It was on a Saturday morning and I was working overtime in the printing factory in Portadown. The foreman asked me to watch the big printing machine and I assumed he was going for his break, he suddenly came running back to the machine and hit the emergency stop button and told everyone to get out of the printing room immediately. I did not know what was wrong until I suddenly noticed black smoke coming into the printing room.
We left immediately taking none of our belongings with us, the knitting department was on fire and the fire was spreading rapidly through the factory. Before long most of the factory was ablaze and thick black smoke filled the sky. I had never seen a fire like this one before, soon fire engines seemed to arrive from everywhere. One of the firemen came over to the group of men that I was with and asked us if everyone was accounted for, we told him that all the printers were out but we did not know who was working in the other departments.
The scene was quite chaotic some firemen were rolling out hoses others were putting on breathing equipment and asking about entry and exit points in the factory. Suddenly a man came staggering out of one of the main entrances into the factory, he was gasping for breath and white foam was coming out of his mouth. The fire men gave him what I presume was oxygen and asked him if there was anyone else inside but he could not talk to them, I think he went to hospital.
Finally the fire chief got the departmental foremen together and it was found that they could all account for their men. The fire was out of control by now and we stood helpless and watched our livelihood go up in smoke. It suddenly dawned on me that the keys for my car were in my coat in my locker in the small cloakroom in the printing department, I had made plans that afternoon to go and visit someone in prison and I did not want to let them down so I needed to get my keys.
I then proceeded to do one of the stupidest things I probably have ever done. I told a colleague that I was going into the factory to get my keys and he thought I was joking. I told him the route I was taking and if I was not back in a couple of minutes to tell the firemen the route I had taken. I entered the building from the far side of where the fire had started, there were no flames visible yet at this side of the building just thick black smoke. It was not long before I had to crawl on my stomach towards the cloak room because the smoke was so dense, it was not as bad down at floor level but when I reached where my locker was I had to stand up and open it.
The heat and smoke were intense when I stood up, I could not open my eyes and I was running out of breath, I would not have found my locker except it was the last one against the wall at the end of the cloak room. I felt for the keyhole and fortunately found it quickly and retrieved my coat and keys. I was at the point now where I could hardly breathe so instead of crawling out I took a chance and ran with my hand against the lockers and wall to guide me out into the corridor. I could have tripped or ran into something but I did not. What a relief to breathe fresh air and leave the thick black smoke behind.
My colleague was just about to tell a fireman of the stupid thing I had done when I emerged. Like many people I had watched the adverts concerning what to do in a fire, “Get out, get the fire brigade out and stay out” but knowing what to do and actually doing in when you are in that situation are two different things. Most of the factory was completely destroyed and for the first time since leaving school I found myself out of work through no fault of my own. Sometimes in life what we perceive as a disastrous situation can actually turn out to be of benefit later on but we don’t see that at the time.
I was not looking forward to signing on at the D.H.S.S. filling in forms and answering questions about your qualifications and what work you would like to do. My Pastor had told me to take all my concerns to God in prayer and I was taking his advice in bringing my employment situation to him and asking for his help in finding work. One of my good friends in the church told me that there were jobs going in a large local factory where he worked. This was one of the biggest employers locally at that time and probably still is today. They had a good reputation for pay and working conditions and many people sought to get in there.
My friend got me an application form and I filled it in, to be perfectly honest I felt that I had wasted my time as once again all of the important boxes concerning education and exams past were N/A. It is hard to explain how demoralising I found this, it made me feel useless, inadequate and incompetent. Another good friend in the church also put in an application form at the same time but he was educated and was currently doing engineering studies and I thought that if any one of us would get a job it would be him.
To my surprise I got an interview and the man who was asking me the questions asked me why I had not completed any of my exams. I simply told him the truth that my mother had taken her own life when I was sixteen and I could not face going back to school. He asked me other questions about previous employment and work experience and almost seemed to be answering questions for me and stating why I might be suitable for the job advertised. Next I got an invitation to go and complete a medical examination with the company nurse and shortly after that I was offered a job.
Unfortunately my friend in the church did not get a job with them and I think he felt hard done by when he found out he was by far better educated and more qualified than I was. God had much better things for him; he was called into full time ministry and is a Pastor in England. I had never been inside a factory of this size; it was huge and a little frightening. My job was to get forklift trucks ready for final inspection and shipping. This meant spraying paint and sticking decals onto the truck as well as fitting other components.
I knew absolutely nothing about spray painting and thought that they had mistakenly started me in the wrong department but there was no mistake this was it. The foreman presented me with what I would need to do my job and this included two brand new spray guns, when I told him that I had never used one before he looked a little surprised but sympathetic and then took the time to show me how they worked and how to take them apart to clean and keep them working properly. The work was to a degree intense and precise, if it was not to the proper standard the inspector would keep sending it back until it was.
Thankfully they put me alongside another man who knew what he was doing and I started to learn new skills. There are always opportunities in life to learn new things and I was to learn many things from working in this huge factory. One of the most important things that I was to learn about spray painting was that proper preparation of what you were about to paint was critical. If the surface you were painting was not completely clean and free from contamination then the paint would react and you would have to clean the surface and start all over again.
The life lesson that I learnt from painting was that there are no short cuts. There were times when I was against the clock and I tried taking short cuts by not sanding damaged paint down to the bare metal and priming it, the result was that I would lose time due to a reaction. I found that God would often take a scenario like this and spiritualise it to me. To have a right relationship with God there are no short cuts, we need to take time to pray and read his word and listen to what he tells us. When we do this we get good results, when we don’t do this we often end up with things in a mess. I would spend the next fifteen and a half years in this huge factory. I will share some of my experiences during that time some of them are good and some are not so good.
As a little taster I will share briefly an experience I had as a first aider in the factory. This story came back to my mind for some reason recently when I was taking a class and the tutor asked us to share a negative experience from life. I was working on the three to eleven shift and I noticed one of the fork lift trucks driving by with the over head exhaust shield missing. I noticed it mainly because the company had paid for me to obtain a health and safety qualification and I was becoming more tuned in to hazards and risks.
The hazard here was the fact that the exhaust shield was missing and there was the potential for an accident to happen, the risk was that someone could get badly burnt if they touched the hot exhaust pipe. I was busy doing something at the time and my intention was to tell the foreman in the department to see that it was fixed. In my business I completely forgot to tell the foreman, it went completely out of my mind until one of the workers came to me for first aid treatment.
He was holding his hand and was in obvious pain. When I looked at his hand there was a large piece of skin missing from his palm, I asked him what had happened and he described how he was talking to one of the fork lift truck drivers and he put his hand out to lean on the truck and he placed it on the hot overhead exhaust pipe. His hand stuck to the pipe and when he pulled it away the hot pipe pulled the skin of the palm of his hand. I felt so guilty at that moment because this man’s pain and suffering could have been avoided if I had done what I should have there and then.
The life lesson that I learned was not to put of till later what needs done now. How often have people intended to act or respond to something that God has shown them and they have failed to do it and someone gets hurt, maybe even themselves. There is a big word called procrastination, it simply means “postponement, instance of putting something off till later, deferment, delay”.
In the spiritual context I would like to encourage you not to procrastinate, if God shows you something and asks you to do something about it don’t wait till later do it now.
When I worked in the D.O.E. a man once said to me that one day he would get right with God, but not yet. He made it quite clear to me that at that time his life was taken up literally with “wine ,women and song” but when the time was right he would get right with God. I tried to explain to him the folly in that kind of thinking but sadly it fell on deaf ears. One Monday morning not long after that I found out that he had been killed at the weekend. Someone had a row with him and his friend, I am not sure if it was in a club or a pub but he followed them in his car and drove over the both of them. One was killed instantly and the other was critically injured but survived.
The old proverb says, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today”. God’s word says, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart”. Friend if God has or is showing you something that he wants you to do please do it now and avoid any guilt or regret later.