By MARY ANN HOLLEY
Daryl Buchheit was the last guy on the job at the Sysco Foods expansion project. He was knocking off after a long day laying forms for concrete, putting tools away a bit after 3 p.m. The dusty jobsite was empty. As fate would have it, Buchheit, a member of Carpenters Local 2030, was the last one there.
Then a massive heart attack hit. He collapsed to the ground without a heartbeat.
A woman happened by, saw him fall and screamed for help. Two members of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268, Randy Meuse and Bryan McFarland, heard her cries from 100 yards away, ran to the jobsite and the three of them saved Buchheit’s life because they had training provided by their union and their company – and because they care, and because there’s a brotherhood at union jobsites.
All Buchheit remembers is what he’s been told; it’s all stories from other people.
“I’m not preaching, but it was the hand of God and the safety training that these union men and that woman had that saved my life,” Buchheit said.
Buchheit, Meuse and McFarland came together recently at the offices of the Labor Tribune to share their story.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER, THEN TRAINING KICKS IN
McFarland and Meuse were wrapping up after working on a new sprinkler system for the freezers at Sysco Foods.
Down the road a bit, at Sysco off Elm St. and Highway 370, a woman was driving her car through the construction site on her way to pick up her son, an ironworker. She stopped and asked Buchheit where her son might be, but he said everyone had already gone. The woman – he later learned her name was Chris – drove her car around and turned back, only to see Buchheit lying unconscious on the ground, near wires and the open gate of his truck.
She immediately dialed 911, and started yelling help, at the top of her lungs.
“Randy and I were in a riser room and we heard a lady yelling and screaming,” McFarland recalled. “I said, ‘Randy what is that?’ We glanced out, then we both took off running over that way.”
When they reached the site they found Buchheit looking “very dire, to say the least.”
“We figured he had a heart attack,” Meuse said. “The lady asked, ‘Does anyone know CPR?’ Then Bryan stepped up, jumped down and helped.
“I figured Sysco would have a defibrillator,” Meuse said, “so the best thing I could do was run to get that in case it was needed.”
Meuse said the idea of getting the defibrillator just came to him, remembering the training he had taken at the Sprinkler Fitters Hall.
Local 268 provides training on numerous aspects of safety, in addition to OSHA-required instructions, at its state-of-the-art training facility at 1544 S. 3rd Street in St. Louis.
McFarland and Meuse said they also receive quarterly update training through their employer, SimplexGrinnell.
“Basically, we’re getting safety training all year long. I picked up defibrillator use in a class,” Meuse said. “I didn’t know much about them but have been taught that they won’t zap you unless you need them.”
McFarland, who had started CPR, said he did about 20 compressions, then Chris did 20 compressions. McFarland then did 30, then she did 30. Buchheit started gasping for breath and making terrible noises. McFarland said the two had performed the compressions for what seemed like forever.
As Meuse returned with the defibrillator, they heard the sirens of emergency vehicles approaching and Chris ran to flag them down.
Meuse and McFarland agreed it felt like forever before the paramedics arrived. McFarland said he believes it was a good 12 minutes that Buchheit was out. Then they got a heartbeat.
“You have elevated, heightened senses, when you’re in a crisis situation,” McFarland said. “It’s been years since my CPR training, but when you apply what you’ve learned… you do it differently, knowing that seconds can save a life.”
‘IF THINGS WERE DIFFERENT THAT DAY’
Paramedics arrived and took over CPR compressions, shocking Buchheit twice before taking him to St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Charles, where he began his recovery.
“If things were different that day; if her kid would not have been there that day, nobody would have known he was down,” Meuse said.
“Everyone else was gone at the construction site. It was cold and we had hard hats and safety glasses on. When we come out, we usually turn left to our trucks, and we’re gone. He was 100 yards away to the right. Had that woman not been screaming at that exact time, we wouldn’t have heard her. We had to go about 15 yards before we could even see the shape of a body.”
McFarland added, “We were in the room all day trying to diagnose a problem. At the end of day when we turned the valves on, they were leaking. If those valves wouldn’t have been leaking, we would have been gone right away. It was amazing — like all the stars were in the right place to save this guy’s life.”
UNION TRAINING SAVES LIVES
Buchheit of St. Genevieve, a 15-year carpenter employed by Fenix Construction, said after he was taken to the hospital, he was placed in an induced coma for two days so there was no disturbance to the stint doctors had placed to open the 100 percent blockage that had stopped his heart. He stayed for about a week, returned home and within 24 hours had another heart attack. His wife and son performed CPR and he was taken to Barnes-Jewish in the St. Louis, where he had another minor heart attack.
Buchheit said the blockage in his artery is commonly called “the widow maker,” a heart issue that allows few to survive.
“I’m doing really good now, about three months since the heart attacks,” Buchheit said. “Everything that went on medically is good, and I was released from Barnes-Jewish with a great diagnosis, and little or no heart damage.”
Grateful that his union brothers were there when he needed them, Buchheit said he has had CPR training through his own union but always felt a bit silly practicing on the dummy. He said he knows now that the training is critical, and says that safety training is one of the best things the union does for people.
“It doesn’t only benefit the union members; it benefits society as a whole,” Buchheit said. “There were those guys… coming down the road that had that training to save someone’s life. That whole training aspect is so important. I will certainly take it more seriously. I’m very blessed that I had people around that had the CPR training and to take notice of issues on the job site.”
Local 268 provides training for sprinkler fitters in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, and OSHA 10 and 30-hour training as well as providing American Red Cross CPR training.
“You get your trade training, and that relates to work, but the class on CPR that’s something that, as far as I’m concerned, is one that if the time ever arises, you want to be able to do it,” Local 268 Business Manager Mike Mahler said. “You don’t want to feel awful for the rest of your life thinking that maybe I could have made a difference. That’s one that not only is important workwise, but it’s important in general, in life.”