Unexpected Wisdom

 "Ah, nothing like the smell of propane to wake you up in the morning!" That's what I tell myself riding on the back of the hazardous material unit. We are off to a propane gas leak at a home. Some of you may only be familiar with propane containers used for home grills. Trust me, that is not what we are going to. Imagine a container the size of 4 of those entire grills put together. If that not's big enough of a problem, have that container buried underground. Grab a Snickers bar, we are going to be here awhile.

As expected, we ride down the road with red lights turning and the siren yelling. Once there, we make sure we have on all our fire department gear. Our hand-held meter for detecting propane is turned on and working. Someone has laid out and charged a hose line just in case the gas finds a spark and goes boom just like the YouTube videos. With some specialized training, and some not so specialized items found at the local hardware store, we stop the leak. So now we wait for the expert to come fix the problem: the guy from the gas company.

A white van moseys on up to the scene. The side has the gas company's logo on it. One guy steps out with the usual attire for an event like this: jeans, t-shirt, and work boots. To make sure he meets the right level of safety, he puts on a helmet and some gloves. Don't worry, I am pretty sure these come from the same local hardware store we got our hazmat stuff. We sit there, with structural firefighting gear on, ready to save anyone in a 50 ft radius. Meanwhile, the gas company expert is dressed the same way I dress when I mow my lawn, minus the helmet.

I then hear a voice say "This is what an expert looks like?" That voice, was just me thinking really loud. Have you ever done that? Looked a person and said, "Where is the REAL expert? You can't be it." If you have, then you now know what it is to be bias. When we talk about it in regards to ethnicity, or gender, or religion, people get real nervous or defensive about being called bias. Truth is, we are all bias about something. Bias works the same way no matter what yours happens to be. The question is, what are you doing with yours?

I decided to go talk to this so-called expert. I asked questions. And I listened, and listened, and listened. I learned a lot about underground propane tanks worked. The gas guy really was an expert. And I really was self-righteous for thinking otherwise based on a look. It's really a pretty simple concept: Asking questions gets you information. Not just about propane, but about people as well. You never know when an ordinary question will have an extraordinary answer.   

About the Author

 NICK BASKERVILLE has had the honor of serving in the United States Air Force for 10 years, followed by 4 years in the United States Air Force Reserves. He attained the rank of Technical Sergeant (E-6). Nick also has 16 years of fire service time, with 13 years of that being in a career department in Northern Virginia. Nick has had the opportunity to hold positions in the Company Officer's section of the Virginia Fire Chief's Association (VFCA), The Virginia Fire Officer's Academy (VFOA) staff, and in the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF) as a chapter president, a Health and Wellness committee member, and one of the IABPFF representatives to the Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance.