Wednesday, February 28, 2024 -
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Kiss of life

To me, it’s almost like a delicate kind of modern art sculpted within nature. I’m talking about utility poles, connected across expanses of treeless prairie or other fields, by power lines strung from pole to pole, as far as the eye can see. I know for many it’s a bug, not a feature. In fact, I believe in most of Europe and most other countries, the poles remain underground. They are considered unsightly.

‘Kiss of Life,’ photograph winner of the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.

Yet to me there is a beauty to the fine strings, reminiscent of perhaps a musical instrument or a long kind of necklace, that canopy the fields. Especially at sunset they float across like a silhouette between the prairie and the sky.

Of course in the city the power lines take on a very different aesthetic vibe. There is often the playful charm of a long line of birds looking down on the city as they sit, perched together, delicate and sweet, on the very fine wire.

I had never heard of 1968’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo called “Kiss of Life.” It’s of two line men, on the job.

Some of you reading this probably remember the incident.

The dramatic picture depicts two electricians, Randall Champion and Jay Thomson, literally hanging from a power pole. It was a boiling hot day in Florida. Everyone was running their air conditioners. The power lines became overloaded, causing a power surge.

As Randall and Jay were working on a live line, doing their routine maintenance, Randall accidentally touched one of the wires. A strong electric voltage in the amount that exceeds the capacity used in an electric chair passed through him. His heart stopped, his body slumped and in a split second his lifeless body was hanging precariously, upside down, by his harness on the pole.

His work partner that day, Jay, was right there. The thing is, he didn’t flinch. Not for a second. There was no lag time. No panic moments of what should I do?! No calling to someone else to help him out in this dangerous moment. Courageously, Jay stepped in himself, understanding the preciousness of time in this emergency situation; how literally every second counted. He instantaneously began giving his friend Randall CPR on the spot.

Somehow, this moment of Jay trying to resuscitate Randall right there on the pole, highlighted by the very tricky precariously dangling position, was captured by a photographer.

It worked. That sweltering day in Florida dangling from a pole, Jay saved Randall’s life.

The photograph is so striking, though at first glance I did not know what I was looking at.

Thankfully this story had a good ending. Jay Thompson is a true hero. Randall Champion lived.

It made me think of all those line men out there, climbing those poles each day, literally pulling the strings from above everyday, so that we can live day to day with the comforts of modern life.

There is so much sacrifice and terrifying risk in this line of work (pun unintended). Unfortunately, not everyone sees a happy ending, as in this dramatic rescue story. Too many line workers succumb to injury or, tragically, even fall to their deaths.

All those days of terrible weather when these line men risk their lives on the job, due to dangerous conditions, is not something we often give thought to on a sweltering day. We just reach in relief for the button on our air conditioners.

Are line men trained in CPR? Or was it just providence that Jay happened to be trained in CPR? I don’t know. But it did get me thinking, yet again, about how important it is that we all be trained in CPR. I know I need to renew my CPR certification.

Anyone can potentially be in a position where they might be able to save a life. Granted, this story has the added drama of two people entangled high up, of CPR being administered while dangling in the air. But stories where CPR can be the difference between life and death happen in regular life moments more than we might think.

Now when I walk or drive by rows of tall and elegant lines of poles across open expanses, connected by power lines, it will be more than their artistic image that I will admire.

It will be this powerful story of a life saved, as well as a deeper appreciation for all line workers.

And, another reminder of how, with the CPR training, you never know whether one day you could save a life.

Copyright © 2023 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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