The years are flying by quickly, but I’ll always remember Tom. Prue and I never had any children, but if we had, I would’ve wanted a lad just like him. Tom wasn’t like other lads his age. He didn’t go out on the lash every night. He had a young girlfriend with a baby on the way and shouldered his responsibilities like a man. Silo cleaning wasn’t the nicest job, but our company paid reasonably well – mainly because most men were reluctant to do it. Our mission that day was to clean a fly ash silo that measured 13.7 – 24.4 meters. Even now, I still know the dimensions. That’s how clearly I remember…
There were a good handful of us cleaning the silo. I can’t remember how many exactly. When we were all in our uniforms, you couldn’t tell us apart. Tom used say that we looked like astronauts. We’d all been cleaning for a good two hours before I reached the base of the silo. There was a door to the manhole that was obviously a confined area, full of fly ash. Immediately I knew we’d done all that we could; it wasn’t safe to do any more. I switched off my vacuum and adjusted my mask before heading back up to the others.
“We can’t get into the manhole. There’ll be too much fly ash behind that door – it’s too dangerous.”
The others nodded in agreement. Everyone apart from Tom, who moved past me, towards the manhole door.
“Oh, come on, John, it’s fine!” he called up to me. “If we all get in there, we’ll have it done in no time!”
Tom was always the eager one who was constantly trying to prove himself.
“No, Tom,” said Mike, one of our fellow workmates. “John’s right – we’ve done all we can.”
But before any of us could stop him, Tom had forced open the door. He looked up at us and gave a thumbs up before disappearing from view.
“Quick, John! We need to stop him!” said another colleague, Steve. “He might not make it out!”
But before I could reply, a loud crumbling noise rang through my ears. I moved forwards, through the manhole before I even had time to think. Inside the manhole, a huge pile of fly ash had collapsed completely. I pushed my gas mask further to my face and raced through the ash to find Tom…
At first, I couldn’t see him, but then I heard him cough. I made my way through the wreckage to find him half-buried under a pile of fly ash. His mask had slipped from his face and he was struggling to breathe.
“Stay with me, Tom!” I shouted, pulling him back towards the door. “I’ll get you out, it’ll be alright!”
But unfortunately, it wasn’t alright. He was dead when the ambulance arrived. They did everything they could but they were much too late. Tom’s child will be at school now, growing up without a father. A brave young man gone way too soon. That’s how I’ll always remember him.