turned off the electricity and air (as some of the log kickers were pneumatically powered) and 'lock it off' so someone didn't accidentally turn it back on while you were working in the machinery.  Often times some of the larger machines like the barkers had whole panels of switches (see image below) that one had to turn off to ensure it was safe to work in and around.  For these larger machines, we were trained to turn all the panel switches off, run a cable though them in the off position, and then put our lock on the end of the cable.  That way no one could flip any of the switches back on again unless they had the key for your lock.

MCC Panel

One particular Saturday, I was wrapping up my work on the 26 inch barker and removing my cable from all the switches on its MCC panel.  Once I pulled the cable free, I threw it on the ground so I could wrap it up nicely before turning the switches back on.  As it hit the ground, sparks shot up in the air.  Something around me was electrified and I didn't know what it was.  I surveyed my surroundings, trying to see where the sparks came from. Seeing nothing obvious, I kicked at the cable I'd just dropped and noticed it was 'stuck' - actually spot welded - to a pike pole that was sticking out of a welding cable.  
Pike PoleDebarker (not installed)

A pike pole is a long pole with a point and a hook at the end, for moving logs around.  They should never be found stabbed into live welding cables.

Realizing I was in danger with this live current around me, I tried to see where/how I could turn off the electricity to the welding cable.  While I was doing that though, the lock-out cable I'd originally thrown to the ground started to smoke, and then burst into flames.  A fire in a wood framed sawmill is a not good at all.  I quickly found a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.  By this time there was a large cloud of smoke at my end of the mill and people came running over to see what was going on.  When I showed my boss what had happened, he was quite relieved I hadn't been hurt and said I was very fortunate as there had been a lot of electrical current energized around me earlier.  God's protection surrounding mePsalm 91:9-11

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