Skilled and ready construction workers save driver on I-90

by guest blogger Noel Brady

Glen Palacio and Kirk Whalen

Two contractor crewmen on I-90 were the right guys in the right place Thursday, May 5, when they ran to help a motorist having a heart attack in morning rush hour. Gary Merlino Construction workers Kirk Whalen and Glen Palacios likely saved the man’s life because they knew exactly what to do and didn’t skip a beat, according to the State Patrol.

They were working on a storm drain in the freeway median about 8:30 a.m., when they saw a green Toyota Corolla hit a Jersey barrier on Mercer Island. They found the driver unconscious and immediately pulled him out of the car. When they lost the man’s pulse, Whalen positioned him and cleared his airway; while Palacios started chest compressions. Both were trained and certified in CPR – Whalen as an EMT and Palacio as a U.S. Air Force firefighter.

"I heard him kind of breathing, but it was more of a gurgle," Whalen told the Seattle Times after paramedics rushed the man to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, where he was stable Friday afternoon.

Merlino Project Engineer Patrick Hafferty said the driver was lucky that two people as well trained as Whalen and Palacios were at the scene and ready to help. Merlino requires foreman to have company-provided first-aid certification, but it’s not uncommon for laborers like Whalen to obtain emergency and medical training outside of work.

“These guys are kinda local heroes here,” Hafferty said. “I don’t think they thought twice about it. That’s exactly what our company is all about – going above and beyond what’s expected.”

Safety is always a priority, said Bryant Bullamore, our project engineer for the I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations Project, which Whalen and Palacio were working on at the time. But it’s hard to anticipate something like this. “These guys deserve a lot of respect, not just for running to help, but for knowing what to do and never hesitating.”

What to do was never a question, Palacio said. "If you are trained and have the opportunity to use that training, why not if it's going to save a life?"