Vladimir Ivanov: gas worker and fire-fighter

Published in the Gazovy Vektor (Gas Vector), corporate newspaper of Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk, January–February 2012

Gas should be treated in the same way as fire: it should be controlled not to bring any harm, only profit. Nobody can explain this truth better, than a professional fire-fighter; moreover, in such an easy and transparent way like Vladimir Ivanov can. That’s why Vitaly Markelov, who used to head Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk until recently, understood at once that Vladimir Ivanov’s proposition to equip each of the compressor stations with a fire truck wouldn’t be a waste of money, but an investment into industrial safety. And to fully employ fire-fighters at Gazprom’s subsidiaries wouldn’t be spending money wastefully.

In as little as two years after Vladimir Ivanov, a retired Colonel had come to Gazprom to work as a Lead Specialist for Fire Safety, each of the compressor stations was supplied with a fire truck and had 24-hour fire truck services organized. It was Vladimir Ivanov’s personal responsibility for everyone’s safety: from the company’s employees to gas consumers.

You may wonder how a highly qualified fire-fighter ended up in a gas workers’ crew. The answer is simple.

In the early 2000s Gazprom started conquering new boundaries, diligently moving farther to the east and extending its sphere of influence. It was the time when the Company needed a competent specialist, an experienced leader and simply a worldly-wise man to organize fire safety in all structural units in a plain, yet qualified way. Vladimir Ivanov couldn’t be more experienced. For more than forty years dedicated to fire-fighting service he had extinguished fires of different degrees of complexity, including industrial ones. Of all people it is Vladimir Ivanov who knows that gas shouldn’t be put out, but it should be controlled while burning off from one tap to another. If such a need occurs, the pipe should be cooled down, as well as everything around it. And so on, and so forth. There are dozens of twists and turns only true professionals know about.

On the part of onlookers, it may seem that the position of a Lead Specialist for Fire Safety at Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk doesn’t require a display of heroism. You may think so, if you don’t know that every regulation has thoroughly thought out life saving measures behind it, that while evacuation every trifle matters, like corridor width or the direction of door opening (inside or outside). By the way, before Vladimir Ivanov, nobody paid attention to those ‘trifles’, when Vladimir Ivanov’s domain, that should undergo inspections almost every day, comprises hundreds of gas transmission facilities in 12 regions, from Omsk steppes to the Pacific coast! A concerned person will always find a way for initiatives in any kind of work. It was a bottom-up initiative with the support of Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk from above, that encouraged a contest for the best fire truck driver. It takes place once in two years and consists of two rounds. Nine best drivers come to Tomsk to demonstrate their skills and abilities.

“When I was younger, I used to participate in the fire-fighters race myself: I ran a hundred-meter race with a fire-hose, jumped over the fence, tied a rescue loop (against time) and climbed a fire-escape staircase. Thus, I acquired Class III in applied fire sport.”

One of the display stands of the static exhibition at the Tomsk Region Fire-Fighting Museum describes Vladimir Ivanov’s honorable service, for which he has been awarded medals and orders many times. Vladimir Ivanov is also captured on the group ceremonial portrait of hero firemen. That’s why his colleagues today have a reason for rightful pride – they have a real hero working with them.

Fire drill among specialists of Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk and units of Tomsk Fire Brigade

Fire drill among specialists of Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk and units of Tomsk Fire Brigade

Many times Vladimir Ivanov had to save other people’s lives risking his own. He saw the whole streets burn down and he remembers 1990 being a particularly ‘abundant’ year for such sacrifices to the god of fire. But never has there been a case when he regretted choosing a troublesome happiness of being a fire-fighter. Though he chose this profession for the ‘company’s sake’, as they put it. It was his childhood friend who drew him on to enter Sverdlovsk Fire Technological College. It’s not clear at all where this whim came from. In the Strokinka settlement of the Alapayevsk district, where Vladimir was growing up, there were two fire-fighters and an old funny rinky-dink fire truck. There was no heroism at all in how two aged men in blue peg-top trousers regularly filled the truck with water from the village lake. Moreover, after graduating from school Vladimir Ivanov was going to enter a defense college. But after visiting Sverdlovsk, he saw that fire-fighters lived according to the military regulations and wore uniforms, and decided to try his luck.

The Medal for Bravery in Fire-Fighting is one of the most honorable and estimable marks of distinction that is in fire-fighters’ favor. Vladimir Ivanov got it for putting out the most large-scale fire in the history of the Tomsk Region (in terms of property damage) in the Soviet era.

October 1975. One evening lieutenant Ivanov was returning to town and saw a glow near the railroad tie treating plant. Piles of railroad ties were on fire. And the piles were not small at all – their height equaled that of a five-storey house.

The fire was spreading fast. That’s why half of the city was illuminated brighter than on the New Year’s night. At about 11 p.m. Vladimir Ivanov rushed into the Third Fire-Fighting Detachment, where he had been serving as a watch commander since 1972. He couldn’t stay at home, even though it was not his shift.

“There is such a term in fire-fighting tactics – fire storm. This phenomenon occurs due to convective air flows. The fire literally sucks in everything around it. And everything burns to the ground. Just imagine the height of a fire glow, taking into consideration that sparks and even separate firebrands were flying over the workers’ settlement to the Forest Industry Complex, where log piles also reached the height of a fine multi-storey building. Do you know how a box of matches burns? And now imagine that the logs were burning in the same way. It was the Forest Industry Complex where I was given a fire combat site. I had a task not to let the fire beyond a specific limit. I had four fire-fighters and several cadets from the Defense College for Communications at my disposal. That fire was contained on the second day, but we were clearing out its remnants for another week. But we hadn’t let the fire beyond a specific limit. Later on, two ministers flew over from Moscow to examine the case, the regional Party Committee also investigated the circumstances, but in the end the cause still wasn’t clear.”

Wherever he served and whichever work he did, Vladimir Ivanov never forgot his father’s and grandfather’s will: do your work honestly and respect people around you. That is why when he started moving up the career ladder he paid great attention to the organization of his employees’ everyday lives. “A fire-fighter should have his rear covered. The rear is a close-knit family. It became customary for the Tomsk Fire Brigade not to change wives. Vladimir met his Valentina at a dance in the early 1970s. They have been together ever since.

Vladimir Ivanov calls himself a happy person with no hesitation. Though he doesn’t reflect on happiness much. Why? It’s always near. At work it is his favorite occupation. At home it is his beloved family: a wife, two sons, a granddaughter and a grandson, also Vladimir, by the way. His health doesn’t cause him trouble yet. What else does a man need for a happy life? In the end it turns out that he needs fire-hoses to be dry, which means having fewer fires.