Sanitation Equipment Operator Wesley Burningham’s sharp eye and instinct led him to help an injured resident on his route
On Tuesdays, Wesley Burningham’s weekly trash collection route takes him through a wide swath of the Sugar House and Harvard-Yale neighborhoods. Most days are uneventful.
But not on the morning of May 17. Wesley was driving his sanitation truck along the 1200 East block of Roosevelt Avenue. He pulled the truck up to the trash cans in front of a home, and noticed something a little “off,” he says.
“I saw an older lady, down on the ground, on all fours. There are trees in the yard and I couldn’t see her well. I thought she was just working in her garden down on her knees, pulling weeds.”
Wesley drove to the next house. But something didn’t feel right. He circled back to the woman’s house. She began waving at him, weakly, while still on the ground.
“I got out and walked up to her. She turned toward me and I saw blood coming down her face. She had a huge knot on the side of her forehead. She said she had fallen but she was pretty dazed and didn’t offer much more than that,” Wesley says.
He helped her to the front porch and called 911. A dispatcher talked Wesley through the situation.
“The dispatcher asked me how old the lady was. I said ‘I think she’s in her eighties.’ And then she piped up and said ‘I’m 93!’ I had to laugh.”
With an ambulance on the way, Wesley sat with the woman on her porch and kept her talking. She was shaking and kept saying she wanted to go inside.
“I thought she might have a concussion, and letting her go in would be the worst thing to do,” he says. “The bump on her head was really swollen. I knew it was best if I kept her outside and kept her occupied. I told her I would stay there and help was on the way.”
Just before the EMTs arrived, she patted Wesley on the hand and said “you’re a good boy.”
Minutes later, an ambulance came and transported her to the hospital. It turns out the customer did sustain a concussion. Wesley learned this after checking back the following Tuesday. A caretaker at the home updated him on the woman’s condition. She is doing well.
He never got her name. He only knew she needed help.The following week, Wesley stopped at the house and informed the caretaker of the city’s can-to-curb service for people with mobility challenges. Under the program, a sanitation worker will take the cans out and return them after collection. It only takes a phone call to sign up.
Sanitation Program Director Lorna Vogt says events like the one Wesley took charge of aren’t all that rare.
“Sanitation employees like Wesley not only keep our neighborhoods clean, they get to know many of the residents personally and help out in ways big and small without anyone ever knowing. Next time you see your sanitation worker, give him or her a wave and know they take great pride in their work on your behalf.”
Wesley joined the city’s sanitation team four years ago after working in sanitation for seven years in Salt Lake County. At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Wesley once played football at Snow College and then at the University of Utah under former Coach Ron McBride. His all-consuming hobby is track drag racing.
Like all sanitation team members, he works a different collection route Monday through Friday, and says he keeps his eyes and ears tuned to anything amiss in city neighborhoods. If he notices anything suspicious, he’ll report it.
“It’s not a job requirement or anything like that. It’s just what you do.”