Desperate words over a cell phone gave way to despondency.
“I’m not going to make it,” said the man, hanging upside down from a tree after a hunting accident in the woods of Central Pennsylvania. But 911 dispatchers and AFSCME members Joe Thompson and Mike Corbin were not about to let him give up.
“I said, ‘No, Bruce, you’re not going to die,’” Thompson recalled in an interview with AFSCME. “We’re not giving up on you – and you’re not giving up on us.’”
Thanks to their never-quit determination, the two dispatchers helped save the life of Bruce Miller of McVeytown, Pennsylvania. Without them – and some luck – it easily could have been a tragedy.
November 30 began much the same as every other day at the Huntingdon Borough dispatch center. That is, with the prospect that anything – or nothing – could happen.
That morning, something did. Out in the woods, Miller fell from a tree he had climbed when a steel cable on a two-piece tree climber stand snapped, flipping him backwards with his feet still stuck in the straps.
“When I finally stopped falling, I was still laying on the tree stand, but the rest of me was hanging upside down,” Miller told The Daily News of Huntingdon. “My right shoulder almost touched the ground,” and circulation in his legs was cut off at the knees.
In that published account, he explained he could not use his knife to cut the straps, and the phone he had just purchased that morning was still in his pocket. All he could do was press its emergency call button.
At the dispatch center, Thompson and Corbin – members of AFSCME Local 3157 (District Council 83) – were working when Miller’s call came in and was inexplicably dropped. As luck would have it, the 911 center had recently installed a new system with an emergency call-back feature, which Thompson pressed.
“And when it went live,” he said, “I didn’t hear someone say ‘hello.’ I heard, ‘Can you hear me? Help! Can you hear me?’”
With the phone still in his pocket, Miller tried to explain his dire predicament and possible location, somewhere in the hills off Hungry Hollow Road, Alexandria, near where his son lived.
“Location, location, location is what we need to go by,” said Corbin, who is also chief of the Mapleton Fire Department. “In this case it was a little bit of a challenge because he’s among the woods,” disoriented, as his “consciousness level diminished a few times.” Miller was able to give them his son’s name, and Corbin dispatched emergency first responders to find him.
Miller was found approximately 24 minutes after the dispatchers received his call, still hanging from the tree and bleeding badly. He was rushed to the hospital and released a few days later. Medical authorities told the dispatchers that a few minutes more could have been fatal.
“These guys are heroes. Heroes and angels,” Miller told The Daily News. “They saved my life. I was running out of time.”
Once recovered, Miller visited the dispatch center with his grandchildren to thank his rescuers personally and to give them handmade thank-you cards from the children. “Thank you for saving my pappy,” they read.
“We don’t get that very often,” said Thompson. “That was pretty meaningful.”
Thompson has seen a lot in his 20 years as a dispatcher, but “this one is going to stick in my mind, both because of the situation and because of the teamwork involved that helped make this a successful and healthy outcome,” he said. “Not only did we answer the call, we did not give up,” referring to the entire team. “We stuck in there.”
That’s what public service workers do. They stick in there because it’s more than a job – it’s a calling. We’re also proud they’re AFSCME members, and AFSCME members never quit.
Do you know someone who embodies our union’s Never Quit spirit of extraordinary public service? If so, nominate him or her for a Never Quit Service Award.