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 me and Terry and a few others 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 twenty feet through the air where it struck Terry in the back of the head at the base of the neck.
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.
Take a look at your operations. Is there something you are doing that’s outside the necessary level of danger? Is it the way you are driving? Is it not wearing a reflective vest? Is it parking in a way that doesn’t protect your work zone?
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. Let Terry be your reminder.