It’s easy to understand why Chuck Tiemann is so passionate about teaching electric safety when you learn about his experience 40 years ago that eventually led him to a career as an electric cooperative safety and risk management instructor.
May 1, 1980
After a long month repairing storm damage, 24-year-old Chuck and fellow Kay Electric Cooperative (Blackwell, Okla.) linemen were working on routine line construction in open range country. He was told the power had been cut to a section of line he was to work on. Chuck climbed the pole. Instead of slipping on his rubber gloves as a precaution, he reached for the line with his left hand protected by only a leather glove.
The line was not dead. In an instant, 7,200 volts of electricity entered his fingers, went through his body, stopped his heart and blew a hole out the big toe of his right foot. The electricity sought the quickest path from his hand to the ground and found the neutral wire near where he’d planted his right boot.
“It burned the tips of these two fingers off,” he said using his right hand to point to the fingers of a prosthetic left hand he now uses. “That’s what cleared me from the line – and saved me.”
Chuck said he slumped backward on the pole. A fellow lineman quickly climbed the pole and gave him two quick breaths of air. Chuck regained consciousness and recalls being lowered to the ground. The crew placed him in a truck, used the radio to call for help and raced to meet an ambulance at an accessible location.
June 10, 1980
Exactly 40 days after he made contact with the live power line – and exactly 40 years ago today – Chuck’s left arm and right leg were amputated. He spent a total of 10 weeks in a Tulsa burn unit and endured five major surgeries.
But, Chuck will tell you he’s one of the lucky ones. He survived. Most who come in contact with live power lines don’t survive because the burns are so severe, recovery is often unreachable.
“I don’t know why my life was spared. But I’m thankful for it,” Chuck said. “I take not one day for granted. Not one breath of life do I take for granted because life is precious and it could be gone that quick. And I understand that.”
Chuck credits is strong-willed wife, Terri, his high school sweetheart who was just 24 years old herself at the time, for pushing him to regain his independence. They turned the challenges they faced into opportunities.
After his recovery, he began counseling other electrical burn victims, now totaling 148 linemen from all over the country. Then he returned to the electric cooperative family.
“I got tired of counseling with people that had been burned; I decided one day it was time to make it stop,” Chuck said. “That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m trying to make people a little smarter about electricity…I’m trying to make a difference.”
Today, June 10, 2020, the 40th anniversary of his amputation, Chuck is scheduled to spend the day training WIN Energy REMC lineman on pole top rescue – how to quickly climb a pole to save a fellow lineman who’s contacted a live power line. How perfect is that?