Joshua Vincent only had to ask a few questions before he realized something wasn’t right about the voice on the other end of the line. It wasn’t until much later that he, the caller or anyone else would realized how dire the situation could have been had he not kept her on the line.
Vincent was working the night shift late last March, answering customer service calls for Clark Public Utilities at its offices on Fort Vancouver Way, when 66-year-old Laurel Faught called around 8 p.m. At this point in Vincent’s shift, he’d usually be at a different PUD location, alongside a different cast of co-workers. But, for whatever reason, he spent this night in one spot.
“I can’t tell you why I was there,” he said. “But it was a very good thing I was there, because I got some help from a co-worker who was working at the fire department before and let me know you can get a call out from the fire department without them turning on the sirens.”
About 15 minutes before Vincent was to go on break, Faught called the customer service line to follow up on an in-home energy assistance appointment she had earlier that day. Vincent pulled up her account history and immediately saw she was always on top of things. The workers who had visited her earlier that day said she was well-prepared when they arrived.
“Usually when you look at an account … you can tell how on top of things that customer is. She is a person who is very much on top of things. And our conversation wasn’t adding up with that,” he said.
Faught, who lives alone, wanted to know what the results were from, but she was struggling to keep the timeline straight, thinking the visit took place days, rather than hours, before. She apologized, saying that she was feeling scattered, a bit dizzy and wanted a nap. She mentioned something about a doctor’s appointment days earlier as well as changes to her medication.
“I was like, ‘OK, that’s kind of alarming,'” Vincent said.
He kept her talking, blending the conversation with her experience as a PUD customer and details about how she was feeling in the moment. He offered to call an ambulance for her, but Faught declined. She didn’t want to cause a scene with the emergency lights outside of her trailer court. On top of that, she said a friend was coming over soon.
But, based on her timeline, Vincent wasn’t sure what to believe. He also was getting worried because her voice was growing increasingly lethargic and her tone became softer as the minutes passed. Vincent offered to stay on the phone with her until her friend arrived. At one point, they hung up so Faught could use the restroom, but Vincent got her permission to call back in five minutes.
He knew something was wrong, but he was nervous about calling paramedics for fear that either she or he might incur a bill, even if she didn’t need help. Luckily for him, one of the PUD’s newer customer service representatives who once worked for Clark County Fire & Rescue happened to be working with him that night.
“I knew we could send an engine or an ambulance for a welfare check … (and) as long they didn’t transport her, she wouldn’t be charged,” said Jacquie Keller, a Clark customer service representative. “I (also) knew you could request an ambulance with no sirens because periodically (my sister-in-law’s mother) would have issues and didn’t want sirens.”
Armed with that information, Vincent called Faught back as he said he would. By that point, they both knew something was medically wrong. He relayed his newfound information about the paramedics and, again, asked her permission to call for a welfare check.
Finally, Faught agreed.
Vincent stayed on the line until an ambulance was parked outside. The whole ordeal lasted roughly 20 minutes.
Looking back, Faught said she doesn’t remember much of that day — not the in-home visit that set off the chain of events, not the reason for calling, not talking to Vincent and not being shy about sirens.
“It was pretty amazing, really,” Faught said. “I don’t even know why I was on the phone with him.”
It wasn’t until the paramedics were standing in front of her that things started to make sense. Her friend showed up a short time later, and her church bishop soon followed.
“Everything was black,” she said. “Then I remember this little window of light opening up, and I could see the top of the paramedics’ boots and their pants and then them saying, ‘You need to go to the hospital.'”
Although she didn’t realize it, her blood pressure had skyrocketed and she was “pretty close to stroking out.” Doctors later told the mother of six and grandmother of 20 that she would have died had Vincent not intervened when he did.
It took three days in the hospital for her to recover. She had to go back several times in the following months before her health improved.
“They diagnosed me with dementia, so I didn’t have a really happy ending. But I’m doing fine,” she said. “I’m feeling much better now and not having any real dementia problems.”
When Vincent hung up the phone that night, he updated his co-workers, went back to work and tried to shake off the call, thinking that he’d never hear what became of Faught. But the next day someone close to Faught dropped by the PUD office and said she was in the hospital but would live.
Word of what Vincent did made its way around the utility and beyond. Earlier this month he traveled to Spokane to be honored with a safety award from the Washington PUD Association, during its annual conference. He was recognized with videos of appreciation from Clark’s leadership, including its CEO, Wayne Nelson.
Faught wasn’t aware of any of that. She never expected to hear anything more of it and just decided to let it go. Then the utility called to tell her about his award.
“I was just tickled pink,” Faught said recently, looking back on the call. “I really wanted to thank him but I didn’t know who he was really. I’d like to give him a big hug and say thank you.”
Then, on Friday, when the two met in person at one of the PUD’s facilities, she gave him that hug.