Missouri Co-op Line Truck Damaged by Falling Tree, but Crew Escapes Injury

A Cuivre River Electric Cooperative line truck was struck by a falling tree as a co-op crew returned from restoration work. (Photo By: Cuivre River EC)

Two Missouri co-op employees were wrapping up a busy afternoon responding to emergency calls after a violent storm on Aug. 3 when they faced an unexpected safety concern of their own.

Journeyman line technician Adam Riegel and service tech Rod Nesslage were hauling a damaged transformer and other materials back to a Cuivre River Electric Cooperative warehouse when winds picked up and lightning strikes signaled a second wave of severe weather rolling through. A huge tree, likely weakened by heavy rains, uprooted from beyond the tree line along the blacktop road. As they were traveling about 45 mph, the tree came crashing down onto the cab of their 18,000-pound bucket truck.

“Rain was coming down in sheets, and after I stopped, we could see it did quite a bit of damage to the hood,” said Riegel.

“The tree had landed right on top of the cab and bounced onto the hood,” said Nesslage. “The impact busted the windshield and blew out the back window.”

Riegel and Nesslage said they were dazed and a little shocked by the impact. Tons of wood from the 70-foot white oak covered the front end of the vehicle. “We were both covered with glass, and I told Adam not to wipe his face,” said Nesslage, who retrieved a whisk broom from under the seat to brush off the glass.

A woman in an approaching vehicle was among the first to offer help.

“We asked her to go back to the crest of a hill and put her flashers on to alert approaching vehicles of the hazard,” said Nesslage.

Both Cuivre River EC employees in this 18,000-pound bucket truck were unharmed when a tree fell on it during an Aug. 3 storm. (Photo By: Cuivre River EC)

The truck was still drivable, even with the heavily damaged windshield, so they moved it from the two-lane highway and into a nearby subdivision to reduce hazards to other motorists.

“We didn’t want the rest of the vehicles coming from either direction to run into us,” said Nesslage.

Other motorists stopped to help the men check for injuries. Neither man was injured with the exception of a headache for Riegel, who bore the brunt of the initial impact.

“The road was blocked from ditch to ditch with about 20 feet of tree trunk and debris 150 feet behind us when a local emergency medical services supervisor arrived a few minutes later to offer help,” said Riegel.

Riegel has been with the Troy-based co-op for 15 years. Nesslage is a 32-year co-op veteran. Between them, the two men have participated in thousands of tailgate worksite briefings and safety trainings, but this incident served as a reminder that unexpected dangers can always occur.

“It’s hard to prepare for something like this,” said Marvin Peasel, the co-op’s manager of operations and a former line technician with 41 years of co-op experience. “We’re always concerned with the safety aspect of what we’re doing on the electric part of it, but hazardous road conditions and bad weather are a constant threat that can always occur.”

Cuivre River employees will be discussing unexpected hazards more at safety meetings in the future, said Peasel. Another co-op employee’s personal vehicle was totaled by a falling tree as he headed in to respond to a trouble call earlier this year, he said.

“An incident like this could happen again tomorrow, even to experienced men like these guys,” said Peasel. “Safety concerns are never limited to routine risks. You have to be prepared for the unexpected, and during and after such incidents, ready to take steps to protect yourself and do what’s necessary to secure a scene for public safety.”

Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.