Okay, I admit it. I’ve been a bridgetender for 15 years, so I’m probably entirely too biased to write a blog entry of this type. But if I don’t, no one will.
This job is full of unsung heroes. Simply Google “Drawbridge” and “Death” and you’ll see just how dangerous these structures can be. Think about it: A typical bridge is probably 2 million pounds of moving concrete and steel, and many people feel that they’re immortal, or at the very least that the rules don’t apply to them. That makes for a toxic brew.
I’ve known many bridgetenders who have saved people’s lives. Many have thwarted suicide attempts, fished people out of the water by deploying life rings, or even pulled people out of burning cars after traffic accidents. And yet most people don’t even know we exist.
Bridgetenders come to work every day and make the safety of the traveling public our top priority. Not a day goes by when our independent judgment doesn’t prevent a traffic accident or injuries to pedestrians who have chosen to ignore warning signals. And there are quite a few boaters out there who don’t adhere to Coastguard Federal Regulations. That puts everyone at risk.
There really ought to be a monument to bridgetenders on the Washington mall, or at the very least, a statue at the foot of a drawbridge somewhere. If so, it should be in the likeness of Peter Fancher, who died on the job back in 1981. According to this article, he was working on the Seven Mile Bridge that links Miami, Florida to Key West when a passing truck struck a propane tank that was attached to the tower for some insane reason. The explosion engulfed the tenderhouse and a man who was just trying to make an honest living was cremated instantly. He was 39 years old.
Most bridgetenders aren’t looking for thanks, as I mentioned in a recent blog entry entitled Loving My Thankless Job. But when the stuff hits the fan, after I do my best to set things to right, and after the adrenaline has worn off, I often think of Peter Fancher, and I’m very grateful to be going home in one piece.