Co-op Staffers Save Montana MomBy Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: December 9th, 2013
When a Montana family reflects this holiday season, warm feelings for their electric cooperative might come to mind.
Darlene Hill was driving to her Ferndale, Mont., home earlier this fall when she stopped near her driveway to check her mailbox.
On her way back to the vehicle, Hill became light-headed, lost consciousness and fell to the pavement, suffering a gash to her head.
When Hill, a mother and grandmother, regained consciousness, she heard passing motorists whizzing by on state Highway 83. After about 20 minutes, Hill, who was still lying on the roadside, propped herself up and hailed a passing Flathead Electric Cooperative truck.
Warehouseman Chuck Johnson was driving back to the co-op’s Kalispell headquarters when he saw her and immediately stopped, finding Hill in a pool of blood and needing help.
To avoid being tied up on a 911 call, he used his phone to contact Doug Tu, Flathead EC’s safety resource officer.
“Doug knew where we were, so he contacted emergency responders while I tended to the injured woman,” said Johnson. Two other co-op staffers also arrived to help.
Journeyman lineman foreman Travis Tennison retrieved sterile gloves and clean towels from his truck and assisted Johnson, while distribution line designer Chad Bessette cleared the area to make room for the summoned ambulance.
Within an hour, Hill was undergoing pacemaker surgery. Doctors credit the quick response of the FEC employees for Hill’s survival, describing her as “ minutes from death” when she arrived at the hospital.
The incident might have gone unnoticed but Hill’s niece, Mary Fleming, Flathead EC two weeks later, seeking the names of the four men so the family could thank them.
Fleming later wrote a letter to the co-op, noting that Hill’s husband passed away in May of this year.
“If it had not been for your employees, we would be having another funeral in our family,” Fleming wrote. “Thank you for having such capable and caring employees.”
Darlene Hill is spending more time with her four sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She considers Johnson a hero, but he downplays his role.
“Heroes are people who put themselves at risk for others, like my son who served in Afghanistan,” said Johnson. “I just did what anyone else would have done.”