No apologies for safety

Safety instructor teaches a life lesson to electric cooperative workers

Chuck Tiemann from Indiana Electric Cooperatives shares his personal story of an on-the-job accident.

Absolute silence — that was the reaction when Chuck Tiemann, a senior risk management/regulatory consultant at Indiana Electric Cooperatives, told his story to Paulding Putnam Electric Co-op (PPEC) workers during a safety seminar held in August at PPEC. Tiemann knows how dangerous working on power lines can be. In fact, he’s dedicated the rest of his life to sharing his knowledge with others in the hope it can save lives.

At the age of 24, Tiemann had his whole future ahead of him as a lineman in Oklahoma. That all changed on May 1, 1980, when he came in contact with a live wire and lost his left arm below the elbow and his right leg below the knee.

“The accident happened over 37 years ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday,” said Tiemann. He then went into great detail about that fateful day.

After a long month repairing storm damage, he and fellow linemen were working on routine line construction. He was told the power had been cut to a section of line he was to work on. He climbed the pole. Instead of slipping on his protective rubber gloves and double checking with dispatch as a precaution, he reached for the line with his left hand protected by only a leather glove.

The line was not dead.

In an instant, 7,200 volts of electricity entered his fingers, went through his body, stopped his heart, and blew a hole out through the big toe of his right foot. A lineman quickly went up and gave him two breaths of air. “It was the worst day of my life,” Tiemann solemnly told PPEC staff.

He then recalled how his wife, Terri, made him the man he is today. “I remember I had just received my first prosthetic leg and was sitting in the recliner,” he said. “I asked her, ‘Hey hun, can you fetch me a glass of water?’ She walked over to me and said, ‘I will not! You aren’t handicapped, and you will learn how to do things for yourself, despite what has happened to you.’”

Tiemann said jokingly to the group, “I bet my mama would have fetched me that drink!” But he was soon serious again. “All joking aside, my wife was right by challenging me. It brought us closer to God and closer in marriage,” he said. “I don’t know why my life was spared. But I thank God every day for it. And I plan to use the time I have trying to prevent what happened to me from happening to others.”

After his recovery, Tiemann began counseling electrical burn victims. Now he travels the country to share his story with as many people as possible, showcasing himself as a powerful reminder of how safety is the most important aspect on the job. “I want everyone in this room to go home at night to hug and kiss their families,” Tiemann said. “Never make apologies for being safe.”