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Avista employee honored for heroic rescue    

Tags: Avista Utilities, Safety

Jerry Collins pulls fishermen from icy waters; Quick action and good judgment save the day

Saturday, March 5 started out with a self-described “ordinary guy” taking advantage of an ordinary day of ice fishing. Jerry Collins, an inspector who has been with Avista for 15 years, probably had hopes of catching a few northern pike; instead, he ended up catching a whole lot more.

The story begins on Cave Lake near St. Maries, Idaho – a region that Collins is extremely familiar with. He was raised in the area and now calls it home. When you talk to Collins, you understand right away that if you are into ice fishing, he’s a wealth of information. For 55 years, in one way or another, Collins has spent time on the ice. With over half a century of experience, to say he’s familiar with the conditions on Cave Lake is an understatement.

Jerry Collins reunites with one of the fishermen he rescued from the lake.
Jerry Collins reunites with one of the fishermen
he rescued from the lake.
On a marginally cold day in March, after a couple of hours of fishing, Collin's knowledge of the lake and ice fishing experience was put to the test when he noticed two other anglers he had encountered earlier in the day struggling. One had fallen through the ice while cutting fishing holes with a chain saw. The man’s friend quickly sprang to action to help, but he too succumbed to the icy waters, when he fell through the ice “like a fencepost”, as Collins put it. 

Collins heard the commotion from a couple hundred feet away and had to make some quick decisions. The first was whether or not he should take the time to retrieve his sled with the rescue rope, which was 250 feet away in the opposite direction of the struggling anglers. He quickly realized that if he took the time to get it, there was a good chance the men wouldn’t make it. The water they were treading was 7-8 feet deep and freezing. The second decision he had to make was how to save them. Luckily for the two men, his quick action, good judgment and knowledge of the ice conditions saved their lives. Collins carefully approached the struggling men and reached out to the closest using the handle from the chainsaw they had been using to cut holes.

“The most frightening moment was when I noticed the second man struggling," Collins said. "The fear in his eye’s struck me with a force that commanded quick action. The next thing you know, I’m telling him to grab hold of his friend’s ankle and to hang on. I then pulled them both from the water and led them to a nearby shelter.”

Jerry Collins (second from left) was awarded a safety medallion for his heroic rescue of two ice anglers on March 5.
Jerry Collins (second from left) was awarded a
safety medallion for his heroic rescue of two
ice anglers on March 5. (Left to right):
Bob Weisbeck, Jerry Collins, Dennis Vermillion
and Tim Carlberg.
While the two men warmed-up and regained their composure, Collins retrieved their gear and then bid them farewell, leaving them with just his first name.

To hear Collins tell it, there was simply no other option than to help. “It’s just what you do,” Collins commented.

He doesn’t consider himself a hero, but instead, just an ordinary guy. We at Avista think Jerry Collins is anything but ordinary. His actions, along with his outstanding work ethic has gained our attention and admiration. With just a few weeks left before retirement, Collins will be ending his career at Avista as a hero. Even though he wasn’t on company time while coming to the aid of others, his ability to respond to a difficult situation while keeping a clear mind is something we value and honor.

For his heroics, Collins was recognized by Avista leaders at Business Review on Thursday, April 21. Avista Utilities President Dennis Vermillion, Director of Generation, Production and Substation Support Tim Carlberg, and Contract Construction Manager Bob Weisbeck presented Collins with a safety medallion as a token of appreciation for his good deeds and actions. Something tells me that this story is one fish tale that won’t easily be forgotten.

“It is a great honor to recognize Jerry for his outstanding example as citizen in our community," Vermillion said. "While we wish him well in his retirement, we are sad to see such a dedicated employee go.”
Posted by  System Account  on  4/29/2011
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