Meet Horace, a 44 year-old fire safety inspector. Horace is married, with 2 teen sons who excel in math, and a daughter who is on the Varsity soccer team at her high school.
Horace has discount cards for Walgreens and Shop-Rite on his keychain, along with the key to his government-issued Ford Crown Victoria (Horace exclaims, "Its got the same engine as the police version!") as well as his wife's 10 year-old minivan, and the 1986 Mustang GT he's had since it was new, which his wife will not allow his daughter to drive. "It's only worth, like, $2500, but I love it" Horace beams. "And my daughter has driven it a few times. But that's our secret."
Horace got an early start to his workday on a Thursday in May, hoping to be finished early enough to pick the boys up at school. At 7:15AM, Horace entered a building in downtown Philadelphia for its annual fire inspection.
Although new to the building, Horace is not new to his job. With several degrees in Fire and Health Safety, Horace has expertly inspected buildings around the world for many years. In fact, he lecturers kids on fire safety 10 or 12 times a year.
"I went to my son's school for career day once," said Horace. "They liked the presentation so much, they have me back to teach kids how to stay safe. There's no pay involved, but I still like doing it."
The structure he entered has a mechanical room in the bowels of the building. This "boiler room" contains a vast air duct that feeds into the air filters. The duct itself is more than strong enough to support the weight of a man. Indeed, inspectors are required to climb onto the duct from a catwalk on the floor above, in order to inspect one of the fire extinguishers.
Horace had just inspected that very device, and was standing on top of the air duct when he decided to save himself a few minutes of time. The nearby fire device was almost in range if he... could just... stretch...
As a highly trained Fire and Safety Inspector, it is Horace's job to know how to inspect a building safely. But Horace also knows that everything you need to know to be good at the job is not found in manuals on safety protocol.
Instead of traveling back down to the basement and climbing a ladder, Horace decided to climb down the side of the air duct --in nearly complete darkness-- despite being cautioned by the building's superintendent that the climbing-the-duct route might be tricky.
"There are things that I do that I wouldn't teach a rookie," Horace once said. "But the day that I can't do this job that way my mentor taught me, and the way his mentor taught him. . . Well, that's the day I take a job with the Training Department."
Halfway down the center duct, Horace misjudged his footing and gravity delivered him to his intended destination.
Horace's left shoulder contacted a supporting brace, rotating him 45 degrees. The distance between the duct and the cinder-block wall was only about 3 feet, which forced the plummeting Horace into an "L"-shape.
Two feet from the ground, Horace's feet impacted the end of a workbench, accelerating his upper half in the other direction. A fraction of a second later, the side of Horace's head struck a table-mounted vice, which held a 2 foot stainless steel plate to be welded to a smaller piece of metal for another project.
The plate entered Horace's skull just above the nape of his neck. It exited ½" below his right eyebrow, shearing through the rear-most third of Horace's brain.
Despite this grevious injury, Horace remained conscious for about 30 seconds. Witnesses reported that Horace grabbed his head, then withdrew his hands to see the blood and tissue thereon. He rolled to his left, thrust his hands below him, in attempt to stand, and then lost consciousness.
"There are ways to do this job that just can't be taught. Sometimes you only got 15-20 minutes to do an inspection," Horace said during a training session in 2005. "If you can find a shortcut, and that'll free up some of that 15 or 20 minutes to do a more thorough inspection, then you've helped people. You've maybe found something you wouldn't have otherwise had time to find, well, you've made the building even safer.
"If a short-cut is going to lead to a safer building, it would be irresponsible not to take it."