WHEELING - There's no sense trying to talk him out of it, Brad Livingston thought as he and his co-worker approached the drip tanks at the western Oklahoma oil well site where they were welding on a September morning in 1991. No one will know, anyway.
Within minutes, his co-worker, Tracy Daves, was dead and Livingston was fighting for his life with burns covering more than 60 percent of his body after the site was rocked by an explosion he knows didn't have to happen - an explosion that took place because they took a shortcut that would have saved them, at most, three minutes.
Livingston, who lives in Elkhart, Kan., shared his experience with natural gas industry workers from around the region Tuesday during the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association's inaugural ShaleSafe Conference and Expo, which runs through today at Oglebay Park's Wilson Lodge.
Rather than check the liquid level in the tank themselves to determine whether it was safe to proceed, Livingston said, they chose to take the word of a pumper on site who said it was high enough. He had reservations, but was well aware of his co-workers stubbornness and didn't feel like dealing with it.
"I decided, why hit my head against a brick wall, and I gave in. That was my choice," Livingston said. "I didn't think it was right or safe, what we were doing."
The tank exploded, killing Daves instantly. Livingston, who was about six feet away, has no idea how far the raging fireball threw him up into the air, landing him on top of the second tank before it, too, exploded. He recalls laying there, engulfed in flames and experiencing pain he never thought imaginable, when his thoughts turned to his three young daughters.
"I wasn't going to be able to finish raising them, and that made me mad," Livingston said.
The last thing he remembers is saying a prayer before losing consciousness, a state in which he would remain for the next two and a half months. It was some time later when his wife decided he was ready to learn the news about Daves.
"Words cannot describe the hollow feeling I had, and still have today, 22 and a half years later," Livingston said. "I did not do what I could have done to stop him from doing what I felt was an unsafe act."
On the day of the accident, Livingston's family was told he had a 5-percent chance to live, and likely would not make it until morning. His heart stopped twice that night - but he proved the doctor's prognosis wrong. The next 14 months he spent in the hospital included six surgeries, a month of kidney dialysis, blood transfusions, painful procedures to remove dead tissue and getting pumped with so many antibiotics he lost much of his hearing.
Livingston had to learn to walk again, with a metal rod where his left femur once was. But it was years later before what he calls the "ripple effect" of his accident dawned on him - the impact it had on his family, how easily he could have missed out on walking his daughters down the aisle, on meeting his grandchildren.
"Imagine your family in that waiting room, because you went to work that day and took a shortcut. ... We think it won't affect anyone else if we get hurt," he said.
He implored those gathered to remember that if they are ever tempted to disregard safety procedures for any reason, whether it's to save time, cover up a mistake or due to simple arrogance.
"That kind of pride has to be torn down. ... Don't allow that in your workplace," Livingston said. "It doesn't have to be dangerous."