Heroic lineworkers saved cardiac arrest victim's life

Men administered CPR, used AED from their Duke Energy truck to help Florida man


When four Duke Energy lineworkers spotted a man lying in the middle of a residential street in Homosassa, Fla., they put their safety training to use – and Robert Olsen owes his life to them.

OIsen, who is 60, began having chest pains on a Tuesday evening in January. But he put off going to the hospital until the next morning.

His fiancée tells the rest of the story because Olsen has no memory of what happened. “He’s driven about 150 yards down the street when, all of a sudden, the car started going off the road,” Risé Rodriguez said. “I began tapping his shoulder and said, ‘Bobby, are you OK?’”

She said he slumped over – luckily, his foot was on the brake. With the help of a passerby, Rodriguez dragged Olsen from the car. She had worked as an emergency medical technician for five years and knew to immediately begin CPR.

That’s when two Duke Energy bucket trucks happened to pull up. Chris Damewood jumped out and ran over.

“I know CPR,” he told her. “Do you want me to take over?”

Rodriguez welcomed his help. “It was hard on me,” she said, “to pound on the chest of somebody I love.”

Damewood has worked at Duke Energy 14 years and estimates he has taken a required CPR training class as many as eight times. But that morning in the community of Homosassa, north of Tampa, was the first time he used his training in a medical emergency.

“I checked if he had a pulse,” Damewood recalled. “No.

“I checked if he was breathing. No.

“His eyes were wide-open, glazed over. There was nothing there.”

Video shows Robert Olsen's reunion with the lineworkers who saved his life.

Damewood administered chest compressions for about a minute. Then Justin Barr, an apprentice lineworker, ran up with the automated external defibrillator (AED) that Duke Energy puts on bucket trucks. They hooked it up to Olsen’s body.

“The machine said for me to push harder,” Damewood said.

Damewood pushed harder.

“It told me to step back.”

He stepped back and the machine then delivered an electric shock through Olsen’s chest and into his heart.

“After the shock, his eyes closed and he had a weak pulse,” Damewood said. “He was starting to breath.”

Damewood said he continued chest compressions for a few more minutes until emergency crews arrived and took over.

Olsen didn’t learn about his near-death until days later when he woke up in the hospital. He arranged a meeting to thank the Duke Energy workers. “My heroes,” he calls them: Damewood, Barr, Stephen Shaffer and Jesse Ginley.

Olsen worked 26 years as a firefighter in Brockton, Mass., and said he brought a few people back from the dead. He had the highest praise for the Duke Energy crew, calling the men “as good as any firefighters I’ve ever worked with.”

The day Olsen collapsed, Damewood and his co-workers had driven 45 minutes from their base in Dunnellon to Homosassa. They had a list of power poles that needed maintenance and the first one they chose just happened to be within 30 yards of Olsen.

“It was meant to be,” Damewood said. “All these things lined up perfectly to where we were there within a minute of this guy going into full cardiac arrest. I’m thankful we were there and had the training we had. Everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do.”

When Olsen met the men two weeks later, he hugged each man in turn and exclaimed: “Gentlemen, I owe you my life!”

Damewood credited Duke Energy’s safety culture.

Paul Draovitch, the company’s senior vice president of environmental, health and safety, said Duke Energy began equipping transmission and distribution trucks with AEDs as a result of a recommendation from an employee safety council in Florida.

Studies have shown that when an AED is used, a victim’s heart can be restarted nine out of 10 times. For each minute without CPR and defibrillation, a person’s chance of survival is reduced by 7 to 10 percent.

“Safety is the No. 1 thing that we do, above all else,” Draovitch said. “If we have a great safety program, it becomes the foundation of everything else we do.”

More than 1,000 transmission and distribution vehicles now carry AEDs. And because of the initiative of health and safety specialist Susan Browning in Cincinnati, hundreds more of the portable devices are available at work sites and in offices throughout the company.

Jackie Joyner, distribution construction and maintenance vice president in Florida, noted that Duke Energy crews often work in rural areas, miles from a medical facility. “The peace of mind that you have a piece of equipment operated by caring employees that can save a life,” Joyner said. “You cannot put a monetary figure on that.” 

Duke Energy employees saved by AEDs

An AED also likely saved the life of a Duke Energy warehouse employee in Florida, said Jackie Joyner, distribution construction and maintenance vice president.

And in January, workers at the transmission control center in Charlotte used an AED to help save an employee’s life.

Bob Spaulding said he saw a co-worker slump over his desk mid-afternoon on Jan. 5. Spaulding yelled for someone to call 911 and bring the AED.

Spaulding performed rescue breaths and co-worker Brandon Ross administered chest compressions. Garry Arnold then helped them hook up the defibrillator and ran it through the sequence to deliver a shock. The man is now recovering at home.

“His odds at living were greatly increased by having that shock administered before EMS arrived,” Spaulding said. “We’re pretty ecstatic about it.”