Two employees of Farmers Electric Cooperative in Texas have experienced just how quickly an ordinary workday can turn into a life-or-death drama.
For 28-year-old Jacob McPherson, hours of reading meters ended in a desperate dash to rescue an elderly man from a rapidly spreading house fire. And for 45-year-old line superintendent Brian Sims, a summer day inspecting a job site turned into a perilous plunge into Lake Tawakoni to save a drowning woman.
For their heroic actions, the two men were honored last month with Lifesaving Awards at the Texas Electric Cooperatives’ Loss Control Conference.
“When lives hung in the balance, Brian Sims and Jacob McPherson thought about others more than themselves,” said Mark Stubbs, general manager and CEO of Greenville-based Farmers Electric. “They didn’t count the cost, consider alternatives or wonder about countless what-ifs. They simply acted.”
McPherson was headed back to the office on a late December afternoon when he noticed smoke a couple of miles ahead.
“When I got closer, I saw a big pickup truck on fire in the carport and I could see, through a glass door, an old man standing inside the mobile home,” he said. “So I just hit the ditch, turned around and ran straight to him.”
McPherson sprinted up the porch and shouted to the man that he was going to get him out of there.
“He seemed to be kind of in shock and he said, ‘How are you going to do that?’” McPherson recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I’m either going to have to chuck you off the porch or I’ll help you down the steps. But we’ve got to move because this place is about to go.’ By then, the wind was really whipping…I had probably a couple of minutes to get him away from the house before it caught fire.”
McPherson rushed the elderly man to safety and ushered him to his work truck to get him out of the wind and cold. By then, firefighters had arrived, and they asked the co-op worker to help hose down the mobile home. Despite their efforts, the wind was too fierce and the house burned down.
“There was nothing left of that house but the porch. I hate to imagine what might have happened to the elderly man if I hadn’t come along,” McPherson said. “Luckily, I was in the right spot at the right time.”
Sims was also in the right place last June when a family’s vacation at the lake nearly turned into a tragedy.
Sims was out inspecting an area where the co-op was planning to put in overhead lines for a trailer park when he heard people yell for help from the nearby lakeshore. A woman had been swimming out into the middle of a cove to retrieve her child’s raft when she lost her strength and began to slip under the water. Her father-in-law was trying to reach her, but he was also struggling to stay afloat. Sims kicked off his boots, jumped in and told the man to swim back to shore while he headed toward the woman.
“She was having a real hard time just keeping her head above water, so I just grabbed her up and spun her around, with her back to my chest,” he said. “I grabbed her by her swimsuit and started trying to swim backwards. But the more I pulled on her, the more I went under the water.”
Sims was exhausted and began to doubt that they would make it back to shore. But he heard the woman’s mother and children yelling from the beach, and he kept going.
“Luckily, I got to where I could touch the bottom. I felt some grass, some weeds, and I realized that another little bit and I’d be able to stand.”
As Sims got closer to the beach, the woman’s father-in-law came back into the water and helped Sims bring her to shore. Sims said he was relieved when she began coughing up water.
“I thought she may be dead. I didn’t know, because she was very unresponsive,” he said. “But then she spoke to me. She apologized for spitting up water and I said, ‘Don’t worry. Just breathe.’”
Later that night, Sims was sitting on his couch at home with his wife when they both received Facebook requests from the 32-year-old woman he had saved. She asked to meet them back at the lake the next day.
“The family came over and they were crying and hugging on me,” Sims said. “They all had life jackets on that day, which was good to see. I kept thinking of all the things I should have done—like call for help before I jumped in. But she was within her last minute when I got to her … I’m just glad it all worked out.”
Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.