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.