And Extraordinary Teams
I talk a lot about our mission here at Your Clear Next Step of making workdays better so that we can get home safer, treat our families better, and co-create better communities. But I don’t think I can recall a collision of all of these worlds quite like the one I experienced firsthand this November. I should probably tell you that the story ends well - (except for the 10-year old boiler) we all lived in the end, and I’m exceedingly grateful for that.
The day in question gave me a rare glimpse into some special teams at critical moments: my family and how we respond in a time of crisis; our local emergency responders here in Indianola, and how they respond to an emergency; and our working team at Your Clear Next Step, and how we respond in - I’ll use that word again - crisis. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me back up a bit. It was a Friday morning. My husband was out of town for work, and my daughter Sophie, a high school Senior, and I were both home on what should have been an ordinary Friday.
A day can start out like any other, and turn out to be anything but ordinary. My day had started out like any other (I thought), though I was admittedly groggier than usual. Slower to process (for reasons that make sense in hindsight), I hadn’t recognized the alarm for what it was, barely hearing the sounds as I turned on the water for my shower. A moment later, my shower was interrupted by my daughter, phone in hand, saying, “Mom, Dad’s on the phone. He says we have to get out of the house right now; the fire department is on the way because the carbon monoxide alarm is going off.”
Thinking something less than clearly, I replied with, “But I can’t get out of the house! I’m in the shower, and I have shampoo in my hair!!” To which I heard my husband's voice respond urgently, “well, rinse off, dry off, and get out fast, before someone from the fire department comes to carry you out!”
So, out I went, in a hastily thrown-together outfit, with my teenager, my phone, a head of wet hair, and a jacket that wasn’t nearly warm enough for the 20 degree morning, running headlong into the emergency responders in the driveway.
Watching them don masks after their detectors indicated dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the house, and listening to their descriptions of the elevated numeric values of the levels they found in the kitchen and in the basement by the boiler left me weak in the knees.
“Do you have any pets?” asked the first fireman. “Yes,” I replied, “a bird.”
“A bird?” asked the second, skeptically, arching his eyebrow in a subtle can-I-tell-you-a-tale-about-a-coal-mine kind of way.
The skepticism deepened when I told them the parrot was in the basement. But armed with masks against the toxic fumes, and gloves in case the bird decided to bite the hand that saved him, two firemen went to the basement and rescued our Quaker parrot Papagei. (Pronounced “papa-guy”, Papagei is the German word for parrot).
When Papagei let out an indignant squawk at being out in the cold morning air, I thought, “Yeah, me too, buddy, me too! But at least you’re not out here with frozen locks!”
As if reading my thoughts, a third fireman looked at me in that moment, chuckled softly, and said, “Sorry about the frozen hair, ma’am. This is probably not how you expected to spend your morning.”
While we waited for the utility company to send someone to check the gas line, I took Papagei to the office, just a couple miles from the house, so he had somewhere warmer than the car to wait, until it was safe to return home. My colleagues graciously welcomed their temporary, noisy neighbor, and I learned later that all day long, our fellow building occupants were patient with his shenanigans as well.
Back in my driveway, I waited in my car for the utility company to arrive. A YCNS team member reached out, knowing how my morning had gone so far, and said, “I can’t see how you could have had any coffee or breakfast yet, may I bring you some?” And just like that, my heart was a little warmer.
When the utility company representative had completed his inspection, his explanation to me was in a jargon that, on an ordinary day, I might have understood. But let me be clear. Despite my degrees in communication-related fields, despite my expertise in languages and interpretation, and despite my lifelong commitment to understanding what others are trying to say, I had absolutely no idea what he said. Not a clue. I think it was English. I also speak French, some German, a bit of Finnish, and I can understand a smattering of Spanish and Italian. And I have no idea what he said. The look he gave me didn’t invite additional discussion, so I didn’t ask for clarification; I simply nodded, "Okay."
Thankfully, one of the firemen realized that I did not understand, and he’d taken on the role of ensuring clear communication. He said, “Don’t worry, ma’am, we’ll walk you around the house, show you what he means, and answer any questions you have before we leave.” Given that the inspector's message was that the current boiler was leaking lethal levels of CO and the gas had been turned off after he'd vented the worst of it out of the house, I'm glad there was a coherent interpreter.
Fast forward a few hours through more moments of people making connections that same extraordinary day:
- …team members stepping in and doing what needed to be done
- …friends reaching out to make sure Sophie and I were okay
- …husband calling from his work trip to keep things moving with the heating and cooling repair folks to order a new boiler
- …a moment to pause and call loved ones and tell them how much they are loved
- …a brief PSA to remind folks to make sure they have Carbon Monoxide detectors installed in their own homes, and that they’re tested and working
- …a wave of being rattled and shaken when the “what if's” begin to swirl
- …a team member steps up and helps focus me on one task at a time to get us through that hour and that set of tasks
- …discovering after the fact that the heating and cooling company had no open appointments to install a new boiler, and with below-freezing temps, they'd reached out to their next non-critical appointment which was planned for the following Thursday; they asked that customer if they'd be willing to give up their slot for us since we had no heat; and that customer was willing to give up their reserved service time so that we could have heat
- …a team that stands by late in the day, working well past working hours and then hanging out together for dinner and drinks with me, because somehow they know that being alone just isn’t what the doctor ordered for this rattled woman, this particular extraordinary Friday.
Extraordinary, I say. We all lived. And I am grateful. Days like this will stop us in our tracks, for sure. They make us realize what really matters. They help us remember that not one day is promised to us. Not one.
Days like this, I realize how grateful I am for a loving family - a husband who thought to have alarms set, and synced to his phone so he could be alerted, even if he was out of town. How grateful I am for a team that steps in and does what needs to be done - that rolls with the punches, gets our work done, cares for those in crisis, and stays late to stand together. How grateful I am for a community with first responders who respond to emergencies with compassion, humor, and effective communication, for a community with service providers who go the extra mile and fellow customers who are willing to be inconvenienced to help a stranger. I wasn’t expecting these three worlds to collide in my driveway this November, but I learned a lot when they did.
Sometimes it's the big things that change you. Sometimes it's the little things. Sometimes it's the big things you do that change someone else's day. Sometimes it's the little things. But we all have the ability to make days better for others.
I was also reminded just how important it is to have a cohesive team. That’s why we’re beginning a series discussing teams, the importance of great teams, and the roles each person can play. Stay tuned for the next blog in this series, as we discuss the roles you may find on a team in various situations, and how you can recognize the gaps and be what’s missing.
In the meantime, take a moment to tell your loved ones how much they are loved, and check your carbon monoxide detectors.