Fuego Fuego Fumar

People often say things like “You must have really fast reflexes if you are a pilot”  or “You have to be really good at math and science if you are a pilot” ……….. not so much really.

The math and science thing might come in handy if  you were designing airplanes and had to get it right without a lot of trial and error, otherwise even then it wouldn’t matter that much.

Fast reflexes aren’t really important either.  It is a cool trick to catch things that get knocked off of a counter, but that doesn’t come up much in aviation.

Over the years I’ve learned that a reasoned response works much better than a reflex. Especially when smoke and fire are involved. They aren’t always the same thing.

Things that need to be gotten right the first time should be done deliberately. At the first hint of smoke in the airplane we don oxygen masks and get the smoke goggles on. I don’t know why they call it don the mask, they just do.

It comes up once in a while.  I started a fire by dropping a lit cigarette into the fuel selector panel one night. My ill considered response was to discharge a fire extinguisher in the small cockpit, blinding myself with fire supressant stuff. Barely able to breath or see the instruments from all the soda ash I managed to open the little storm vent window, complete the approach and land ok. After I threw the smoldering floor mats out on the runway everything was fine. I should have done that in the first place.

Not long ago in the Boeing we were on the taxi-way between several airliners waiting for takeoff when the Flight Attendants reported smoke in the cabin. I told them to prepare for evacuation, declared an emergency, got a clearance to go down the runway, and had fire trucks at the airplane as we stopped at the gate and asked the passengers to leave in an orderly manner.  A hint of smoke reached the cockpit, but not much. Nobody freaked too much, but we were ready to. Less than two minutes passed from the first notice of smoke to people leaving the plane.

A teensy bit more smoke in the cabin would have resulted in the evacuation of all the people down the scary slides. Piling out all on top of eachother, breaking ankles, stealing the blankets and all. Much more smoke could have been an indication of something that if not dealt with properly could have resulted in nobody surviving. There has to be a balance of considered response, reflexive actions good sense and luck.  Scared shitless just has to wait till later.

Today my brother and I were in my 1979 Ford truck on the way to lunch. The truck was our grandfathers and has been driven only about 800 miles a year but looks pretty rough.  It was  hard to get started, got flooded and smelled of fuel. Finally we  got going after several start attempts and gasoline smell was going away. The day was cold and the air held a faint air smelled of  wood burning.  We pulled in to the parking lot just as smoke started coming out of the vents. Just little wisps at first. then a little more. Brother was reading a Guitar Center catalog, “We should get one of these amplifiers” he said.  “We should do something about this fucking fire”, says me.

We pulled off to the side and stopped, with the doors open dense white smoke was billowing out of the vents. The smell wasn’t electrical,  it smelled like burning leaves. So I selected defrost and put the fan on High. All the burning leaves blew out, the smoke cleared and we went on our way.

We and the truck smell like a forest fire now.

Often it isn’t the problem that gets you in trouble, it is what you do about it that gets you killed. Or what you don’t do when you should.

How do you tell which is which?  Think fast, act slow, fear nothing.


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