Geoff Fisher R.I.P.

It’s hard to believe it has already been 10 years … Feb 13, 1999  since Geoff Fisher was killed. And I came the closest ever to death during my 38-year journalistic career as well.

Geoff was a BCTV microwave truck/camera operator. And it was on the morning of this day ten years ago that Geoff was setting up the BCTV microwave truck outside Delta Secondary School so I could do a “live hit” into the Noon News, when something went tragically wrong.

The microwave mast atop the truck accidentally contacted a 14.4 kv Hydro line above, and Geoff was electrocuted. Witnesses reported a large bang … and power for several blocks around was cut … but only briefly.

What many people did not … and still do not know … is that many Hydro lines have a built in re-start sequence that is triggered about a minute after an initial failure, in case the line breach was caused by a bird or squirrel etc.

And so the power returned, again striking Geoff, who was laying on the ground, his foot still touching the truck.  The power arc, I understand, would have spread through the ground as much as thirty feet.  Had I or anyone been immediately close by and rushed over to help … before someone could shout to stay away… the results would have been even more tragic.    

But I was saved that day … in a way I still don’t quite understand and sometimes find difficult to think about.

Punctuality was always a hallmark of my career: when assigned to a story on location, I had a penchant for always arriving early, allowing lots of time for traffic or parking problems, to scope out the site, talk to people behind the scenes to get some extra information or get a prime reporting or camera spot for our story.

That day, I just couldn’t get going! It was a Saturday … a usually fairly relaxed news day for me and I was not expecting to have to do a “hit” for the Noon News,  so when I checked in with my office by phone at 9 a.m., I hadn’t even finished breakfast or showered yet.

“Head to Delta Secondary,” I was told, to cover a day-long event surrounding some issue I have already forgotten, and do a live broadcast into the Nooner with an invited guest they had already arranged.  

I hurriedly finished breakfast, grabbed a shower, dressed and headed out …. but traffic on Oak Street and Highway 99 was unusually high for a Saturday mid-morning. I was clearly running late … late enough to phone the guest and apologize and assure him I was on the way and would get there a.s.a.p.

But I remember being embarrassed: that was “not” me: I was always early and I was hurrying, even speeding where I could to get to Delta Secondary.

But just before I  drove by the Ladner London Drugs mall … the lights went out …traffic lights, all the store lights in the London Drugs mall and nearby shops as well.  I alerted my office by phone to the problem and possible additional story.

Little did I know of the tragedy that awaited me a few blocks away.

I know had I been on site, I would have been standing right near Geoff, suiting up with microphone and earpiece and if not struck myself by the power burst would certainly have rushed over to help .. totally unaware of the Hydro “restart” mechanism.

All I could do when I arrived was watch …. and then, with a second cameraman, John M. , who had been inside the school doing some shooting,  and had the strength to videotape the accident scene outside when he emerged … knowing it could become very important evidence in any ensuing investigation.  We also both had the presence of mind to interview witnesses immediately to get their recollection of what happened on record, along with their names and, in this case, their phone numbers as well. 

I also did the story for that night’s Newshour!!!  My most horrible day on the job, ever. But I wanted to do the story … for Geoff.  And working with my close friend and editor, Karl A., we did our job.

We edited in an edit suite, with a sheet covering the glass doors to prevent prying eyes and Karl would not even let me see all the footage John had taken. He edited the segments together, using only the most general photos,  and only then had me turn around to record my script.

But we all did our jobs and our story, as I believe Geoff would have wanted us to do.

That night, as I spent the evening with friends, it really hit me that Geoff was no more, and how close I had come, in an instant, to losing my own life. It was all very surreal .. just driving home and watching everyone going about their “usual” Saturday night.

Meanwhile, what had caused me to be so unusually tardy in waking that day, getting ready for work and delayed me from making it to my assignment I still do not understand.

But I never forget Geoff Fisher …. and remember him often, not just on Feb. 13, when everyone should think about the sacrifice too many pay, around the world, to bring us the news coverage and are so often taken for granted.

Geoff was 36.

Harv Oberfeld 

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6 Responses to Geoff Fisher R.I.P.

  1. Thanks for this moving story Harvey – I’ve known you quite awhile but had not heard it before today.

    It was a tragedy and I hope that in some way other camera operators are now more safe on the job than Geoff was.

    This is another reminder to all workers that job safety is always the most important thing – whatever you do.

    (Response: Thanks Bill…. it’s good to be back home and I’m glad, through blogging, I can share Geoff’s story … and that part of mine … with many many people. ho)

  2. Patrick Bell (NOT the MLA) says:

    First let me say…it is great to have you back blogging. I checked back frequently as I’ve enjoyed your work here.

    Very sad story Harv. Most of the time I am cynical about hokus pokus type stuff, but you being unusually late that day makes me question my own skepticism.

    Look forward to your thoughts about the Olympic washout as well as the US congress and bailout situation.

    Bill, I’ve enjoyed your views on ‘NW’ lately.

  3. Simon says:

    I knew Geoff, and while I can’t say he was a close friend of mine he certainly was a work colleague. In fact I had first met him when I taught a Film Basics Class at BCIT Night School.
    Geoff had a zest for life, a sarcastic – witty sense of humour and was sometimes the proverbial “Bull in a China shop”. His death changed my Life and affected ALL of us profoundly……….

    (Response: Thanks Simon … give my regards to my other editor friends at BCTV! ho)

  4. Mike Chisholm says:

    I too, like Simon, did not know Geoff, but was reminded of him every day in the edit suite hallway of Global where his picture hangs. Your blog is a nice reminder of the hard work that field crews (including Simon) do to get the news on the air morning, noon and night, under tight deadlines and sometimes questionable stories from the desk. We owe these guys a lot for their hard work. Thanks Harvey (and hi to Pat -not the MLA – good to see you’re still around)

    (Response: Great to hear from you Mike! ho)

  5. Keiron Duncan says:

    It was a slow saturday morning 10 years ago, but I will never forget it.

    I didn’t really know Geoff, I was the new guy in the feedroom back then and after the 3hr morning show I was counting the minutes until the end of my shift.

    I spoke to Geoff when he called in to setup the Micro hit, I asked him where he was and set about moving the dishes to lineup the microwave signal. We chatted for about 30 seconds and then the line dropped.

    It wasn’t unusual for the cellphone to kickout back then, there was a loud click and then the buzz of the phone connection. I didn’t think anything of it. “He’ll call back when he’s ready” and I went back to other roll-to-air duties.

    A little while later Chris Hawkes ran into the feedroom and gave me the news. If you know Chris, then you can understand the emotion involved.

    I was stunned silent. I had just spoken to the guy! I stood there as some folks ran about telling others of the tragic news. I sat back down and went back to work, my hands shaking but I didn’t know what else to do, the noon news was coming up and the show must go on.

    I remember Reg Hampton’s line on the noon news. “An industrial accident has caused a power outage in Delta, we will have more information for you later in our broadcast”

    I will never forget what happened and every time I worked on the trucks or have an operator on the phone setting up I remember that day.

    This is the first year I have worked on that day. I just didn’t want to be in this building on that day for 9 years. I figured that this year, it had been long enough to let that ghost go.

    Rest in peace, Geoff
    (Response: Thanks, Keiron. Im’ glad I wrote the piece .. so those who didn’t know could learn about Geoff and what happened ..and also so the rest of us could stop …. and remember him. ho)

  6. Susan says:

    I knew Geoff at UBC and remember his great sense of humour, but lost touch. It was only when I returned to Vancouver that I heard belatedly what had happened to Geoff from someone who was a very close friend of his. I’m glad people care enough to remember and write about this years later. Condolences to his family as well.

    (Response: I never forget him or what happened that day. h.o)

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