The `other’ stuff
There’s more to a technician’s job than technical and electronic considerations. Some non-technical tips can enhance a beginner’s personal safety and comfort.
Congratulations on your new job: radio field technician.
The paperwork has been processed, and you’re officially “on board.” Tools and test equipment have been issued. Your assigned vehicle has been organized and outfitted just the way you want. With maps in hand, you’re ready to hit the mountaintops and to start fixing radios.
It won’t take long, however, for you to realize there’s more to the job than strictly the electronic considerations. You’ve begun the journey toward learning the other stuff they didn’t teach you in radio school.
Here are a few tips on non-technical procedures that might help you navigate better through some of those experiences. You might survive to a crusty old age as a radio field technician.
Driving the company sled A considerable amount of a field technician’s time is occupied with driving. We’re all pretty confident about our driving abilities, but you may find there’s more to it when you’re driving someone else’s vehicle.
Some companies require their employees to attend periodic driver’s safety courses or to sign driving contracts regarding conduct when using their fleet vehicles. It’s not uncommon for employers to use “How Am I Driving?” bumper stickers with a toll-free phone number to call if someone wants to register a complaint.
Even without such a bumper sticker, if you’re in a fragile work situation, you might think twice about how you drive and where you park. Serious complaints that are proven or verified by witnesses may get your wheels jerked, and you may find yourself permanently assigned to a bench job, or worse yet, unemployed.
Hilltop technicians often drive up and down narrow, unimproved dirt roads. Although driving rules may change from state to state, a driving convention on rural roads suggests that if two vehicles meet on a road too narrow for passing, the one coming down the hill should stop and back up to the first wide spot. These roads can also be strewn with blind turns.
It can be a shock to meet someone coming the other way when you’re not expecting it. Inevitably, it will happen at the brow of a blind hilltop. The more years on the job, the more you’ll realize, it’s OK to go slow. This provides you and oncoming drivers with more response time. On the rougher roads, in addition to reducing flats and suspension problems, a slower speed will also keep that test equipment that’s bouncing around in the back in calibration longer.
`Howdy Doody’ It is common for the easement for a site-access road to wind its way through private property. As a consequence, it’s possible you’ll have contact with landowners. It is surprising how often this can be an unpleasant experience, but it doesn’t have to be.
Much of the time, the problem relates to how your driving speed and attention is perceived to be affecting the safety of children, pets or livestock. It may also be related to the amount of dust you are kicking up. These concerns are rational and can be soothed if you consistently drive slow near children, animals or homes.
Other “issues” are not so easily resolved. Sometimes people who live in remote areas do so because they can’t get along with people in a “normal neighborhood.” If they enjoy isolation from others, then you will not be a welcome sight. You may well become the object of unexpected hostility.
Although it is difficult to remain unaffected when a friendly wave is returned with an irrational, angry-faced tongue lashing, all you can do is drive slowly and act in a way that won’t justify an honest complaint.
Gateway to trouble One sure-fire way of creating hostility is to cut someone’s padlock off a locked gate. Always carry a spare lock and a set of bolt-cutters, but be careful how and when you use them.
The mere sight of bolt-cutters being used on a gate can gain you immediate and personal attention from landowners and others needing access. The obvious fear is that you are in the process of cutting off their locks.
If your company’s access lock is missing from the gate, and the locks are arranged around the gate posts with chain, cut a link out and place your spare lock in the chain. If there is no link to cut, see if any existing lock is identified. If it is, you can contact the owners to schedule a date and time when they can meet you at the gate to unlock their lock and let you slip yours in the loop.
Another common-sense rule about gates suggests that you leave them the way you found them. If you found a gate closed, but not locked, close it behind you and leave it unlocked. If the gate was wide-open to begin with, leave it that way. This can also go a long way in keeping the peace.
Critters Once at the hilltop site, it is a good idea to scan the ground in your walking area. It is surprising how well-camouflaged some unfriendly critters can be.
When opening the site door, do so cautiously. This gives any bugs on the top of the doorjamb plenty of time to drop to the floor instead of on you as you enter. It also offers an opportunity to check the site floor for snakes or other unwanted guests. When inside the site, if you have to squat or kneel to work, always check the floor in your working area.
As a rule of thumb, never put your fingers where you can’t see them. Blindly reaching inside a radio cabinet or grasping for equipment out of your line of sight can result in a cut, or worse yet, a spider bite. Spiders such as the brown recluse (violin spider) can cause permanent, severe injury.
Placing fingers where they can’t be seen could also bring you into contact with infectious rodent urine or excrement. Deer mice, for example, can be carriers of the deadly hantavirus. If urine or excrement is visible, stay clear of it, and call a professional exterminator for disinfecting and removal.
This caution applies to urban rooftop installations as well as to rural sites. Accumulated bird droppings on towers, shelters or rooftops can be a breeding ground for the fungus that causes the lung ailment histoplasmosis.
These spores may become airborne and inhaled if fecal matter is disturbed. Areas under the roosts of starlings, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, pigeons, bats and poultry may be contaminated.
Another rule of thumb is that if you don’t want pests inside the site, make sure there are no available food sources. Keep live insects from entering, and keep dead ones swept out. This can reduce the spider population significantly.
Turning off the inside lights when leaving the site may reduce the electric bill, but it can increase the population and activity of spiders such as the black widow. You’ll find yourself pulling fewer black widow webs out of your face and hair if you leave the lights on.
Grub Over the long haul, you will benefit from packing your meal each day. Those who insist on restaurants for their meals can cause the customer and co-workers significant inconvenience and delay as work is halted for a “lunch run.” This can turn a half-hour lunch break into an excursion of several hours.
If you cannot pack your own food, you might consider buying it on the way up the hill. Then you’re set for the day. Take food and food-related trash back down the hill at the end of the day. Unless contained within a zip-lock bag, food items attract insects and animals, and they can rot.
Emergency supplies Sooner or later, you will get stuck at a hilltop site much longer than you anticipated. You’ll be thankful for having packed away emergency food and water in your vehicle. Even a can of nuts and a sealed bottle of water make a big difference when it’s 11 p.m. and you haven’t had dinner.
Spare food and water can be invaluable in a disaster. The 1994 Northridge, CA, earthquake revealed the fragile nature of our modern service-oriented infrastructure. An open grocery store or fast food restaurant couldn’t be found within miles of the epicenter. If you didn’t already have food, you went without.
Personal comfort Disasters and emergencies may mean a lot of overtime on short notice, especially for public safety agency technicians. Besides food and water, keep foul-weather gear, a spare change of clothes, a bar of soap (or hand-wipes) and a sleeping bag in your vehicle to make life more comfortable. In short, keep enough in your vehicle to be as self-sufficient as possible for a couple of days. And never forget the isolated hilltop technician’s two closest friends: toilet paper and a shovel.
In time, you’ll see how applicable and practical these suggestions can be. As you gain the experience and wrinkles of an old hilltop tech, you’ll develop methods of your own to enhance your safety and comfort on the job.