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Power company quickly admits mistake that caused near fatal shock to firefighter

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A mistake was made. A young firefighter almost lost his life.  Just one day after Benton County, Washington Firefighter Ty Schoenwald went into v-fib because of an electrical shock from a downed power line two pretty remarkable things happened. The first and most important is that Schoenwald walked out of the hospital.

The second is that the Benton Public Utility District made it clear it was their fault. No waiting for the bad news to dribble out, hiding under the cover of an investigation. Watch the video above to learn how smart leaders deal with major errors that impact the reputation of their organization. Well done, Benton PUD.

Tyler Richardson, Tr-City Herald:

Benton Public Utility District officials say human error was a factor in an accident that sent a Benton County volunteer firefighter to the hospital.

Ty N. Schoenwald, 22, was shocked by a downed power line Wednesday while helping fight a small wildfire on Game Farm Road in Finley.

In a news conference Thursday morning, officials said two PUD linemen visually inspected the downed line and gave clearance for firefighters to enter the scene.

WA Benton Firefighter shocked

Mark Harper, KVEW-TV:

 According to PUD officials, the linemen upon arrival saw one end of the severed powerline on the wood pile, but did not see the other end, which was running down the utility pole to ground.  They cut the end leading to the wood pile and gave firefighters the “all clear” to fight the small fire.

Schoenwald approached the fire with a pressurized water can, spraying a fine mist onto the woodpile, when he felt a small shock, then a large one.  The PUD linemen reported seeing a flash of light as Schoenwald fell on his back and rolled away from the fire.

Benton Co. District 1 Fire Chief Grant Baynes says at that point Schoenwald’s heart went into ventricular fibrillation, where the heart flutters without pumping any blood.  The three other members of the fire crew immediately began CPR while a defibrillator was retrieved from the fire engine, which took about two minutes.  Once the defibrillator was used, Schoenwald’s heart began pumping normally.

When Medic crews arrived, Schoenwald was conscious and alert, even laughing and joking with other firefighters.


Investigators say the Benton PUD workers will not be disciplined for the mistake.

“Human error resulting in a close call requires us to be open about it, not be concerned about discipline. And I absolutely truthfully agree that those linemen need consoling,” Baynes continued.

Only one other time in the last 30 years has someone been seriously shocked while dealing with Benton PUD power lines.

Everyone involved in this close call is relieved that Ty Schoenwald could be saved.

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