Skip to main content

Quick thinking helps save a life

July 2016

NS machine operators Steve Humphrey, left, and Pat Lackey


NS track gang employees aid in fisherman’s rescue

Combining situational awareness, swift reactions, and teamwork, two crew members of Norfolk Southern’s tie and surfacing gang 8 led rescuers to a fisherman whose boat capsized near a dam on the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, Pa.

In late May, machine operators Steve Humphrey and Pat Lackey were installing new rail crossties on NS’ Port Road Branch line near the river when Lackey saw the vessel overturn and the boater clinging to it. Humphrey immediately stepped off the track and called 911 on his mobile phone, while Lackey pulled up the location on his phone’s GPS to find out the name and highway number of a bridge above the dam. Humphrey and Lackey remained on the phone, directing local emergency responders to the boat’s location. First responders launched watercraft into the river and used flotation devices to rescue the fisherman.

A treacherous part of the Susquehanna River, the Dock Street Dam is a low-head dam running across the river where fast-moving water spills over into rapids. Seventeen people have drowned over the past two decades as a result of the rapidly moving water, according to a local news report of the rescue. The fisherman and his boat were sucked into backwash below the dam so quickly that six nearby fishermen did not see what happened, a local TV station reported.

“Our employees were in a position to witness the accident and to help facilitate the rescue plan,” said Jeremy Gillespie, general division engineer.

“We were just being our brother’s keeper,” Lackey said. “It’s important to keep your eyes open and watch for everything. I don’t know what his fate would have been if we hadn’t been out there.”

Humphrey added that the experience left a lasting impact on him. “You never forget that you had some part in helping to save somebody’s life,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to help somebody out like that.”

As an Engineering Department production gang, T&S 8 travels throughout the NS system maintaining track. Edward Merritt, T&S supervisor, said the crew had been working on the Harrisburg Division for about a month when the incident occurred.  “This was new country to us,” he said. “For them to know to look on the track chart and tell what bridge it was, was outstanding.”