Fire leapt up from under Donald Greenfield’s feet. He tried raising a hand to signal for help, and tearing himself away from the vibrations that pinned him to the ground, but he couldn’t move.
Forty-one year old Greenfield was being electrocuted. He knew it, but there was nothing he could do.
Every year an average of 20 people are killed and 330 injured in Saskatchewan farm accidents.
Two weeks ago Greenfield became a statistic.
Weather had turned bitter earlier in the week, the way early October days often do on the Prairies, but the sun arrived in time for the weekend.
Bright sun and cold winds made Oct. 7 the right day for Greenfield and his father Leland to begin assembling a canvas farm machinery shed on his family’s farm near Nokomis.
Donald had driven the 120 kilometres to the farm from his home in Regina to help his father. As a professional welder at one the province’s largest steel processors, he knew about industrial safety.
The machine shed they were building was located between rows of mature trees on the northwestern corner of the farm. That was also where the power line ran from the utility mainline to the farm’s transformer.
The Greenfields had attached a three-metre jin pole to their payloader’s bucket to give them the extra height they would need to hoist the giant, 14-metre-wide shed rafters into place.
At the wheel of the payloader, Leland lifted the rafter a few feet while Donald guided the steel frame from the ground, keeping it from swinging.
“I couldn’t see past the bucket,” Leland said.
“I knew there was a power line. You know things about your farm, but you forget. It is easy to forget and that is how accidents happen … We hit the line.”
The voltage from the power line flowed through one finger on each of Donald’s hands. It ran over his body and burst through the toes of his new boots, vaporizing the leather. The electricity coursed into the earth, igniting the grass.
“I don’t know why I lowered the bucket,” Leland said. “It seemed to be the thing to do. Donald fell to the ground as soon as I dropped the bucket.”
The jin pole still touched the overhead line, but luckily for the Greenfields, dropping the bucket to the earth grounded the rafter. Had that not happened, there’s a good chance Leland would also have been electrocuted when he climbed off the payloader.
“We’d have both been done then,” Leland said.
The father ran to his fallen son, who was by now surrounded by burning grass. The grounded steel arch was starting more fires around them and the wind was pushing the new flames.
“I dragged him away from the flames. If I’d have gotten it, too, he’d have burned to death,” Leland said.
“He just lay there in my arms at first. All he could say was, ‘Oh Dad, help me. Help me.’ Then he revived a bit and I helped him to the truck. I called from the cell phone. The operator got me through to emergency services and then the fire department was on its way.”
As the two drove into Nokomis, the fire burned a nearby harvested field, the roadside and the farm’s combines. Local fire department members steered clear of the live power line and the still-running payloader, waiting for the Sask Power crew to cut the line.
Donald lost a finger on each hand and the tendons on the top of one foot. Doctors say he should make a good recovery.
Category: Accident Report