Apprentice ‘Saved’ By CPR & The ‘Quick Thinking’ Of Sheet Metal Workers Union Instructors
(INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA) - When first-year Apprentice John Walker returned to Sheet Metal Workers Local 20’s Indianapolis Training Center after lunch in January, he didn’t feel well - his legs were shaking, he was lethargic and his arm was tingling.
Self-admittedly stubborn, Walker sat in the back of class and tried to catch some shut-eye before class began, but he couldn’t get comfortable.
Despite repeated questions from his classmate, he insisted he was fine - until he wasn’t.
The 29-year-old fell to the ground and stopped breathing.
Instructors Sean Webb and Ricky Coleman had finished CPR and First Aid Training with the Apprenticeship Class the week prior.
As Webb began chest compressions on Walker, Apprentices cleared the room, called for emergency services and ran to get other Instructors, who jumped in to help.
Instructor Joe Potesta monitored his pulse while Coleman fetched the automated external defibrillator (AED).
“The reason why everybody did what they were supposed to do was because Sean was in complete control,” Local 20 Training Coordinator Jason Benson said. “I stood back and watched these guys work. It was pretty impressive. I’m very proud of them.”
In the first three months of 2021, CPR and first aid has been taught a handful of times at Local 20. Without that training, they wouldn’t have known what to do, Webb said.
“I woke up to my instructor giving me chest compressions and I took a huge gasp of air. I guess I stopped breathing four times. It was wild,” Walker said. “If it wasn’t for those guys, or if I had been on a roof working, I can’t imagine how that would have gone down. I was definitely in good hands. To this day, I can’t thank Sean enough for how immediate he was able to get everything going. I owe that guy my life.”
The husband and father of two young children had been an athlete all his life, even spending time as a Cage Fighter.
A previous heart condition had been fixed, so the episode and its severity were a surprise.
“What they did really shows the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Union. They saw one of their Members down and they jumped in,” said Dale Clark, who serves as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Specialist for the International Training Institute (ITI) - the education arm of the Unionized Sheet Metal Industry.
“They didn’t panic,” Clark said.
Walker said he doesn’t mind being the example used in future classes to explain why CPR is important.
The more people at the Local who know his story, the more lives it will save.
“They've all been extremely patient with me. They treated me like family and they're still treating me like family,” Walker said. “A lot of places wouldn't do that.”
More than 14,000 Apprentices are registered at 148 training facilities across the United States and Canada.
The ITI is jointly sponsored by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).
ITI supports Apprenticeship and advanced career training for Union Workers in the Sheet Metal, Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), welding and industrial, architectural and ornamental, and service and testing, adjusting and balancing industry throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, the ITI develops and produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to Sheet Metal Apprentices and Journeymen.
For more about ITI, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org.