Posts tagged “injury”

Joe’s War Story: Clean Break

Joe Moran is a product research scientist at Cogito Corporation in Boston, a startup using AI to decode emotion from voice.

Working as an applied cognitive scientist, I was in the field at Fort Bragg, NC, embedded with an airborne military unit. Our group was tasked with learning about typical soldier maneuvers and the surrounding culture. A few of us (along with a couple of ex-Army handlers) had been invited to watch a “movement-to-contact” drill. This is where a single squad marches to an agreed-upon point, followed by a simulated firefight. I thought this was to be a straightforward observation; it turned out to be a learning experience punctuated by hubris, initiation, and a broken bone.

I had failed to realise what “movement-to-contact” really meant. Assuming we would be safe behind glass surveying a sanitised battlefield, I was wearing a thin jacket, jeans, and decidedly flimsy sneakers. We arrived at the agreed upon start point, and I quickly realised that we were in for a full-on march through woods with no trails (and since it was winter, the ground was muddy and slippery). Nevertheless, I was in reasonably good shape, and confident that I could keep up. After all, how hard it could be to walk and observe at the same time?

I strode off to follow the soldiers. The squad realised we were in tow, and decided to set a pretty quick pace to show us where we belonged; while the officers had brought us in, the rank and file didn’t seem to have much need for us. No matter, we were not weighed down by heavy gear, and we could keep up, even if it meant breaking into a jog every now and then. As we marched along, I managed to get some great photographs of the soldiers in action. After a while, we came upon a small ravine, eight feet wide, with the side nearest us having two ledges that each descended about four feet. The soldiers marched right across, and we soon followed. I stepped down off the first ledge, directly into soft ground and slid down on my butt those four feet. I got right up, and dusted myself off, wiping my hands on my jacket. I looked down and saw my left little finger pointed about 20 degrees off to the left. It was clearly dislocated, and I was clearly past “observation.”

At this point, every fibre in my British being was telling me to keep calm and carry on, ‘tis just a flesh wound. I covered the offending appendage in a coat sleeve and thrust out my other hand for a lift up and out of the ravine. I continued on the march, but soon it was clear this situation was untenable. Either I could continue protecting my darkening finger from catching against anything unruly and risk breaking it, or I could call for help, bring the whole exercise to a crashing halt, and end up branded as the scientist who ruined the researchers’ privileges during our very first observation.

I decided to flag down one of our handlers, who had been a medic. He gave me the classic “Look away, this is going to hurt me more than it does you!”, snapped it back into place, taped it up, and I continued with the observation. I was able to observe the rest of the movement-to-contact, and learned a lot about how this group works.

But this was only day one of a planned five-day trip! If I went to the Army medic, I risked being sent home and unable to complete the research. When I showed the unit commander my injury, he winced, laughed, and gave a broad smile welcoming me to the unit. By seeking treatment in a way that did not impact the mission, I gained the trust of the commander, and our group was invited back for many subsequent observations, leading to lots of fruitful observations about all aspects of the unit’s work.

I got an X-ray when I got home and unfortunately my finger was worse than merely dislocated: there was a clean break through the proximal phalange. Next time I showed up to Bragg, my finger was in a cast after surgery, and the soldiers got a good laugh at the return of “that guy”. From this experience I learned to (a) prepare for the unexpected, (b) not be be headstrong and charge in when I’m not prepared, and (c) improvise quickly when thing do not go to plan!

Do you recall?

Some recent product recalls

Wild Planet Toys Inc. of San Francisco is recalling 273,000 Jet Streamers Water Blasters pool toys. When partially filled with water, the pool toy can stand upright on the pool floor with the rigid narrow end pointed upward, posing an impalement risk.

— LeapFrog Enterprises Inc. of Emeryville is recalling 186,000 Playground Activity Centers. A child’s arm can become caught in the activity center’s plastic tube.

— Olympus Imaging America Inc. of Center Valley, Pa., is recalling 1.2 million Olympus 35mm film cameras. A defect with the flash circuit in the cameras can cause it to smoke and overheat when the camera is turned on, posing a burn hazard.

— Syratech Corp. of East Boston, Mass., is recalling 10,000 frog, fish and duck lawn sprinklers. The plastic body of the lawn sprinkler can crack when placed under intense water pressure, and pieces of it can break off and be projected 5 to 10 feet in the air.

— Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas, is recalling 4,300 Ming television stands. If a person leans on the stand’s drawer when open, the unit can tilt forward and cause a television on top to slide off, posing a risk of injury or death.

— Ballard Designs Inc. of Atlanta is recalling 775 candles and candle sets. The packaging or holder can ignite, posing a fire hazard.

— Agio International Co. Ltd. of Hong Kong is recalling 33,800 Garden Treasures steel dome fireplaces. Touch-up paint used on the fireplace’s exterior can ignite during use, posing a fire hazard.

— True Religion of Los Angeles is recalling 150 hooded fleece jackets. A drawstring is threaded through the hood, posing a strangulation hazard to children.

— Onward Manufacturing of Waterloo, Ontario, Mi-T-M Corp. of Peosta, Iowa, and Deere & Co. of Moline, Ill. are recalling 3,100 John Deere gas barbecue grills. Operating the grill in windy conditions can blow the flame under the control panel, causing the grill to overheat or cause flashbacks. Flames could damage the hose that supplies gas to the burner, causing an uncontrolled flame. Also, the grill’s control knobs could overheat, resulting in burns to hands.

— Deere & Co. of Moline, Ill., is recalling 16,000 John Deere X300 Select Series lawn tractors. A problem in the manufacturing process could cause damage to the circuit in the interlock module. If the module fails, the mower blades will be able to run with no operator on the tractor seat.

— Kindermusik International Inc. of Greensboro, N.C., is recalling 10,000 cage bells. If the bell inside the instrument is damaged during manufacturing, the bell can be pulled out of the instrument, posing a choking hazard.

— Triangle Tube/Phase III of Blackwood, N.J., is recalling 3,000 water heaters. The burner plate and flue hood seal on the water heaters can fail due to an improper seal, causing a leak of flue gases and deadly carbon monoxide.

— Gotham Architectural Lighting, a division of Acuity Lighting Group Inc. of Conyers, Ga., is recalling 4,700 lighting fixtures. The reflector/trim pieces may not be properly attached to each other. The lower portion of the reflector/trim assembly could detach and fall from the ceiling, striking people below.

Of course, being injured by a product you’ve purchased is not funny, but something about the tone of the descriptions is funny (if you find police blotter sections of local papers funny, then you’ll know what I mean here) in a Simpsonsesque fashion (or the famous German Forklift Safety Video).

And in blogosphere synchronicity, Niti’s last story in this post is a slightly more sober take on a product recall.


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