Atlanta Local 84 member Nate Dixon is surrounded by family members following a ceremony honoring him for coming to the aid of a woman being attacked by pit bulls while working as a traveler in Greenville, S.C., on June 17. From left are stepson Sloan Sutton; stepdaughter Maddie Sutton; Caren Senter, the dog-bite victim; Dixon; wife Jenni Dixon; daughter Katie Dixon; and mother Joyce Kelly.  

Even after all the attention and honors, Atlanta Local 84 member Nate Dixon insists he did nothing special. Caren Senter respectfully disagrees.

“You’ll never, ever think you’ll be in position to literally thank someone for saving your life,” she said. “It’s something that is very hard to wrap your brain around.”

Senter’s feelings stem from an incident on June 17, when Dixon, while on the job, came to her aid while she was viciously attacked by two pit bulls in Greenville, S.C.

“Everyone else is telling me differently,” Dixon said. “But I would like to think anyone would have done the same thing.”

Dixon, a lineman, was working as a traveler for Midwest Powerline in Greenville, which is part of the jurisdiction of Charlotte, N.C., Local 379. Senter is a lawyer and program manager for Upstate International, a Greenville-based nonprofit.

She was on her way to meet a friend for lunch. She had walked through the downtown neighborhood many times, so she didn’t pay much attention when two pit bulls barked at her. They had done it before.

What she didn’t notice, however, was that unlike the previous times, the dogs were running loose instead of being caged in in their owner’s yard. Senter said even as they approached her, she figured someone would call them off.

No one did. The dogs attacked and dragged Senter, who stands 5-foot-4 and weighs less than 120 pounds, into the street.

“I actually did think to myself this would be a really, really, really bizarre way to die,” she said. “I was in such danger and I realized the danger I was in and there was nothing I could do about it.”

Dixon was working about two blocks away when he heard Senter’s screams. He came upon a scene in which the two pit bulls – which he estimated weighed at least 100 pounds each – still were attacking Senter. One was biting her upper right arm. The other had clamped down on her right leg.

“It was pretty bad,” he said. “Another couple of minutes and she would have been done for.”

Dixon, wearing steel-toed boots, began kicking away. One of the dogs released Senter, then attacked him. He kept kicking until, after what Dixon estimated was about two minutes, the dogs’ owner finally emerged and called them back.

An ambulance arrived to take Senter to the hospital. She received 57 stitches in the emergency room and has undergone physical therapy ever since, but it could have worse. The dogs didn’t attack her face and she escaped serious bleeding.

“I’m incredibly fortunate,” she said. “A half an inch either way and those teeth could have hit the artery.”

The two didn’t see each other again until a court hearing on July 12, where the owner pleaded guilty to having a dangerous dog off premises and received a 30-day jail sentence. Senter thanked Dixon for his help. They talked afterward and he figured that would be the end of it.

But Senter reached out to local media to tell the story. She sent letters to Midwest Powerline and the IBEW.

“I would like to nominate Mr. Dixon for every employee/hero award you might have,” she wrote. “If you don’t already have such an award in place, I would suggest that there will never be a better time or a better person to recognize, commend and award.”

On Aug. 1. Senter invited Dixon to dinner to again say thanks, but once he arrived, she escorted him across the street to another location, where Midwest Powerline and the IBEW held a surprise dinner and ceremony in his honor. Local 379 President Scott Thrower was the emcee.

Midwest Powerline presented him its Louie Monaweck Award for Valor, named after the company’s founder. Dixon’s wife, mother, and three of his children surprised him by traveling in from Georgia. Senter broke into tears while recounting the events of that day. City officials sang his praises.

“It’s no small measure of a man or a person to step into harm’s way and to take action and to do the things you did to save another person’s life, a person you didn’t even know,” Greenville Police Chief Mike Miller said.

Tenth District International Representative Benny Hunnicutt said Local 379 has nominated Dixon for the IBEW’s Lifesaving Award, one of the highest honors for a member.

“Thank you, Brother Dixon, for your actions on June 17,” Hunnicutt said. “You make the IBEW proud.”

It was an emotional evening for Dixon, too. Like Senter, he broke into tears while addressing the crowd.

“I’m just a lineman,” he said. “I’m not very good with words. I don’t feel worthy of all this.”

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson noted that IBEW members are taught that safety is not only important for themselves, but customers and employers, too. Dixon’s actions were extraordinary by any measure, he said.

“I understand Brother Dixon downplayed his role and I am not surprised,” Stephenson said. “I salute his courage and we’re so thankful that he and Ms. Senter are doing well.”

Dixon has been an IBEW member for nearly 14 years and lived his entire life in Blairsville, Ga., a small town north of Atlanta near the Georgia-South Carolina border. It’s not a heavily unionized area and Dixon said he agreed to be interviewed by his local newspaper only if the reporter mentioned his IBEW ties in the story. His assignment in Greenville will last until December, he said.

“Not many people know about the IBEW down here,” he said. “I wanted people to know what we do, what it means to me and that I really am not that special.”