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Pacific Northwest | January 23, 2005Pacific Northwest MagazineJanuary 23, home Home delivery

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Samson Beriso | From Iron, Strength

 After training at Seattle Vocational Institute, 23-year-old Samson Beriso decided on ironwork; he'd heard it was the toughest of construction trades. He proved himself at "Hell Day" for Ironworkers Local No. 86, handling rebar and climbing straight up a 40-foot I-beam. Since March, he's been an apprentice with Rainier Steel on "D Deck" of Sound Transit's light-rail project. The 2,139-foot aerial superstructure, between Sixth Avenue South and Airport Way, uses 3,200 tons of rebar and will eventually support trains headed to the airport.

Q: If you were in Ethiopia instead of here, what would you be doing?

A: I used to work in car shop, fixing cars. I'm a certified mechanic. But when the war came up, if I stayed in Ethiopia, I'd have to join the Ethiopian Army no matter what. If I'm lucky, I might survive. If not, I might die. I'm really happy to be here. To have a chance to get some skills, see a different world, different people. This is my first outfit since I got dispatched from the union hall. I enjoy every minute, every second. I love to put my hands on. I have a really good crew because I don't know anything about rebar when I first got here, and they really help me to learn.

Q: I hear you get to work early.

A: When I get up at 4, I've got nothing to do. So instead of lying in bed, I like to come here and just be ready for the day, waiting for my boss to show. When Paul (the general foreman) gets here, he helps me about the blueprints, and we discuss what's going on for the day.

Q: You're only wearing a T-shirt and it's freezing! How do you stay warm?

A: Working your muscles, that keeps you warm. When it's cold, I like cutting with the torch. There's coffee. And I have another shirt over there.

Q: It's kind of high up here, and open. Are you ever afraid?

A: If you're scared of heights, you're not going to be an ironworker.

Q: Up here, can you sense how this same spot will look in the future?

A: When I see this thing done, and they put the concrete and everything, when the train is running, I'll be happy. I can say to my kids, I can tell anybody: I built this! I did something positive for my career, for this city. That's the thing that makes me most happy in my life.

Q: Has this job made you a different person?

A: Since becoming an ironworker, I'm getting stronger. I have food every day in my house. I pay my rent every time. I have a little sister and an auntie back home, and I'm sending them enough money so they can survive. I have a few kids I help in different parts of Africa in the Feed the Children program I saw on TV. On the weekends, I volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, painting, installing drywall, anything they need. I just love working. My nerves are attached to work. When I sit down, I feel tired. I'd rather do something.

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