He may have seen dozens of horrific accidents and fire scenes over 40 years but Jim Hayter says one incident is burned into his memory, young men scattered on the ground after being electrocuted.
Hayter, the former chief of the Alvinston Volunteer Fire Department and current firefighter, was honoured Saturday for four decades of service including the tragic incident Aug. 1.
Hayter was among the firefighters who went to the home on LaSalle Line to find what he calls “a war scene” with four young men lying motionless on the ground who had been electrocuted after the pole of an outdoor tent they were erecting for a weekend wedding hit a hydro line.
One man, 21-year-old Jeremy Bowley lay dead. Hayter helped paramedics as they tried to revive a 17-year old member of the tent crew, Shawn McLeish of London, one of three seriously injured.
McLeish lay in a coma for four days before he woke. Then, he knew nothing of what happened. After several days, he learned of the team leader’s death. Over the past six months, McLeish has recovered, but he cannot forget the volunteer firefighters who responded that day and saved his life.
So it was fitting McLeish and his mother were on hand as an official of the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office presented Hayter with his 40-year service bars Saturday night during Brooke-Alvinston’s Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.
Standing together for a few minutes before the presentation, Hayter and McLeish talked for the first time. “I still don’t understand why it happened,” McLeish told Hayter as he expressed his amazement that volunteers would come out to such a difficult call.
“You don’t understand what you’re getting into,” Hayter admitted to the young man “It’s something you don’t want to see…it’s like going through a war scene. It has bothered me. In 40 years, I’ve been to all kinds of accidents and seen people all smashed up and I’ve learned to deal with it, but this was different.”
“I can’t imagine what it was like,” McLeish told Hayter.
Then, after the veteran firefighter returned to his table, McLeish told The Independent he wanted to be at the appreciation night which included all the firefighters from Alvinston, to say his thanks.
“I can’t thank him enough for my life. He saved my life…my family thanks you because of you, I’m here for Christmas.”