Nobody at INDOT is more aware that June 18-24 is National Lightning Awareness Safety Week than Greenfield District Safety Consultant Tiana Bumps. After being struck by lightning in 2015, she suffers daily from physical ailments attributed to the strike.
Bumps could wallow in pity, but instead she uses the experience to help fellow INDOT employees. She knows that she made mistakes that fateful day; as a result, she educates all new hires in the district how best to avoid being electrocuted by lightning.
In 2015, Bumps was a truck driver for a concrete supply company. On Sept. 1, it had been drizzling all day, but no threatening clouds were perceptible. Bumps’ high-visibility jacket and jeans were soaked from working all day. The trucks were spread out; some of them, like Bumps’ truck, had already poured concrete during this run, but others were in line to do so.
Bumps was standing at the front of her truck with a water hose in her right hand, spraying off the excess concrete from the metal deck plate. Her left hand grasped onto the same deck plate because she was tired from the busy day. She wore a rubber glove on her left hand to cover the metal bracket over her broken middle finger that resulted from an accident the day before.
“All of a sudden, the metal deck plate I was holding onto was hit with what looked and felt like a power-line transformer blowing up,” said Bumps. “The flash of light was so bright, and the heat and sound were intense enough for me to turn my head in the opposite direction. As I did this, I watched the lightning run over my left arm, go down into my left glove, find the metal finger bracket, and blow the metal finger bracket and rubber glove off my hand.”
The power of the jolt sent Bumps flying backward nearly 20 feet.
“It all happened so fast, but somehow I stayed standing,” said Bumps. “People ran from the warehouse yelling, ‘You got hit, you got hit!’ It had knocked off their power and the power to the building next to them, which was more than 500 feet away.”
At the hospital, medical personnel ran a few tests.
“Everything checked out OK except I couldn’t hear out of my left ear, my index finger on my left hand had no feeling, there was a burn at the top of where my rubber glove once touched, and my heart rate was stuck in ‘flight mode,’ racing very high,” said Bumps. Nearly eight years later, she said her heart rate is still stuck in high mode, she has no feeling in the index finger, and the hearing in her left ear is still diminished. Doctors recently found out that the lightning strike damaged a nerve on the left side of her head, which causes severe constant migraines. In August 2019, Bumps joined INDOT as a Construction highway technician. She moved to the district’s Safety team in March 2021. Bumps is motivated to help INDOT employees avoid being struck by lightning and not end up like her. “The experience taught me so much — how not to stay out in wet clothes and how lightning can come out of nowhere,” she said. “That day, there were no signs of lightning, no sightings, and no thunder. It all happened so fast. With the type of work that we do and around these big trucks and equipment, we must stay vigilant at the first sign of bad weather.” In hindsight, Bumps knows that she made a mistake by standing in an open area around a metal target while it was raining. “In these conditions, please wear your PPE, don’t touch metal and instead get inside the vehicle or a building, and never stand under trees,” said Bumps. “It is also a good practice to be aware of where power lines are located and never get out of a vehicle if you hit power lines, unless the vehicle is on fire or in another dangerous situation. Also, don’t approach a vehicle if lines are down. Electricity can travel up to a 60-foot radius. If you do have to exit the vehicle, jump out and land with both feet on the ground at the same time and have both feet touching each other. Scoot one foot then the other while maintaining contact with each other and the ground until a radius of 60 feet or more has taken place.” At least Bumps has solace that she did something right that day. “I truly believe that the rubber glove and work boots saved my life that day,” she said.