On my first day on the job, I was in awe of Jack Bier. He embodied that combination of skill and confidence – no, fearlessness – that made a scaffolder the king of the trades. I wanted to be like Jack: he would walk across a one foot wide beam ten stories above the ground, without even looking at his feet. In those days scaffolders didn't work from walkways and handrails – we worked from beams and girders – and blazed the trail of planks and walkways for others to follow. Jack stayed back for some overtime when I left for the pub, feeling on top of the world.
On my second day on the job, Bob, the foreman, showed me the pool of blood where Jack had landed on the ground. All it took was for his foot to slip on a fresh pigeon dropping. A few of the blokes saw him fall. Bob pointed out the beams that Jack had hit on the way down.
I felt sick, and spewed up breakfast onto the dirt; but Bob wasn't finished. He took me with him to visit Jack's wife with his final pay-cheque. Bob wanted me to learn something that day, and I did. Jack was an old generation scaffolder: skilful, fearless and a little cocky. I became one of the new generation. I don't disrespect Jack, or what he did; but, I don't think a man needs to die putting bread on the table.