I am usually on the road 2 or 3 weeks every month speaking or delivering training somewhere in North America. When selecting a rental car I do my best to always get a Nissan Altima. There are two main reasons for this choice in vehicle:
- I drive an Altima at home so I am familiar with the location of all the buttons, levers and switches.
- The Altima is great on gas mileage so it cuts down on my expenses.
On one trip to the Chicago area I got to the National Executive Selection Aisle to discover there was not a single Nissan Altima in the lot. I even asked one of the staff who said they were all out but recommended the new Chrysler 200. He told me it was a “sweet ride” and informed me Chrysler had upgraded the new model. So, I threw my bags in the trunk, set my GPS unit up on the dash, quickly adjusted the mirrors and off I went.
Everything was great until 2 days later when I checked out of my hotel at 3:45 a.m. to head back to O’Hare Airport. Somehow that morning the seat heater got turned on and was set to high. It was a chilly morning and I did not realize the seat heater was on until I got onto the interstate a few blocks from the hotel. By then the seat was getting really hot and very shortly my ass was on fire. (One of the upgrades in the new model was obviously the power of the ‘high’ setting on the seat heater.) Despite my best efforts to drive on the interstate without crashing while finding the control to turn the seat heater off I was unsuccessful in locating that control. Not wanting to pull off to the side of the interstate and get killed trying to keep my butt from being scalded I settled for rolling down the windows to get some cool air flowing through the car and lifting my butt in the air to create a small gap between it and the seat. I was able to make it to the rental car return area without a major incident and was too embarrassed to say anything to the rental car agency when he asked if everything was ok with the rental. I just took my overheated ass, jumped on the shuttle bus and headed to the terminal.
In reflection there are some valuable training lessons from this story. Here are two:
- Take the time to familiarize yourself with new equipment. While some agencies have take home cars, many have pool cars and at the start of shift you take whichever car is available. Too often we just jump in the car at the start of shift, fire it up, turn on the computer, adjust the mirrors and head out for that first call or first cup of coffee. Some agencies have three different types of vehicles in their fleet, each set up differently for the emergency equipment controls and the shotgun or riffle release button. The time to determine where are the critical control are is in the parking lot of the station, not in the middle of an emergency run or at a critical moment where you need that rifle to save your life. Spend some time reviewing the location of all the controls and physically practice activating them in the parking lot. During the early part of the shift do some imagery while you are driving and imagine reaching for and activating the desired controls during a variety of situations. These small steps may be critical for your safety during the shift. If you have a take home car and get assigned a new one make sure you take the time to physically and mentally practice accessing all the critical controls before you head out on the road the first time. Continue to mentally rehearse a variety of scenarios that require you to access the controls daily until activating these controls is engrained in the subconscious.
- Be willing to ask for help. I let my ego get in the way instead of asking the attendant at the rental return area if they knew where the control was for the seat heater. I could have gained some valuable information for the next time I end up with a Chrysler 200. If you don’t know where something is, or how to do something then ask. It may be a little embarrassing at the time, but it may save your life later. We need to ensure we do not let our pride and ego get in the way of our education or our safety
In case you are wondering I am going for therapy to deal with my recurring nightmare of driving a Chrysler 200 on the freeway with my ass on fire.
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