One morning last summer, the night crew on Precision Drilling rig 521 had just finished its shift without incident.

“It was an evening the same as any other,” says Precision rig manager Tim Ismond. “The crew had changed shifts and the safety meetings were conducted. We were going to put our top drive together on the floor of the rig.”

Driller Mitch Arsenault stood up from his driller’s chair and stepped outside the doghouse to let the crew know how to go ahead with pinning the top drive. And then, without warning, he collapsed on the rig floor.

A floorhand ran into the doghouse and told Ismond what had happened. The team’s responses were flawless—they did exactly as they’d been trained to do in an emergency.

Ismond sent the floorhand to get the site medic, Jamie Harfield, and tried to comfort Arsenault who let out three or four breaths and then quit breathing.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but Mitch had suffered a cardiac arrest,” Ismond says. He went looking for more help and ran into Harfield—who had helped train the crew in emergency response planning—coming up the rig stairs. She was carrying a defibrillator and quickly strapped it onto Arsenault, who had no pulse. She began CPR and over the next few minutes, sent four powerful electrical currents through his chest, hoping to restart his heart.

Knowing Arsenault needed more advanced and immediate medical treatment, Ismond called STARS air ambulance on a mobile satellite phone.

STARS dispatch said its emergency medical flight team would arrive in 11 minutes. Meanwhile, the Precision Drilling crew and other on-site personnel continued to act with training-manual accuracy as they prepared the helicopter’s arrival in a deep valley north of Grand Prairie.

Crew members placed Arsenault in a rescue stretcher and lowered him off the drilling floor to the ground below.

Next, they loaded him into a vehicle and drove two kilometres down the road to a landing zone. The STARS flight crew, a pilot and two medics, landed exactly 11 minutes after Ismond had called for help. Within minutes, they stabilized Arsenault, the father of two young boys, and were flying him to Grand Prairie’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where he was put on life support. Arsenault was later transferred to the Royal Alexander Hospital in Edmonton.

He’s since fully recovered and is back at work with Precision.

Precision Drilling employees Mitch Arsenault, driller (right) and Tim Ismond, rig manager (left)

Mitch Arsenault, driller (right) and Tim Ismond, rig manager (left)

Arsenault recalls little about the day of his heart attack, but for Ismond, Precision Drilling employees and Modern Resources contractors on-site that day, the event is a vivid and powerful memory.

“I can’t believe the level of professionalism and courage that I witnessed,” Ismond told 1,100 plus people at the STARS & Spurs Gala in Calgary in January as he recounted the dramatic rescue. “I can’t really think of many other careers that are more honorable than saving lives. (STARS crews) are true heroes.”

Ross Pickering, Precision’s senior vice president of Operations, says: “Mitch’s cardiac attack on the rig has a fortunate side. Had it happened when he was driving the remote roads to and from the rig, there might not have been well-trained people around to help. We’re thankful to everyone who assisted.”