Still no offer for job applicant who saved city worker on tower

DOVER — After an employment interview turned into a dramatic high altitude rescue effort two weeks ago, one obvious question remains:

Did he get the job?

On Wednesday, Michael St. John was still hoping that the City of Dover would offer him a spot in the public works department.

Prospective employee Mr. St. John, 56, was atop a 130-foot high water tower on Sept. 7 as part of the hiring process when a city worker grew unsteady on his feet.

The man was having trouble breathing and he “kind of bent over, put his elbows on the railing and tried to gather himself,” Mr. St. John recalled.

“I told him ‘(Name) you need to sit down, are you OK?’ He’s a pretty stubborn guy and he didn’t want me to call 911 at first.”

Taking the direction of the man to be his supervisor if hired, the job applicant tried to contact his wife, a registered nurse, via cell phone for some advice.

She didn’t answer.

At that point, Mr. St. John called 911 and explained the dangerous situation. Help was soon on the way, but Mr. St. John resisted the opportunity to climb back down the tower’s steps.

“I wanted to stay there to keep him awake and alert,” said Mr. St. John, adding that he was certified in Basic Life Support and capable of rendering some medical aid if the condition worsened.

“It probably got to the point  where I was annoying him. I kept telling him ‘(Name) I need to know you’re still alert and awake.’ “

City Manager Donna Mitchell said Wednesday that the town employee suffered cardiac arrest and was recuperating at home and doing physical therapy after a hospital stay.

“He’s doing OK,” she said.

Mr. St. John is among three candidates for the job as the hiring process continues, Ms. Mitchell said. Possibly saving the life of his potential boss must have at the very least registered in his favor.

“I know the supervisor was impressed with (Mr. St. John) and how he seemed to keep a calm head during the incident,” Ms. Mitchell said.

High level operation

The late morning incident took place at 391 United Way near a Wawa store at the intersection of U.S. 13 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The men first climbed up the tower to make sure the job applicant understood the reality of working at heights and could do it.

“That doesn’t bother me,” Mr. St. John said without a hint of doubt in his voice.

The employee never lost consciousness during a two hour-plus ordeal and was eventually lowered to the ground by a Special Operations Team trained to handle high angle rescues.

Dover Fire Department members and EMTs had arrived to provide care, and the city employee was transported to Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital in Dover.

Dover Police first called the Dover Fire Department at 9:49 a.m. about a possible situation at the water tower, said spokesman Third Assistant Chief Michael O’Connor Jr. shortly after the incident.

Upon arrival, he said, crews realized “the height needed for the operation far exceeded our ladder truck’s capability.”

Mr. St. John deflected any praise for his actions to first responders.

“I’m not going to take any credit because the rescuers came to the scene and the special operations arrived and took over,” Mr. St. John said. “I just kept him awake and talking and called 911.”

Secured in a harness, Mr. St. John was able to climb down the tower stairs under his own power. He never felt he was in danger and experienced no medical symptoms on his own during a hot and humid late morning.

The National Weather Service recorded a temperature of 82 degrees during the operation at 11 a.m., with a heat index of 88 that steadily climbed into the low 90s.

It was so hot that a tent and cool mist machine were brought to the scene, along with ample bottles of water and Gatorade.

“No, no heck no,” Mr. St. John said when asked if he ever felt unsafe or in distress.

“I was up there three hours and my bald head got sunburned, but other than that I was fine. It was a terrible situation for him, but I was OK.”

Despite shrugging off his own actions and lauding others for theirs, Mr. St. John was justifiably greeted as a hero when he returned to the ground. By that time, over 50 first responders from several fire companies, police departments, emergency and medical units had arrived to support the cause.

“The two water guys said afterward they would recommend me for the job, and I had six rescuers come up to me afterward saying they wanted to put in a good word for me,” Mr. St. John said.

Soon after, the enormity of what had just happened hit Mr. St. John.

“It’s funny because I was surprised how calm I was at the top of the tower but once I got on the ground I did start to become a bit emotional as it all kind of sank in,” Mr. St. John said.

A couple days later, Mr. St. John visited his recovering would-be boss at the hospital. The man appeared to be in much better shape than when they parted at the water tower.

“It was a big relief,” Mr. St. John said of the followup meeting. “He’s a good man and he of course thanked me for sticking it out. The rescuers were the heroes.”

So this week, Mr. St. John was still hoping to join the city work staff full time. The Michigan native enjoyed working at a municipal water department in Oklahoma before arriving in Dover with his family in April. Mr. St. John and his wife followed their daughter and son in law – a C-17 pilot stationed at Dover Air Force Base – to the area.

Mr. St. John is working locally as a machine maintenance electrician, but sure would like to hear from the City of Dover.

“I don’t know  at else I have to go through, but I hope I get the job,” Mr. St. John said. “I spoke with the (human resources) director who said that right now the department is overwhelmed with the supervisor being out.”


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