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A NAVAL CAREER IN THE EYES OF COLIN ROSS – Pt. 38

At the end of 1984 it was time to hand over and post off CANTERBURY.  I was posted back into the Fleet Maintenance Unit to complete my naval service.  Being discharged at the end of March 1995 having completed twenty years and three months.

Having joined the navy straight from school I had no experience of looking for a job.  Luckily I heard through the grape vine that North Shore Hospital were looking for a shift engineer, so with CV I applied and was pretty relieved to win the position.

So after a farewell from Devonport I started the following Monday at the hospital.  It was a job I loved and the best times were when all the day workers had left the site you became the go to person.  It was also a revelation in that you were in a sense working for or with women.

This was a huge change from working in a male dominated work force.  The nursing staff were just wonderful and always thankful when you fixed something for them.  It was strange walking around the site at night.  A lot of the machinery was in the basement and it could be quite eerie walking down some of these long cold passages in the depths of night.

There were a few interesting things that happened in my three and a half years as a shifty.  The fire alarm went off at 7 one morning in the Nurses Home.  Raced over to make sure the building was evacuated and discovered the fire was in one of the bedrooms so grabbed the adjacent fire hose and put the fire out.  The Fire Brigade was automatically called when the alarm went and they were not impressed when they arrived to find the fire out.

One of the Nurses had pinned material on the back of the curtain in her room to try and make it darker so she could sleep better during the day when she came off night shift.  Unfortunately the wind had blown the curtain around the bedside lamp, which had been left on when she went to work at 6-30.  The material had caught fire and was rapidly running up the curtain and the surrounding area.

Another night I had an alarm go off that one of the air compressors had tripped out.  As I stepped out of our basement office I stepped into an inch of water so knew straight away I had a problem.  One of the cooling water pipes had let go and we were getting 100psi of water spraying around the plant room.  It took some time to get it isolated as the isolating valve was located up behind an air duct.  By the time I got is isolated the water was freely running into the lift well.

Again the fire brigade came to the rescue and pumped out the lift well, their major concern was getting back to the station in time to watch their TV programme.  At night any assistance required from a tradesman had to be advised to the shift engineer at Auckland Hospital as they had all the call out contacts.  So this took a while to arrange and as we had lost the control air compressor this affected all the air conditioning units.  It was a fun night!

One weekend when I was on shift in the middle of a stormy night I got a call from the Maternity Delivery Suite, which in those days were based up beside Taharoto Rd.  The wind had broken the glass in the louvre window.  So there I was with thick cardboard in the delivery suite with women in labour erecting a temporary cover for the window till the glass company could arrive to repair it.

Another weekend I got a call from Warkworth Hospital, they had a geyser in their front lawn, the water main to the hospital had developed a serious leak, so again there was a frantic call out to Auckland Hospital to get a plumber up there.  As it turned out the duty plumber was on an urgent call to Greenlane Hospital.  Luckily I managed to contact one of the plumbers from Nth Shore Hospital and arranged for him to go up at short notice.  First thing on Monday of course the Engineer at Nth Shore wanted to know who had authorised the overtime for our own plumber and I had to put my hand up.  As you can see this is very like the Navy and trying to get authorisation to do anything, it’s a long chain of command.

The computer in the Shift Office basically ran all the machinery at Nth Shore.  We could change the programme to start and stop machinery as necessary but generally the machinery was timed to start and stop on a suitable timetable depending on what hours certain areas were utilised.  We were always aware that the intent was to upgrade the computer and basically get rid of shift engineers, so really from day one we were on borrowed time.

The hospital temperature was regulated to maintain 22 degrees, as this was the comfort temperature for patents.  When the building was designed most of the offices were to house a single person and the ventilation was arranged accordingly.  Just like the navy the authorities then put two people in some of these offices and straight away the ventilation struggled to cope with the extra person and computer.

We continually got calls from these offices where one person would be too hot and the other cold.  The trick was to take the front off the thermostat and tell the occupants you had adjusted the temperature to suit, ringing them back in an hour they would both be happy and thank you when in effect you hadn’t adjusted anything.

The other issue we constantly ran into was as soon as winter or colder weather arrived the staff would dress for the outside climate.  It didn’t matter how many times we told them the hospital was kept at 22 degrees summer and winter they would constantly complain in winter that the temperature was too hot.  Trying to get them to dress the same all year round and just wear a thick coat when they left the building in winter just fell on deaf ears.

As I remarked to the Hospital Engineer one day there were three hundred air conditioning experts working at the hospital and the engineers were the only ones that knew nothing about air conditioning.  This was one of the most frustrating things for the Shift Engineers to cope with.

So by 1988 there was an upgrade of the computerised system and the writing was on the wall for shift engineers.  We were advised that the intention was to only employ one engineer and he would only be on site during the day but would be on call out at all other times.  The Duty Engineers job was advertised and the shift engineers all applied for it.  The decision was made and I was unsuccessful so I knew I would have to start looking for another job.

I was asked if I was interested in becoming the Engineer in Charge

of the hospital laundry.  This was located out at Avondale at what used to be the Psychiatric Hospital.  I gave it some thought but declined it, as I didn’t want to be travelling over the bridge every day.

I approached the navy to see what was offering and it came to pass that they were looking for someone to teach in the Marine Engineering School.  As I had never been instructing in my former service I was unsure if I was really cut out to do this type of work.  It was also a three-year contract, which could have been a long three years if I somehow didn’t cut the mustard.

However I decided to give it a go and re-joined as a CPO.  The next three years were full on.  When I turned up I was told that I would be taking the Leading Hand advancement course.  What I discovered was the course was not properly formulated and I had to produce the course notes and programme.  This meant that I would be flat out writing the subject notes and then teaching it.  It was a bit of a scramble trying to produce the next set of notes before having to teach it, so the time in the first year went very quickly.

Luckily I was given an Instructional Technique course very early on and this helped tremendously and I found instructing quite rewarding.  Again there were interesting sidelines that happened in these three years.

To be continued.

 

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