“Safety is about Kim”My wife grew up in a small town in northwest Wisconsin called Deer Park, she had two older brothers but no sisters. One of Tammy’s parent’s friends had a single child, a girl named Kim about Tammy’s age. Kim and Tammy became best friends growing up and still are today. As with all of us, we move around a little bit and meet new people but Kim and Tammy still are great friends, sisters basically. Kim was living in the Twin Cities when she met Tom and they started dating. Tom was a good guy, worked hard, tried a couple different jobs as he was getting established and finally settled on a career as an electrician with a union contractor in the cities. They kept dating, got more serious and eventually got married at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas, lots of fun, some gambling, shows, staying out too late… the kind of good time any of us would want with some of our friends. A couple years go by, Kim and Tom have their first child, a petite little girl named Marlena; about a year and a half later they had their second child, a son named Vincent, a headstrong little guy, born within two months of my oldest boy. Life was pretty good, we’d all get together, let the kids play and have some beers. Kim and Tom started building a big, beautiful, new home in River Falls; that Tom and his brother were basically building themselves. Christ, the future was bright for them!
Tom was a good guy and always a hard worker. He was just about finished with his electrical apprenticeship and was working at Washington County Courthouse, on a large expansion project where he was being given more and more responsibility. One day, while working under the direction of a journeymen, they began working on an electrical busway, live. No one took the time to perform any lock out tag outs, shut the power off, put on arc flash gear or anything to protect themselves. On October 25th of 2007, Tom was reaching into the panel, his screwdriver arced across another terminal and there was an explosion. Tom was blown back from the panel and started on fire; he had 3rd degree burns over 60% of his body. The journeyman he was working with was also burned but not as severely. He had many burns on his hands from trying to put the fire on Tom out. Tom was transported to Regions Hospital in St Paul where he was admitted into the burn ward. Most of Tom’s body was bandaged due to the extensive burns. He really couldn’t move or talk from the bandages and could only see out of one eye when he wasn’t heavily sedated. Over the next two weeks in the Regions Burn Unit, Tom went through five separate surgeries to try to repair internal damage. I’ve never had an experience like this but I’ve heard the treatment and cleaning or removal of the burnt skin is one of the most painful things someone could endure, the kind of thing that makes you want to die… but Tom wanted to live.
Kim, Marlena and Vinny would be by the bedside, just to be with him for days and days, hoping and praying for him. Occasionally, Tom would gain consciousness and see them there, out of his eye and then sob and cry uncontrollably. I can’t imagine what my friend was feeling, maybe something like
“How did I let this happen? What will happen to my family? What will happen to me? Will I see them grow up? Will I ever hold my wife in my arms again and tell her I love her? Will I see my kids graduate? Go to their weddings? Hold my grandchildren? What did I do?” After 14 days in the burn unit, Tom’s body couldn’t fight any longer; on November 7th he passed away. The electricity that hit his body caused internal organ damage that they couldn’t get under control or heal in time.
I promise you, Tom is in heaven blaming himself for everything that wasn’t done that day, looking down on his wife who just had her husband stolen away from her, that couldn’t eat or sleep or not cry at everything that reminded her of him and his children that would have to grow up without him as their father and struggle to understand why he won’t ever come home and why the other kids have a dad. This is something a 4 and 3 year old shouldn’t have to do.
Do you know what? This was all preventable! Rushing to get something done and taking shortcuts to do it, made Kim lose her husband and Marlena and Vinny lose their father. I can’t imagine what this did to Kim and her children but I’ve seen her and her kids in pain and it’s not fair to any of them. I spoke to Kim and had her look at this before sending it out to make sure it was OK. She agreed to it, because if her story makes a difference to one person, it’s worth telling. If it makes one person think twice before not wearing PPE, tying off or making sure something is locked out, it’ll be worth it.
Please don’t ever think something like this can’t happen to you. I’m sure Tom thought this would never happen and believe me, he was a good guy that you would have all liked but it only takes a split second for something to happen that can change or end your life, the life of someone around you or the life of those you love.
Safety isn’t about the fancy abbreviated terms and metrics we track, it’s about Kim.