Like many Alabama Power employees, Matt Walk completed the company’s cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training, hoping that he would never need to use it. But when he was called on to help save the life of a stranger last May, Walk said he “knew what to do,” thanks to that training.
“I was leaving my son’s T-ball game and walking toward the parking lot when somebody stepped from behind a car and said, ‘Does anybody know CPR?’” said Walk, an engineer in Environmental Affairs Air Compliance. “I knew I had been through the training, but I was wondering if I could really do it. There was nobody else around, so I thought, ‘I guess it’s up to me.’”
Walk ran over to find a man on the ground who was unresponsive and not breathing. Walk began chest compressions while another bystander called 911.
Meanwhile, some nurses who were on the scene stopped to help. They continued CPR until the man began to breathe and paramedics arrived to deliver him to a hospital.
“I may have been the first person there. But to me, the cool thing was seeing how all the people responded and played a part,” Walk said. “I think my CPR training was the whole reason I could help. I would encourage everyone to take the training because you never know when you might need it.”
Walk is among nine Alabama Power employees who recently received the 2022 Presidential Award of Honor. The company’s most prestigious award, it recognizes employees who have taken extraordinary measures to save or sustain the life of another person, either on the job or in the community.
This year’s award recipients, along with those who were recognized in 2020 and 2021, were honored in Birmingham on Nov. 15 at the first in-person luncheon since the pandemic began.
“It’s our privilege to recognize these employees for their courageous actions,” said then Alabama Power President and CEO Mark Crosswhite, who retired at the end of 2022. “At Alabama Power, we put the needs of others at the center of all we do, and these employees reflect that philosophy in the truest sense of the word.”
Jason House spotted a two-car accident ahead of him on a highway one September morning in 2021. He immediately called 911 and pulled over to lend a hand.
The experienced firefighter and longtime member of the Plant Miller Emergency Response Team quickly saw that the driver in one of the cars had not survived and turned his attention to the two people in the other vehicle.
A police officer who is a paramedic joined House on the scene and, together, they pried the car door open to reach the injured victims, one of whom appeared to have broken her arm. House and the officer placed cervical collars on the two people and monitored their vital signs until the fire department arrived.
Responding to accidents both on and off the job is second nature to House, whose mom was a medic and dad was an emergency response technician.
“I can’t even tell you how many wrecks I’ve run into and how many people I’ve cut out of cars,” said House, planning team leader at Plant Miller. “You never want to be the person who runs into something like that. But if I am that person, I want to be trained well enough to help. I don’t do it for any kind of recognition, but it’s just helping my fellow man.”
Hunter Frazier, Electrical Shop apprentice, and Justin Peterson, Power Delivery Regulatory Compliance analyst, were separately heading home from their jobs in April 2021 when they noticed an overturned sports utility vehicle partially submerged in a creek beside the freeway.
First on the scene, Frazier attempted to use his knife to break the car window to free the older woman trapped inside. Peterson and several other drivers soon joined him in the creek, combining forces to pull open the passenger door, which was mired in mud.
Finally, Frazier and Peterson removed the woman from the car and carried her to the bank, where they waited until paramedics arrived to treat her minor injuries.
It was not until the excitement from the incident had died down that Frazier and Peterson realized they are both Alabama Power employees.
“It made you feel good inside to help the woman,” said Peterson, adding that he had assisted with a similar water-related rescue 10 years ago. “But the No. 1 thing was that all those people stopped to help because they saw a vehicle in the water and that somebody needed them.”
“I was privileged to be able to help the woman in any way I could,” Frazier said. “But I couldn’t have gotten her out of the car without Justin and the others who were there.”
In another team effort, Martin Dam employees went into action to rescue a young woman who was badly injured after her car ran off a road near the plant.
In August 2021, Plant Auxiliary Chris Bagwell was mowing grass at the plant when Hydro Journeyman Bill Harrell notified him that there was a car in a ditch down the road from the entrance to the facility. Bagwell headed for the scene. There he saw that a woman had been ejected from her car, which had flipped onto its side in the ditch. He immediately called for assistance from the plant’s Emergency Response Team.
Martin Dam Hydro Journeyman Matt Thompson, who responded to the accident, began administering first aid, bandaging the young woman’s wounds and providing oxygen, with help from a volunteer firefighter who had arrived. The woman had suffered multiple injuries to her face, arms, neck and back, and was soon airlifted to a hospital for further treatment.
Thompson said he was proud to have the training that allowed him to help the victim.
“She was cut up pretty badly because she had gone through the windshield and landed on a fallen road sign,” he said. “I have two little girls, and I know if that was my kid, I would want someone to help her.”
In route to his next job site last May, Jack Bagwell saw smoke pouring from a car that had crashed into a ditch off U.S. 431. Grabbing a fire extinguisher from his Alabama Power bucket truck, he headed down the embankment to help a police officer who was already on hand.
After smothering the blaze with his fire extinguisher, Bagwell, local operations lineman with the Eufaula State Docks Road Crew, helped cut the unconscious man’s seatbelt and pull him safely from the vehicle, where paramedics took control of the situation.
“It wasn’t like I was a hero, but there was no way I was going to let that man burn,” Bagwell said.
In August 2021, after a visit to a tractor supply store for animal feed, Philip Battles noticed an older woman slumped forward in her car in the parking lot. Receiving no response when he tapped on the window, Battles opened the car door and found that she was clammy and had a weak pulse.
He asked a bystander to call 911 and began administering CPR.
“The most gratifying thing for me was when that lady gasped and took her first breath,” said Battles, Power Delivery Safety and Health specialist. “I can’t take credit. It’s due to Alabama Power for allowing every employee the opportunity to receive that lifesaving training.”
Alabama Power’s Presidential Award of Honor was established in 1985 by the company’s Central Safety Committee and has been presented to more than 200 employees through the years. In recognition of their lifesaving efforts, the employees’ names are prominently displayed on a plaque in the Corporate Headquarters atrium.
“It takes true courage to act in a moment of need,” said Jeff Peoples, the company’s new president and CEO, who was executive vice president of Customer and Employee Services when the awards were given. “I’m proud of all these employees for their selflessness and willingness to step in and take action. Having a Safety First mindset helps keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe.”
This story originally appeared in Powergrams, the magazine for Alabama Power employees.