Tuesday, December 13, 2011

One Year on the Road out my Personal Physical Hell

Today marks a year on this road. I've trod it alone sometimes other times, with a shoulder or two to lean on. I am thankful for all the shoulders that have been lent for me to lean on throughout the journey. The road started in a small town called Kremmling, Colorado. I had been working there for a few months.

The day before, December 12, 2010, I had been in Atlanta, Georgia visiting a friend. I returned quickly from the Denver International Airport, so I could rest up for work the next day. As usual, I prayed, kneeling on my bed, for safety. It is a dangerous trade, my brother had lost his right arm two years prior. A mistake, in other lines of work, sometimes ends up getting you fired but in linework it can result in death.

On December 13, 2010 6:00 am, the alarm went off starting a normal day. At least I thought it would be normal. The other apprentice would be back today and I was extremely grateful because my foreman and I had done some scary stuff the week before. When I saw the other apprentice at the power company yard, a huge smile came on my face and a sigh of relief came from inside. We warmed up our trucks and drove them to our normal breakfast spot, The Moose.

I ordered my usual breakfast, French toast combo. Everything continued to go according to normal, until about 11:00 am. The apprentice and I, an apprentice also, are up about 30 feet in the air and he recieved a message on the phone that said he needed to be in Salt Lake for a meeting before the board. He needed to leave early that same day to get there on time.

Here I was working as a two-man crew on 14,400 volts. We had set the pole, before the other apprentice left. Now I was to move the primary wire to the new pole. My foreman would help by using another bucket truck to lift the wire as I guided and tied it in to the insulator. The next step was for me to cover it with rubber hoses and a blanket. Once that was done, I felt a relief. I felt safe. The rest of the work could be done at a safe distance.

After lunch I ascended in the bucket. It was cold and rubber gloves made my hands even colder. I assumed the situation was safe because of my rubber cover and I felt like my minimum approach distances, the distances recommended by OSHA to be safe to work at near high voltages, would not be breached. Before getting to my working position, I called down to my formen, "Can I take off my rubber gloves?" An answer in the affirmative caused me to rejoice. Class 2 gloves were difficult and stiff to work with, especially in the cold.

I cut one secondary supply service, wires at the voltage used by the customer, into the transformer with no problem. We had jumpered these light pole services, with long jumpers, to supply the street lights with power the Friday before. I remember being a little nervous about how to cut the wire while holding both sides of the wire. Then I remember looking down to throw the scrap piece on the ground. My foreman was cleaning all the scraps below the pole so I didn't want to trow it on his head. I looked over my shoulder to the truck, thinking I could throw it near the bed so he wouldn't have to carry it far. That was all I remembered from inside the bucket.....

My memory kicked back in, I barely opened my eyes. I realized I was on a stretcher being carried. Then I could hear a chopper. I asked, "Where am I?" A man's voice responded by asking me my name and address. I began to respond, "Samoana Matagi." He asked me again and pain started to permeate from my hands. I screamed, half irritated by being asked the same question, "SAMOANA MATAGI!" Then I started moaning and screaming. A man's voice kept asking me questions. I moaned and screamed till blackness.....


  1. Wow Sam, Thank you so much for sharing your story. Eric's story is different yet so much the same. One moment, one thing out of place and an entire life of walking a different path. You have seen how far Eric has come after 6 years of being a bilateral amputee. Some things do get easier, some things do not. Your attitude is everything. Good and bad days will come and go but try your best to keep that great attitude. You seem to have a love for life.

  2. Sam, you are an amazing man! I know I only know you through your brother but when I found out the same thing had happened to you I cried and kept a constant vigil for his posts on Facebook. I'm not usually a prayer, Babur I prayed like crazy for you & your family. Both you & Fatu are amazing inspirational men to me and I've shared with my children that there's nothing you can't do in life by showing them how the 2 of you brothers have persevered. Thank you for sharing your story! Amber Cook