LEWISTON, Idaho — Aside from some scarring on his fingers and a missing big toe where 7,620 volts of electricity exited his body, Tig Cornell has fully recovered and is ready to return to work.
“Everybody’s pretty much told me that I’m lucky,” he said. “Everything just happened to work out perfectly the day that it happened.”
The 35-year-old Avista lineman was severely burned on Jan. 27 while his crew was repairing power lines along the 2700 block of Sixth Avenue in Clarkston.
Cornell, who is from Genesee, said he has absolutely no recollection of the day of the accident or the week after it happened.
“I lost seven days where I don’t remember anything,” he said.
Nobody knows exactly what happened that day, and Cornell’s only account is what he’s been told by co-workers on the four-man crew he was with.
“I reached up to grab the wire and (the electricity) went in my left hand and out my right toe,” he said. “I can’t remember. It was like I wasn’t even there.”
Avista linemen Dave Paradis and Mike Knight were on the scene that day, but their memories of the accident are also fuzzy. Paradis said another linemen named Dave Fowler felt the power pole he was on shake violently when Cornell grasped the live wire.
“He turned around and saw Tig on the ground,” Paradis said.
Knight said they didn’t initially realize Cornell had been shocked.
“I thought he had fallen off the pole,” he said.
The two men rushed to administer CPR to their fallen friend and Fowler was about to use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) when the ambulance arrived.
“They were just getting ready to put the stickys on me when the ambulance showed up,” he said.
Cornell was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he spent three days in intensive care and 21 days in the burn unit.
“Then I came home and have pretty much been healing up ever since,” Cornell said.
His wife, Sheri, said she was just about to leave for Hawaii when she received the call her husband had been burned. She left town right away, and Avista arranged for a private jet to fly Cornell’s daughters and his brother out to Seattle.
“It was scary with him not remembering that first day and second day … having to repeat over and over what had happened because he just couldn’t keep his short-term memory,” she said.
“But now that we’re home, everything’s back to normal. He’s running around with the kids and there are no problems with balance or anything.”
Cornell’s next doctor appointment is June 23.
He credits his survival to the quick response of his co-workers and the new trauma ambulance based in the Clarkston Heights, which arrived on the scene in about three minutes.
“If they didn’t put that ambulance up there in the Heights, I probably wouldn’t be here,” he said.
He mentioned Avista has been “nothing but extraordinary” throughout the ordeal.
Mike Thomason, Lewiston-Clarkston regional business manager for Avista, said aside from Cornell’s case, the company has been fortunate when it comes to accidents.
“We have a very high regard for safety and training,” he said. “We haven’t had very many accidents involving industry linemen.
He added the swift response by Avista workers and EMS personnel made a major difference in the outcome.
“In cases where somebody comes in contact with that kind of voltage, they usually don’t live to talk about it,” Thomason said.
For Cornell, the hardest part of his harrowing experience has been not being able to do the job he loves and “just sitting around at home doing nothing,” he said.
Cornell is now waiting on the results of a psychological evaluation before he can return to work.
He started working for Avista in May 2002 and said his favorite part is the change of scenery the job provides each day.
“You don’t have to go to the same location everyday and do the exact same thing,” he said. “Ninety percent of the time, it’s something different.”
When asked if the incident has changed his opinion of the line of work he’s in, Cornell shook his head vigorously.
“Accidents happen,” he said. “That’s just part of the job.”