A Shocking Experience

It was always a special moment when an apprentice received their first electrical shock.

My brother went the way of education while I went into the construction world, and they are very different from each other. I have my Red Seal and Masters in the electrical trade and he teaches in a private school in Winnipeg. He might think my opening line is cruel, but it’s not.

It’s funny.

The trades industry is not for the faint of heart. The work is hard and the people who do it often are too, and there’s nothing wrong with hard work. Now I’m in a physically softer world, but Venue seems to have an overabundance of electricians attending. Maybe they think their first shock was a bit funny too…

I still remember a friend of mine during his first year and the exact moment he tried to cut a live wire. I heard the Bang! and popped my head around the corner of the kitchen we were installing receptacles in and saw him standing there looking shocked (pun intended) with a puff of smoke rising from his wire cutters.

It was a holy moment, or an unholy one depending on your temperament. Well, it was funny whatever it was.

Sooner or later every electrician encounters electricity and has the fear of God enter his soul. Pain is an amazing teacher, especially when a little now might save a lot later. House voltage is not overly dangerous unless water is involved, but my apprentice learned two valuable lessons that day:

  1. This could kill me (true).
  2. I still have to work with it (also true).

To be fair I had warned him sufficiently to “Use your tester on everything! Who knows what the framers have turned on in that panel? They’re framers..:)”

At least afterward I didn’t have to tell him anymore…

Our company was a decently safe one, as work practices go, but we also worked with electricity all the time, and it has a bite.

You can’t always turn off the power to everything especially if you’re troubleshooting something that requires power. It would be like asking a mechanic to listen for the knock in your engine without turning it on. If you morally disagree with the danger of the electrical industry then stick to your desk job and be glad someone else has to do it.

Most of the stuff we worked on wasn’t all that dangerous. I’ve had hundreds of low voltage shocks, to the point where my hands would contract involuntarily if I heard a breaker tripping. Someone was using a nail gun on the floor above me which had the same effect when I was installing a panel one day, this kept my heart rate up the entire time. I also smiled every time it happened because it was funny.

A person’s first shock is almost an initiation of sorts, an entry into a club other people don’t get to come to, or maybe want to.

One has to have a respect of power without being scared to work with it.

I was discussing another apprentice who had almost a crippling fear of electricity with my boss one day. The boss said “Do you think I should just touch two live wires together to show him it won’t kill him? He’s almost dangerously scared of it.” You can’t approach a situation without any confidence in yourself or you’ll invite an accident. Surgeons make strong, clean cuts, not tentative ones.

…I assume. That’s what TV tells me and TV’s never wrong.

If you work in an office you’ve likely never put two leads of a variac between your fingers and turned up the voltage to see how much you can take before letting go. We did it in school because it was funny.

You’ve never wired the wrong ballast to the wrong voltage and laughed when it blew up. “You gotta keep the smoke INSIDE or it stops workin” my old boss used to say.

I had to fix a security system that some genius knocked off the outside wall of a convenient store one day. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal reconnecting all the tiny phone wires except the 96 Volts that cut into my fingers every time the alarm company kept calling, which was every few seconds. But it was funny… afterwards.

All of the nasty, crazy jobs we did over the years made me realize at a point that if you don’t laugh about things you’ll cry, and I don’t like crying all that much. Some of the old trades guys were bitter and angry while others approached their work with humour and appreciation. I always wanted to be like that.

One has to have a respect of power without being scared to work with it.

And one has to have a respect of people without being scared to be hurt again…

3 thoughts on “A Shocking Experience

  1. The ten second rule also works great as an electrician…
    The 4 W’s
    Where where are my linesman?
    Who did this crappy workmanship?
    Why do engineers get paid to draw prints
    that will never work in the real world? 😉
    What time is lunch?
    I just blew up my linesman pliers last month on the last wire I had to cut in an office demo 😦 if I had taken 10 seconds, it probably wouldn’t have happened!


    1. Love it! Rob your post made me giggle a bit… but it also made me think how my mind usually works – I try to plan and design for the best outcomes (at least what I think is best lol).
      I have also tried countless times to apply this same philosophy with God – and I have even tried to ‘red line’ God’s plan for me and resubmit it to Him…
      Just to realize all my comments and redlines are removed when He sends the drawing back to me – same plan, no revision bump… same deadline.


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