Answering the Call

A Line Construction & Maintenance lead, Tom Whitehead works out of Penelec's Philipsburg Service Center.

June 25, 2019

“I don’t know what made that lady call 911 to report a low wire that night, but if she hadn’t, who knows what might have happened,” said Tom Whitehead, Line Construction & Maintenance lead at Penelec’s Philipsburg Service Center. He was referring to his role in helping two accident victims that he came across on his way to investigating the report.

Saturday night, June 1, Tom had just completed an outage repair near Madera, Pa., when he was dispatched to investigate a trouble call in Tyrone, about 20 miles away. At approximately 11:45 p.m., as he came around a curve on Route 453, he saw a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle (ATV) flipped upside down on the road, next to the guardrail.

“That stretch of road is pretty treacherous. It’s a skinny road with an S curve, a steep hill and a big drop-off. There are accidents in that area all the time,” said Tom. “When I saw the ATV flipped upside down, I knew something bad had happened.”

He pulled over in a safe area a little way down the hill, flipped on the bucket truck’s flashing lights, grabbed a flashlight and headed back to investigate.

“As soon as I opened the door to my truck, I could hear the guy screaming for help,” said Tom. When Tom got to the ATV, he looked over the guardrail and saw a man and woman about 50 feet down the steep embankment. Both were clearly injured, so Tom went back to the truck and called 911 for an ambulance. Then he grabbed a rope, which he tied to the guardrail, and climbed down the embankment to help.

The slope was covered in pebble gravel and so steep that just standing up was difficult, even with the rope. Getting the victims – a husband and wife – back up to the road was a long, laborious process. When they reached the top, Tom tended to the woman’s visible injuries until emergency personnel arrived and transported the pair to a local hospital. While both sustained serious injuries, they are expected to recover.

A few days after the accident, Tom got in touch with the couple through social media and the husband wrote: “I’m glad there are still people like you out there, because we would not still be here without you.”

Emily Whitehead Update

Tom’s daughter, Emily, was featured in FirstEnergy’s United Way campaign in 2012. She has recovered from a rare form of leukemia thanks to a then-experimental treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. Tom and his family received a great deal of support from coworkers and others, including extra paid time off donated through the company’s Catastrophic Assistance & Relief for Employees (CARE) program.

“I try to do something to help others every day because so many helped us,” said Tom.

Emily is now 14 years old and next fall will start ninth grade at her local high school. She has been cancer free for seven years. For more information on the Whitehead family’s efforts to fight childhood cancer, visit*

Emily Whitehead will be a ninth grader in high school this fall.

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