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Local D351 teamwork, calm heads and training save life

A crane operated by L-D351 Boilermaker Don Johnson reaches a heart attack victim. L-D351 Boilermakers were among those who acted quickly to save the victim’s life.

THE URGENT CALL came over the Lafarge Presque Isle Quarry radio system for someone to dial 9-1-1. In the pilot house of a vessel that was being loaded at one of the docks, a man had collapsed and was unresponsive.  Boilermakers from Local D351 (Stoneport, Michigan), who work for Lafarge, immediately swung into action—the beginning of unsung heroic teamwork that would save a man’s life that day.

“Luckily, I had my cell phone on me,” recalls loader operator Wayne Ciarkowski, who made the call and asked that someone else also call just in case his was dropped. “I’ve been out there 25 years, and that’s the first time something like this has happened. But you have to train yourself to listen for stuff like that.”

As first responders were dispatched and made their way to the site, Boilermakers and two supervisors got in place to clear the way and direct the emergency vehicles’ route. The quarry, explains Ciarkowski, who remained on the line with 9-1-1 dispatchers and continued monitoring the radio, is about four miles off the road. They also assessed that they might need a crane, teleforker and stokes rescue basket to ultimately reach the man. There would be no time to waste.

When the emergency medical team arrived, they agreed: a crane would be needed. Enter crane operator Don Johnson, also a Boilermaker.

“I was working on the belt that loads the boat,” Johnson says. “I had heard they might need assistance since the patient was higher up on the vessel. It was pretty windy—20 to 25 mile-an-hour wind—not ideal, especially with 90-foot of stick-out. We wouldn’t have done a pick for any other reason than an emergency.”

With people on taglines, lots of communication, calm heads and teamwork, the patient was safely retrieved and delivered to the waiting emergency team.

“With the avid and experienced people on the ground and working together, it went really well,” Johnson says. “We try to keep good safety practices, and everyone looks out for one another. And that really showed. It really came together, and everyone did what they needed to do.”

It was later confirmed that the patient had suffered a heart attack. Defibrillation was required three times prior to removing him from the vessel. As of publication, the patient was recovering in stable condition.

“It makes me feel really good to know I played a part in that,” says Ciarkowski. “The guys I work with, we can pretty much read each other’s minds in what we’re doing. And when it came to that incident, everyone did a phenomenal job.”

In a company newsletter article about the incident, Lafarge says the Presque Isle Quarry conducts annual First Aid and emergency preparedness exercises, which include local emergency responders.

“This training was put to the test, and the results were ideal,” the article states. The article lists as deserving special recognition, Boilermakers Chad Brege, Wayne Ciarkowski, Andrew Fournier, Brett Gapske, Billy Himes, Don Johnson, Casey Orban, Drew Sample, Mitchell Skiba, Josh Talaska, Steve Talaske, Matt Timrick and Pete Zaborney, in addition to the two supervisors, Charlie Hilla and Terry Szott.

Said Nate Chesebro, Ships Chairman for the vessel, in a letter to the Lafarge crew: “Our crew is profoundly grateful to know that in critical situations, we can count on your team of professionals to ensure the safety of everyone at Lafarge Presque Isle Quarry is the priority. While our daily routines involve providing our customers with industry-leading service, our most important delivery is to our families back home, ensuring we all return home safely.”