Cameron Alley was born and raised in Bartow Florida. Cameron was a lineman for 19 years and has an incredible story to share. His career started after he graduated high school in 1998 and became a lineman apprentice for Lakeland Utilities. After being a lineman apprentice for 5 years he became a journeyman lineman. Cameron was feeling burnt out and craving something new, so he became an arborist and started his own tree trimming company. After 5 years he was feeling the burn out again and decided to go back into line work. Cameron explained, he missed the brotherhood, the team you create, and working with like-minded individuals. He was employed by a private sector working alongside a union lineman making $5-10 dollars an hour more than him. Not long after, He decided to join the union and chase the money working storms.
In 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria leaving the island destroyed. Cameron, alongside other linemen, were brought to Puerto Rico to restore power to the country. The job was initially estimated to anywhere between 3 and 10 months. The country was heavily damaged from the storm with the streets covered in debris. The line crews would use bulldozers to clear roads, and they were mostly transported by helicopters. Cameron had arrived in Puerto Rico in October and had been working on storm restoration for 2 months before the day that changed Cameron’s life forever.
On January 11th, 2018 Cameron and the crew were working on a structure in the mountains where insulators had broken off monopoles, they were picking up lines and putting up new insulators. Cameron had a lot of experience getting transferred to structures and working from the bottom of the helicopter, but this was his first time working from a ladder on the helicopter. Although, for linemen; performing a new job they have not done before is not uncommon. As the day went on, Cameron was getting in a rhythm and started to feel comfortable in his new role.
Cameron and his partner Russ, who was another lineman, were on the last pole of the day when the helicopter that was transporting materials was struggling to fit without hitting the structure. Cameron explains that the events leading up to the fall created the perfect storm, it wasn’t just one thing that went wrong but a multitude of things.
Since the helicopter couldn’t fit in this specific area, the helicopter pilot needed to move Cameron and the ladder to the static arm of the structure. Cameron’s partner was on the pole hooking up the line. When Cameron needed to be moved back again the helicopter dropped down a hook to where Cameron would hook himself to the tether of the ladder. The helicopter started lifting Cameron and he didn’t have his safety chain undone. While Cameron was fighting to get the safety chain undone, the ladder sprung from the pole and snapped because of the tension. At this time, the safety chain broke and Cameron was no longer attached to the helicopter.
As Cameron was falling, he didn’t know he wasn’t attached to the helicopter anymore and thought the helicopter was moving him to the ground at a very fast rate. The moment Cameron hit the ground and was looking up at the helicopter was the moment he realized he fell. Cameron remembers feeling the impact of the fall, but he does not remember the pain. Cameron explains he remembers the ringing noise and looking up at the sky seeing the clouds moving and he could see the structure he had just fallen from with his partner still on the pole. This is when Cameron had realized something really bad just happened.
The part of the story that haunts Cameron is remembering Russ screaming his name from the pole, he could hear him screaming his name over and over, but Cameron could not speak. He remembers his lips moving but nothing was coming out. Russ climbed down the pole to where the hook ladders ended and jumped 30 feet to the ground to get to Cameron as fast as he could. As Cameron was still laying on the ground by himself, he could hear people yelling on the radio about the safety procedures. This is when he started to feel the pain and looked down at his hands and wrists to see that they did not look normal. When Russ got to the scene, all Cameron could see was the fear in Russ’s eyes and realized this was worse than he expected. Russ kept reassuring Cameron that help was on the way and he was going to be ok. It took the other linemen that were working from the ground about 150 yards away longer to get to Cameron because they had to fight through the rough on the mountain.
Cameron remembers a lineman named Jose who was incredibly helpful in this traumatic situation. Jose hadn’t been in linework for long, but he was former military and had paramedic training. With Jose’s previous expertise he immediately took over the situation and started giving instruction to the rescue team about what was needed while taking care of Cameron. Cameron remembers fading out a few times and Jose started giving him sternum rubs to keep him awake. Cameron states, “I remember the sternum rubs because they were incredibly painful because my sternum was broken, but boy did it bring me back and I can still remember screaming.” Since Cameron had a hole in his lung, he said at times it felt like he was drowning, he states, “sometimes I don’t know If would have been able to get myself through it if Jose wasn’t there with me”. The overall rescue before the ambulance arrived was hours after the fall.
Locals that lived on top of the mountain came to help. There were about 15-30 locals along with his crew that formed a human chain to carry Cameron up the mountain, being passed person to person while strapped to a backboard 100 yards to where the ambulance was waiting at the top of the mountain. Russ and Jose got in the ambulance with him where he was brought to a helicopter to be transferred to a hospital. Cameron was in the hospital in Puerto Rico for 3 days before returning to the states. While Cameron was in the hospital, he refused surgery because he had a friend who needed surgery a few weeks prior and the doctors damaged his leg more in surgery than the accident and he had to return to the states to repair what the doctors in Puerto Rico did. Without Cameron’s permission, the doctors put Cameron under for surgery 3 times to reset his wrists which they failed to do. The company Cameron worked for was able to get in contact with his wife who flew to Puerto Rico. She worked with the company to coordinate a private jet to get Cameron back to the United States. When Cameron touched down in his hometown an ambulance was waiting for him to be brought to Lakeland Regional Hospital where his wife was a nurse. When Cameron arrived at the hospital doctors and staff were ready to take care of him as well as friends and family were there to support him.
When Cameron arrived back in the states, he found out that he had a broken collar bone, clavicle, pelvis, 5 ribs, 2 broken wrists, broke every bone in both hands, severed all the ligaments in his wrists, a hole in his lungs, soft tissue damage throughout his whole body, hairline fractures, and trauma to his skin and organs from the impact of the fall. Cameron had 4, 12-hour surgeries on each hand and was in casts for months after the fall. Cameron went through a year and a half of physical therapy but even with extensive physical therapy he still has minimal mobility in his hands and had to learn different ways to use his hands since they are mostly hardware. During these long months of recovery, Cameron was prescribed pain killers to help ease his pain. Cameron realized that he had become addicted to them, He would be laying in bed at night and would unknowingly start going through withdrawal if he hadn’t taken any medication in a few hours. When this first started happening he thought he was getting sick but when he would take his medication, he would immediately feel fine. Addiction hits home for Cameron because he’s seen friends and family suffer from this disease. With Cameron’s desire to not feed his addiction any longer, he and his wife started weening him off the medication till he no longer needed it. since then, Cameron hasn’t taken a pain killer no matter how bad his pain gets. When asked about how Cameron handled addiction and his recovery so well, he explained, “my will to live is enormous, I wanted to be a lineman again and I wanted to be back on the helicopter, and nothing was going to stop me, especially not addiction.”
The mental recovery is just as important and just as challenging as physical recovery. Cameron explains he suffered from PTSD and still has struggles mentally from the accident, which includes nightmares and flashbacks where he would be right back in Puerto Rico. For a long time, Cameron went through physical therapy counseling with a mental health counselor that helped him tremendously to be able to decipher what was real or not real. Cameron can remember being on the lawnmower at his house mowing the lawn and would start envisioning being on the helicopter. He would start having a breakdown laying in the middle of his yard and cry it out, and after a few minutes, he would get up and keep moving forward. Cameron explains, “with PTSD there’s nothing you can do at the time to help it but just go through it till you learn to cope with it, and it is a process to learn to deal with it.”
Cameron is officially retired from linework since he has limited mobility in his hands. Although Cameron has found a calling for volunteering and helping others through trauma. Cameron decided to go back to college for bible seminary and to learn and develop his career in counseling. Cameron states, “I firmly believe that God has had a plan for my life, the bible tells us to celebrate our bad times, and it was what I needed to refocus and redirect my life to where I feel God is leading me to.”
When asked what kept Cameron alive through this traumatic event he states, “Physically, mentally, and spiritually changed my life, and it really brought me closer to God than I’ve ever been in my entire in my life. On the side of the mountain that day laying there in the pain I genuinely thought that I was going to die, I prayed to God that day that no matter what I did, no matter what the outcome, no matter what would happen to me, that if he would just save my life that day that I would be a better servant to him throughout the rest of my life.”
Cameron is extremely thankful for his wife who gave up life as she knew it to take care of him. He states, I couldn’t have gone on without her, she went through a lot with this and it was just as hard on me as it was on her”. Cameron states, “My advice to anyone is no matter what you are going through, no matter how hard it is, your spouse loves you and its hard on them as well, so don’t push them away, don’t hate them for your hurt and your anger for what you’re going through, it’s not their fault and love them and value them for who they are. Without my wife, I wouldn’t have made it through this the way I did and as successful as I did. As hard as it was on the two of us, she has loved me unconditionally through all this.”
For Cameron’s determination and passion for life, we honor him as a hard hat hero!
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