On March 20, two IBEW 1245 members were out in Calaveras County performing restoration work in response to a heavy late-season snowstorm when the day became anything but routine.
Stockton-based PG&E troublemen Ean Collins and Adam Gossett were working hazard tags in the small mountain community of Big Trees Village, dotted with mostly empty vacation homes. While they worked, they heard what sounded like faint screams – someone was calling out “Help me!” and “I’m hungry.” They were lucky to hear the pleas at all, given how loud the trucks can be while running.
Out of concern, they grabbed what food they had on hand, and began investigating where the voice was coming from. They discovered a 74-year old man trapped inside his snow-covered home. He had been stuck there since Sunday, and spent nearly five days without food or heat. A downed tree was covering his house, blocking his chimney and wood pile.
“We’ve found people trapped before, but never to that extent – he was hypothermic and it was bone-chilling cold inside,” Collins described. “He had tried blowing a whistle for days and put signs saying ‘HELP’ in the windows but his house was buried in snow; you could barely see it.”
Right away, Collins and Gossett called for additional responders and began assisting the man, providing food and warming up the house. Within minutes, a nearby PG&E Safety Infrastructure and Protection Team (SIPT) arrived.
“Their response time was incredible. They are trained for situations like this,” said Collins.
Gossett and Collins cleared the chimney of the fallen tree, while others helped remove snow from the walkways and build a fire inside. Complicating matters for the man, he had an underlying health condition that made the situation even more serious. Firefighters soon arrived on scene to evaluate the man’s vitals and stabilize him.
“When he left, he had a smile on his face, and was very, very thankful to be around other people,” said Collins.
As they worked that area, Collins and Gossett encountered several other people who were trapped by trees fallen across their driveways or downed power lines. They were fortunate, however, to have more supplies and hands to assist.
“I’ve worked for PG&E for 17 years, and have never seen damage from a snowstorm like that before,” said Collins. “There were so many people who responded … the response as a whole that we gave was amazing.”
Collins and Gossett were at the right place at the right time — but in true IBEW fashion, they shied away from the idea of being thought of as heroes.
“Anybody else in that situation would have done the right thing too,” Collins said humbly.