Anger over her husband’s death is channeled
to assist climbers nationwide
August 19, 2013 – Bridgette Hester has never climbed a tower, might not know the difference between a D ring and an O ring, and could possibly think that pulling tension is related to stress management.
So how did she quickly become the Mother Jones-type advocate for climber safety and enforcement as well as a non-profit foundation president to assist spouses and children of deceased or severely injured tower technicians?
“I did not choose this industry. It chose me,” said Bridgette who is certain her calling surfaced on July 22, 2010, a typical day for many thousands of tower technicians like her husband, Jonce Hubble, 41, and his close friend and co-worker Barry Sloan, 37.
It was a humid 96 degrees throughout most of the afternoon in Anniston, Ala. and both men coveted an occasional breeze as they attached coax to the 300-foot guyed tower they were on.
With another 50 feet to go, both climbers would soon call it a day, sadly, their last day after a third party bucket truck operator backed his vehicle into the structure’s guy wires, causing the small-faced tower to buckle and collapse, killing both men.
Bridgette recalls seeing Jonce on a metal table in the hospital.
“He was missing an arm and a leg. And I kept thinking, he’s going to wake up. I know he’s going to wake up. Whatever it takes; we’ll get bionic prosthetics. Wake up!”
He passed away several hours later.
Anger channeled in the right direction
Anger is a natural stage of loss and grief and Bridgette said, “After his death, the more I learned about the industry, the angrier I became.”
However, supported by her strong religious faith, Bridgette channeled that anger and an undisclosed settlement from the crane company to form the Hubble Foundation to provide family support, and scholarships to the children and widows of fallen and seriously injured climbers.
She has already awarded numerous scholarships and to raise additional money for students the foundation is raffling a 2009 Mustang convertible
Bridgette is also promoting tower safety awareness through the sale of t-shirts.
Her most recent marketing effort is placing a billboard on I-40 East at 4th St. in Nashville, Tenn. last week proclaiming, along with a silhouetted climber, “This guy’s job is dangerous enough. Why should you care?”
Bridgette took a six-hour road trip yesterday to see the sign which has already captured the attention of tower companies who have called her and want to assist in her efforts.
Her foundation recently donated a sign in memory of Charles Lupton who passed away in 2008, reading “Exercise Safety While Climbing.”
Tower owner Crown Castle International thought the safety message was important as a reminder to all technicians and provided permission to place the sign on the compound fence on the site where Lupton died.
PWA donation is largest ever
The foundation’s largest donation to date came from the Pennsylvania Wireless Association.
Bridgette said that when PWA President Chris Pleibel and Secretary Mario Calabretta called and informed her of their gift of $5,000 to the foundation, “I was literally in tears and so overwhelmed.”
But she’s equally as appreciative to all contributors no matter what amount they are able to donate.
A wife of a climber in Pennsylvania was also taken back by Bridgette’s concern when she made a donation to the woman after hearing that she had to sell almost all of the furniture in the house to cope with mounting medical bills that were not covered when her husband fell.
“It was so sad,” Bridgette said, “she was living in an empty house.”
Bridgette has also created a support group for families who have lost a loved one due to an industry accident and tries to reach out to them following a debilitating accident.
She recalls how troubled she felt following Jonce’s death. Wally Reardon of the Tower Climber Protection Project was the first person who reached out to her. “It was really appreciated,” she said.
She said that Jonce’s employer, McCord Communications, was so very compassionate following his death, but she’s aware of other climbers whose companies provided little, if any assistance.
She’s also aware of many climbers who were seriously injured and were caught up in workers compensation conflicts and were unable to pay their medical bills. In a couple of fatalities families couldn’t even raise the money for a funeral.
Increase in climber deaths needs to be studied
When asked what she thought was behind the recent spate of fatalities in the past few weeks, Bridgette rolled out the usual suspects: ambitious deadlines, new companies, lack of training and low contract pricing demands.
But with a Ph.D. in Human Services, Bridgette, who will be taking ComTrain training next week, said she realizes that these reasons might cloak other factors.
“Because I am a researcher by trade, the foundation is also applying for federal grants to conduct academic research within the industry,” she said.
Currently, according to Bridgette, there is no academic research from a sociological, psychological, or human services perspective as it relates to the climber or the climber’s perspective.
“I don’t feel you can completely understand any industry in its entirety if you fail to study and explore the people that execute the work of that industry.”
There are almost two dozen Facebook groups and Bridgette frequently posts on many of them.
She’ll readily admit online to her limited industry knowledge regarding some subjects - red meat for climber carnivores that attack as a way of raising their own self-worth or self-esteem.
But Bridgette gets a pass, as she should, because her supporters know she’s charging hard in the right direction.
Bridgette is a part time adjunct professor of sociology and psychology at Strayer University and teaches human services at the University of Phoenix. She married Ronny Hester in July of 2012. They reside in Guntersville, Ala.
For additional information on the Hubble Foundation, click here.