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Work Trucks Don’t Float

Good judgment is not always a question an employer can ask a new employee on their job application, as exemplified by the following story. 

Having seniority, my co-worker was assigned a company work truck before I was.  We were assigned to ride together until a large job we were working on was complete – a new 3-story apartment complex with 250; 10 separate buildings with 25 apartments each.  The job was being built so quickly that the framers were still constructing the second and third floors while the other tradespeople likes HVAC, plumbing, and electrical were working on the first floor.

There were no paved streets or parking areas on this job site yet; the only entrance was hard packed dirt due to constant vehicle traffic.  The middle section of the job site roadway was not as smooth and the smelly dirt from the ex-dairy farm was everywhere.  The entire site was littered with potholes, ruts, and had a large basin in the middle.  Each contractor had storage bins located at the back, filled with materials and supplies to complete the job.  Unfortunately it had been raining for days and a muddy lake had formed in the basin.

That morning, an electrical company’s work truck tried to make it back to their storage bin by carefully driving around the job site’s outer perimeter. It got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out by the framer’s Pettibone (a rough terrain forklift that has 4-wheel drive and 4-wheel steering).  Because of this obstruction in the roadway, nobody could drive to the back of the site to get to their storage bins.  All the contractors had to park their company vehicles at the entrance and walk through  to the storage area.

My co-worker said, “Bet I can get my new work truck to the storage bin.”  I didn’t acknowledge his remark, just went back to work. Toward the end of the day the rain had stopped; I overheard my co-worker speaking out loud to himself again, as if trying to convince himself that he could drive the company truck straight across the basin (now a fledgling lake) to the storage units.  I told him it was not a good idea, we had to get back to the shop that evening in his truck, and besides, after all this rain, he didn’t know how deep the water was.  His voice started to sound more confident; “With enough speed I could make it across” he said.  I reiterated that this was not a good idea but he didn’t listen to me.

He put down his tool belt and walked straight to the truck.  Apparently on the other side of the building where my co-worker was working, he had been bragging to the other contractors that he had a way to make it to the back of the job site.  The word had spread throughout the complex and all the contractors stopped working when they saw the truck line up in front of the water.  Framers were poking their heads out of unfinished windows, plumbers put down their tools and were standing in doorways staring at the truck that was going to try to make it across the basin.

He revved the engine and popped the clutch.  First gear, the truck moved a little but mostly just spun the wheels in the mud.  Second gear, he was now moving faster but this part of the jobsite was not flat and I could see gauges, tools, and a jug of refrigerant flying up in the air.  He had just shifted into third gear when he made it to the edge. Water flew into the air like a brown wall, closing in and engulfing the truck.  The only part of the truck that was still visible was covered in a thick brown muck.  Fortunately the windows were closed because water was just a few inches below them, but the truck’s engine stalled before even making it to the middle of the basin.

My co-worker… and his brand new truck were in the middle of this  former dairy farm’s brown-water basin.  He rolled down the driver’s window and called for somebody to help.  Nobody wanted to go out there and the other contractors broke into laughter, before turning and going back to work.  He crawled out of the window and waded to shore.  The framer’s Pettibone driver knew this would happen and wanted to leave the truck in the basin to show other contractors not to try this so it took my co-worker a lot of begging and pleading to get his truck pulled out of the muddy lake that afternoon.

The moral of the story?  Good judgment is not always a question an employer can ask a new employee on their job application, so try to keep this in mind – in a company truck, you are probably driving a vehicle that has your company’s name and phone number plastered all over it.  So while it might seem to be the passive way to be, you have to be even more responsible then the other drivers around you.  If you drive a company vehicle, your employer is counting on you to make good judgment choices with that vehicle.  Responsibility and good judgment go hand in hand.


About the AuthorTony Albers is a highly successful trainer who has taught heating and air conditioning classes designed specifically to meet the needs of today’s busy technicians and engineers.  For the past 33 years he has worked to advance the field of heating and air conditioning by teaching classes for IHACI, RSES, Southern California Gas Company, and San Diego Gas & Electric.  In the last 23 years he has traveled extensively throughout North America for US Air Conditioning Distributors and Venstar, giving workshops and seminars for large HVAC distributors and manufacturers.  Albers has been on the Continuing Education Committee for the Institute of Heating and Air Conditioning Industries and has written articles for Indoor Comfort News, HVAC Insider, and the Southern California Chapter of ASHRAE.