Safety, Faith, Grief and Hope
Chisholm Shares Her Story So It Doesn’t Become Yours
It was about three in the afternoon on a cold February day, 2002, when Dawn Chisholm called her husband’s job at a North Dakota grain elevator. It was a call she often made regularly, to check in on her spouse and discuss dinner options.
“I was told there had been an accident and I went into survival mode,” Chisholm recalled, sitting in a table in Kansas City Convention Center after telling her story to Idea Exchange attendees at GEAPS Exchange. “He was suffocated and crushed at the same time.”
She came to Exchange in hopes her story would guide others to make safe choices working in the grain industry. Following her speech, she was on hand at the Grain Entrapment Rescue Demo on the Exchange Expo floor, hoping to reach as many people as possible—hoping to save a life.
A Typical Day
That February was a day like any other day. Bill Lambert, 40, was trying to get his job done, a job he knew how to do. In doing that job, he made choices that would end his life and forever alter the lives of his wife, three children, coworkers, his community—his everything.
“He didn’t have a spotter. He wasn’t wearing a fall harness. He didn’t do lockout tagout. He got complacent and he took things for granted,” Chisholm explained.
Lambert was doing something he had done time and time again without problems. Something many of you may do while you’re trying to get a job done. He assumed all would be fine that day as it had been so many times before. Bill was walking on wet, crusted corn when it caved in and buried the father of three alive. Sara, 10; Alex, 8 and Anna, 11 months would never see their dad again.
When Lambert’s life ended, the lives of his wife and children were forever altered. Chisholm has since remarried. She and her husband have a blended family with seven children. They are faithful and thankful for what they have. Oldest daughter Sara has become an elementary school teacher. Inspired by the people who came to his dad’s aid all those years ago, son Alex is working as a firefighter and paramedic. The youngest, who lost her dad while still a baby, Anna also is considering a career as a first responder.
The family has built strength and resilience. Chisholm refers to them as survivors. Still, Dawn can’t help but wonder what her children’s lives would look like, if only their dad had made different choices that day at work.
A Mission of Safety
Chisholm started presenting her “If Only” presentation in 2017. “I knew the day after Bill’s accident that I was to do something. It took 15 years for time to heal, regain strength and find the words to express what needed to be conveyed,” Chisholm said. “It is very draining to tell our
story, but I look at it as a proactive thing. I look at it as saving lives rather than reliving that moment.”
The talk, which includes family photos and videos of the children talking about their experience and heartache, is one the family considers a calling. Simply, she tells her family’s story in the hope it doesn’t become yours.
Chisholm said she hopes it functions as a vehicle to help employees speak up when they face unsafe situations and for employers to embrace and encourage open dialogue, training and action to put safety measures in place. Safety must be a priority, even when it feels inefficient.
Through If Only, Chisholm has told her family’s story more than 300 times to people in our industry, to church groups and anyone who will listen to her pleas to consider the ramifications of their shortcuts.
She would love to tell you and your colleagues.
Those who hear Dawn often say they have heard many safety talks, but never from her perspective, the perspective of those left behind.
“I want people who hear me to walk with me that cold February seventh. I want to connect to the heart,” she said. “I want people to think about their children, their grandchildren.”
“I tell this story because if I can save just one life, I’ve succeeded,” she said.
If you are interested in having Chisholm come speak to your group, she would love to talk.
“I go wherever the door is open,” she said. “I’m not doing this to make money. I’m in this to save a life.”
Story by Jessica Waltzer