When IBEW 1245 member Shannon Baptista showed up for a pre-arranged overtime shift on Saturday, Dec. 30, she assumed it would be a day like any other.
Baptista, a Gas Service Rep who has been working for PG&E out of Merced for six years, was called out for an IR on a tag issued by Energy Partners. They had turned the gas off after identifying a potential hazard with a water heater, so Baptista went out to the home in Planada to follow up on the issue.
When she arrived at the location of the tag, she was greeted by an elderly woman who spoke no English, only Spanish. Baptista doesn’t speak Spanish, and she was unable to communicate with the customer to figure out where the water heater was located, so Baptista called up her colleague, Steven Pineda, to help her translate over the phone. With Pineda’s help, she was able to find the water heater, which was located outside around the back of the house.
Baptista had stepped out to examine the water heater, and was still on the phone with Pineda, discussing the high CO concentration with flame distortion that she observed, as well as the fact that the propane water heater had been connected to a natural gas hook-up, when suddenly she heard a strange noise.
“I looked up and saw [the customer] gagging, holding on to her throat, and no noise was coming out. She couldn’t take a breath,” Baptista said. “I ran back up the stairs, and I was asking her, ‘Are you ok? Are you ok?’ I still had the phone in my hand, so I hung up with Steven and dialed 9-1-1.”
Baptista knew that the customer was choking and that she needed to take action right away, so she dropped the phone on the ground before she even had a chance to speak with the 9-1-1 operator, and attempted to help the elderly customer clear the obstruction from her airway.
“I didn’t even tell her I was going to do it. I just went behind her [and started to perform First Aid]. I was nervous, because she was an old, frail lady and I was hitting her as hard as I could on her back,” Baptista said, referring to the sharp blows between the shoulder blades that are administered as a first step for choking victims. “Meanwhile, her husband was sitting at the kitchen table with his back to her. He never even turned around through the whole thing; he had no clue that she was choking, I found out later he has trouble hearing.”
When the five blows to her back failed to dislodge the food from the customer’s throat, Baptista wrapped her arms around the woman to perform the Heimlich Maneuver.
“It didn’t take much. It was just one [abdominal thrust], and she started coughing and it came out. It looked like a piece of tortilla,” Baptista recalled. “It was scary, but I was relieved that it didn’t take much effort to get it out.”
Like all PG&E GSRs, Baptista is trained in CPR and First Aid, which is what enabled her to act quickly and effectively when confronted with a life-threatening situation. And while she says that she simply did “what anyone in that situation would have done,” she also feels that the universe intended for her to be there at that precise moment.
“If I hadn’t been there when she was choking, her husband might not have noticed until she lost consciousness, because he never even turned around during the whole commotion,” said Baptista. “I do believe that I was sent there for a reason. Especially since I was on a POT assignment, I wasn’t even supposed to be working that shift!”
“I was really impressed by how quickly and without hesitation Shannon sprang into action,” said Steven Pineda, Baptista’s colleague who had been on the phone helping to translate. “One second she was telling me the information that she wanted me to relay to the customer, and the next second she was attending to the customer who was choking on food. This experience forced me to think about a situation that I had never been in — and I have since thought of what I should do if I ever encountered a situation like that. I hope anyone who hears about this does the same, because I now feel more prepared for that type of emergency.”
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director