Field days are always a great day out and a challenge. The thing is that even in the middle of an empty field (or near empty), and no matter what risk assessment you may perform, there is accounting for the stupidity of others and serious damage and financial loss could be the result.
This summer I was invited to take part in an event and turned up to a field with my van packed full of gear for a serious portable session for the weekend.
Upon arrival I checked out the field and asked the organiser where I could set up and was told, anywhere you like..we have the field to ourselves.
Having no reason to question the fact that we were indeed alone in the field, I set up my Racal PU12 mast and set up my NATO tactical Antenna on it which was huge, but as I was well pass the access points into the field, I thought I was well away from anywhere people would be driving vehicles in and out. I asked if I should put some fluorescent picket fencing around the base of the inverted V antenna ends, but was told that I am so well out of the way, no one is going to go anywhere near me.
Everything was going swimmingly for the first day, then I decided to drop the antenna and change it for a three element tri-bander. I disconnected the antenna ends in preparation to swap the aerials and dived in the back of the van and started putting together a workmate bench which I was going to use to support the main boom of the tri-bander while I attached the elements. While is was in the back of the van I heard a noise which sounded like tractors.. I came out the back of the van to see my mast almost bend double with a piece of farm machinery spinning and spooling up my antenna.
Some contractors had come into the field to pick up a load of dried grass and bale it as hay. The problem was that no-one told the field day organiser, or the guy who gave him permission to use the field.
Perhaps it did not seem important for the contractors to perform a risk assessment before charging into the field, but whatever, it caused a real lot of damage and some real political issues about who was responsible and how the damage was going to be resolved. Sadly it was impossible to find spare sections for the mast to replace the permanently bent or snapped sections. I was therefore out of pocket to the tune of about £500!
The site is important to the group and it was not practical to take the owner to task over the mixup about who should have been doing what in the field. Pursuing the contractors and causing ill will would have also created an issue, so in the end another club member who happened to have a ‘spare’ mast offered to help restore the losses.
In the end, the message I took away from this was: If you feel that certain procedures would be good to follow on health and safety grounds, then do it, even if people say you don’t need to. I allowed myself to get dissuaded from putting up picket fencing as a warning about aerial ends. Also that no matter how confident you are that the people in a field know what they are doing, there is no accounting for the poor work practices of others, who should not have been in the field at the same time as the field day group.
I have not mentioned any of the parties involved, but apart from me being totally apoplectic at the time and wanting to sue the pants off of anyone involved, taking a step back and being reflective allowed for other things to happen to help repair my losses. Hopefully it means that the field can still be used by the radio group, and the status quo is restored.
It just means that Risk Assessment will be a higher priority on my next /p expedition, and to presume that everyone will act like an idiot around my mast and aerial setup! OK My NATO antenna can’t be replaced as they are as rare as hens teeth, but the upside is that I have plenty of kevlar aerial wire with which to make new home-brew dipoles, delta loops etc!
An update since this event. The club Chairman Dick Clark actually donated his ‘spare’ Clark PU12 mast to the M0MBD equipment pool. I will be forever grateful to Dick who’s unselfish act saved me a whole wad of money and allowed me to continue with portable operations during the subsequent months. Thismast was also used in liu of the LEFARS trailer mast for the LEFARS field day the following year, due to the trailer mast being refurbished.