Karen Teschke’s dad was a safety man – a faller for 45 years and a first aid attendant longer than that. Karen remembers him coming home late at night after his shift ended – sometimes after a few weeks or a month away. “Bags full of laundry and heavy with sawdust. He would tell colourful stories about raucous crew members, nuisance bears, and sometimes injuries.”
Sometimes his breaks in work would be a day or two, but sometimes it was a month of waiting for fire season to be lifted or contracts to come in. Her dad’s secret weapon to get on the next job was always his first aid ticket and his reputation for safely taking down trouble trees.
Karen’s dad maintained his tickets and was an industrial first aid man and Level 3 attendant. He wore his hi-vis vest and protective eyewear, hard hat, gloves, and steel toes even when he trimmed the trees at home. “You can never be too safe,” he used to say. “He taught me to keep a blanket, seatbelt cutter, water and hi-vis vest in my vehicle, always.”
Dad worried more about the neighbour trimming a tree unsafely, and the possibility of others getting injured. He never really thought of himself getting hurt. He was a pro. He was a safety man. He was 65.
In January 2015, there was a bad ice storm and trees were breaking off all over the place. Karen and her three-year-old son had been sleeping at her parents’ that night. The next day, dad’s chiropractor called – he had a few branches down in his driveway.
Karen’s father headed up to assist, and recalled a trouble tree he also meant to help take down. When the chainsaw revved, the chiropractor heard the tree go down, and a yell. The chainsaw motor did not shut off. He scrambled down and found Karen’s dad. The tree had split low on the back cut and swung back, striking him in the pelvis. He was unconscious and never recovered.
“When I got the news, I remembered every time dad went away. I remember thinking he had a dangerous job. I remember thinking we were lucky every time he came home. I had forgotten,” recounts Karen. “Dad knew what he was doing. He wasn’t away in a dangerous camp, far from rescue. We partially expected bad news all those years. It was a dangerous job. But he was a safety man. And now he was gone. Even a pro, the safety man, the guy in charge of the trouble trees…can make mistakes.”
Karen says her Dad would help anyone, anywhere, anytime, and if he noticed something unsafe, he would intervene. “Should he have slowed down or stopped helping? He was working alone – did that factor in? I don’t know. To anyone with the most seniority on the job, in the workplace, I say, never stop learning, but also learn to say NO.”
Karen’s wants workers to learn to say: “No more hazardous work for me. No, I am not invincible. Learn to say NO “It’s my hope that you, your co-workers and your family will stay safe in the workplace and in your daily lives. I do not want anyone to have to experience the events that sadly brought me here today to speak to you.”