Tyler VanderPol grew up in the Skagit County Fire District #2 where his father was a volunteer firefighter, and he earned his EMT certificate while he was a teenager. After watching his father respond to emergencies across the community, he knew he wanted to serve as a volunteer as well.
That background and training paid off recently when VanderPol – a Shell Puget Sound Refinery operator – and two of his co-workers saved the life of a refinery contractor at the site’s dock. Two of these operators also serve on the refinery’s Emergency Response Team.
VanderPol and fellow operators Klaye Kitchen and Brandon Crandall were working the night shift last September when they received notification around 1:30 a.m. that a contractor had fallen on the dock, wasn’t breathing and was blue in the face.
Teamwork plays key role in successful response
As Kitchen darted for the dock’s office door, VanderPol’s EMT training kicked in, and he asked Crandall to grab the automatic external defibrillator from the dock’s office. These life-saving devices, known as AEDs, are scattered around the refinery in case of cardiac arrest due to heart attack, electric shock or other causes.
“Klaye made it to the victim first,” said VanderPol. “He had no pulse and wasn’t breathing.”
The victim was Inspectorate contractor DJ Reitan, who was working as a cargo inspector. When the three men reached him, VanderPol began CPR. Kitchen and Crandall opened the AED unit and took out the trauma shears to cut away Reitan’s clothing.
“A pure adrenaline rush came over me, and we were going to do whatever it took to keep him alive,” said Crandall.
Kitchen took over CPR while VanderPol readied the AED and applied the pads to Reitan’s chest. The machine automatically takes readings from the patient and recommends a level of shock for the situation. Using the AED for approximately 10 minutes, VanderPol administered three separate shocks to Reitan’s chest.
“Shortly after the third shock, we got a pulse back and he started breathing. It wasn’t looking good at first, and I initially was afraid he wouldn’t make it,” said VanderPol.
Victim is ‘lucky to be alive’
One of the ships had an oxygen tank, so VanderPol placed an oxygen mask on Reitan and then monitored his vitals and heart rate until the ambulance arrived. Reitan, who’s in his early 60s, called his rescuers a few days later to thank them.
“I feel lucky to be alive, and I owe it all to the Shell employees who sprang into action and saved me,” he said. “I don’t remember much about what happened, but I know it was really bad.”
He went on to add, “I’m beyond grateful for their actions, and I can’t thank them enough. Their quick thinking, commitment to safety and care for others — including all contractors — is incredible. Shell truly walks the walk when it comes to safety.”
The doctor told him he would have died within five minutes had the operators not intervened, but the presence of first responders at the refinery isn’t an accident. Refinery policy requires that at least two medical responders and six fire team responders be on-site at all times. Kitchen serves on the refinery’s fire response team. VanderPol serves on the refinery’s fire response team, medical team, high angle rope rescue team and confined space rescue team.
“Teamwork played a critical role in the successful response, and we all had to work together while leveraging each other’s strengths…there was no room for error,” said Crandall.
He then added, “This incident really reinforced for me how quickly your life can change. It’s a good reminder to make every day count.”
Kitchen couldn’t agree more. “Life is precious, and we’re a family out here. No matter what, we always have each other’s backs. No questions asked.”
Rescue puts life in perspective
Shell Puget Sound Refinery’s production manager John White said, “Klaye, Tyler and Brandon exemplify why I am proud to work here. Their dedication to their jobs and family at this facility goes above and beyond what words can express.”
Additional members of Shell’s Emergency Response Team also supported the response that night, and they included Nate Yount, Petronilo Cantu, Al Myers, Jim Lowe, Mark Farnsworth and Jason Muzzy.
“Our Emergency Response Team is special, and all of us should be proud to work with such incredible colleagues who have dedicated themselves to be ready at a moment’s notice to step in and make a difference when people’s lives are at risk,” said Shirley Yap, who serves as Shell Puget Sound Refinery’s GM.
Reitan said that he’ll never take his life for granted again.
“This incident really put a lot in perspective for me,” said Reitan. “I’m a father of four with a lot of things and people to live for, and I almost lost it all...I’m eternally grateful to the folks who kept me alive.”