We’ve all seen it on the evening news. A suspicious package is discovered and the video rolls, showing bomb squad trucks and police on the scene and then in the midst of it all, a bomb technician emerges.
Like something from outer space, this intrepid individual wears a white, puffy suit topped with a ginormous Plexiglas helmet that appears to be designed to survive nothing short of thermal nuclear war.
Is it enough to protect the technician from an explosion? Who knows? With nerves of steel (and hopefully steady hands), the technician gets up close and personal with potential explosive devices for a living while the rest of us order low-fat macchiatos and check email.
Clearly working on the bomb squad is a profession that is revered, respected and, due to its highly dangerous nature, pretty much cinches the top spot on the Scariest-Jobs-Like-Ever list. And just to be fair, clowns, the guys on “Deadliest Catch,” and mascots have their place on that list, too.
But what about some of the other scary occupations, the ones that don’t typically earn airtime on the local news, but still require some extremely serious chutzpah?
Driver’s Ed Instructor
Consider spending every day in the passenger seat of a midsized car with someone who has less experience behind the wheel than you have at being one of the Kardashians. The only things that stand between you and certain death are an extra brake at your feet and a whole lot of know-how.
That’s Karen Midura’s reality. Driving instructor and owner of Glastonbury Driving School, Midura has spent the past 15 years giving students, both young and old, the training they need to face the challenges of driving on their own. And though you’d think riding with sweaty-palmed teenagers and other newbie road warriors would be enough to warrant a lifetime supply of chardonnay and Xanax, according to Midura, it’s actually not as daunting as it seems.
“As a driving instructor, you’ve given them the tools to go out there. We make sure that gives them everything they need so that when they get behind the wheel, they do it right.”
[Photo: Mark Mirko]
And it doesn’t hurt that Midura grew up in a family of driving instructors, with her grandfather having opened one of the very first driving schools in Hartford more than 50 years ago. “I’ve been around it since I was little and was trained by the best — my father.”
It’s that training that allows her to remain composed in the passenger seat even when things go awry. Several years ago a deer ran into the car while she was riding with a student. With a completely hysterical apprentice behind the wheel, Midura had to coach her safely to the shoulder. “That’s a moment when you’re trying to keep the student calm and collected,” she said.
Though those moments are few and far between, they do happen and that’s what Midura said driving instructors are trained for. “We expect that and are prepared. But your heart still pounds. I’d lie if I said it didn’t.”
But heart-pounding comes with the territory and that’s why she and the other instructors at the school never take anything for granted. “None of us is ever sitting in that seat relaxed because we are their eyes.”
Despite the intensity of the job, she said that being nervous isn’t an option in the driving school business. Instead, instructors need to have a certain calmness to perform the job. Overall, though it’s not always easy, she finds it gratifying. “It’s something you can be proud of; teaching someone a life skill and knowing that you’ve taught it well.”
Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator
Lions, and tigers and bears! Oh, my! Wildlife Control Services owner Richard Daniotti may not have come across any big cats in nearly three decades of nuisance animal control, but bears are a different story.
On a call for skunks under a homeowner’s deck in Simsbury, it didn’t take Daniotti long to figure out that the three sets of eyes staring at him didn’t belong to the stinky, black and white pests he’d come to trap. Nope. These pests were going to require some quick backpedaling and a call to the state.
“I could barely see where the skunks were, but they were moving around. But then I saw a big nose under the crack and realized they weren’t skunks. It was a momma bear and two cubs.”
[Photo: Mark Mirko]
It was a first for Daniotti, but not the strangest thing he and his co-workers have ever encountered. That distinction likely belongs to the 9-foot Burmese python that one of his operators pulled out from inside the wall of a New Britain home. The snake was not a pet and didn’t belong to the owners. In fact, no one knows where it came from.
He surmises that someone must have just let it go (just one reason among many to get to know your neighbors). “Thank God it wasn’t hungry,” he said. “They can kill you.”
Aside from the occasional python and bears, he more commonly removes squirrels, raccoons, skunks, bats and snakes from in and around homes and businesses. It’s an undertaking that makes most people downright squeamish, including one woman who hyperventilated with a paper bag over her head after finding a squirrel in her cabinet.
But hysterical homeowners aren’t unusual because, seriously, who isn’t panic-stricken after discovering a black rat snake sleeping on the insulation in the attic?
Daniotti agrees. “Everybody is freaked out when they’ve got snakes in the house.”
The good news is that it doesn’t freak him out. An avid hunter and fisherman, he is doing what he loves through his West Hartford business and offering people peace of mind in the process. “I’m not scared. It’s all relative in this business. We’re dealing with mostly indigenous animals that just get into difficult situations.”
Professional Skydiving Instructor
Some people confess their secrets, some repeat a litany of Oh-my-God’s, and some just make their way toward the plane door in complete silence. Regardless of what they say or don’t say, Norm Nault can usually feel their breathing pick up and the beating of their hearts just seconds before, strapped tightly together, they jump at 12,000 feet.
“We are the center of the universe, for that particular student, at that moment,” he said.
That’s understandable when you consider that the only things preventing the student from performing a swan dive straight to earth (à la Wile E. Coyote), are Nault’s experience, expertise, training and meticulously packed gear.
But with more than 1,500 jumps and a whole lot of important credentials after his name, Nault, a professional skydiver at Skydive Danielson, is quick to point out that although inherently risky in nature, skydiving is actually a very safe sport with more than 3 million jumps occurring each year.
“It’s all relative,” he said. “I tell people after they skydive, ‘Now it’s time for the dangerous part — the drive home.’ ”
Statistically, he’s right. It’s far more hazardous to operate a motor vehicle than it is to jump out of a plane. Still, skydiving is a terrifying proposition for many people who, despite their fears, come anyway to face them, overcome personal obstacles or simply to feel the rush.
Whatever their reasons are for doing it, Nault finds satisfaction in jumping with them, explaining that it’s often a rewarding experience. “We don’t get people who say they never want to do it again; most of the time, they want to do it again.”
But that’s not to say he doesn’t get the occasional panicky jumper, and when he does, that’s when he relies on his skills. “Skydiving is a skill of confidence. Being an instructor is a job of confidence. If you don’t have confidence in yourself as an instructor, your abilities, and your gear, then problems arise.”
Surprisingly for a guy who jumps out of planes for living, Nault said he’s not an extreme adrenaline junkie as some might assume. Instead he finds the sport to be peaceful and stress-relieving. And it provides some mighty fine views to boot.
He does confess, however, that although skydiving doesn’t scare him, there’s one thing that does.
“Working a desk job,” he said. “I wouldn’t be very good at that.”
High Rise Building Window Cleaner
On a cold day, the wind can be pretty biting when you’re 22 stories up on the outside of a building. At least that’s what Richard Capozzi says. And he’d know. The veteran window cleaner has served as owner and operator of New Haven County Window Cleaners LLC, a high- and low-rise building window cleaning service, for almost two decades.
It’s an occupation to be taken seriously, he said. It requires competency, and ingenuity along with a healthy dose of controlled fear. “There’s no such thing as ‘afraid,’ ” he explained. “Each time you calculate your equipment, everything you’re using, everything you hook up, it helps control the fear.”
Wearing a plethora of safety equipment and attached to a lifeline, he and his crew perform controlled descents down the side of high rise buildings in what’s known as a bosun’s chair to do the obvious: clean windows.
And it’s not just with a bottle of Windex and a handful of paper towels. Sometimes the windows have 10 years’ worth of grime and oxidation, which requires chemical applications and repeated cleanings to restore them to their original splendor.
The gig is largely weather-dependent, and if the wind is blowing greater than 15 to 20 mph, the crew doesn’t go out. But sometimes, there are unexpected gusts, much like rogue waves on the ocean. And when they occur, according to Capozzi, it’s more than a little spooky.
“Wind can stop your heart,” he said. “It has a lot more strength than people think. It catches your seat and pushes you. It can lift you up, swing you left, right or spin you around, and tangle your ropes. That’s when you get down.”
It’s not a job where you take risks, he said, especially because he’s not only responsible for himself, but also for the other members of his cleaning crew. Throughout the years, he’s developed a sixth sense for bad weather. “You can almost feel it in your bones when you’ve done it for so long; you know it’s coming.”
Capozzi said the best part of his job is the sense of accomplishment he gets when he’s completed a challenging project. “When the job is done, you turn around and the sun shines on that building, so you see the before and after and it’s sort of like, I win. I did it. And then I point to the building and say, ‘See you next year, buddy.’ ”
Public Safety Diver
Finding answers is a large part of what retired Lt. Andrew Schiffer of the West Hartford Police Department did for a living, which, all things considered, isn’t terribly unusual in police work. What is unusual, however, is that sometimes those answers lie beneath cold, dark, cloudy water and it was Schiffer’s job to suit up and find them.
As training division supervisor and dive team commander of the West Hartford Police dive team, Schiffer had been performing water recoveries since 1998. During the course of his tenure he’s helped recover cars, guns, computers, cash registers and other items.
And though he was fortunate enough to not have to go down for a body, he was trained for it. “We try and keep vigilant,” he said. “We do training once a month to be sure we are ready to respond.”
Although ideal dives occur in clear, translucent water, that’s rarely the case in reality. More often than not, the reservoirs, ponds and rivers that he dives in are murky and look like the equivalent of chocolate milk or black coffee.
That, right there, is daunting enough, but perhaps even more daunting is the fact that Schiffer most often did the underwater searches by feel and not light. “We’ll bring lighting with us, but a lot of times it only cuts a short distance unless we’re in clear water. So you go in and feel for things that aren’t natural.”
To prospect what was in front of him, he kept his eyes closed and visualized with touch, instead of sight. And in the process, he occasionally found the unexpected.
“There are things that go bump in the dark,” he said.
Sometimes those things were curious fish coming up close to investigate, and other times, decomposed tree branches had an eerie similarity to human limbs when felt in the dark. “You’re not expecting to find a person … but still need to figure out what you’ve found.”
He’s also performed dives under the ice, which can present a whole different set of challenges, including ice shifting, which can trap a diver underneath. “Once the diver is in, you might not know where they are, except for the safety line.”
If diving into cold, black water with only your hands to feel what’s just inches away from your face isn’t enough to give you the heebie-jeebies, try doing it in full scuba gear, for which Schiffer has an analogy.
“Put yourself in a closet, turn off the light and then put some plastic Tupperware over your face.”
Uh, that’s OK. The not-knowing-what-you’re-swimming-for-in-the-dark-thing is terrifying enough.
Utility Company Lineman
Many years ago, on a snowy day in Hartford, a car struck a utility pole and a lineman came out to fix it. Standing in front of his house, 10-year-old Lambert B. Givens watched with fascination as it was repaired. And though he says it sounds kind of corny, he knew from that moment on that he wanted to be a lineman.
“I watched him work and he said to me, ‘Kid, stay in school and then you can come to the light company one day and do this.’ ”
Givens followed his advice and since then has spent the 33 years working as a lineman for CL&P. He currently serves as a chief lineman and on any given day you can find him working on transformers, running wire and other routine tasks.
[Photo: Mark Mirko]
What’s not routine, however, are the days Givens works on a downed utility pole. “That’s the most dangerous,” he said. “Everything else is sort of routine, but a pole accident changes everything.”
Though power lines can occasionally be de-energized from the dispatch center, most of the time they must be decommissioned manually. And Givens is the one who does it. He credits his longtime experience, ongoing training and protective gear as some of the things that keep him calm while working with more than 13,200 volts of electricity. “We wear lifeline rubber gloves, rubber sleeves and we check them every day. The safety equipment should protect us. It’s dangerous at all times, but you aren’t afraid. I respect it.”
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t ever get nervous. “Every now and then you might be nervous. You can’t get too close to the wire; the voltage can go through your feet.”
Although he’s never gotten a shock, on torrentially rainy days he’s felt electricity track through the eight-foot fiberglass poles that workers use, called “hot line sticks,” which he admits isn’t exactly pleasant.
However, those occurrences are rare, and most days he’s gratified to know that he’s helped folks get their power back on. Givens has traveled as far as Puerto Rico and Canada to help out when other crews have needed it.
He says it’s a job he loves, and interestingly enough, he prefers it over the one thing that does freak him out: “My wife asking me to go to the grocery store with her.”
Sorry, Mrs. Givens.
Public Speaking Coach
Polls show that more people are afraid of public speaking than they are of death. Fortunately for her clients, that’s not the case for Debbie Fay, a public speaking coach and presentation development specialist for Bespeak Presentation Solutions in Fairfield.
Fay routinely speaks in front of large groups of people as part of her job and not only is she not afraid, she looks forward to it.
“I’m someone who loves getting in front of people. I get a thrill from the adrenaline rush,” she said and admitted that she’ll add extra chairs if necessary so that more people are able to fit into the room where she’s speaking. “I’m the antithesis of my clients who are fearful.”
And fearful those clients are. For many, the anxiety of having to talk in front of others for work presentations, weddings, family events or other gatherings is so profound that they lose sleep for weeks beforehand and for some, according to Fay, it even prevents them from accepting promotions at work knowing the job entails public speaking.
[Photo: Mark Mirko]
“People are really afraid that they are going to embarrass themselves in front of their peers, that they are going to blank out or that the audience can see how nervous they are,” she said.
In reality, however, she said that most audience members don’t see how anxious the speaker is, but instead are there for the message. “They aren’t there to judge your performance; they are there to get something out of what you’re saying.”
Still, she recognizes that it’s a very real fear for many people and acknowledges that. “I understand fear. I used to be afraid of flying; I had a debilitating fear of dogs. But fortunately you can’t die standing in front of a group of people and talking.”
Even so, Fay admits that she still gets butterflies before she speaks and suggests that the most important thing any speaker can do before an event is practice out loud. “There’s nothing scarier than getting up in front of people and hearing words come out of your mouth for the first time.”
She feels lucky that she’s able to use her ability to help other people conquer their fear and finds satisfaction when they’ve been successful. “I can’t put it into words. It’s so gratifying and I never get tired of it.”
Pest Control Technician
Like something from a horror film, Christie Mastroberti, canine handler and pest control technician for Quest Pest Control in Avon, has seen bug infestations so prolific they’d make you scream.
“In some cases, they have literally been on the walls, the ceiling, crawling all over the floor and on top of furniture,” she said.
Starting when she was 16, Mastroberti joined her father in the pest control business and regularly exterminates everything from carpenter ants and bees to cockroaches, mice and the especially creepy bedbugs.
Using one of their four trained and certified dogs that sniff out the bedbugs, Mastroberti spends a fair amount of her time in homes, apartments and businesses determining whether they have an infestation.
“When I get a call, I go in and check to see how bad it is. We’ve had cases where [the property] is filled with them. And then I have to walk right back out. We don’t want them on the dogs; we already know they have them.”
[Photo: Mark Mirko]
Along with ensuring that no hitchhikers come home with the dogs, she must also ensure that they don’t travel home with her either. “If the situation is bad, I’ll take my clothes off and throw them right into the dryer for a half an hour; that’ll kill them.”
She’s seen just about everything in her line of work and even appeared on the Howard Stern show several years ago after Quest helped the celebrity radio host get rid of bedbugs in his apartment.
After eight years in the business, Mastroberti said that not much surprises her anymore. “I’ve gone into kitchens, both commercial and residential, that were so infested with cockroaches that when you spray, they drop dead on top of you.”
Despite dealing with insects on a daily basis, she admits that she doesn’t like spiders much and when she goes into a basement full of cobwebs, she has to hold her breath.
“You can blame my brothers and cousins for that. When I was 5, they’d get on either side of me and push me into spider webs in my grandparent’s basement. That’s boys for you.”