My Grandad always used to say “don’t put until tomorrow what you can do today.” Because at the age of 12 I knew far more than this World War 2 veteran and all-round good egg, I took very little notice of his well-intentioned advice.
Fast-forward to summer 2018 and I’ve just finished day 1 at the wonderful Hartlepool Waterfront Festival. I’m unloading at my state-of-the-art storage facility (my in-laws garage) and I tell my father-in-law that I can’t be bothered packing my new gas bottle and I’ll do it in the morning.
Can you see where this is going?
Day 2, an hour into my shift, gas is gone. I have a queue. The weather is beautiful and the festival is packed with at least 33 million people who desperately want crepes, at least that is how it seemed at the time.
Luckily my wife was still on site with her car and, even luckier, she actually answered her phone when I rang her.
So began the desperate drive home to get my gas and get back. It’s fair to say I was furious with myself and it took all my restraint to prevent my two-year-old daughter learning some fruity new words!
Quick grab of the new gas canister out of the garage, back into the car and the return leg to Hartlepool. I was significantly calmer but still upset at myself as the reality of the situation is that this little detour cost me money, both in terms of extra cost (petrol etc.) but also in loss of earnings (I reckon about £100+).
It could have been worse. Putting everything into perspective and at least I was able to make up for those sales.
The week before was a lot worse.
The week before people could have died.
My van and other vendors were 20 metres from an unrelated vendor who was selling hot sandwiches and the like. Just before I was about to commence trading, there were two quick pops followed by the sound of a much larger pop. I ran out of my van only to see the event organiser running towards the noise and telling me to dial 999.
The reason soon became apparent as the black hog-roast van was up in flames. By the time I saw it, it was well lit and as I began to evacuate myself and others, all I could think of was that if anyone was still in there, they wouldn’t be alive. Secondly, to go check would be risking your own life as there would be at least one gas canister in there and you can only imagine the damage one of those can do if they blow.
The fire brigade, ambulance and police were soon on the scene and they were only too well aware of the dangers and evacuated the whole of the retail centre, moving people a further 500 meters away.
They soon established that no-one was in the van but the rumour was that someone had escaped just in the nick of time.
Once the area was deemed safe, we returned and saw the devastation in front of us as the whole of the service side of the van and the roof was non-existent. The short term effect was clear but long term effect could be equally as devastating. That could be someone’s sole source of income gone. Insurance claims, paperwork, liability… all come in to play and it becomes so much more than a financial loss. Stress, nightmares, the realisation that someone had nearly been caught up in it.
I had no idea how the fire had started but, upon returning to my unit it made me realise how complacent I had become. I was dealing with a potentially deadly force that had become routine to me. This time, before I lit my crepe griddles, I went and checked all my gas connections and the condition of my fittings. I held my breath as I lit up for the first time that day.
It is easy for complacency to creep in to your business, particularly when it is solely on you and you can’t rely on someone else to remember the spare gas when you forget. Sometimes there will be no cost for that complacency and other times it can cost you cold, hard cash – or worse. It’s important that we learn from those errors and eliminate them wherever possible.
When we can’t, bear in mind that things could always be worse and try to make the best of it.
Since I wrote this, the official report on the cause of the fire has highlighted a faulty gas regulator as the cause. At no point am I suggesting that the cause of the fire was as a result of complacency, I am highlighting the dangers of my trade and that no matter what goes wrong, it could always be worse.
“Don’t put off until tomorrow, what can be done today.” Owen Ernest Tong