The year was 1973. This was Terry Vague’s sophomore year at Salina Central High School – two years away from graduation and a full life ahead. So it seemed.
Terry and I were in the same wood shop class – a classroom staged with big square wooden drawing tables at the front of the room and the work area with power saws in the back. There was no wall separating the two.
It was Terry, a few others and I that day – sitting at our drawing tables. Terry had his back to the power saw area and I was facing it.
A couple other classmates were working in the power saw area. They were getting ready to run a rough cut two-inch thick piece of walnut through the table saw. The kick-back guard on table saws can be a pain in the neck, so this one had been removed.
As the students started to push the walnut board into the blade, it resisted. And in the blink of an eye the board was launched from the saw. The board flew thirty feet through the air where it struck Terry in the back of the head. Terry was killed instantly.
I’ve witnessed a number of lives lost from safety short-cuts during my lengthy emergency service career. There’s always a strong safety response after the accident. Safety at once becomes paramount. But, it never brings back those lost.
Flash forward to this past weekend in Butler County. There was a farmer that decided he didn’t need to follow the open burn policy. The person burned without calling into dispatch and they also burned at night – both clear violations.
The fire department responded to the illegal fire and extinguished it. Nobody got hurt or killed. But, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t danger. The reason it’s illegal is “IT IS NOT SAFE!”
How many boards were pushed through that Salina Central High School guard-less table saw before the deadly one? Hundreds, maybe thousands. But, that didn’t make it safe.
Firefighting is an inherently dangerous occupation. But, we don’t need to do things to make it more dangerous.
Terry Vague and many others didn’t have to die – and we shouldn’t need more lost lives to learn the lesson.