I was recently asked this question: where did I get my passion for EHS&S? This question comes up every now and then. Did it come from school? Was my Dad an EHS&S Pro? Did I want to be a Fireman when I was little? The last one is close…
I have thought quite a bit about this question. I can trace the origins of my intense interest in protecting people and the environment to three events I am aware of early in my life. The Apollo 1 Command Module fire, the “Earthrise” picture taken during Apollo 8 and the TV show Emergency!.
Apollo 1 occurred in January of 1967. I was not yet on this earth. But my father had a book about the Apollo missions and when I was 5 I was fascinated by it. The book was Footprints on the Moon by John Barbour. I distinctly remember two pictures from it. The first was the burned out command module interior where the men sat. The other was the famous “Earthrise” picture which showed the people of earth our first view of our home from deep space.
“Fire in the cockpit!” It was an inferno that took 3 heroes lives in 18 seconds. Roger Chaffe, Ed White and Gus Grissom were training to go to the moon but never got the chance due to the hazards of oxygen, cabin pressurization and flammable materials. I just kept looking at the picture below thinking about these men. What did they feel when the fire was raging? Why did the engineers not anticipate the danger and fix it so they were safe? How did we ever expect to make it to the moon if the men weren’t safe practicing on the launch pad? It struck me how dangerous human endeavors can be and how serious the responsibilities of engineers and designers are. It also began to occur to me that there were people in the world who’s job it was to protect other people. I began to focus my attention on engineering subjects to learn about how people can control nature to achieve magnificent results like going to the moon.
The other picture in the book that captivated me was “Earthrise”. Perhaps in contrast to the failure that Apollo 1 was, it showed triumph over the difficulty of reaching the moon. The picture was taken by Astronaut William Andres of the Apollo 8 crew as the Earth rose from the horizon of the darkside of the moon on Dec 24th 1968. The picture showed the people of the Earth the contrast between our inviting, beautiful home and the cold, inhospitable environment of space. It showed us, for the first time, how truly special our Earth is. It was a critical moment in the environmental movement when we realized that Earth is it for us, we have no where else to go.
Finally, the third early influence that led me to the career I now enjoy was the 70’s TV show: Emergency!. It was about firemen in Los Angeles and the events they dealt with. The show was classic 70’s TV but I loved it. It was exciting and these guys were obviously heroes. They always knew how to make the rescue, had the equipment and the skills to pull it off. Plus, one of the minor characters name was Chet. Johnny and Roy, both paramedics, were the central characters and are pictured below. They were classic American heroes with the get-it-done in the clutch approach. I envied their ability to make the critical difference in another persons life at the time they needed it the most.
I was very young at this time and didn’t really know how these influences would effect me. I certainly didn’t connect them to a career choice. It would be after graduating high school and college when I would take these concepts and link them to a profession. I stumbled into EHS&S when a neighbor who watched me grow up, spotted my aptitude and connected me with an experienced professional in the field. I spend a day with them learning what EHS&S pros did and immediately realized this is what I was born to do.
I have been very satisfied with my career in EHS&S. While I don’t fly to the moon, or save people from certain death, or usually risk my own life, I know I have made a difference in the lives of the people I work with. I answered a first aid call for a coworker just the other day, rare for someone at my level, but saw the look in their eyes that they needed help and were glad I came to their aid. It’s that ability to help someone at that moment, or prevent that moment all together, that I find so rewarding as an Environmental, Health, Safety & Sustainability Professional in American Heavy Industry.
It has been said that the key to never having to work is to love what you do. I am there baby!