Monday, September 22, 2008

Safety and Security Tips for LDS Missionaries

I read an Ensign article by Michael S. Nielson that tells of the tragic death of two sister missionaries who died from asphyxiation from a gas heater when they closed the door of their bedroom. Their deaths could have been avoided if they had left the door open and air could have circulated then the carbon monoxide would have not built up. Not all accidents can be avoided but many times if missionaries were more aware they might avoid some of the problems that cause careless accidents.

I spoke with my recently returned missionary daughter and her fiancee. She served in Korea Daejeon and he served in Brazil. He told me that he was robbed three times on his mission. Once they broke in his apartment when he and his companion weren't home and twice they robbed him by gunpoint on the street. He advised me that missionaries in South America carry easily recognized black bags and that the mission president instructed them to carry ten dollars so the robbers don't become angry and hurt them. When I was a missionary we would have probably tried to disable the robber but you can consider it a charitable act if they are so desperate they need the ten bucks.

My daughter's tip to elders and sisters missionaries is to learn how to light a pilot light on a gas stove or water heater. She said most missionaries don't have a clue of what a pilot light even is. I always think about how if gas builds up they can be suffocated or blow themselves up. When I was dating my wife she and her roommates would ignore the pilot light blowing out. One time another guy she was dating smelled it and didn't even know how to light it. I felt sorry for the dude. Usually if you smell gas you should open the door or all the windows to counteract the carbon monoxide. After a little fresh air comes in you can then use a lighter or match to relight the pilot light which is usually in the middle of the stove. You will know if the pilot light is out on a hot water heater because your shower or bath will be cold. There is usually a small metal plate that needs removed. You probably will have to read the front but most water heaters have an igniter which you press before lighting the heater. I use a piece of paper since it is hard to get a match or lighter in the hole. I like to roll it up then light the tip. Make sure to blow it out when it gets half way down the paper. If you can find long matches that might be better but usually you can't find them. A long lighter works well also and can be found at Walmart but if you are not in the U.S. they are more difficult to come by. Once you ignite you turn the water heater switch to the on position. It takes about thirty to forty-five minutes for the water to heat up again. Be careful you don't burn yourself or start a fire.

I have been thinking ever since I read and heard these tips of a few common sense things that could save a missionary from accident or serious injury.

  1. Wear a helmet.
  2. For elders use bike ties to tie down your suit pants since they might get stuck in the chain; for sisters use a clothes pin to gather together excess skirt material.
  3. Ride with the traffic; never ride against the traffic.
  4. Present a visible presence by removing your suit coat so your white shirt is showing or wearing reflective materials.
  5. If possible stay on well-lit streets; choose your paths of travel wisely so that you can avoid hazardous places like abandoned warehouse areas, railroad crossings, and busy areas. It might be better to walk if the area has limited biking accessibility.
  6. Don't tailgate cars or hitch a ride by grabbing on to a moving vehicle.
  7. Be careful not to go too fast. Many bike accidents occur on ten speeds when the biker loses control when going over thirty-five miles per hour. Pay attention to your speed on hills. Use a gradual braking process. I have known plenty of bikers including myself who have applied sudden pressure on the hand brakes that causes the bike to go over or skid sideways. I accidentally slit open another guy's leg when braking to fast as the bike turned sideways his leg was sliced open by my fender requiring several stitches.

Bernell W. Bennett in the New Era back in 1971 shares some tips I think are useful even today:

1. Use the “pilot and co-pilot system.” That is, whenever possible, at least one person besides the driver should remain alert and on watch. In the old stagecoach days this was called “riding shotgun.” The assistant should not read, snooze, or distract, but should be ready to help the driver in any way, even getting out of the car to aid in backing out of tight parking spots. These two should watch each other carefully for signs of fatigue. One should never drive on when he is getting drowsy.

2. Wear seatbelts. In at least one mission it has become customary to hang the buckle of the seatbelt over the steering wheel after parking the car as a reminder to buckle up upon returning. So far no one has managed to drive off with the buckle still on the wheel.

3. Try to avoid rush-hour traffic. During these times, trips that normally take fifteen minutes may take forty-five minutes. You lose valuable time and run unnecessary risks. Furthermore, you should learn which are the most hazardous times to be on the road, so you can be doubly cautious. About 40 percent of highway fatalities occur on weekends—a third of these between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday is the most dangerous day, Sunday is next, and Friday manages to beat any of the other four days by a fair margin.

4. Check basic equipment daily—tires, brakes, lights, and so forth. The professional truck drivers do it. A minor problem discovered today could avert a major tragedy tomorrow.

5. Plan ahead and know where you are going before you start the car. Don’t refer to maps while driving. This is particularly important in freeway driving. Never enter a freeway unless you know beforehand where to get off. And never, under any circumstances, try to back up on a freeway to make an exit.

6. Try to maintain a position relative to other traffic that enables you to see the road for a good distance ahead. Tailgating, or driving too close to the car ahead of you, especially behind large trucks, obscures your long-range view. When traffic ahead stops abruptly, you may not have time to hit the brakes before hitting the car ahead. Hitting the car ahead is the second most common type of accident and is usually caused by following too close. It’s still a good rule of thumb to keep one car length behind the next vehicle for every ten miles of speed. Allow even more room on wet or icy surfaces.

7. Keep cars free of inside litter. Place heavy objects—which could become missiles in case of a quick stop—in the trunk. In California, two missionaries were slowing down for an intersection when an empty pop bottle rolled from beneath the driver’s seat and up under the brake pedal. With the brakes thus jammed, they smashed into a semitrailer and the car was totaled out. Fortunately no injury more serious than a broken arm resulted, but all for an empty pop bottle. In another case a quick stop brought some heavy books flying from the back window area, whacking the driver on the neck. He was severely cut and had to have stitches. Imagine what a typewriter or an adding machine might have done!

8. Keep your car locked when not in use. Not only does this discourage theft, but it can also prevent freak accidents. Recently two missionaries were in a home presenting a discussion when they noticed through the front window of the house that their car was rolling down the driveway into the street. A young boy of the household, attempting to play a trick on the elders, had backed the car out into heavy traffic. It was demolished and the boy ended up in the hospital. Whose fault? The missionaries’—for leaving the car unlocked and the keys in the ignition.

9. Drive with the gas tank more than half full. A stalled car is a deadly hazard, both to its occupants and to the innocent people who may unavoidably collide with it.

10. Keep your eyes on the road. “Oh, brother,” you’re probably saying. “How basic can you get?” But it’s surprising how many accidents can happen during that split second when the driver’s head is turned to take in some passing scenery.

Add to the above reminders some good old horse sense and you may save yourself and your loved ones from the agony and inconvenience of a traffic mishap. Remember, far more casualties result from automobile accidents than from the war in Southeast Asia, and motorists, not motors, are the cause of 90 percent of highway accidents.

A few other tips that my father who was a long haul truck driver told me was when driving in low visibility and when others have their lights in your eyes look at the white line on the shoulder of the road so you don't become blind or drift towards the light of the on-coming vehicle. Remember to keep your low beams on in snow, fog, or rain. Don't overdrive your lights. When driving long distances make sure to look around so as not to get hypnotized by the road. Stop every hour or so for a few minutes so as not to become overtired when driving for more than a couple of hours.

P-Day Activities

Missionaries are told not to swim on their missions. Lots of missionaries try to make fun of this rule but there are a host of reasons. In foreign countries there is a threat of parasites or poisonous snakes or jellyfish or sharks. Today there are so many toxic chemicals in the water so I would encourage anyone to swim only in a designated beach or pool.

Missionaries should avoid contact sports like rugby, tackle football, wrestling, boxing, and martial arts.

They should carry a first aid kit in case of minor injuries so that they can wrap cuts or sprains. Missionaries play hard and should not get carried away like coming down with an elbow in a fellow missionaries' face while playing B-ball or throwing the ball in the person's face while running to a base in softball or baseball. Missionaries should take care of their scratches and bruises by having some triple anti-bacterial cream handy.

Cooking Tips

Cooking equipment causes 72% of apartment fires. Missionaries should cook in designated areas only, and never leave cooking equipment unattended when in use. When you have an oven fire use salt or baking soda to put it out. Water on a grease fire can cause an even bigger fire.

Use pot holders or two towels when removing pans from the oven. If burned don't use butter rather use cold water
or aloe vera. Don't put a band-aid on it but keep the burn open to air and clean. You can try using an anti-bacterial creme also. One time one of my kids was so sunburned that it turned brown and never healed. Consult a doctor if it doesn't heal after a few days.

Don't eat food with tomato products that has been left out on the stove for more than thirty minutes to an hour. One time I left some chili out for a couple of hours and then came down with food poisoning that almost killed me. I had a fever of 105 and was hospitalized for a couple of days. Make sure you cook your food well particularly pork and chicken products. Make sure to be careful since many missionaries in foreign countries come down with parasites from undercooked items. If you suspect that you have worms or parasites see a doctor since it only takes a short time to treat them. If you wait you may end up with a more serious problem when you come home.

Service Projects

In some missions missionaries can not use saws or other power tools because of the danger of injury.

Use gloves and disposable masks when wiping down surfaces that have been flooded or fire damaged.

Be careful that you don't get in areas of high water if a weak swimmer or in areas where forest fires are ravaging out of control.

Missionaries are heavily involved in helping people move things. Many times when a person moves in or out of a ward the missionaries offer their assistance. Many accidents occur when moving heavy objects.

The National Safety Commission offers the following tips:

  • Size up the load—tip it on its side to see if you can carry it comfortably. Get help if the load is too big or bulky for one person. Check for nails, splinters, rough strapping and sharp edges.
  • Lift it right—make sure your footing is solid. Keep your back straight, with no curving or slouching. Center your body over your feet, get a good grip on the object and pull it close to you. Pull your stomach in firmly. Lift with your legs, not your back; if you need to turn, move your feet and don't twist your back.
  • Oversized loads: do not try to carry a big load alone; ask for help. Work as a team by lifting, walking and lowering the load together. Let one person call the shots and direct the lift. Use proper mechanical devices for heavy loads.
  • High loads: use a step stool or a sturdy ladder to reach loads that are above your shoulders. Get as close to the load as you can and slide the load toward you. Do all the work with your arms and legs, not your back.
  • Low loads: loads that are under racks and cabinets need extra care. Pull the load toward you, then try to support it on one knee before you lift. Use your legs to power the lift.
  • Always use your stomach as a low back support by pulling it in during lifting.

Common Sense Tips

In places that get cold and use space heaters these tips are given by the U.S. Product Safety Commission

  • Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the space heater off if you leave the area.
  • Use a space heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards. An unvented gas space heater that meets current safety standards will shut off if oxygen levels fall too low.
  • Make sure your heater is correctly rated for your home. An oversized heater could deplete the available oxygen, causing excess carbon monoxide to be produced. Keep a window in the room open at least one inch and keep doors open to the rest of the house to ensure proper ventilation. This helps prevent pollutant build-up and promotes proper combustion.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions to provide sufficient combustion air to prevent carbon monoxide production.
  • Have gas and kerosene space heaters inspected annually to ensure proper operation.
  • Do not use a kitchen range or oven to heat your house because it could overheat or generate excessive carbon monoxide.
  • Be aware that manufactured homes require specially-designed heating equipment.
  • Do not use unvented gas space heaters where prohibited by local codes. Never use portable generators inside homes or garages, even if doors and windows are open. Use generators outside only, far away from the home.
  • Never bring a charcoal grill into the house for heating or cooking. Do not barbecue in the garage.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating.
  • Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
  • Have home heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually by a trained service technician.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup in your home outside separate sleeping areas.
  • Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. If you suspect CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately, and then call 911.
Missionaries should make sure to lock windows to avoid being robbed or molested. Many times they open the window to get some air then later forget to close them and lock them. A lot of missionaries lock their doors but forget to lock their windows. You should be security conscious.

Always carry a small bit of money in case you are robbed to carry at least five or ten dollars to give someone that robs you. Don't wear expensive watches. Don't fight with your robbers. Just give them the money nothing you own is worth dying over.

Missionaries should use sun screen in hot or tropical climates in order to avoid the dangers of overexposure and possible skin cancer. Wear a hat. Remember to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. One of the dangers in hot climates is the loss of fluid. Carry water bottles or stop occasionally for a drink during your long hours of proselyting.

When I was a missionary I had shoes that didn't fit properly. I wore a three inch hole in the back of my right instep. In order to avoid such a problem I suggest you wear shoes that fit you. If you have a blister you can drain it with a needle or sharp pin. Make sure to sterilize it by heating it with a match or lighter. Put a band-aid over a sore if it begins to bleed for a day or two. You can purchase foot pads to help if there is chafing or to make your soles more comfortable. You should change your shoes every couple of days so they can dry out from the perspiration. Make sure to change socks daily. Use athlete's foot powder if you notice fungus growing. Missionaries need good foot health to be effective missionaries. I lost a few days on my mission because I was unable to walk you should take care of problems early so that you don't lose valuable time.

In some missions sisters have definite curfews and are encouraged to avoid certain areas that might be unsavory. Missionaries should follow LDS Missionary Committee and individual mission president instructions for safety and security of missionaries. Missionaries first line of defense in all situations is to stay with their companions since there is strength in numbers.

These are a few basic tips that I found that might be useful. If others have other tips be sure to leave them in the comment area after this post. Use your common sense and you might avoid many possible problems. The Lord may not be able to protect you if you do stupid things. So be attentive and conscious of your surroundings.


S.Faux said...

Dr. B:

Thanks for all this excellent advice. I wish every prospective missionary could read it.

Car wrecks and accidents are far too common in missions. It is amazing that the death rate among missionaries is quite low, lower than average, for their age range. I would like to think they are being protected, but accidents can and do happen.

As far as I am concerned, safety is the NUMBER ONE priority on a mission. The second priority is proselytizing and teaching the gospel.

I do appreciate how careful the Church is with its missionaries. If a foreign country shows any signs of disintegration, the Church pulls out ALL of its missionaries without delay. I think a recent case of this was just in the news.

Anonymous said...

Dr. B:

For extreme examples of lack of attention to safety by missionaries, you will enjoy watching the videos in the "Missionary FAIL" section of my Mormon YouTube Progress reports #1 and #2.

In particular, your segment about cooking fires reminds me of this gem of a video.

--Sister Blah 2