You might think that linemen don’t cry. After all, they’re a pretty tough breed.
But if you hear any lineman recount the story of a friend or co-worker who lost his life on the job, you better have some tissues ready.
As part of their duties, IBEW 1245 Hold the Pull (HTP) Safety Committee members have told and re-told the stories of their fallen brothers at dozens of safety presentations over the years, but it never gets any easier. When they presented these stories once again at the recent Advisory Council meeting, their emotions came pouring out as if it they were talking about it for the first time.
For HTP committee member Mike Van Egmond, the pain is just as fresh today as it was on the day his friend and pole partner Mike White died. Van Egmond, a lineman from Turlock Irrigation District, choked up while he talked about White, who was electrocuted in 2011 and subsequently died from his injuries.
“I saw him in the hospital, one side of his body grey, the other side blistered… Those images, I’ll never forget,” Van Egmond told the Advisory Council with tears in his eyes. “But that wasn’t the hardest thing I had to deal with … the hardest thing for me was driving that same truck out of the yard three days later. Some of his tools and things were still left in there. It’s a feeling I never want to experience again.”
“That’s the reason I’ve gotten involved with Hold the Pull,” he said. “I’ve got a message that hits deep. Electricity doesn’t care who you are. Its abilities are endless. It could happen to any one of us.”
Nearly every member of the Hold the Pull Committee has a story like Van Egmond’s. Committee members Casey Kelly, Steve Roberts, Bob Springer, Pete Sandoval, Dan Mayo and retired Committee member John Kent all recounted similar stories to the Advisory Council, and explained how these losses have motivated them to spread the message of lineman safety to as many yards and crews as they possibly can.
Hold the Pull began in 2009, after a series of on-the-job fatalities left Local 1245 reeling with pain, confusion and loss. At that time, no one really knew what to do or how to move forward.
“Everyone was pointing fingers, but no one was pointing them where they need to be pointed – at ourselves. At the end of the day, if we don’t make the right decisions, accidents happen,” said Casey Kelly, a Liberty Energy lineman and one of the first members of Hold the Pull. “We’re trying to change the culture of what we do. We’ve got to look in mirror every day and say, I’m going to work safe today, and so is the guy next to me.”
The idea behind this peer-to-peer safety program is simple but effective: Local 1245 members talk to other members about their personal experiences, and urge them to look out for themselves and for each other. And Hold the Pull seems to be making a difference; since the beginning of 2013, Local 1245 has had zero on-the-job fatalities. The union extended the concept to develop two additional peer-to-peer safety programs, Control the Pressure for gas workers, and Keep the Clearance for line clearance tree trimmers.
The key to the efficacy of these programs are the safety stewards who carry its message onto the jobsite. Hold the Pull Committee members are trying to increase the number of safety stewards, and say they will continue to do so until there is one in every yard.
The Committee concluded their presentation at the Advisory Council the same way they close every safety presentation they do, by showing the Local 1245 safety video featuring a poem entitled “One Last Car in the Yard,” written by IBEW 1245 member Sam Gutierrez, in memory of his late colleague Jon Christensen.
Following the presentation, Business Manager Tom Dalzell announced that Local 1245 Communications Director Eric Wolfe has been awarded the International Labor Communicators Association’s prestigious Steinbock Award for the article Wolfe wrote on the Hold the Pull program. Dalzell shared a congratulatory letter from IBEW International President Ed Hill.
“On behalf of the entire IBEW, I extend our sincere congratulation to Eric and everyone at Local Union 1245,” the letter from President Hill stated. “It is fitting that this story earn such recognition, as safety was one of the driving forces behind the founding of our Brotherhood, and 123 years later, remains a top priority of today’s IBEW, especially in the line of work that employs so many of your members. This award is a tribute to Eric’s talent and also to all of the staff and membership of Local Union 1245 for creating such a strong culture of safety.”