Radiation control technician Freida Williford and two coworkers had been working in the Y-12 Protected Area and were headed to lunch one day in a van. She remembers feeling strange — dizzy, with a severe headache. No, she didn’t need to go to medical, she told her coworker; it would pass. That was the last memory she had before waking up in the hospital.
As she later learned, the time during her memory gap included lifesaving steps taken by Y‑12 employees and medical professionals that gave Williford a second chance at life.
What happened in between, lifesaving steps taken by Y‑12 employees and medical professionals, gave Williford a second chance at life.
Williford woke up on a ventilator in the hospital after surviving an aneurysm, a stroke, a heart attack, three cardiac arrests and brain surgery, all within a 24‑hour period.
Two months later, Williford is recovering at a rehabilitation center in her hometown of Harriman. That she can look forward to a full recovery is nothing short of a miracle, and that’s why they call her, “Miracle Lady.”
The nickname is not an exaggeration, said CNS Occupational Health Director Dr. Warren Sayre. American Heart Association statistics show a person who has one cardiac arrest has only a 12 percent chance of living.
“When you add in the complications of a heart attack and stroke with aneurysm, the percentage would be even lower,” Sayre said. “If it had not been for the rapid response of her coworkers, this would be a very sad story. As it is, she is a living, breathing miracle.”
The first link in Williford’s miracle chain was Security Police Officer Joe Perian, who heard a van passenger exclaim, “She’s not breathing,” which triggered the first responder instincts of the former sheriff’s deputy and city policeman.
Inside the van, Perian found Williford, collapsed to the floor, wedged between the seats. He called for an ambulance on his radio. He snaked his arm down to feel for a pulse, not finding one.
The driver moved a seat so Perian, a brawny 6’4”, could maneuver Williford up, onto the van seat. Perian could see her airway was blocked, and her mouth was blue. He tilted her head back and to the side to open her airway and compressed her chest two or three times. Williford gasped and began breathing again, but it was labored. The men got her moved outside to the ground where Perian monitored her pulse and breathing.
All of that happened in fewer than three minutes before reinforcements arrived: two fire engines and an ambulance. When Williford’s heart stopped again en route to the hospital, five paramedics took turns administering CPR: Trey Lawrence, Rick Dettmering, Eddie Johnson, Capt. Brad Holt and Loyd Williams.
Perian never thought he’d have to use his first responder training at Y‑12, since the site has its own emergency services. But he realizes a medical emergency could just as easily happen at a grocery store, restaurant, home or church.
“People need to not be afraid to render aid. Just clearing the airway could mean the difference between life and death,” he said.
Fire Chief Scott Vowell praised Perian and the paramedics that formed the next links in the chain.
“The quick actions and response from Joe Perian and the fire/EMS response increased her chances of survival,” he said. “It is a credit to the dedication of the Security Force and Fire Department working hand‑in‑hand to serve our family at Y-12.”
Every year, we get excited about Groundhog Day. Will Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow? Will he predict six more weeks of winter? Is spring just around the corner? So many questions. Anderson County eighth graders have lots of questions, too. And on this Groundhog Day, they came out of their traditional classroom settings to see where their shadow might take them in a career.
At the Y-12 National Security Complex, students from Norwood Middle School heard from firemen Craig Shaver and Brandon Alcorn; security police officers Brian Martin, John Fellers and Donnie Walker; Atomic Trades and Labor Council President Mike Thompson and Chief Steward of Pipefitters Tim Willis. Each speaker described a day in their lives at Y-12--what they do, how they do it and what education and certifications they needed to build their careers.
Thompson told the students that despite not having a college degree, his education didn’t stop when he went to work at Y-12. “Any job at Y-12 requires learning new things,” he said. “You never stop learning.”
The one-hour event at New Hope Center’s Wamp Auditorium was hosted by Consolidated Nuclear Security’s Gene Patterson. Patterson described his role at Y-12 and how his work fits into the overall Y-12 mission. Afterwards, the students were encouraged to ask questions of the panel to better understand the opportunities in front of them.
The visit to Y-12 was one of several that took place on Groundhog Day. More than 700 fourth- through eighth-grade students participated at industries and businesses across Anderson County. Other participating industries included Clayton Homes, Magna Eagle Bend Manufacturing, Northrop Grumman Remotec and SL Tennessee.
Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge officials recently joined area business leaders and hospital volunteers in dedicating the Center’s newest hospitality house, which provides temporary lodging for patients and their families who travel to Oak Ridge for extended medical treatment.
Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC was recognized during a dedication ceremony for its $20,000 donation to the renovation of the house along West Tennessee Avenue.
CNS President and Chief Executive Officer Morgan Smith, Vice President and Deputy Enterprise Manager Michelle Reichert, and Vice President and Y-12 Site Manager Bill Tindal attended the event and later toured the house, which when completed, will be the Center’s third hospitality house. The house’s shared living room will bear the name of CNS.
“Having a loved one who’s ill is tough enough, but to have to worry about traveling or paying for lodging during a hospital stay makes it even tougher, “ said Smith. “This third hospitality house will lift a bit of that burden, allowing families to stay in the Oak Ridge area for free while dealing with a family illness. CNS is proud to help and be part of this endeavor.”
Also attending the dedication was Atomic Trades and Labor Council President Mike Thompson. ATLC members provided some of the labor during the early renovation of the home.
“We did a lot of the early demolition work,” said Thompson. ATLC volunteers also did plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning work in the home. “It was a joy to contribute time and effort to help get this third house to completion so it can serve the East Tennessee area,” he said.
Not one member of the crew that operates Y-12’s high-voltage Elza Switchyard has been injured at work in 15 years — not even a simple first-aid injury.
The journeyman high-voltage electricians, part of the Power Operations division of Infrastructure and members of the United Steel Workers, work with the 161,000-volt electrical system that supplies all Y‑12’s power.
Since the last injury in 2001, Y-12’s managing contractor has changed, safety programs have changed, and Elza crewmembers have retired while others took their places. One remarkable aspect that hasn’t changed — all of the electricians have gone home safe and well every work day.
“This small crew, doing very hazardous work in the high‑voltage switchyard, can teach us huge lessons about watching out for one another’s safety,” CNS Vice President and Y-12 Site Manager Bill Tindal said. “We’re extremely proud of their record of working injury free, one day at a time.”
CNS tracks several types of injuries for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including recordable injuries (those that require more than first aid) as well as lost work day injuries. To put this accomplishment in perspective, the 90-Day Safety Challenge Award recognizes Y-12 organizations that are able to go 90 days without a recordable injury.
“I think this is an outstanding achievement, especially since they are working in an area daily with high voltages,” said Elza Switchyard supervisor Karla Wright. “These guys take ownership of the system, their actions, and look out for the safety of each other. The approach is: We’re not going to have anybody hurt. Everybody’s going home safe — the way we came in that morning.”
Elza crewmembers said the level of danger in their work keeps them from becoming complacent or doing tasks through rote repetition. The Y-12 site typically uses 23–25 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 5,000 homes.
Supervisor Mark Lyons said planning a work task can take weeks or months.
“They’re just safety oriented. We talk things over,” Lyons said. “They’re just like a big, happy family.”
The crewmember with the longest tenure is Mike Hitson, at 41 years. The newest is Jason Harmon with three years, with the others falling in between. The crew size has ranged from 7 to 17 over the years.
“We talk about things before we ever get started,” Harmon said. “You don’t get a second chance with that,” nodding toward the towering structures in the switchyard.
Don Raby has visited New Hope Cemetery several times, but December 29 marked his homecoming. Raby was buried next to his great-great-grandfather Samuel Raby, a corporal in the third Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War. The younger Raby’s service in the U.S. Navy warranted an honor guard 21-gun salute. Raby’s name gave him the distinction of being a member of one of five families who make up a large portion of the 200-plus plots in the cemetery.
New Hope Cemetery is one of seven maintained cemeteries on the Y-12 portion of the Department of Energy reservation in Oak Ridge. More than 70 cemeteries, with headstones dating back as far as 1811, exist in the city and on the reservation, land taken over by the U.S. government as part of WWII’s Manhattan Project.
Raby’s interest in the reservation’s pre-war history led him to compile a collection of photos documenting the approximately 1,000 displaced homesteads on the 59,000 acres known then as the Kingston Demolition Range. Y-12 sponsored Raby and the Pellissippi Genealogical and Historical Society with $1,000 to locate and scan the photos from the National Archives in Atlanta. The collection is available in several local libraries. In addition to helping identify and document several grave sites, Raby also participated with Y-12 in renovating the New Hope Cemetery in 2005, which included cleaning headstones and constructing a fence and entryway.