Shortly after the last class was dismissed at Cañada College near San Mateo, California, the custodial staff of Local 829 (Council 57) began to make their usual rounds. It was shortly past 10 p.m., and the bustle of daily campus life had calmed into a still summer night.
The staff spread out on campus to work in their assigned buildings, when one long-serving custodian, Giao Van Bui (who goes by “BG”), noticed a student wandering around alone.
“Are you OK?” BG asked.
“I’m fine,” she responded.
BG cautiously proceeded with his work, but felt uneasy about the student’s behavior. When she took out a piece of rope from her backpack, he knew something might be deeply wrong. Minutes later, he checked on her to make sure she was OK, only to find she had attempted suicide.
Frantically, he summoned his team on the radio. Local 829 members Carlos Mendez, King Lau, Edgar Nelmida, Jimmy Chow, Tuong Lu and Rosendo Zamora, along with Custodial Supervisor Ignacio Carlos responded and called 911. During a tense situation, Mendez, the lead custodian, reacted quickly to help the student down.
“I have sisters who are around the student’s age, and I also have a daughter and I thought about them. So I just wanted to save the student and get her down. That’s the only thing that crossed my mind,” Mendez recalled in an interview.
Shortly thereafter, first responders arrived and began providing care. Later that night, the custodians and staff were relieved to learn they had saved the student’s life.
“I feel more than proud of our team,” said Mendez. “We worked hard and we worked fast. The trustees also recognized the work that we did. But more than all of that, I’m just glad that she’s OK. I hear that she’s all good now and back in school. That’s the most important thing.”
Thomas Mohr, president of the San Mateo County Community College District Board, praised the responders for their quick response.
According to an article on Council 57’s website, Mohr said they “displayed immense courage in a very critical matter. And they acted so quickly that they saved the life of a student. It says a great deal about who they are, who they represent and what they value.”
The workers were also recognized by Council 57 with a plaque, and are being honored with the AFSCME Never Quit Service Award for their heroism.
“I love my job and my colleagues,” Mendez said. “We work together like family to help people.”
If you or someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free 24/7 support service that can provide information and local resources.