In April, two Pittsburgh Local 29 lineworkers were electrocuted on the job when an energized power line made contact with a utility pole’s guy-wire.
But thanks to the combined training, experience and cool-headedness of three of their fellow IBEW members, Tyler Rowley and Brad Meyer survived what could have been a terrible tragedy.
The incident occurred around noon on April 13, as the Duquesne Light Company linemen were working as part of a two-truck crew that was transferring lines to a new Verizon-owned utility pole in McCandless Township, about eight miles north of downtown Pittsburgh.
“It was just another normal day,” said Joe Dillner, a four-year journeyman lineman who was also part of the crew, working in one bucket. “We started transferring the lines to the new pole.” On the ground by Dillner’s truck was Trevor Valentic, who had been an apprentice lineman for about nine months at the time.
In the other, adjacent truck, Rowley was up in the bucket with Meyer on the ground below him, near Valentic. While the four men were working on the transfer, something must have bridged the energized lines with the old pole’s guy-wire to close the gap, Dillner said: “A big roar happened just above me.”
As power from the 13.2kV distribution line went to ground through the guywire that Meyer held in his gloved hands, “He took the brunt of it,” said Business Manager Josh Ewing, while at the other end of the wire above, “Tyler fell back in his bucket, knocked unconscious.”
Meyer, meanwhile, “had tensed up and slumped to the ground,” Valentic said.
“There was a loud, like, high-voltage explosion zap,” a neighbor told WTAE-TV. “I came running out here to the front yard and there was a gentleman laying down on the ground, in distress. His glove was kind of smoking. The guy up in the bucket by the pole was kind of slumped over.”
When Dillner looked at Meyer’s bucket, he saw smoke coming from his fellow lineman as well. “It held current for about 8 seconds,” estimated Dillner. “There was no response when I called their names.”
Valentic said he called 911 while Dillner worked on getting Rowley and his bucket away from the pole and wires. Once Rowley’s bucket was quickly cleared and brought to the ground, Valentic and Dillner, now on the ground himself, extricated the semi-conscious lineman and then turned their attention to Meyer. “I did what I could,” Dillner said. “I started CPR.”
Fortunately, a nurse lived in a house near where they were working. Hearing the commotion, she came outside and took over performing chest compressions on Meyer.
“[Meyer] was just unconscious and on the ground, and the nice nurse neighbor was hard at work on him,” a neighbor told WPXI-TV.
“That crew is my typical crew,” said fellow Local 29 journeyman lineman Brad Morrow. “I was about 10 to 15 minutes away on another job site when I got a call from Joe that there was an electrical contact.
“I called control and told them, ‘Do not reenergize the circuit,’ and I was on my way,” Morrow said. He confirmed that 911 had been called and let the foreman know that there was a contact in progress.
“Paramedics had just arrived when I got there,” Morrow said, and Meyer was still on the ground. “Paramedics were hitting him with their [automated external defibrillator]. Tyler was in the passenger seat of the other truck, semi-conscious but still out of it.
“Once they got Tyler in an ambulance, I went to Brad and watched as they loaded him into a second ambulance,” Morrow said.
Morrow also took charge of notifying Meyer’s and Rowley’s families. “Unfortunately, this was not my first rodeo,” said the 10-year journeyman lineman, who noted that he had worked with Meyer for much of his career.
The incident remains under investigation, and although neither Rowley nor Meyer are back on the job yet, the two linemen happily were well enough to attend Local 29’s membership meeting in September, where Ewing and Third District International Representative Kris Anderson presented IBEW Life Saving Awards to Joe Dillner and Trevor Valentic, plus a certificate of recognition to Brad Morrow.
“Both injured IBEW members are continuing to make great strides with their recovery,” Ewing said. “It was a great evening to recognize these members for their heroic actions in saving their fellow IBEW member’s lives.”