Roofer Burned, Bruised, Thankful — and Back to Work Day After Accident
'I thought I was going to die. The next thing I knew I was on the ground,' said Chris Quinlan, thinking about how he was almost electrocuted on Rochester Hills roof.
Chris Quinlan has heard all about second chances and nine lives and how everything happens for a reason.
And now the 25-year-old roofer from Royal Oak believes all of those things and more.
On Tuesday, Quinlan was working on a roof in Rochester Hills when the nail gun he was holding made contact with an uncovered electrical wire. For about 8 seconds he had 240 volts of electricity convulsing through his body, until his friend was able to kick him free. Quinlan flipped off the roof to the ground 12 feet below.
And lived to tell this story.
8 seconds of chaos
Quinlan and a crew of five others had just begun work for the morning on a home on Simpson Drive off Auburn Road in Rochester Hills. He has been working on roofs since he was 16; his dad does windows so this type of work is in his blood.
It was just before 10 a.m. and Quinlan was standing on the back corner of the roof near where the main electrical line attaches to the house. He was starting to install shingles around the pole that feeds the wires through the roof and into the home — "just like I've done about 500 times before," he said — and was talking to his buddy, Jason Hoffman, who was installing shingles about 10 feet away.
"Chris was talking, and then he stopped," said Hoffman, 31, of Clawson. "I can't explain the noise that I heard, but it made me look over. I saw him shaking. He had one arm wrapped around the pole. He was foaming at the mouth.
"I saw sparks of light coming out of him. It looked like sparklers. His chest had smoke in front of it."
Hoffman jumped from where he stood near the chimney to the corner of the roof where Quinlan was stuck around the pole. Hoffman started screaming for help. He kicked his buddy — hard — to try to free him. Hoffman felt an electrical current come through his kicking leg, but Quinlan didn't budge. Hoffman dropped down onto his back, pulled his knees into his chest and then used all of his force and body weight to try to kick his friend free. All the while he was shouting "Move! Move!"
This time, it worked. Quinlan flipped over the pole and off the roof. He landed on a wooden banister connected to the back deck down below, then rolled off the banister onto the ground.
The whole frantic chain of events took about 8 seconds.
In the meantime, the rest of the crew on the roof was also coming to help. "We were sliding all over because there weren't any shingles on the roof yet; we had just laid the paper and it was so slippery," said Matthew Thomas, 28, of Hazel Park.
Thomas jumped to the ground. In the meantime, Hoffman was calling 911 while climbing down a ladder.
"The 911 operator told me not to move him, and then all of a sudden I watched him stand up," Hoffman said about Quinlan. "He said, 'I'm OK; I'm OK' and then walked to the front of the house."
He called his dad. He called his girlfriend. He was hooked up to a heart monitor and had X-rays. He sent a text message back to his co-workers on the job site to make sure they had covered up the roof in case it rained.
And then he started to cry.
'I thought I was going to die'
"The doctors asked me if I needed something for the pain and I told them I wasn't crying because I was in pain," Quinlan said.
Quinlan remembers most of what happened: He remembers everything going black and then seeing flashes of white light. He remembers trying to move himself but his muscles locking up.
"It seemed like an eternity," he said."I thought, 'This is it.' I thought I was going to die. The next thing I knew I was on the ground."
Quinlan said when he got to McLaren, there were a dozen people standing around, waiting. Someone announced, "this is the guy who was struck by electricity" and they all turned and looked.
"They had been waiting for me, but they didn't expect to see me come in like that," Quinlan said.
Quinlan left the hospital later without a broken bone or any damage to his heart. He had red burn marks on his arm and on both thighs. He had sore muscles and bruises from the fall.
The next morning, he returned to work.
A happy ending
On Wednesday afternoon, just as Quinlan, Hoffman and their crew were finishing up the roofing job they had started the day before, they reflected on how things happened — and why their buddy was saved.
"Jason and I met at a gas station two years ago," Quinlan said about Hoffman, the friend who saved his life. "I keep thinking, 'What if we had never met?'
"That's just how the world rolls."
Hoffman said the job wasn't dangerous and that Quinlan wasn't at all careless — it was the faulty wires that caused the electrical accident.
"They weren't supposed to be uncovered like that," Hoffman said. "That was wrong. That was the electrical company's fault." Shortly after the accident, the wires were covered up with tape.
Quinlan said everything happens for a reason, and he wonders if this has anything to do with it: While he was in the hospital on Tuesday, the staff brought a defribrilator machine into his room, "just in case," he said.
"The next thing I know, they're pulling open the sheet from the room next to me and the guy is having a heart attack. They used the defribrilator on the guy and it saved his life.
"So you just never know."