Mircea Rotenberg, Safety Representative & Aircraft Maintenance Technician IV
REACH Maintenance – Santa Rosa, CA
Your business card says Safety Representative, but if you could make up your own title, what would it be?
Safety Representative really does describe it—I am the go-to person for hangar safety issues. To do my job, I’m looking. I look at other people, I look at my own actions, I look at the work we do. I try to identify and prioritize issues which in my opinion could lead to an unsafe situation, and when I do identify something, I try to review incident data to learn the percentages. Then I attempt to work on ways to minimize the risk, and I run my ideas by other people.
I’m also the person who investigates most maintenance-related incidents. When something happens, I investigate it and put down my findings and suggestions.
I’m also an AMT mechanic and I hold an IA or Inspection Authorization. I also maintain my Canadian Aircraft Maintenance Engineer license.
How long have you been with REACH?
I’ve worked for REACH for a little over 12 years, eight of those years in different renditions of this position. I was originally called Safety Officer for the Maintenance Division.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My father was a surgeon, and the clinic where he worked was located across the street from an automotive shop. I went to his office thinking I would like what he did, but I did not like the blood! I did like to go across the street. He would drop me off there because I loved to be with the mechanics. I loved airplanes, too. So when I was three, I said I wanted to be an aircraft mechanic. I’ve been working around aircraft on and off for 41 years now.
Can you summarize the journey that eventually brought you to REACH?
I was born and grew up in Romania. When I was 14, I went to a magnet type school, which is a high school where you learn the standard disciplines plus a trade, and I studied aeronautical sciences. I graduated when I was 18 and spent one semester at a polytechnic institute, but I did not like computers—they scared me at that time—so I went into English and French Language & Literature instead.
When I was 19, I left Romania. I lived in Israel for seven years and met my wife, who’s Canadian. We lived in Vancouver, B.C. for 11 years. In Canada I fixed aircraft, starting in 1986. In 1992 I took a break to get an AA in Business Administration with a financial bias. Of course I had to use a computer, but by then there were PCs.
We came to the States because of my wife’s job. I had been working for Canadian Helicopters, at the time, they were the world’s largest civilian helicopter operator. I was Assistant to the Director of Safety, and I wrote most of the safety manuals and emergency responses for the company. My job was to look at what we needed to have in place to meet the needs of our customers. The company had work all over the world, so I traveled quite a bit. My wife worked full time, and we had two children. When I was away, I was away for six weeks at a time. It was hell for her and finally she said, “You’ve got to find something local. I need you at home.” I told her I didn’t think there was anything helicopter related in Sonoma County. She looked at me and said, “Oh, really?” and then got on the computer, did a search and found REACH. I started working here in October, 2002.
How many languages do you speak?
I can communicate freely in five languages: Romanian, French, English, Hebrew and Spanish. I have four more that I can use, but I have to struggle a bit: Italian, Russian, German and Portuguese. With those, I have to think harder and sometimes translate things in my head first. Where I come from, it is not uncommon to know several languages. It’s not as hard as people think. The first foreign language is the hardest to master, then it gets easier.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Hmmm. If you look at challenge from the positive perspective, probably it’s dealing with the very new technology and the issues that occur in that environment. It’s so new that nobody has experience with it, which is a challenge when you have an issue and want to know where to start to fix it. But if we encounter an issue, we do what’s always been done in troubleshooting– we eliminate one factor at a time. Mechanically the new craft are similar, but from the point of view of the avionics, they are much different.
Another thing is, when people turn a wrench for a living, the type of work they do is often represented as a sort of assembly line job. What we do at REACH is nothing like that. We are expected to think and look at the whole picture. So another thing you could look at as a challenge is that here, any problem, no matter how small, is important. If we’re aware of any potential safety issue, we don’t let our people or our aircraft go out.
What do you love more than anything else about your current position?
It may sound cliché, but I like to go to work. I know that I will face a different challenge every single day. When I am called for an emergency, meaning an aircraft that just broke down, I have a 25-minute drive from home to the hangar, and during that time I come up with a plan of action.
What most inspires you about REACH as a company?
The people, there’s just no question. Again it sounds cliché, but we are a family. That’s really how I feel about the company. We get to know each other so well. We know each other’s passions. We know each other’s pet peeves.
Are you willing to share a piece of personal information that people might find surprising?
I compose music—well, “compose” is perhaps a bit pretentious. The only instrument that I play is the guitar. I play because I need an instrument to accompany my singing and to help when I write a song. And I write lyrics. Also, I acted in theatre, mostly in my mother tongue.
Who makes up your family or household?
My wife Fanny, and we have two sons. Ilan (pronounced ee-lon) is 25. He’s a mechanical engineer and he lives in France. Our younger son Roni, short for Aaron, is 23 and he will graduate in three months as a Facilities Engineer.
Taking A Stand On Safety…
By Mircea Rotenberg
One pilot coworker, amused by my fear of flying (or rather of crashing), demonstrated to me that falling causes no harm. He dropped a raw egg on the dining room floor and when this was smashed he pointed out how falling did not cause the egg to break, rather, it was the final impact. As I found out many years later, my colleague was right. I felt absolutely no pain during the fraction of a second between slipping off a workstand and the contact between my sciatic nerve and the edge of the nearby workstand—but the short-lived impact sent me screaming directly to the ER.
This accident, one of my very few in many years in aviation, shook my confidence towards how safely I performed my job more than it shook my badly injured innards. I recalled close calls, perhaps hundreds of them, about two or three minor mishaps, and this one which nearly claimed my ability to move my limbs forever. Yes, I happen to have dexterity and good balance but it only takes one slip–no pun intended–to literally lose it all.
Yes, I love to compare myself to my brethren, don’t you? How often did colleagues of mine fall down? Our HR department tracks all work-related injuries and for 2014, they recorded four accidents related to falls. OSHA reports that more than one third of industrial work related accidents resulting in personal injury or death are attributed to falls. Yes, they must be looking at jobs like the one performed by the brave guys in the famous picture above. But what about work related injuries in our business? Why is it we are safe to soar thousands of feet above ground, having nothing but the air to keep us aloft, but end up hurting ourselves when falling down from only a few feet above the ground? Perhaps we are so focused on our inherently dangerous business and how to mitigate the risk of flying that we do not worry too much about what happens after the aircraft is shut down. In our business, we must always stay focused, because if we are careless a lot can happen.
Helicopters: We climb on them, often many feet above the tarmac, in order to inspect or perform maintenance jobs. What do we rely on to hold us up there while performing this duty? On the EC135, for example, there’s the handle above the transmission cowl which serves as a “step”. A mere 2” deep by 10” long protrusion, it serves as both handle and a step for a person weighing sometimes in excess of 200 lbs. I have often had to perform inspections and maintenance functions such as a transmission oil sample standing on this with both feet. How about the Agusta A109 maintenance step? That flimsy little inspection door you see pilots and maintenance crews alike balancing on while turning the almost one thousand pound rotor system looking for signs of wear or oil leaks? There are two 1/8” steel lanyards holding that step. I will not even talk about climbing on a Bell 407 top deck to inspect the main rotor and transmission. You hold on for dear life while you carefully try to avoid breaking any of the antennas. And you may forget that there is no climb down provision on the right side and you have to rely on the 2” fuel cap recess area to keep from falling down to the asphalt. Wow!
Ladders: Why is there that composite top stand with the words “NO STEP” on it? But that is exactly the place I need to climb to do my job! Maybe I will think about grabbing a taller ladder, especially after my close call, rather than being caught and photographed by the pilot in the following situation:
So, what can we do to minimize or even eliminate the risk of falls? Use workstands and steps made for the purpose of climbing and working at heights.
Typical A-frame workstands, like those we use at REACH, are lightweight and solid but they lack a balustrade. Use it with caution and no straddling between two of these!
A more suitable unit is the work platform like the one seen in this picture at our main hangar. It has a balustrade, tool arrest, tool trays, and it even fits under the helicopter rotors with care. If your base does not have one of these, talk to your PM and ask if one can be put in the budget.
By all means, we should use ladders when needed, but before climbing on a very tall one, consider if you can rent one of these scissor lifts instead.
I could think of many reasons more why we are at risk of becoming yet another statistic. For each situation, there is a way to avoid trouble. Like all that we do at work, how we end up safe and sound starts with how we approach every task. Let us look at all our actions with honesty!
As for reaching up for new heights, both figuratively and literally, there is nothing wrong with that, but keep in mind, gravity gets us all in the end. Just see it for yourself on this video.