Rural Missouri - May 2020 - 49
by Heather Berry | email@example.com
his arm from the middle of his right palm all the way down
to his elbow in an emergency effort to save his arm.
Miraculously, all the tests on his heart and lungs
ruce Stumpe won't forget Monday, Dec. 14, 2009.
showed the organs were OK. Severe chest pain proved to
It was a day that would forever change his life and
be deep tissue bruising, something he'd feel for months.
lead him to a new career ensuring others don't
As the days progressed, the entrance wound continued
repeat his mistake.
to worsen due to internal damage and the fact electrical
It was cold and windy, so windy he had to place his work
burns continue burning for several days. The exit wound
orders under a rock on the worktable. He also was irritated
that started out the size of a quarter ended up being the
because he'd forgotten to bring a warmer coat.
size of a volleyball.
As a relay meter technician, much of Bruce's job was
"Within 48 hours, the doctors told me I would be able to
wiring, calibrating and testing substation equipment for
keep my arm, but have limited use," says Bruce, who's unCentral Electric Power Cooperative which provides power
dergone a dozen surgeries in the past 11 years. One parto eight mid-Missouri electric cooperatives.
ticular surgery involved transferring nerves from the back
Bruce wrapped up a job in Sedalia that morning when
of his legs into his arm. Another surgery moved tendons
his supervisor asked him to head north to Hughesville and
and tissue from one arm to the other. After all the surgerrun a test on some equipment at the substation.
ies, Bruce says he only has around 35% arm mobility.
"I was testing reclosers," says the 55-year-old. "That's
Unable to use his hand for months after the surgery,
the last device before the power goes to the end user. It's a
the mental ﬁght for his life began.
protection device that monitors lines for faults."
Totally dependent on Darla and his kids, Caitlin and
For Bruce, stops like these were fairly routine, someAustin, Bruce says depression hit hard. He was unable to
thing he'd done thousands of times during his career. He
bathe, drive, cut food or even write.
set up the necessary testing equipment and proceeded
While friends and family helped raise his spirits during
with the seven-step process. The last part of the testing
these dark times, it was talks with his priest, and a dream
required Bruce to climb a ladder to check the fault level
Bruce had, that began turning things around.
current on the equipment.
"Father Greg kept saying, ' There's a reason you went
"As my wrist passed by the exposed line, I recall a
through this, something you're going to do in life because
massive jolt to my chest and being slammed down to the
of all this,' " says Bruce. "He was right."
ground and pinned against the passenger tire of my truck
The dream involved Bruce's father, who had passed
and the ground," says the Three Rivers Electric Cooperaaway, telling him it was going to be OK - encouraging
tive member. "I remember it happened around 1:11 p.m.
words in dark times which gave Bruce hope.
because of the time I had noted on my paperwork."
By the next summer, Bruce was back at work part time
Bruce looked around, still in shock, then held his right
with Central Electric Power Cooperative and eventually, he
arm up to assess any damage. He'd received a shock from
returned to work in the substations. Then one afternoon
a 7,200-volt line and was still alive.
on his way back to the ofﬁce, he realized he needed to
"There wasn't any blood, only a hole the size of my index
make a career change and move forward.
ﬁnger going into the outside of my wrist," Bruce says.
"I knew my future job was going to involve bringing
Electricity always takes the path of least resistance to
awareness of complacency to others," Bruce says.
the ground. If a person gets in its path, it may exit through
A year later, a job for a safety training instructor
the hands or feet. More often than not, the heart and lungs
opened with the Association of Missouri Electric Coopare damaged by the current. There's also a possibility of
eratives. Now Bruce educates utility workers and co-op
thermal burns, severe muscle contractions or death.
employees about hazard awareness and job safety.
"I remember looking and thinking 'What the heck just
"No matter what topic I'm teaching I talk about being
happened?' I later realized I'd left a switch
closed that should have been open as part of
complacent on the job and in daily life," Bruce says. "The
electrical ﬁeld can be a dangerous occupation. You can't
the switching process. That moment of comhave the attitude 'it won't happen to me.' "
placency changed my life forever," says Bruce.
Darla works for MoDOT where she examines
He called his boss, reporting he had come in
crash data and understands how complacency afcontact with a high-voltage line. The supervisor
fects everyone's lives, whether at work or while
told him an ambulance was on the way. Next, he
driving. The couple now speaks on the topic at
tried to call his wife, Darla, but got no answer.
conferences across the nation.
When the ambulance arrived the medics
"Complacency is in everyone's lives," she says.
quickly moved Bruce onto a stretcher, removing
"Safety is everyone's responsibility. We all need to
his boots and clothing, looking for exit wounds. "I heard
take it seriously and practice safe work habits and driving
them call in, ' The victim has a third degree burn on his
right arm and left leg,' " Bruce says.
Tears well up in Bruce's eyes.
He later realized the leg burn was where his keys were
"If your head isn't in the game, you could change your
in his pants pocket, where he had leaned against the steel.
life forever like I did," Bruce says. "I'm one of the lucky
As the ambulance rushed to the University Hospital in
Columbia, Bruce laid there, his right arm now swollen and
curled behind his head, his face swollen three times the
You may reach Bruce at 573-680-6009 or bstumpe@
normal size due to the electrical burn.
The burn unit doctor told Bruce they were going to cut
MAY 2020 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP
Rural Missouri - May 2020
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