Are you “aware” in all, or at least most of LESSON the aspects of your life? Awareness implies that you have knowledge of something by maintaining a level of alertness in observing or in interpreting what you see, hear, feel, etc. Some people are very aware, but most of us limit our awareness to what we concentrate on. We focus so much on a specific “thing” that we don’t realize there is a forest of “things” out there, with many potential outcomes that can impact us for good or bad.

Many years ago a very good friend of mine, Patrick Johnson, responded to an ammonia leak at a facility in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he served as a Fireman. During this incident, more than once, Patrick had the feeling that something just wasn’t right. They had followed proper procedures in responding by briefly referring to the information sources they had about ammonia, which at that time didn’t alert them to some critical information. They did not know that under certain conditions and at high concentrations, ammonia vapor could ignite.

The first entry into the facility, and the room where the ammonia leak was located, was made by two of the facility personnel along with two fire fighters. All of them had on SCBA’s, but the facility personnel did not have on totally encapsulating suits. Due to the high PPM of ammonia in the room, the facility maintenance men soon began feeling a burning sensation under their clothes and couldn’t stay in the room. Patrick’s partner Percy noticed that the facility men were gone, and they decided to also leave. Once outside, they saw the facility men being washed down to stop the burning sensation of the ammonia on their skin. After further discussion with the maintenance men, it was decided to try one more time. After seeing what had happened to the maintenance men, and recalling the condition in the room where the leak was located, Patrick had an uneasy feeling about the situation. Percy felt it was worth trying again, so together they decided to make a second entry.

Unfortunately, not long after entering the room the second time, a spark was created when the forklift being used changed directions, and the ammonia in the room ignited. Both Patrick and Percy were wearing butyl rubber totally encapsulated suits, which mostly melted. Patrick was severely burned and has had to live with the results of those burns all his life. Patrick became a strong advocate for the use of ammonia, and the safe and proper response to ammonia incidents. Over the many years I’ve known Patrick, he often wondered how would things have turned out had he just followed his “gut feeling?”

At the IIAR Annual meeting in 2016, the keynote speaker was Dr. Joe MacInnis. He gave an informative, fascinating, and extremely interesting talk. In the book Dr. MacInnis wrote titled “Deep Leadership Essential Insights From High-Risk Environments,” in the chapter “Fierce Ingenuity,” he makes a statement that relates to our awareness. He says, “To prepare for the hard moments, you master all the details. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of them and they contain the truth about your state of readiness. Ignore them and you expose yourself to hasty and superficial decisions.”

Awareness can be, and many times is, critical to our proper response to the world around us. Being aware is not a onetime thing, where you are aware and always will be aware. To be aware we must consciously think about the details – such things as: what am I doing, where am I, what is around me, who else is around me, what are the potential results from my actions, what do I hear, see, feel, etc. In our field of industrial refrigeration (as well as other aspects of life) work on improving your awareness and thus improve your state of readiness to make the best decisions. Taking the appropriate actions at the time they are needed is always worthwhile.