The Other First Responders

We all know firefighters, police officers, and EMTs are trained to help save lives during emergencies. However, most don’t realize that there is another group of trained first responders – natural gas utility workers. Because of the nature of their work, they’re highly trained to respond to emergencies and are regularly the first on the scene to help save lives in their community.

In recognition of this fact, AGA offers an annual Meritorious Service Award at our Operations Conference. This year’s Meritorious Service Award recipients have a particularly inspiring story. The following account was written by Jen Ellis at Spire Inc. where the recipients are employed.

“On Monday, Aug. 23, Construction Supervisor John Long was completing his timesheets from the cab of his work truck while his crew hooked up gas service to an apartment complex in south St. Louis. Suddenly, his crew called out behind him. They spotted smoke coming from a different apartment building nearby.

John got up to look. There wasn’t much smoke coming from the U-shaped apartment building at the corner of Keokuk Street and Bamberger Avenue. He thought perhaps a dumpster was on fire, as this had happened in the area recently. He got out his cell phone to call 911.

As he walked over, a woman opened the window on the second floor of the building and screamed out to the crew that her apartment door was stuck and that she couldn’t get her children out. When she opened the window, smoke came billowing out.

John tried to open the front door to the apartment building, but it was locked or stuck. Realizing the urgency of the situation, he kicked open the door. He couldn’t find the stairwell—there was simply too much smoke. He couldn’t see his hand in front of his face and could feel intense heat radiating from the walls. He couldn’t breathe. So he went back outside.

Meanwhile, a service and installation department (SAID) crew nearby spotted the smoke and came running with shut-off keys and wrenches in hand. Senior Laborer Eric Eggelston dug up the curb valve as the crew approached and then they promptly shut off gas to the building from the curb box.

John asked the crew to get the ladder from the work truck. Senior Laborer Will Sammet grabbed it and placed the ladder under the woman’s window. Though it wasn’t quite long enough, it worked in a pinch. The woman lowered both of her children down, one by one, to Gas Worker Jeremy Hermann. He handed each child to Crew Leader Jason Ficke and General Fitter John Viox.

As the woman started to lower herself down, the fire department arrived. They brought over a longer ladder and got her down to safety.

The crew helped the fire department in any way they could, dragging fire hoses over to the building. Then the fire department got to work extinguishing the fire and helped others exit the building.

When asked how the crew knew what to do, John replied, ‘We did what needed to be done, one step after the next. Focus on that next step and get it done.’

And how were they able to stay calm in the situation? John said, ‘The kids. They were crying for help, so you have to stay calm to make sure they know everything is OK and so the situation didn’t escalate.’”

AGA is proud to present John Long, Jason Ficke, Jeremy Hermann, Will Sammet, Eric Eggelston, John Viox, Dave Bollner, Roy Oberndorfer, and Sam Demsko with the Meritorious Service Award for their actions. Their bravery and intelligence in an exceptionally difficult situation doubtless saved three lives in their community.