Why Would Anyone Want To Be An Iron Worker?
Why Would Anyone Want To Be An Iron Worker?
Iron workers have to do what everyone else is afraid to do. Just the thought alone of being hundreds of feet in the air, with nothing around you is enough to make most folks feel queasy. Yet still some think they have what it takes. Unfortunately It’s not till they try, that they find out whether or not they are an Iron Worker or just trying to prove something to their self. The first thing one learns out on the iron, is that it’s not enough just to go up. Once you get there, It’s time to work. This is a bad time to find out whether you have got the right stuff or not. You wouldn’t believe how many find themselves in this position, frozen solid with fear. I know this because, as an Iron Worker I have had the pleasure of training several wana-bees. Now that’s not to say everyone who makes it, gets it on the first day. I was fortunate enough to have spent my first two years as an Iron Worker, working on bridges. So I had a safety net you might say, working over the water. However I did see some bad accidents happen on these jobs. You don’t have to be hundreds of feet up to get killed, twenty or thirty feet is plenty enough to do the job.
I got in to this trade a little later in life than most. I was already in my late twenties, when a lifelong friend of mine asked me to join his crew. He had been made a foreman over a small crew of misfits, and needed one more. I had already been in the steel fabrication business a while, and we had worked together off and on a lot growing up. So I guess I had a pretty easy start, being on the water, and being best friends with the foreman. But even so, I was not the only one to get my feet wet on this job. After a few months into the job, another crew was brought in. We were rehabbing an old drawbridge, and needed a crew on each side when it was time to replace the rack segments. So this had competition written all over it, which by the way is spelled the same as disaster. The crew that was brought in, was very green to say the least. Aside from their foreman (Which by the way was the one who got hurt on this job) this was their first and last iron job. Competition can be fun, and motivate you. But in this case it was to much, to soon. The management on this job was using this to try to save their budget, which was shot to pieces right out of the gate. The management on that particular job was very poor, to put it kindly. To say competition is really a misusage of the word, since I was the only rooky on our crew, and the guys I worked with were nothing short of awesome, and I mean that in every way possible. There were only four of us on this crew, and two of them were from the old school. I learned a lot from them that you can’t put a price tag on. They had a lot of know how, and being younger I had a lot of “get-r-done” left in me. So we were a pretty good blend of strength and good old fashion know how. This was not good for the other crew, since each day they fell further and further behind. That made things harder on them, since the management on most jobs only know what they see on paper. They were being pushed to keep up, but simply couldn’t. That drove their foreman crazy, since they had a five man crew to our four. I can only imagine what he must have been hearing. Needless to say, this was creating an environment for tragedy. After about three weeks of this, things finally gave way to disaster. The foreman one their side trying to take up the slack for his crew, got into a rush and fell. His crew being green, and in shock, had no idea what to do. So they came running and screaming, over to our side. When we got to him, he was still conscious, but in shock. He had missed his step fell thirty feet flat on his back, into the concrete pit bellow the counter weight of the bridge. Up to this point in my life, the worst I had seen on a job was a few burns and mangled hands. That was nothing compared to this. He had severe compound fractures to his arms and legs, and was bleeding heavily from his mouth and ears. Their was a voice inside of me saying he was going to die right in front of me, although all I could do was reassure him that he would be ok. I Praise God that he survived, but that was it for his crew. They went back to what ever it was they were doing before that, Ironwork was not for them.
That was my introduction to Iron Working, But I made the cut I guess. Since that job I have seen many horrific tragedies, including three fatalities. But amazingly only one of them was do to a fall, and fortunately none of them have been any of my fellow crew members. There is no room for mistakes in this line of work, you don’t get many second chances. You also have to put a lot of trust in the guys you work with, since you hold each others lives in your hands on a daily basis. There are so many openings for mishaps on any job you get on, but when you add the element of height, you narrow the margin for survival greatly. I have personally seen my share of near misses, and close calls. Some really close. That leads me to believe that God is definitely my friend, especially since most of the jobs I’ve been on the last few years have been between three to six hundred feet. I heard someone once say that a fall like that wont hurt ya, but the landing could be murder. But the truth is, falling is the least of my worries. There are so many other factors to watch out for. You are more likely to be hurt or killed by being crushed, or getting into a pinch point. When you are tagging a crane, you are in control of the operator. However you are always working on his right and left, this can be confusing to some people. It can be really hard to stay oriented this way, when you are moving all around your self. I like to normally designate one person on the crew to be in this position, and let him stand back and solely signal the crane. This is nice when ever possible, but once again your life is in his hands. Communication is essential for survival, and trust is unequivocal. There is nothing more stupid to me than to break up a good crew, once they click together. You can’t just step into trust like that.
So by now you are probably saying, why would you want to do this? But I honestly can’t think of anything else I rather do, besides stay home and be with my family. Since I have yet to figure out how to make money doing that, there is nothing I would rather do for a living. I am not sure what about being an Iron Worker is most appealing to me, because I like it all so much. I don’t know if it’s the thought of doing something that most people can’t, or being a part of something so awesome and seeing what you have accomplished when the job is done. Or maybe It’s the people, Iron Workers are a different breed for sure. The type of person who would want to do this is usually very interesting and unique to say the least. These men are highly skilled, and very confident in their abilities. I am honored to be able to say I am a part of this set-apart trade.
P.S. The next time you see a structure that leaves you breathless, remember that someone had to be brave enough to build it.