It’s a question that will probably never get an adequate answer: How did a WSB live truck operator / photographer overlook the fact that he hadn’t retracted the mast of his live truck prior to driving away from the Fulton County Jail last Wednesday? As we now know, the crew’s extended mast hit some overhead electrical transmission lines, causing an explosion and destroying the truck. The two-man crew inside somehow survived with only minor injuries. The vehicle’s alarms, which would normally sound and flash when a live truck lurches into “drive,” had been previously disabled.
The answer probably lies somewhere in the word “distraction.” It’s happened before. Occasional WSB reporter Don McClellan outlines a similar incident in his blog. McClellan gives no date for it; the photographer was the legendary Dan Casey.
Here’s a glimpse; go here to read the entire post.
We were at a spot in Cobb county from which we’d sent a micro-wave signal many times before. Dan was editing. I was manipulating the mast controls. But for some unexplained reason, the shot wasn’t getting in that day. We were only about 20 minutes from the station, so I told Dan to keep editing… that I would drive us to WSB. I was so focused on getting the story in on time that I drove out of the parking lot on to Cumberland Boulevard near Cumberland Mall. The next thing I remember is a crash and a horn honking. The mast had hit a tree limb that came down on the fender of a car behind us. I quickly stopped, realized what had happened and lowered the mast.
Reading between the lines, a couple of points emerge. One is this: When McClellan put the vehicle into “drive,” apparently no alarms sounded to warn the crew that the mast was up. This indicates how pervasive disabled alarms may be, dating back a number of years.
If there’s a problem with an alarm, the protocol would be to report the problem to management. Management would be responsible for fixing the problem. But if the problem is intermittent, then the alarm may be difficult to fix; an alarm that fails to work properly in the field may work fine when the truck gets to the shop (or, to the on-staff technician who sees the same problem over and over and repeatedly applies the same fix).
The proper care of live trucks can be problematic, as hilariously outlined in this post (written by somebody who needs to submit more material to LAF, please…).
The other safety issue raised in McClellan’s post highlights another commonplace safety-compromising shortcut: The operation of a live truck while a photog (or reporter) is sitting in the back editing. It’s not supposed to happen; the rear cabin is a work area, not a passenger area. But as McClellan shows us, the looming deadline occasionally forces TV crews to be resourceful. Odds are, he and Casey would have missed slot if Casey hadn’t agreed to keep editing while the reporter rolled the truck.
Been there, done that. Many, many times. (Most harrowingly, while covering a hurricane in Charleston; the photog drove and clumsily navigated a microwave truck while I edited in back. There a was a bit of a breeze, shall we say. This added to the excitement…)
It’s also worth nothing that Don Mac was actually “manipulating the mast controls,” which means that he was setting the live shot. This is something most TV reporters have never even tried to do. It ain’t rocket science. But it shows that McClellan was always a nimble, multitalented guy in the field.
McClellan’s blog has been fun to explore. I’ll guide you through some highlights in a day or two. If you don’t want to wait, visit it now. It’s linked on “Atlanta TV blogs” in the blogroll to the right.