Caleb Holloway shares his personal story of resilience, lessons learned and the need for heightened awareness.
My story of what failure can do is probably more of an exception than the rule. You’ve no doubt heard about what happened on the Deepwater Horizon back in 2010. When I started work with the rest of my drilling crew on the morning of 20 April, I never thought that by the last few hours of our shift I’d be one of only two of them still alive.
Failure comes in many different forms. It can be something as little as a missed check or it can also be something as big as gross negligence. In the case of a failure that turns our whole world upside down – like what happened to me and the other Deepwater Horizon survivors – we need to learn from those experiences, honour those we lost, and commit to never repeat them again.
Living on the rig
Before I joined the Horizon in 2007, I’d spent most of my time working on a smaller rig off the Gulf Coast. It was a pretty small company so you can probably imagine my amazement when I ended up on this space-age behemoth packed with 5,000 pieces of priceless drilling equipment. All in all, it was not what I expected. We had a gym, we had a theatre room, a sauna, chefs that cooked for you, and a maintenance crew that cleaned your room for you when you were on duty working.
The rig became like a home away from home and the bond we all made was almost instant. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s worked on a rig. We worked in close quarters for 12 hours a day, every single day, for 21 days in a row. Everyone knew each other’s moods and quirks. We knew when to crack a joke and when to shut up. Some of us hunted together, fished together, worked out together, or read the Bible together. We were a family.
Resilience is a process
You all know the story of what happened on 20 April. Being on the other side of some catastrophe and not knowing if you could have done anything differently… that still bothers me today. The night of the actual blowout was the first time I’d really been faced with something like that. My mind immediately went into survival mode. For that night it was strictly survival and doing whatever I had to do to try to get to my guys.
I spent the following year in a really bad place. I just wasn’t doing very well with it. I didn’t keep my mind focused nor on track. I was all over the place. Just the thought of not having those guys around anymore, and pretty much having the rug pulled out from under me, it was really hard to accept.
But going through something like that also made me stronger and even a little bit wiser in my decision-making. You’ve got to keep yourself healthy, stay strong and be patient. It’s a long process of grieving, and it’s a process to become resilient. For any little thing that people might be struggling with, I tell them they’ve just got to keep their head up and push forward.
Driving awareness every day
A lot of people ask me, ‘Why did you pick firefighting? You just went through such a catastrophic experience.’ My answer: I know that I can face that fear now. The difference is that now I train and expect crazy things to happen when we go on calls because that’s what I signed up to do. When I see someone who needs help, I know I can give it to them.
In this industry, we need to be mentally prepared for chaos. Heightened awareness, more focus, and the knowledge that anything can happen at any time – that’s the biggest thing. I’m a little more prepared nowadays and adapted to that lifestyle without getting caught off guard.
To be prepared, it’s a mix of proactive and reactive tasks. We need to get out of routine because we can fall into the daily grind as creatures of habit and get complacent. We often will throw an unexpected scenario out there during training to see how a crew or an individual will react, and then we build off of that. At the same time, we continue to strive on having operational plans in place and practice them regularly. Even if you’re not in emergency services or traditionally high risk environments, things like safety checks are paramount because everyone’s life is valuable from the bottom to the top. And there’s no replacing that.
Caleb Holloway shares his experiences and philosophy at the SafetyCulture Summit 2021: Made Extraordinary, a free two-day event set to inspire working teams around the world. Learn how organisations can achieve extraordinary outcomes through great teamwork. Watch Made Extraordinary on-demand at any time from anywhere in the world. Watch the Summit Replay today.