In the eighth of a nine-part Q&A series, NAC Ramp Lead Matthew Jarrett and Cargo Services Supervisor Bill Lounsbery answer questions about their lives, careers, and nominations for this year’s awards.
On March 26, 2020, an inattentive former employee threw a burning cigarette into the large trash dumpster instead of the ashtray. This caused a dumpster fire that could have ignited the warehouse. NAC Ramp Lead Matthew Jarrett and Cargo Services Supervisor Bill Lounsbery were the two leaders on duty that night. When they were alerted to the fire, they ran toward it to do what they could to safeguard the property and their fellow employees.
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
MJ: I grew up in Southern California and attended La Sierra High School.
BL: I grew up in Rumson, New Jersey, and attended Rumson Fair Haven High School. After high school, I attended a few semesters of community college. However, I always felt something was missing. Rumson is right on the water, so growing up, I was in love with the ocean and anything that could be done on it. My parents always had a boat, so early on, my passion for boats grew. Eventually, my friends and I were spending all our time on the water. It was a great place to grow up.
Tell me about your career, your current position, and what led you to it.
MJ: I have been working here at NAC for a little more than three years. I am currently a Ramp Lead and have been a Cargo Lead for more than two years.
BL: A few years after graduating high school, I joined the United States Coast Guard. I soon found myself flying in C-130’s for the USCG. I was a career Loadmaster responsible for a lot of the logistics here in Alaska and Florida. I flew with many great people, been to many great countries, and after 20 years of flying, I retired from the USCG. After the Coast Guard, my family and I stayed in Alaska. Aircraft and cargo movement was such a huge part of my military career that I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, and in 2019 I got hired at NAC as a Cargo Supervisor.
Tell us more about the fire that broke out on March 26. Did you notice the smoke first, or were there already flames when you jumped into action? Were your actions a result of any specific training or just instinct?
MJ: After hearing over the radio that the dumpster was on fire, I ran towards the burn, grabbing multiple fire extinguishers on the way. I was the first to arrive and start trying to suppress the burning dumpster until the airport fire department arrived. After exhausting all the smaller fire extinguishers, I realized the fire was only growing and was starting to get close to the roof. I felt the only thing that could slow down the fire long enough for the fire department to arrive was the aircraft fire extinguisher. My actions were all instinct. I can’t provide for my family if I stand by and watch my job potentially burn down.
BL: I remember getting a call from Load Control saying a fire was reported in our dumpster. I ran across the warehouse and into Matt Jarrett. I told him we had a fire and needed to check the dumpster. After seeing our 40-yard dumpster fully on fire and flames bouncing off the roof, I called 9-1-1. After the phone call, I got the whole shift to grab fire extinguishers and minimize the flames until the fire department arrived. The flames were large and very hot. My main concern was the safety of our personnel and our warehouse. Matt felt confident he could use extinguishers to help out. I went to grab a forklift. I wanted to pick up the dumpster and move it away from the building, but ice prevented me from moving it. After a few minutes, I saw Matt running back with the large aircraft fire extinguisher. He stated that the small ones weren’t effective and asked if he could use the large one. His quick thinking in grabbing that large fire extinguisher was the sole reason we didn’t have major structural damage to the building. It almost immediately knocked the fire down from the building. The fire department showed up and took care of the rest.
I have had a lot of fire training and was quite used to emergencies. My only concern was the safety of all the people involved and ensuring they were safe until help arrived.
Is there something in your life that helped develop a safety mindset?
MJ: I grew up learning to be safety conscious due to living where rattlesnakes also lived. I was taught to always look 10 steps ahead of you. That way, if caught in a situation, you could react accordingly.
BL: Growing up on the water and working around dangerous aircraft made me learn from an early age that safety is the number one goal.
What was your first impression of NAC? Tell us your favorite story about your time with the company.
MJ: After starting my job at NAC, I enjoyed learning about the company’s extensive history in the state of Alaska, most of which I learned during my first summer on the job.
BL: My first impression of NAC came back in 1997. I was in Nome, Alaska, with the Coast Guard, and NAC was there with the DC6 swing tail, and they were unloading it.
Think about a time in your career when you felt like what you were doing was somehow less than completely safe. What did you learn from that experience?
MJ: One winter, I was moving too quickly on the ramp, which had icy conditions. I wasn’t paying attention and slipped, landing on my side. Thankfully, I had no injuries and had learned never to get comfortable while on the job.
BL: I have learned that it is all about training and trusting the people around you. In most cases, you are forced to make a decision that will affect the outcome, good or bad. Being prepared with the proper training helps minimize the risks involved and allows for better decision-making.
Speaking up for safety can be difficult for some people. What advice would you give to someone within our family of companies who’s convinced their feedback won’t matter – or worse, that they’ll somehow be punished for taking action?
MJ: I would say we are not in the business of hurting people. Even if you will not come into harm’s way due to your actions, will someone else get placed in harm’s way? Everyone deserves to go home in the same shape they came to work.
BL: Making the safety reporting system (WBAT) anonymous for people is a way to address all possible safety concerns. For new people, I believe it’s important to ask lots of questions. If they feel like they would get in trouble for reporting a violation, I would tell them that a safer workplace benefits us all, and making it safer because of something they may have witnessed should be rewarded.