The scene at the construction site seemed to unfold in slow motion, shop steward Bill Cole recalls, thinking about the moments after an accident involving an unstable jersey barrier left a worker shrieking in pain
In reality, Cole and his Bridgeport, Conn., Local 488 brothers reacted at a rapid pace that late August day, taking control of the situation to comfort and calm the man even as they privately reeled at the bloody trauma to his left foot.
Local members and Haugland employees Carl Thane, Robert McCallum and Andre Gayle were the first at the victim’s side, a couple of them scrambling down a ladder. They guided a forklift operator to lift the crushing weight off his foot, erected an awning for shade in the 90-degree heat, gave him water and tried – despite a language barrier – to console him while the ambulance was en route.
Nearby, foreman Justin Kelemencky radioed to John Rosa, a fellow IBEW foreman who was working with member Yong Chang inside a building about 100 yards away.
“The foreman said a Korean guy was hurt and needed help,” said Chang, who speaks the language fluently. “I ran there. I saw him on the ground, screaming and moaning. His socks were torn off and I saw lots of blood. My heartbeat was a little faster. I said to myself, ‘Oh no.’”
The injured man was part of a non-union crew from South Korea doing high voltage termination at Bridgeport Harbor, where Local 488 members are helping build a dual-cycle power plant.
Chang said he’d become acquainted with the Korean workers, occasionally translating for them during the weeks they’d been on site. He recognized the victim as “Mr. Kim.”
“I felt a little nervous because I never experienced this kind of situation before,” Chang said. “I translated some basic questions to find out Mr. Kim’s mental status. He answered clearly in Korean, but he moaned with severe pain. I put a wet towel on his neck and offered sips of water to cool him down.”
Chang continued to translate when medics arrived, and again when the power plant project’s safety manager questioned the South Korean workers about the accident.
Chang, Cole, Kelemencky and Rosa, all employed by Matrix NAC, got a special mention in the company’s safety newsletter after project superintendent Brian Lang sang their praises in an email to management.
“They saw an emergency and acted in the best capacity they could,” Lang wrote. “It was applauded here on site and by MNAC site management as well as PSEG (Public Service Enterprise Group) supervisors. I just wanted to pass the word up.
“The injury will change the man’s life, as they do not know if will keep three of his toes. It will also affect our guys who saw the whole thing and still acted for the man’s best interest.”
Local 488 Business Manager Peter Carroll said he was gratified but not surprised to hear about his members’ actions, noting their extensive safety and IBEW Code of Excellence training.
“I’m very proud of them and the way they reacted,” Carroll said. “They’re very, very good at what they do and well-trained to handle emergency situations.”
Whether doctors were able to save the man’s toes isn’t certain; he has since returned to South Korea for further medical care and recuperation.
But Cole said the outlook was fairly optimistic a week after the accident when he and Chang visited Mr. Kim in the hospital, delivering a card and funds collected at the jobsite.
“He was overjoyed,” Cole said. “He said, ‘I can’t believe this. No one knows me.’” Cole told him that as far as IBEW brothers and sisters were concerned, “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
“Mr. Kim was so thankful for our visit, and impressed with the card that was signed by so many coworkers,” Chang said. “It felt good.”
Despite “being in a little bit of shock” that day, he said the experience showed him what he’s capable of. “I know if something like this happens again, I am going to be able to help.”