Matt's Mission

Nearly one year after he flat-lined while repairing a 230-kilovolt transmission line in the southeastern outskirts of Phoenix, Matt Collins, a transmission maintenance lineman with Salt River Project, is charged to give other utility workers across the nation the same lifesaving piece of equipment that kick-started his heart back to life.

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Nearly one year after he flat-lined while repairing a 230-kilovolt transmission line in the southeastern outskirts of Phoenix, Matt Collins, a transmission maintenance lineman with Salt River Project, is charged to give other utility workers across the nation the same lifesaving piece of equipment that kick-started his heart back to life.

By Kathleen Mascareñas and Mark Estes

It's impossible for 41-year-old Matt Collins to keep from reflecting on Jan. 27, 2012. Impossible because he died and came back to life that day. Had it not been for the five Salt River Project (SRP) transmission maintenance crewmembers who jumped into lifesaving action using an automated external defibrillator (AED), living to see 2013 would not have happened.

SRP employee practices cardiac compressions during a CPR/AED training class. The classes are required at least every two years. Each person much show proficiency in the skills portion as well as pass the written exam.

"It's kind of hard to say what happened that day, because I lost three days. I don't really remember," Collins said. "Nobody knows the hazards you deal with like a lineman and an apprentice. Death is around you constantly. You do the best you can to negotiate it safely with the tools you have. One of the tools that we have is the AED."

As he performed routine maintenance work to reinforce and strengthen transmission structures on a 230-kV line east of Phoenix near Peralta Road and U.S. 60, Collins made electrical contact. The jolt affected the natural rhythm of his heart, causing Collins to have a cardiac arrhythmia-meaning his heart was active but operating in a life-threatening, dysfunctional pattern.

Given the remote worksite and the seriousness of Collins' condition, his crew quickly lowered the boom to the ground and removed him from the bucket. Just as they had been trained to do, the crewmembers reached for the little red case found inside all SRP facilities and crew trucks. Their actions and that device were the difference between life and death.

"I can't say enough about the guys on my crew," Collins said. "They really had my back that day and are the reason why I'm still walking around."

His team used the AED to successfully treat him through defibrillation, a form of electrical therapy, which stopped the arrhythmia and allowed his heart to re-establish a normal rhythm. Collins' co-workers made him comfortable until firefighters and paramedics from the Apache Junction Fire District and Southwest Ambulance arrived.

Doug Hersch, Robert Lake, Matt Collins, Mike Deubler and Braundo Riley. The transmission maintenance crew was with Collins at the time of the electrical contact. Lake holds an automated external defibrillator like the one used to help Collins.

"The SRP crew on the scene is to be commended," said Rob Bessee, division chief for the Apache Junction Fire District. "Their speedy, proficient response and proper deployment of the AED helped save Matt and made our job easier."

After being stabilized by paramedics, Collins was airlifted by AirEvac Arizona to the Arizona Burn Center at the Maricopa Medical Center, where he was treated for burns to his hands.

"When the incident happened, as any lineman knows, good or bad, phones ring," Collins said. "There are enough people here who know my family and friends around the country that my best friend got a call prior to my wife hearing from the company. My best friend, who also works in transmission maintenance in the Midwest, left his job site and flew straight to be at my bedside when I woke up in the hospital. He stayed, made sure I was okay and then went back to his family. When he returned to his company, he asked to get an AED for their crew. They were told it's not cost-effective."

Collins hopes his story will spur action and force utilities to see the basic necessity and impact of providing AEDs to line crews. He knows the costs are eclipsed if one life is saved. In this case, it was his.

"We felt strongly that the investment in training and equipment was crucial to help keep our line crews safe," said Rick Corven, SRP's director of Electric System Line Maintenance. "AEDs were initially introduced at SRP as part of a pilot program in 2002. And currently, we equip all of our crew trucks with AEDs."

Collins' electrical contact marked the first time an SRP employee was successfully treated by an SRP crew trained to use an AED.

"I couldn't imagine what my family would be going through," he said. "We understand every day the value of a tool we are given, and we appreciate it. Not every company has this. Not every company values their employees the same way. I can't stress enough and thank the company enough for spending the dollars to make sure we go home every day."


About the authors: Kathleen Mascareñas is a media relations representative with Salt River Project (SRP). SRP is the third-largest public power utility in the nation, serving more than 950,000 customers in Maricopa and Pinal counties. Mark Estes is senior corporate communications strategist with SRP. He has some 40 years of experience in journalism, public relations and organizational communications, and is an accredited business communicator for the International Association of Business Communicators.

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