Monsanto employee will receive national award for life-saving actions
Ritchie Friloux (left) and Johnny Polk jumped into action after two fishermen were struck by lightning on Lake Cataouatche last year.
Ritchie Friloux was taking part in the 4th Annual Fishing for Frankie Bass Tournament last August when a thunderstorm moved into the area. Friloux and his fishing partner, Johnny Polk, immediately took cover in their boat when four bolts of lightning struck the water in seconds.
From his prone position, Friloux thought he heard someone yell out for help. He peered across the water and saw another fisherman 100 yards away waving his arms.
Despite the dangerous weather, Friloux immediately took off towards the boat where he encountered brothers Chuck and Chad Colombel.
The Colombels had gotten caught in the large thunderstorm and decided to leave the area after Chad made one more cast. Once Chad got his rod into the 12 o’clock position, disaster struck in the form of a lightning bolt.
"I looked up and Chad was lying on the front deck of the boat next to the trolling motor controls. The foot control was on fire and I put it out," Chuck said. "I noticed Chad was still breathing and I looked around for help. I stood up and began waving my arms and yelling at the boat next to us."
Once Friloux and Polk arrived at the Colombel’s boat, they helped load Chad into their watercraft and took off for Pier 90.
"I looked down at my speedometer and saw we were traveling at 74 miles per hour while crossing Lake Cataouatche," Friloux said.
All Friloux could think about was getting the semiconscious angler to the dock. While they were crossing Cataouatche, Polk called 911 to have emergency responders waiting at Pier 90. He also tried to comfort Chad.
"I kept talking to him but at one point he closed his eyes and started shaking," Polk said. "I knew he was going into shock. It took us less than 10 minutes to get back to Pier 90, but it seemed like an eternity."
Two other fishing brothers, Greg and David Bourdonnay, had stayed with Chuck at the Colombel’s boat. However, Chuck had a problem with his pacemaker due to the lightning strike and the men had to bring him to the Pier 90 dock as well.
The Colombels were transported to West Jefferson Medical Center. Only 24 hours later, Chad, 59, and Chuck, 63, were released and allowed to go home.
"The doctors at West Jeff told me two things happen when lightning hits a person. Either they die immediately or they die if they don’t reach a hospital within the first one to three hours," Chad said. "The quick action of Johnny Polk and Ritchie Friloux getting me to the dock is why I am alive today.
"It’s a miracle that I survived."
As a Monsanto employee, Friloux was nominated for the Lifesaver Award, which is given by the company to one employee in North America who goes above and beyond in the field of safety while off the job.
Friloux recently won the award and will be honored in St. Louis next week.
Sarah Abadie, site behavioral based safety coordinator at Monsanto, said she interviewed Friloux for his nomination and was struck by how humble he is.
"He told me that he just did what anyone else would do. I was taken aback that he doesn’t see himself as a hero," Abadie said. "All of the stuff that Ritchie does in maintenance lends credibility to being able to quickly respond. He has had a couple of past incidents where someone needed him to respond quickly and he did just that.
"He is one of those exemplary employees and Monsanto is privileged to have him."
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