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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Threatening building maintenance with a "full bird"

I spent the first few months at a prior job working on the 7th floor of an old bank building downtown. It was a cool, dark place with a minimum of stupidity going on, and life was good. Given that I worked second shift, I would turn up in the mid-afternoon, slip into the elevator, and discreetly trigger the ProxCard reader while pushing the [ 7 ] button. It would light up, and I'd be on my way.

We didn't even have picture badges, since we didn't need them. You knew who was supposed to be there and who wasn't. Life was good.

One Saturday afternoon, I stepped into the elevator, got the badge reader to beep, pushed the button, and ... nothing. It just sat there with its door open. I tried it a couple of times. Still nothing. Somehow, I managed to dismiss the elevator by sending it to a floor which didn't require authorization. This was no small feat, since it involves pushing the button and then running out before the doors close. This let me push the call button to get the other car, but in that one, the same thing happened. I was stuck at ground level, unable to go to work!

I called the support line to get someone upstairs to come fetch me. Unfortunately, the day shift people were still there, and that meant there was a 50-50 chance of getting someone in the wrong building. I got the wrong one. They had to find someone who was actually up on the 7th floor of my building. They pushed the call button and I rode up.

As it turned out, I hadn't been fired or anything like that. Everyone was having the same problem. This continued for a number of hours just like this. We worked around it by using our cell phones at first, but then someone figured out the emergency button could be used as a signal. Hitting that button only set off a really old-sounding bell somewhere in the shaft -- DING, DING. We started using that to signal whoever was upstairs to come play the button-pushing game. I had never used one of those buttons before, so it was sort of exciting.

Thanks to the two-car system, people upstairs had to do the "push and run" thing if the wrong one arrived. If you sent for an elevator and it didn't have your friends in it, you had to reach in in, push a floor button, then get back out without getting trapped yourself. Then you'd hit DOWN again to receive the right car containing your coworkers.

We had a bunch of people who used to go down to ground level to smoke, so this "ding ding ding" situation became something of an annoyance. Besides, there was something creepy about the fact that the only reason any of us were up there was because someone else was already up there. We'd never left the floor unattended before, but if something caused us to evacuate, there would have been no way back.

The building did have stairwells, but there were problems with that. We'd have to prop doors open both at the top and the bottom, and that's obviously a fire code no-no. Besides that, those doors were nontrivial to block, perhaps due to that same code and their need to resist fire for some amount of time. Also, who wants to climb 7 flights of stairs?

Finally, one of my friends on the shift who had a real take-charge attitude picked up the phone and started making calls. After bouncing around a few times, he got someone from building maintenance on the phone. They didn't want to do anything since "... it's a Saturday".

He wasn't going to take that and so he ripped into them, telling them this is a 24/7 business, and it doesn't matter what day it is or what time it is. This needs to be fixed, NOW. It may happen to be the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but we were working, so that's no excuse. If we have to work, we need our basic services to work too.

The building maintenance guy was clearly not giving up without a fight, and then I overheard this from my friend's side of the conversation:

Am I going to have to call in a full bird?

As I found out, "full bird" is a military thing referring to someone fairly high up in the ranks. Basically, he was threatening to get the president and/or CEO of the company on the phone to have them go after the building/elevator maintenance folks.

This did the job. An hour or two later, we had our card readers working again, and the dinging stopped.

Some years later, this coworker would go on to become a manager. Then, after the org chart above me was shuffled following Umbrellagate, he actually became my manager. He was one of the good ones who actually cared about his people, myself included.

This one goes out to the Angry Gnome. You rock, sir.