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NEVER Forget Geoff Fisher: He Died Bringing YOU the News!

February 13th, 2015 · 14 Comments

Those of us who work in the news business …and those of you who consume it in whatever form (print, radio, television, internet) are regrettably now used to HUGE numbers in terms of violent deaths and injuries around the world. But every so often, there’s a SINGLE event or tragedy that hits close to home … very close. Geoff Fisher’s death was one such case: a BCTV camera/microwave truck operator who was killed in the job Feb 13, 1999.  Geoff was in Delta, setting up a “live-hit” for ME.  I NEVER forget …. and neither should any of us.   Here again is a blog piece I wrote earlier about this tragic accident … that happened 16 years ago.

Geoff Fisher  R.I.P.

It’s was Feb 13, 1999  that  Geoff Fisher was killed on the job for BCTV. 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

(Tragically, there have been FIVE more deaths of microwave news truck operators since Geoff died … and many, many injuries.  All of them incurred by colleagues working to bring us all the news. You can read the roll-call here: http://www.engsafety.com/safetypg2/Papers/Past-incidents/list.html )

Tags: British Columbia · Media

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 larry Bennett // Feb 13, 2015 at 8:34 am

    We, none of us, ever know the time or the hour. We do know that 35 years is far too young – most of us are just getting up to speed. And, how soon we forget! Harvey remembers, and that’s important, even if it seems inconsequential.

  • 2 13 // Feb 13, 2015 at 8:48 am

    It is so sad when a coworker dies on the job.
    Its bad enough when its while your at work and worse still if your working together.
    Why him and not you? God only knows.

    (Response: There is NO DOUBT in my mind that if I had been on time, I would have been standing beside Geoff, chatting and helping set up for the Noon hit …and if only nearby, I would have absolutely run over to help him after the first electric strike …totally unaware that Hydro lines try to restart 30 seconds later or that the danger arc is about 30 feet on the ground Sheeez! h.o.)

  • 3 Wayne Cox // Feb 13, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Harvey,
    Thanks for remembering Geoff. It’s amazing how time goes by so quickly these days. I spent many a Saturday morning doing live hits with Geoff and Stevie Lyons. We had a lot of great times and great laughs doing our best to make great television. He was a very hard worker. A lot of us got the news of his passing while getting ready for the Variety Show of Hearts telethon. It was a tough day, and days that followed. I didn’t realize your story of being behind schedule like that!
    I hope all is well with you, and again my thanks for remembering Geoff.
    All the best

    (Response: Thanks, Wayne. As many at the station may remember, I was one of those people who always liked to get to any kind of scheduled event early, so I could scope it out etc. Even now, I’m always at shows, events, the airport etc. far too early. But for some reason, it just didn’t happen that day…and I have often wondered about that. I will never forget what happened to Geoff … and glad you recalled as well. h.o)

  • 4 Rg // Feb 13, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Safety first. Throw the book at shortcutters
    Need an rf / em field detector to auto stop lifts near power.

  • 5 nonconfidencevote // Feb 13, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Electricity scares the $h!t out of me because I have seen what it can do when its unleashed.
    Sad story.

  • 6 Paolo // Feb 13, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about this tragic event. Hearing about it makes me appreciate those who bring the news to us even more.
    As another poster mentioned, only God knows why events played out the way they did, but it certainly makes one pause and think.

    (Response; It should make ALL of us remember …anything can happen to you or anyone you know at any time …in an INSTANT. So make the most of as much as you can as often as you can …any enjoy! I was thinking today about Bob Simon, the CBS reporter who died yesterday in a traffic accident: he had won 27 Emmys …probably made a fortune …and yet was on his way home after work in the dark…at 73. I know some people never want to stop working …and I don’t know Simon at all ….but I think it’s a shame that some people may have nothing else in life that they value/enjoy more than work …right up until they die. How happy I have been in my retirement … 8 years now … not just enjoying the more leisurely pace, but spending more time with family and friends, doing lots of travelling, wintering in warmer climes …and, instead of still working, having fun in other ways and hopefully contributing with this blog, even though it makes not a penny. h.o.)

  • 7 nonconfidencevote // Feb 13, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Enjoy your retirement Harvey. You’ve earned it.
    I hope to be there SOME day …. :)

    (Response: Thanks. It has been better/more fun than I ever imagined! :) Feel very blessed. h.o )

  • 8 Gee Tee // Feb 14, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Harvie, thank you for the thought provoking story. Life is precious and people that mattered should be remembered. I have been watching the tribute to Bob Simon as well as the icon of LA news Stan Chambers. Both were at the pinnacle of their profession, bringing news to the viewers as only they could. I watch, the local three, CBS and KTLA everyday. Your blog is the first thing I read in the morning. It always reminds me of your days at BCTV doggedly chasing down the story behind the story. Something for the most part missing in our local broadcasts. I am glad to hear that you are enjoying your retirement. Keep banging out the blog, it’s a great way to start the day.

    (Response: Thanks. I too notice the distinct LACK of anyone chasing politicians down the halls …or even questioning/challenging or having fun with their pompous pronouncements, claims and posturings. SAD! I loved to do that. Glad you enjoy the blog, even though it’s only occasional and a hobby (I’m retired :) and my own rantings/views/tidbits garnered from sources inside and outside the industry.I just like to get the discussions going ..and hopefully keep it real! h.o)

  • 9 BMCQ // Feb 14, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    H.O.

    A very very nice Tribute to your Friend and Colleague Geoff Fisher!!

    I am sure his Family and other Friends appreciate the Recognition, Respect, and “Tip of the Hat” you and others that knew Mr. Fisher have posted here!!

    One never knows……….

    (Response: Thanks. You’re right…you never know …when, how or why. h.o.)

  • 10 harry lawson // Feb 15, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Harvey,

    As you honored your friend and co worker memory, you riminded us that it takes a team to report the news.

    When you see a reporter doing a piece, wether it is soft story or a high risk situation it is not just the reporter there it is a team.

    (Response: The reporter is only the “front” part of the team; there is not only the camera person, but editor and sometimes a producer, microwave truck operator and even audio/lighting crew …plus those at the station, in the feed room, roll to air, graphics department, intro writer etc. And if you want to expand that, what about the help/support from others who worked at the station …from receptionist to accounting to advertising to security guard….and, very importantly, the cafeteria crew! h.o)

  • 11 Ethan Faber // Feb 17, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    I’ll never forget that day. It was a wake up call for everyone in the business. His legacy lives on with mandatory safety training for all who work near live trucks. If a reporter shows up now and sees what you did, Harvey, he/or she will hopefully remember the training and stay out of the danger zone. Thanks for remembering.

    (Response: Thanks Ethan (an old BCTV colleague of mine…now at CTV). I really hope ALL stations are training everyone who works on/near microwave trucks about the dangers. I NEVER had been told/trained about ANY of the possible dangers … and had no idea that when a BC Hydro line power gets interrupted by something grounded (usually a branch or a squirrel) it will AUTOMATICALLY try to restart in 30 seconds sending more power down the line, endangering anyone else who may have rushed over to help if it was a tv mast or a person. Hope everyone in the business reads my piece….and remembers. h.o.)

  • 12 Howard // Feb 17, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    Why anyone would not make sure an erected mast had no ability to make contact with power lines baffles me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at the PNE a few years ago when a remote truck with it’s mast up was positioned right next to power lines that cross the fairgrounds. I spoke to Tom Walters, and he acknowledged the situation, but nothing changed for the duration of the fair.
    Last year during the ‘ice water challenge’, I believe it was Chris Gailus, Robin Stickley, and
    Squire Barnes who stood underneath the horizontal bucket of a farm tractor at the PNE to receive their drenching as the bucket was rotated.
    Any job site I’ve been on, this would have earned you instant dismissal even with locks in place, to say nothing of massive fines from WorkSafe BC.

    (Response: From what I understood, Geoff had already worked several hours in downtown Vancouver, setting up, broadcasting and then tearing down after the Morning news show till 10 a.m. , when he was told he had to head out to Delta to do all the same in time for a Noon hit with me and a guest at an event out there. So he may have been rushed a bit..hoping to get it all done …and still have time to grab a bite to eat. That’s how accidents happen. h.o)

  • 13 george orr // Feb 22, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    I was out on a shoot on the Fraser River one day, and Geoff was on the same shoot… John Cummin’s fish boat, I believe. We had a great morning, lots of fun ,and a guy with a creative eye… made the best of every opportunity. He’d been a student of mine at BCIT, and you could tell from day one this guy was a pro…

    (Response: Thanks, George. Good to remember where he had come from and what he had accomplished before the untimely loss. h.o.)

  • 14 Rocker Rich // Feb 25, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Good on you, Harvey, for the tribute.

    One thing I miss in the Vancouver media is the automatic memorializing feature, article etc. on a departed colleague.

    Rafe Mair was always a stickler for honouring departed media and non-media luminaries, usually with a show opening reminiscence. Bill Good, for all his other broadcasting skills, didn’t seem to continue the tradition. I recall phoning in to On the Ledge to remind Bill, Vaughn and Keith that John Pifer (a former Ledge contributor) had died and ask them for recollections.

    The Vancouver Sun did a nice farewell to longtime photographer Ian Lindsay when he passed a year or so ago. Ditto a small feature on Doug Sagi.

    Maybe the general public doesn’t give a hoot. But the media fraternity (most of whom still subscribe to newspapers and reliably watch/listen to newscasts) do follow these things. Whether it’s a reporter or a background facilitator like Geoff, these folks do yeoman’s work to uncover and describe important events that influence politics, social policy and the popular culture.

    Thank you for keeping Geoff in your heart.

    (Response: Thanks. I also worked with Ian and Doug when I was at The Vancouver Sun (1971-79) … great guys. And I also knew/respected John quite well when I was at the Legisl in Victoria. h.o.)