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Calls Intensify For Stronger Worker Protections As Heat Deaths Rise In Calif. and US – KQED08.23.21

Among the findings:

Current and former OSHA officials acknowledge that the known death tally is a vast undercount. The agency mostly relies on companies to report worker fatalities after they occur, but not all do so.

CJI and NPR reporters analyzed worker heat deaths recorded by OSHA between 2010 and 2020 and compared each incident day's high temperature with historical averages over 40 years. Most of the deaths happened on days that were unusually hot for that date. More than two-thirds occurred on days when the temperature reached at least 90 degrees.

Yet no worker should die from heat, said Ronda McCarthy, an occupational health specialist who directs medical services at the health care provider Concentra, in Waco, Texas. McCarthy spent seven years educating her home state's municipal workers about heat, which reduced cases of worker heat exhaustion and similar conditions there.

"Heat illness should be considered a preventable illness," she said.

OSHA has known about the dangers of heat and how to prevent deaths for decades. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied the effects of heat stress on workers in the U.S. and recommended criteria for an OSHA heat standard. Under the proposal, employers would have had to give employees one break every hour and offer ready access to water. New workers would have received extra breaks so they could acclimate to strenuous activity in the heat.

NIOSH has refined these safety measures first in 1986 and, again, in 2016 but OSHA has not acted on them because of other regulatory priorities. This year, for the first time, OSHA is officially considering a heat standard by putting it on its regulatory agenda. James Frederick, OSHA's acting director, said it's a "priority" for the Biden administration.

"Occupational exposure to heat remains a very important topic," Frederick said in an interview with CJI and NPR. "We're focused on improving our efforts to protect workers moving forward."

Absent a heat standard, OSHA must rely on a 50-year-old regulation guaranteeing workers a "hazard-free workplace." OSHA does require companies to provide adequate water, but not other heat-safety measures.

OSHA's own research shows relying on this general rule hasn't worked. A 2016 study by agency scientists found that some employers whose workers got sick or died from heat hadn't met basic water provisions. Most companies never offered rest breaks. Only one out of 84 total employers had a plan for building up its workers' tolerance for laboring in heat.

In 2011, four labor and public interest organizations, including Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group, petitioned OSHA to issue a heat standard. They asked the agency for an emergency temporary standard because a new rule, the petition stated, "could potentially take many years before it's finalized and implemented."

David Michaels, then the assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, who oversaw OSHA, denied the petition, arguing in a January 2012 letter to petitioners that workers weren't dying from heat at a rate that would justify a legal standard. Recognizing extreme heat's threat, he said most workers can "recover fairly quickly when the appropriate measures are taken."

Instead, Michaels launched a voluntary awareness campaign distributing posters and flyers that instructed employees on how to protect themselves. OSHA incorporated these precautions into a free bilingual phone app featuring government-issued heat alerts and advisories. The agency continued this campaign through 2013. Its principle message remains on OSHA's website today.

Michaels touted the campaign as a success at the time. The numbers are less clear. The number of workers who succumbed to heat topped 61 cases during the campaign's inaugural year, in 2011 an all-time high. An additional 65 workers would die from heat exposure in the ensuing two years, closer to the annual average for the decade, while the campaign remained an agency priority.

Six years after his petition denial letter, and after leaving OSHA's top post, Michaels changed his approach. In 2018, he joined Public Citizen and 131 additional groups in a second petition asking the agency to enact a heat standard. This time, petitioners cited NIOSH's updated guidelines and warned that "this warming trend will not only continue but accelerate."

In a recent interview, Michaels, now a public health professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said the agencywide consensus was that climate change would worsen the problem. But the rule-making process at OSHA is "so difficult" and the industry opposition so formidable that adopting a heat standard "became a bridge too far," he said. He has come to believe a standard is essential.

"We know that heat kills," Michaels said. "And if we don't have requirements, heat will kill more workers."

A standard that included water, rest, shade and acclimatization could have saved Beltran, an experienced farmworker who traveled more than 1,300 miles from San Luis, Arizona, to the heart of America's Corn Belt to pull tassels off corn plants for Rivera Agri Inc.

The day he went missing in the fields on the outskirts of Grand Island, the temperature with humidity felt like 100 degrees. Joseph Rivera, the company's owner, placed an emergency call to authorities shortly after 5 p.m. Beltran was in the field but didn't come out with the other workers, he told the 911 operator.

The call set off an elaborate search-and-rescue mission in the central Nebraska city of 51,000. One volunteer flew a Piper Cub airplane low and slow, on the lookout for the orange safety hat atop Beltran's salt-and-pepper hair. Another manned a helicopter circling the sea of stalks until the chopper ran low on fuel. At sunset, a Nebraska State Patrol plane with thermal-imaging equipment scanned for a sign of Beltran's body temperature, but since the plants and soil also were emanating heat, he went undetected.

The following morning, as the temperature hovered in the 90s, the Red Cross opened a temporary cooling station with air conditioning for the 100 volunteers who joined the search. Shortly after noon, someone spotted Beltran's body, facedown in the husks.

Two months after Beltran's body was shipped to his family's home in Mexico's Sonora state, an OSHA inspector visited Rivera Agri as part of the agency's investigation into the death. OSHA inspection records show the company didn't deploy the kind of preventive measures that a heat standard would have required. Rivera Agri did not ensure that employees took enough rest breaks in the shade, drank sufficient amounts of water and adapted to their grueling work, the records show.

"These actions were left to the employees to manage themselves," the inspector wrote in a nine-page citation.

OSHA found that the "moderate lifting and bending" and "pushing and pulling" that Beltran had performed in the heat had contributed to his death. It cited Rivera Agri for a violation and proposed fines totaling $11,641. The agency also ordered the company to train employees on the symptoms of heat illness, among other safety measures. Rivera Agri agreed to OSHA's conditions, and the fines were reduced to $9,500, records show.

Angela Rivera, who runs the farm labor contracting business with her father, Joseph, said the company has worked to fulfill the agreement. Today, it contracts with a farmworker-rights group to educate employees on how to respond to heat emergencies. Near the cornfield, it sets up extra water stations and has canopies for emergency shade.

"We've been in this business for a long time," said Angela Rivera, who calls Beltran's death "an unfortunate thing."

"Every year we try to step it up," she said.

Joseph Rivera said supervisors now monitor the heat on their cellphones and pull detasselers from the cornfields whenever it gets too hot part of a heat-stress plan the Riveras created after Beltran's death. They hand out brochures explaining the new policy to every farmworker on their bus.

Beltran was not Rivera Agri's first heat-related fatality. In July 1997, a 39-year-old detasseler died of heatstroke under similar circumstances. Like Beltran, it was his third day on the job, and the temperature had spiked to 95 degrees. When he collapsed, the crew found him within two hours. But his core body temperature was 108 degrees hot enough for the brain, liver and kidneys to shut down.

OSHA investigated his death but didn't impose penalties because then-OSHA Area Director Ben Bare determined there was no applicable standard. The lack of a standard leaves individual OSHA officials to decide whether a general violation applies to each death, creating a pattern of uneven enforcement in worker heat-death cases, records show.

CJI and NPR's analysis of worker heat deaths shows that, like Rivera Agri, 11 other companies have lost more than one employee. In five of the cases, OSHA investigated the first fatality and issued citations, only for another employee to die from heat. One of those cited was Texas-based Hellas Construction, which builds publicly and privately funded stadiums and other sports infrastructure projects across the country.

In July 2018, the week before Beltran died in a Nebraska cornfield, Karl Simmons signed on as a laborer for Hellas. At 30, with long braided hair and a shoulder tattoo bearing his mother's name, Simmons arrived at the sprawling Gateway Park in Fort Worth, Texas, ready to install turf.

On his second day on the job, Simmons, who had served in the U.S. Navy, took a lunch break and fielded a call from his wife, Precious. "It's just hot," he complained, according to a deposition she gave in a lawsuit filed by the family against Hellas. The five-person crew had already drunk all the water. Simmons returned to preparing the mixture to attach to the turf, shoveling gravel and adhesive chemicals into a mixer.

That afternoon as the temperature topped 96 degrees Simmons told his supervisor he felt hot, according to OSHA records. He complained about the heat two more times that day. Each time, he said he felt sick. At one point, he sought shade under a tree while his supervisor drove to a store to get water.

A passerby eventually spotted Simmons sprawled on the ground, facedown, and alerted the crew. His brother-in-law, Michael Spriggins, who worked alongside Simmons as a Hellas laborer, sprinted to his aid. He found Simmons gasping for breath, bleeding from his nose and mouth.

"It was a sight I ain't going to never forget," Spriggins said in an interview with CJI and NPR.

He called 911 and then placed a cool towel under Simmons' neck at the dispatcher's instructions. Simmons opened his eyes.

"It looked like he's gonna pull through this," Spriggins recalled.

Two hours later, Simmons was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Heatstroke, the autopsy report confirmed. He was one of at least 53 workers who have been fatally stricken by heat in Texas since 2010, CJI and NPR's analysis shows.

The next day, Jason Davidson, Hellas' chief safety officer, emailed more than 340 company employees, addressing the perils of laboring in extreme heat. It was at least the fourth written warning he sent in the summer of 2018, when 11 additional Hellas employees were diagnosed with heat-related illnesses requiring medical attention.

Dean Wingo, who oversaw the OSHA regional office that includes Texas from 2007 to 2012, said Hellas' hospitalization numbers suggest a worrying pattern. Serious heat-related illness involves everything from a heat rash to uncontrolled bleeding, according to medical experts. In its most severe form, heatstroke can cause multisystem organ failure that has lasting adverse effects. Wingo said he believes Hellas' record on workplace heat safety shows "poor" company management.

Hellas officials declined a dozen interview requests for this story and didn't respond to a list of 20 written questions from CJI and NPR. In its response to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in July 2019 by Simmons' wife, the company denied that its conduct "rose to a level of gross neglect" or that it failed to provide a safe workplace.

But in December 2018, OSHA found that Hellas hadn't provided Simmons a workplace "free from recognized hazards" and cited the company for two violations, including failing to record Simmons' death in OSHA logs, records show. OSHA proposed a fine of $14,782 against Hellas for Simmons' death. The company earned more than $150 million in revenue that year.

As part of a settlement, Hellas agreed to implement "a more robust/detailed training program ... to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stress injuries." OSHA lowered the fine by nearly $2,000, to $12,934. That's higher than the national average fine of $7,314 for employers in such cases, according to a CJI and NPR analysis.

Hellas executives did not carry out the safety measures, records show. And OSHA never showed up at a work site to see whether the company was following the terms of the settlement agreement.

OSHA's regional office in Dallas, which investigated Simmons' death, declined to discuss the case.

OSHA data shows the agency reduced heat-related sanctions nationally by 31%, on average, after settlements. It cut the penalties in more than half of the 246 heat-death cases in which OSHA had proposed them.

Wingo said the only way OSHA can ensure that companies like Hellas keep their promises is to conduct follow-up inspections in person.

"I don't think it's excusable," he said. "When you've had a fatality, you go back."

On July 19, 2019, a year after Simmons' death, a second Hellas worker succumbed to heat this time in Hondo, Texas, 42 miles west of San Antonio. At 6 a.m. that day, forecasters were promising a scorcher. The temperature would soar to 99 degrees, 3 degrees hotter than the 40-year average, the CJI and NPR data analysis shows.

Pedro Martinez Sr., 49, had been employed by Hellas for more than a year when he arrived for work at McDowell Middle School with his 22-year-old namesake. The father had gotten the son a summer job. At the time, Pedro Jr., also known as "Bruno," was between semesters at a college in his home state of Zacatecas, Mexico.

On the third day, the pair did cement work on the school's athletic field. They pulled out vertical rebar stakes using a device called a JackJaw, pumping a handle to wrench the stakes from the ground. As in the Simmons case, an OSHA inspection would later confirm that the area had little shade. Records show that the younger Martinez toiled for 10 hours before taking a lunch break at 4 p.m.

Nearly two hours later, he was working beside his father when he became overheated and ran off, hit a fence and collapsed. The father rushed his son to a local hospital's emergency room, where nurses placed ice packs around his body. But his core temperature was already 108 degrees, according to a police report. The official cause of death was heatstroke.

In December 2019, OSHA cited Hellas for a willful violation, the most serious category. The citation would have placed Hellas on a public list of "severe violators," reserved for repeat offenders. The agency proposed a penalty of $132,598 the maximum amount OSHA could levy at the time.

One month later, Hellas challenged the citation, arguing it should be dismissed because OSHA didn't prove "the necessary elements of its claims." The Labor Department settled with Hellas in April 2020, cutting the fine in half and reclassifying the willful violation as five "serious" ones. This kept Hellas off the severe violators list. A revised settlement agreement required the company to create a heat-illness prevention plan, among other things. It's unclear whether Hellas followed through.

By May of last year, Hellas had paid the fine, and OSHA resolved the case. The agency's regional office in San Antonio, which investigated Martinez's death, declined two requests to discuss the case.

Besides Texas, the states of California, Florida and Arkansas have each recorded at least 14 worker heat deaths since 2010, according to CJI and NPR's analysis. Unlike most states, however, California has its own heat standard. Passed in 2005, the standard was later named after a 17-year-old pregnant farmworker, Maria Jimenez, who died from heat exposure while pruning grapes. The standard was the first to uphold the pillars of heat safety: water, rest, shade and acclimatization.

In 2015, after the United Farm Workers sued California's state version of OSHA, the agency tightened its standard. Cal/OSHA lowered the heat safety limit from 85 to 80 degrees and required companies to prepare for extreme heat threats on days hotter than 95 degrees. It also allocated more money and staff to enforcement.

Today, California's rule is widely viewed as the gold standard. The Labor Department should emulate it, said John Newquist, who served as assistant administrator in OSHA Region 5 in the Upper Midwest from 2005 to 2012.

"It's easy with California already adopting this thing for years," he said. "If you follow these guidelines, that works."

But OSHA data on worker heat deaths suggests the state's standard can fall short. The rule has led to a rise in heat-related enforcement actions by the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, every year but 2010, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic affected such activities across the board. In 2019, for instance, the agency conducted more than 4,000 heat inspections and cited workplaces in nearly half of them. Still, the CJI and NPR analysis shows that California's yearly tally of worker heat deaths has remained steady over the past decade.

Some critics say the agency has yet to curb worker heat illnesses and deaths because of lax and uneven enforcement.

Garrett Brown, a Cal/OSHA inspector from 1994 to 2014, has investigated dozens of heat deaths and worked as a special adviser for a former Cal/OSHA secretary and as a part-time inspector until this year. He believes the agency can't "do what it needs to do" to protect the state's workers because of its chronic understaffing. Brown has documented staffing levels for years, charting the data on his blog, Inside Cal/OSHA. The figures reveal a tiny workforce about 190 inspectors for 1 million employers responsible for 18 million workers. That's one inspector for roughly every 5,200 companies.

Brown said mismanagement and the state's inability to fill inspector positions have exacerbated the problem. As of July 31, at least 25% of nearly 250 Cal/OSHA inspector positions remained vacant. And that can make for dire consequences on the ground.

In California, where fires have been raging, the victims of heat-related deaths are sometimes firefighters.

In April 2015, just two months before California's standard was tightened, Raymond Araujo, one of 4,000 inmates who then served as firefighters for the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection known as Cal Fire was on a 2-mile hike in Banning, California, about 30 miles from Palm Springs. Winding through steep, often shadeless hills, the trail was part of the department's required cardiovascular training. On that day, the temperature climbed to 81 degrees, 10 degrees hotter than the 40-year average.

As the 12-member group neared the end of the exercise, Araujo stumbled and fell to his knees. His supervisor told his colleagues to help Araujo stand up and remove his fire gear so he could finish the hike. He walked 30 feet more and eventually collapsed.

The fire captain called for medical assistance, and a helicopter transported Araujo back to a nearby base camp, where he was pronounced dead, the records show.

While the Cal/OSHA inspection report named heat as a contributing factor in Araujo's death, the cause was "hypertensive cardiovascular disease," according to the autopsy report. As a result, Cal/OSHA deemed his death an accident.

Brown, the former Cal/OSHA inspector, reviewed the agency's report and said it was impossible for him to know why officials declined to investigate. He said the incident resembled many cases he had investigated where workers suffered heart attacks because of the heat. Were he leading the charge, Brown said, he would have wanted to talk to eyewitnesses because the incident had all the hallmarks of a heat illness violation.

"One way to invalidate a fatality report is to decide that it's natural causes," he said, explaining that Cal/OSHA managers can look for ways to lessen understaffed inspectors' workloads.

Cal/OSHA declined CJI and NPR's requests to interview key officials for this story. But an agency spokesman defended Cal/OSHA's handling of Araujo's death, noting that the agency followed the Cal/OSHA medical unit's assessment in determining a cause of death.

Asked about the effectiveness of the heat standard, the agency said it regularly looks to enhance enforcement activities.

"We continue to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs and consult with various subject matter experts to determine what changes, if any, are necessary to improve health and safety," spokesman Frank Polizzi said in an email.

Just before 8 a.m. on July 28, 2019, Cal Fire firefighter Yaroslav "Yaro" Katkov set out with a fellow employee and a fire captain on a hike similar to the one that Araujo had made. The 28-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, who lived in Murrieta, California, a bedroom community near San Diego, had served as a reserve firefighter before being hired by Cal Fire in a seasonal role a year earlier.

On a standard training exercise, Katkov was asked to complete a 1.45-mile loop at Cal Fire's rural Station 16 in Fallbrook, a remote mountainous area halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. As they traversed the loop, the captain and the co-worker noticed Katkov lagging behind the required 30-minute deadline to finish the hike. The two stopped on several occasions to allow Katkov to catch up, delaying their end time by 10 minutes. The temperature would climb to 88 degrees that day 5 degrees hotter than the 40-year average.

The captain, Joe Ekblad, recognized that Katkov hadn't given his body enough of a rest yet, but ordered the firefighters to repeat the exercise, according to the Cal/OSHA records. On the way up the steepest incline of the loop, Katkov stumbled and told his supervisor he felt exhausted two telltale signs of heat stress. He collapsed on the hilltop, was airlifted to a hospital nearly two hours later and died of heat illness the next day.

"He loved the idea of being like a wildland firefighter," said Ashley Vallario, Katkov's fiance. "It made him happy."

This time, Cal/OSHA investigated Katkov's death, interviewing eyewitnesses. The inspector detailed extensive failures by the captain, which led to his demotion. The agency found that Cal Fire had failed to stop the hike and seek emergency medical treatment even after Katkov had exhibited heat-related symptoms. Regulators levied a fine of $80,000 almost five times the average Cal/OSHA fine of $17,000 in these cases.

Neither Cal Fire nor Ekblad responded to requests for comment.

Such a large penalty shows what a fully enforceable heat standard can do, some experts say. But Cal/OSHA records suggest the regulators' stick has not come soon enough. Since 2012, at least four other firefighters have died during Cal Fire training hikes. All the firefighters but Katkov were inmates. No other case yielded sanctions.

Cal Fire's training processes, meanwhile, continue to put firefighters at risk. In 2020, almost a year after Katkov's death, another department firefighter was sickened by heat during a hike. That firefighter was rushed to the hospital and survived.

Ellen Widess, head of Cal/OSHA from 2011 to 2013, said she sees an unsettling pattern: Employers can brush off the cost of an agency fine. In many cases, she said, penalties have no effect.

"We've seen that the costs of [non]compliance are so cheap," Widess said. "It pays not to comply."

In the three years since Public Citizen renewed its petition for an OSHA heat standard, political pressure for such action has grown. In March, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., authored legislation that would require OSHA to create a national heat standard based on NIOSH criteria and mandate employer training "to prevent and respond" to heat illnesses. The bill, co-sponsored by at least 57 House Democrats, is pending in committee. It marks the second attempt by federal lawmakers to establish a rule since 2019.

OSHA, meanwhile, said it will take the first step toward issuing a rule this fall. In October, the agency plans to publish a request for information from employers, occupational health specialists, climate scientists and workers on the viability of a standard. Frederick, OSHA's acting director, said the input could help the agency develop a regulation that applies to any industry in the United States.

"Heat hazards exist in many, many industries," he said. "We know that we have work to do with almost every industry to understand ... what the effect of heat hazards in their workplace is and how best they are putting in practices and controls to mitigate those hazards."

Already, former OSHA officials are anticipating industry pushback, particularly from construction groups.

"Every time OSHA proposes a standard, [the] industry accuses OSHA of killing jobs and destroying whatever industry is going to be regulated," said Jordan Barab, a former deputy assistant labor secretary who helped shepherd two chemical-exposure standards through protracted rule-making processes. "That would probably follow with a heat standard."

Some states have decided not to wait. In June, as an unprecedented heat wave blanketed the Pacific Northwest, Sebastian Francisco Perez moved irrigation pipes at a nursery in Willamette Valley, Oregon. Perez was found dead at the end of his shift. Preliminary information suggests the incident was heat related, but Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (Oregon OSHA) has yet to make a determination, according to Aaron Corvin, a spokesman for Oregon OSHA. Ten days later, the state enacted an emergency heat standard.

Back in Grand Island, Nebraska, where the average high temperature has increased 2 degrees since the 1990s, the intensifying heat is not lost on Joseph Rivera. As a younger man in the fields, he remembers there were hot and humid days. But now the heat is so extreme, he said, "you get these hot days that just come up over you."

"With climate change, you hit 112 in Nebraska the other day," Rivera said, explaining why he's amenable to a federal heat standard. "It's going to be like this every year."

Christina Stella, a reporter with Nebraska Public Media; Jacob Margolis, a reporter with KPCC in Los Angeles; Allison Mollenkamp, an intern on NPR's investigative team; and The Texas Newsroom contributed to this story. Julia Shipley, Brian Edwards and David Nickerson reported this story as fellows for Columbia Journalism Investigations, an investigative reporting unit at the Columbia Journalism School in New York. Cascade Tuholske, a climate impact scientist at Columbia University's Earth Institute, contributed to the data analysis. Public Health Watch, an independent investigative nonprofit, helped edit this story.

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Calls Intensify For Stronger Worker Protections As Heat Deaths Rise In Calif. and US - KQED

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Heat Exposure In US Has Led To Hundreds Of Worker Deaths Since 2010 – NPR08.23.21

Cruz Urias Beltran collapsed because of heat-related illness while working in a cornfield near Grand Island, Neb., in 2018. He is one of at least 384 workers who died from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. in the last decade, according to an investigation by Columbia Journalism Investigations and NPR. Walker Pickering for NPR hide caption

Cruz Urias Beltran collapsed because of heat-related illness while working in a cornfield near Grand Island, Neb., in 2018. He is one of at least 384 workers who died from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. in the last decade, according to an investigation by Columbia Journalism Investigations and NPR.

As the temperature in Grand Island, Neb., soared to 91 degrees that July day in 2018, two dozen farmworkers tunneled for nine hours into a thicket of cornstalks, snapping off tassels while they crossed a sunbaked field that spanned 206 acres the equivalent of 156 football fields.

When they emerged at the end of the day to board a bus that would transport them to a nearby motel to sleep, one of the workers, Cruz Urias Beltran, didn't make it back. Searchers found the 52-year-old farmworker's body 20 hours later amid the corn husks, "as if he'd simply collapsed," recalled a funeral home employee. An empty water bottle was stuffed in his jeans pocket. An autopsy report confirmed that Beltran died from heatstroke. It was his third day on the job.

Beltran is one of at least 384 workers who died from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. in the last decade, according to an investigation by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations, the investigative reporting unit of Columbia Journalism School. The count includes people toiling in essential yet often invisible jobs in 37 states across the country: farm laborers in California, construction and trash-collection workers in Texas and tree trimmers in North Carolina and Virginia. An analysis of federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the three-year average of worker heat deaths has doubled since the early 1990s.

A family photo of Cruz Urias Beltran taken during the 1990s. Paty Espinoza hide caption

A family photo of Cruz Urias Beltran taken during the 1990s.

CJI and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including workplace inspection reports, death investigation files, depositions, court records and police reports, and interviewed victims' families, former and current officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers, employers, workers' advocates, lawyers and experts.

CJI and NPR also analyzed two federal data sets on worker heat deaths: one from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the other from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both are divisions within the U.S. Labor Department.

Among the findings:

Current and former OSHA officials acknowledge that the known death tally is a vast undercount. The agency mostly relies on companies to report worker fatalities after they occur, but not all do so.

CJI and NPR reporters analyzed worker heat deaths recorded by OSHA between 2010 and 2020 and compared each incident day's high temperature with historical averages over 40 years. Most of the deaths happened on days that were unusually hot for that date. More than two-thirds occurred on days when the temperature reached at least 90 degrees.

Yet no worker should die from heat, said Ronda McCarthy, an occupational health specialist who directs medical services at the health care provider Concentra, in Waco, Texas. McCarthy spent seven years educating her home state's municipal workers about heat, which reduced cases of worker heat exhaustion and similar conditions there.

"Heat illness should be considered a preventable illness," she said.

OSHA has known about the dangers of heat and how to prevent deaths for decades. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied the effects of heat stress on workers in the U.S. and recommended criteria for an OSHA heat standard. Under the proposal, employers would have had to give employees one break every hour and offer ready access to water. New workers would have received extra breaks so they could acclimate to strenuous activity in the heat.

NIOSH has refined these safety measures first in 1986 and, again, in 2016 but OSHA has not acted on them because of other regulatory priorities. This year, for the first time, OSHA is officially considering a heat standard by putting it on its regulatory agenda. James Frederick, OSHA's acting director, said it's a "priority" for the Biden administration.

"Occupational exposure to heat remains a very important topic," Frederick said in an interview with CJI and NPR. "We're focused on improving our efforts to protect workers moving forward."

James Frederick, OSHA's acting director, says heat safety is a "priority" for the Biden administration. Ian Morton/NPR hide caption

James Frederick, OSHA's acting director, says heat safety is a "priority" for the Biden administration.

Absent a heat standard, OSHA must rely on a 50-year-old regulation guaranteeing workers a "hazard-free workplace." OSHA does require companies to provide adequate water but not other heat-safety measures.

OSHA's own research shows relying on this general rule hasn't worked. A 2016 study by agency scientists found that some employers whose workers got sick or died from heat hadn't met basic water provisions. Most companies never offered rest breaks. Only one out of 84 total employers had a plan for building up its workers' tolerance for laboring in heat.

In 2011, four labor and public interest organizations, including Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group, petitioned OSHA to issue a heat standard. They asked the agency for an emergency temporary standard because a new rule, the petition stated, "could potentially take many years before it's finalized and implemented."

David Michaels, then the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, who oversaw OSHA, denied the petition, arguing in a January 2012 letter to petitioners that workers weren't dying from heat at a rate that would justify a legal standard. Recognizing extreme heat's threat, he said most workers can "recover fairly quickly when the appropriate measures are taken."

Instead, Michaels launched a voluntary awareness campaign distributing posters and flyers that instructed employees on how to protect themselves. OSHA incorporated these precautions into a free bilingual phone app featuring government-issued heat alerts and advisories. The agency continued this campaign through 2013. Its principle message remains on OSHA's website today.

David Michaels (right), then the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, who oversaw OSHA, attends a committee hearing in 2010. Astrid Riecken/Getty Images hide caption

David Michaels (right), then the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, who oversaw OSHA, attends a committee hearing in 2010.

Michaels touted the campaign as a success at the time. The numbers are less clear. The number of workers who succumbed to heat topped 61 cases during the campaign's inaugural year, in 2011 an all-time high. Another 65 workers would die from heat exposure in the ensuing two years, closer to the annual average for the decade, while the campaign remained an agency priority.

Six years after his petition denial letter, and after leaving OSHA's top post, Michaels changed his approach. In 2018, he joined Public Citizen and 131 additional groups in a second petition asking the agency to enact a heat standard. This time, petitioners cited NIOSH's updated guidelines and warned that "this warming trend will not only continue but accelerate."

In a recent interview, Michaels, now a public health professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said the agencywide consensus was that climate change would worsen the problem. But the rule-making process at OSHA is "so difficult" and the industry opposition so formidable that adopting a heat standard "became a bridge too far," he said. He has come to believe a standard is essential.

"We know that heat kills," Michaels said. "And if we don't have requirements, heat will kill more workers."

A standard that included water, rest, shade and acclimatization could have saved Beltran, an experienced farmworker who traveled more than 1,300 miles from San Luis, Ariz., to the heart of America's Corn Belt to pull tassels off corn plants for Rivera Agri Inc.

The day he went missing in the fields on the outskirts of Grand Island, the temperature with humidity felt like 100 degrees. Joseph Rivera, the company's owner, placed an emergency call to authorities shortly after 5 p.m. Beltran was in the field but didn't come out with the other workers, he told the 911 operator.

Cruz Urias Beltran went missing in the cornfields near Grand Island, Neb., on a day when the temperature with humidity felt like 100 degrees. Walker Pickering for NPR hide caption

Cruz Urias Beltran went missing in the cornfields near Grand Island, Neb., on a day when the temperature with humidity felt like 100 degrees.

The call set off an elaborate search-and-rescue mission in the central Nebraska city of 51,000. One volunteer flew a Piper Cub airplane low and slow, on the lookout for the orange safety hat atop Beltran's salt-and-pepper hair. Another manned a helicopter circling the sea of stalks until the chopper ran low on fuel. At sunset, a Nebraska State Patrol plane with thermal-imaging equipment scanned for a sign of Beltran's body temperature, but since the plants and soil also were emanating heat, he went undetected.

The following morning, as the temperature hovered in the 90s, the Red Cross opened a temporary cooling station with air conditioning for the 100 volunteers who joined the search. Shortly after noon, someone spotted Beltran's body, facedown in the husks.

Two months after Beltran's body was shipped to his family's home in Mexico's Sonora state, an OSHA inspector visited Rivera Agri as part of the agency's investigation into the death. OSHA inspection records show the company didn't deploy the kind of preventive measures that a heat standard would have required. Rivera Agri did not ensure that employees took enough rest breaks in shade, drank sufficient amounts of water and adapted to their grueling work, the records show.

Beltran hugs his son, Jesus Adrian Urias Machado. Beltran was an experienced farmworker and traveled from Arizona to work in Nebraska. Paty Espinoza hide caption

Beltran hugs his son, Jesus Adrian Urias Machado. Beltran was an experienced farmworker and traveled from Arizona to work in Nebraska.

"These actions were left to the employees to manage themselves," the inspector wrote in a nine-page citation.

OSHA found that the "moderate lifting and bending" and "pushing and pulling" that Beltran had performed in the heat had contributed to his death. It cited Rivera Agri for a violation and proposed fines totaling $11,641. The agency also ordered the company to train employees on the symptoms of heat illness, among other safety measures. Rivera Agri agreed to OSHA's conditions, and the fines were reduced to $9,500, records show.

Angela Rivera, who runs the farm labor contracting business with her father, Joseph, said the company has worked to fulfill the agreement. Today, it contracts with a farmworker-rights group to educate employees on how to respond to heat emergencies. Near the cornfield, it sets up extra water stations and has canopies for emergency shade.

"We've been in this business for a long time," said Angela Rivera, who calls Beltran's death "an unfortunate thing."

"Every year we try to step it up," she said.

Joseph Rivera said supervisors now monitor the heat on their cellphones and pull detasselers from the cornfields whenever it gets too hot part of a heat-stress plan the Riveras created after Beltran's death. They hand out brochures explaining the new policy to every farmworker on their bus.

Beltran was not Rivera Agri's first heat-related fatality. In July 1997, a 39-year-old detasseler died of heatstroke under similar circumstances. Like Beltran, it was his third day on the job, and the temperature had spiked to 95 degrees. When he collapsed, the crew found him within two hours. But his core body temperature was 108 degrees hot enough for the brain, liver and kidneys to shut down.

OSHA investigated his death but didn't impose penalties because then-OSHA Area Director Ben Bare determined there was no applicable standard. The lack of a standard leaves individual OSHA officials to decide whether a general violation applies to each death, creating a pattern of uneven enforcement in worker heat-death cases, records show.

CJI and NPR's analysis of worker heat deaths shows that, like Rivera Agri, 11 other companies have lost more than one employee. In five of the cases, OSHA investigated the first fatality and issued citations, only for another employee to die from heat. One of those cited was Texas-based Hellas Construction, which builds publicly and privately funded stadiums and other sports infrastructure projects across the country.

In July 2018, the week before Beltran died in a Nebraska cornfield, Karl Simmons signed on as a laborer for Hellas. At 30, with long braided hair and a shoulder tattoo bearing his mother's name, Simmons arrived at the sprawling Gateway Park in Fort Worth, Texas, ready to install turf.

On his second day on the job, Simmons, who had served in the U.S. Navy, took a lunch break and fielded a call from his wife, Precious. "It's just hot," he complained, according to a deposition she gave in a lawsuit filed by the family against Hellas. The five-person crew had already drunk all the water. Simmons returned to preparing the mixture to attach to the turf, shoveling gravel and adhesive chemicals into a mixer.

That afternoon as the temperature topped 96 degrees Simmons told his supervisor he felt hot, according to OSHA records. He complained about the heat two more times that day. Each time, he said he felt sick. At one point, he sought shade under a tree while his supervisor drove to a store to get water.

A passerby eventually spotted Simmons sprawled on the ground, facedown, and alerted the crew. His brother-in-law, Michael Spriggins, who worked alongside Simmons as a Hellas laborer, sprinted to his aid. He found Simmons gasping for breath, bleeding from his nose and mouth.

Karl Simmons was installing turf at Gateway Park in Fort Worth, Texas, when he felt ill. Later, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Heatstroke, the autopsy report confirmed. JerSean Golatt for NPR hide caption

Karl Simmons was installing turf at Gateway Park in Fort Worth, Texas, when he felt ill. Later, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Heatstroke, the autopsy report confirmed.

"It was a sight I ain't going to never forget," Spriggins said in an interview with CJI and NPR.

He called 911 and then placed a cool towel under Simmons' neck at the dispatcher's instructions. Simmons opened his eyes.

"It looked like he's gonna pull through this," Spriggins recalled.

Two hours later, Simmons was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Heatstroke, the autopsy report confirmed. He was one of at least 53 workers who have been fatally stricken by heat in Texas since 2010, CJI and NPR's analysis shows.

The next day, Jason Davidson, Hellas's chief safety officer, emailed more than 340 company employees, addressing the perils of laboring in extreme heat. It was at least the fourth written warning he sent in the summer of 2018, when 11 additional Hellas employees were diagnosed with heat-related illnesses requiring medical attention.

Dean Wingo, who oversaw the OSHA regional office that includes Texas from 2007 to 2012, said Hellas' hospitalization numbers suggest a worrying pattern. Serious heat-related illness involves everything from a heat rash to uncontrolled bleeding, according to medical experts. In its most severe form, heatstroke can cause multisystem organ failure that has lasting adverse effects. Wingo said he believes Hellas' record on workplace heat safety shows "poor" company management.

Dean Wingo, who formerly oversaw the OSHA regional office that includes Texas, says he believes Hellas Construction's record on workplace heat safety shows "poor" company management. Michael Cirlos III for NPR hide caption

Dean Wingo, who formerly oversaw the OSHA regional office that includes Texas, says he believes Hellas Construction's record on workplace heat safety shows "poor" company management.

Hellas officials declined a dozen interview requests for this story and didn't respond to a list of 20 written questions from CJI and NPR. In its response to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in July 2019 by Simmons' wife, the company denied that its conduct "rose to a level of gross neglect" or that it failed to provide a safe workplace.

But in December 2018, OSHA found that Hellas hadn't provided Simmons a workplace "free from recognized hazards" and cited the company for two violations, including failing to record Simmons' death in OSHA logs, records show. OSHA proposed a fine of $14,782 against Hellas for Simmons' death. The company earned more than $150 million in revenue that year.

As part of a settlement, Hellas agreed to implement "a more robust/detailed training program ... to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stress injuries." OSHA lowered the fine by nearly $2,000, to $12,934. That's higher than the national average fine of $7,314 for employers in such cases, according to a CJI and NPR analysis.

Hellas executives did not carry out the safety measures, records show. And OSHA never showed up at a work site to see whether the company was following the terms of the settlement agreement.

OSHA's regional office in Dallas, which investigated Simmons' death, declined to discuss the case.

OSHA data shows the agency reduced heat-related sanctions nationally by 31%, on average, after settlements. It cut the penalties in more than half of the 246 heat-death cases in which OSHA had proposed them.

Wingo said the only way OSHA can ensure that companies like Hellas keep their promises is to conduct follow-up inspections in person.

"I don't think it's excusable," he said. "When you've had a fatality, you go back."

On July 19, 2019, a year after Simmons' death, a second Hellas worker succumbed to heat this time in Hondo, Texas, 42 miles west of San Antonio. At 6 a.m. that day, forecasters were promising a scorcher. The temperature would soar to 99 degrees, 3 degrees hotter than the 40-year average, the CJI and NPR data analysis shows.

Pedro Martinez Sr., 49, had been employed by Hellas for more than a year when he arrived for work at McDowell Middle School with his 22-year-old namesake. The father had gotten the son a summer job. At the time, Pedro Jr., also known as "Bruno," was between semesters at a college in his home state of Zacatecas, Mexico.

On the third day, the pair did cement work on the school's athletic field. They pulled out vertical rebar stakes using a device called a JackJaw, pumping a handle to wrench the stakes from the ground. As in the Simmons case, an OSHA inspection would later confirm that the area had little shade. Records show that the younger Martinez toiled for 10 hours before taking a lunch break at 4 p.m.

Nearly two hours later, he was working beside his father when he became overheated and ran off, hit a fence and collapsed. The father rushed his son to a local hospital's emergency room, where nurses placed ice packs around his body. But his core temperature was already 108 degrees, according to a police report. The official cause of death was heatstroke.

The former construction site where Pedro Martinez Jr. died of heatstroke now serves as a recreational facility adjacent to a middle school in Hondo, Texas. Michael Cirlos III for NPR hide caption

The former construction site where Pedro Martinez Jr. died of heatstroke now serves as a recreational facility adjacent to a middle school in Hondo, Texas.

In December 2019, OSHA cited Hellas for a willful violation, the most serious category. The citation would have placed Hellas on a public list of "severe violators," reserved for repeat offenders. The agency proposed a penalty of $132,598 the maximum amount OSHA could levy at the time.

One month later, Hellas challenged the citation, arguing it should be dismissed because OSHA didn't prove "the necessary elements of its claims." The Labor Department settled with Hellas in April 2020, cutting the fine in half and reclassifying the willful violation as five "serious" ones. This kept Hellas off the severe violators list. A revised settlement agreement required the company to create a heat-illness prevention plan, among other things. It's unclear whether Hellas followed through.

By May of last year, Hellas had paid the fine, and OSHA resolved the case. The agency's regional office in San Antonio, which investigated Martinez's death, declined two requests to discuss the case.

Besides Texas, the states of California, Florida and Arkansas have each recorded at least 14 worker heat deaths since 2010, according to CJI and NPR's analysis. Unlike most states, however, California has its own heat standard. Passed in 2005, the standard was later named after a 17-year-old pregnant farmworker, Maria Jimenez, who died from heat exposure while pruning grapes. The standard was the first to uphold the pillars of heat safety: water, rest, shade and acclimatization.

In 2015, after the United Farm Workers sued California's state version of OSHA, the agency tightened its standard. Cal/OSHA lowered the heat safety limit from 85 to 80 degrees and required companies to prepare for extreme heat threats on days hotter than 95 degrees. It also allocated more money and staff to enforcement.

Today, California's rule is widely viewed as the gold standard. The Labor Department should emulate it, said John Newquist, who served as assistant administrator in OSHA Region 5 in the Upper Midwest from 2005 to 2012.

"It's easy with California already adopting this thing for years," he said. "If you follow these guidelines, that works."

But OSHA data on worker heat deaths suggests the state's standard can fall short. The rule has led to a rise in heat-related enforcement actions by the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, every year but 2010, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic affected such activities across the board. In 2019, for instance, the agency conducted more than 4,000 heat inspections and cited workplaces in nearly half of them. Still, the CJI and NPR analysis shows that California's yearly tally of worker heat deaths has remained steady over the past decade.

Some critics say the agency has yet to curb worker heat illnesses and deaths because of lax and uneven enforcement.

Garrett Brown, a Cal/OSHA inspector from 1994 to 2014, has investigated dozens of heat deaths and worked as a special advisor for a former Cal/OSHA secretary and as a part-time inspector until this year. He believes the agency can't "do what it needs to do" to protect the state's workers because of its chronic understaffing. Brown has documented staffing levels for years, charting the data on his blog, Inside Cal/OSHA. The figures reveal a tiny workforce about 190 inspectors for 1 million employers responsible for 18 million workers. That's one inspector for roughly every 5,200 companies.

Brown said mismanagement and the state's inability to fill inspector positions have exacerbated the problem. As of July 31, at least 25% of nearly 250 Cal/OSHA inspector positions remained vacant. And that can make for dire consequences on the ground.

In California, where fires have been raging, the victims of heat-related deaths are sometimes firefighters.

In April 2015, just two months before California's standard was tightened, Raymond Araujo, one of 4,000 inmates who then served as firefighters for the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection known as Cal Fire was on a 2-mile hike in Banning, Calif., about 30 miles from Palm Springs. Winding through steep, often shadeless hills, the trail was part of the department's required cardiovascular training. On that day, the temperature climbed to 81 degrees, 10 degrees hotter than the 40-year average.

A fire station warning sign in Fallbrook, Calif. A Cal/OSHA inspection report named heat as a contributing factor in Raymond Araujo's death while he was training as a firefighter for Cal Fire. But his death was ultimately deemed an accident. Ariana Drehsler for NPR hide caption

A fire station warning sign in Fallbrook, Calif. A Cal/OSHA inspection report named heat as a contributing factor in Raymond Araujo's death while he was training as a firefighter for Cal Fire. But his death was ultimately deemed an accident.

As the 12-member group neared the end of the exercise, Araujo stumbled and fell to his knees. His supervisor told his colleagues to help Araujo stand up and remove his fire gear so he could finish the hike. He walked another 30 feet and eventually collapsed.

The fire captain called for medical assistance, and a helicopter transported Araujo back to a nearby base camp, where he was pronounced dead, the records show.

While the Cal/OSHA inspection report named heat as a contributing factor in Araujo's death, the cause was "hypertensive cardiovascular disease," according to the autopsy report. As a result, Cal/OSHA deemed his death an accident.

Brown, the former Cal/OSHA inspector, reviewed the agency's report and said it was impossible for him to know why officials declined to investigate. He said the incident resembled many cases he had investigated where workers suffered heart attacks because of the heat. Were he leading the charge, Brown said, he would have wanted to talk to eyewitnesses because the incident had all the hallmarks of a heat illness violation.

"One way to invalidate a fatality report is to decide that it's natural causes," he said, explaining that Cal/OSHA managers can look for ways to lessen understaffed inspectors' workloads.

Cal/OSHA declined CJI and NPR's requests to interview key officials for this story. But an agency spokesman defended Cal/OSHA's handling of Araujo's death, noting that the agency followed the Cal/OSHA medical unit's assessment in determining a cause of death.

Asked about the effectiveness of the heat standard, the agency said it regularly looks to enhance enforcement activities.

"We continue to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs and consult with various subject matter experts to determine what changes, if any, are necessary to improve health and safety," spokesman Frank Polizzi said in an email.

Just before 8 a.m. on July 28, 2019, Cal Fire firefighter Yaroslav "Yaro" Katkov set out with a fellow employee and a fire captain on a hike similar to the one that Araujo had made. The 28-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, who lived in Murrieta, Calif., a bedroom community near San Diego, had served as a reserve firefighter before being hired by Cal Fire in a seasonal role a year earlier.

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Jimmy Butlers Girlfriend Kaitlin Nowak: Relationship History, and Other Interesting Details – EssentiallySports08.23.21

Hair locks with low skin fade, bulky shoulders, and an angry demeanor are the few things that define Jimmy Butler in a nutshell. Publishing houses like GQ and media giants like ESPN have all done exclusive profiles on the Miami Heat leader for all the good reasons.

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However, Jimmy G Buckets has still kept his love life a very low-profile affair, spilling no beans for the buzz world to pick. Yet, there is this one woman who constantly has her name attached to that of the Chicago native.

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Jimmy is dead serious about his work commitments and when he misses one of his game nights, it has to be a family affair. So back in October 2019 (the same season he reached his first NBA Finals), one such important event forced him to miss a Grizzlies battle. He opted out of the night to stay with Kaitlin, who was pregnant with Jimmys daughter.

After Rylees birth, the couple appeared publicly at Super Bowl LIV, while Kaitlin even showed up at some Heat games. Rylees mother is a 55 brown-eyed damsel. Nowak, a Nebraska-born 30-YO Polish-American model, comes from a family of entrepreneurs. She went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying Advertising, PR, and Applied communication before putting all that to use as a model. She has even attended the ESPYS, further proving her association with the sporting world.

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Holy Overpay: Twitter Reacts As Jimmy Butler Signs Massive Contract With MiamiHeat

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Back in 2015, Jimmy Butler was dating a woman named Charmaine Pulia, while he was playing for the Chicago Bulls. They had their photos partying together, but nothing more than that. Later in 2016, Canadian actor-model Shay Mitchell entered Jimmys life. In fact, TMZ also took an interest in his budding relationship that never saw confirmation.

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Perhaps Jimmys greatest catch was singing sensation Selena Gomez as they reportedly went on a few dates. However, before anything substantial could see the daylight, a beautiful Kaitlin entered and promised a long stay in Jims life.

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So whats your take, is Jimmy ever going to date a new woman or would he stay true to Nowak as he is true to not getting a tattoo? Help us know your opinion in the comments section below.

Watch this story Jimmy Butler, Luka Doncic, and Other NBA Stars Emulating Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan

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Cleveland Clock Repair battles the odds in time-honored craft – cleveland.com08.09.21

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Time is not measured by hours and minutes in a little Coventry Road shop in Cleveland Heights.

Its clocked by clicking gears, coiled springs and swinging pendulums in a mechanical fourth dimension.

Walking across the worn wood floors of the Cleveland Clock Repair shop is like stepping back in time, which is just how owner Michael Daniel likes it.

Vintage books share shelf space with antique timepieces. Both are relics of bygone eras with stories to tell.

The metallic guts of clocks gleam in handmade brass precision, as the hum of a small lathe and muted chimes drift from Daniels workshop.

Daniel, 33, is a young man in a centuries-old and fading craft, battling against the tide in an analog world gone digital and disposable.

Hell unabashedly admit to being as much of an anachronism as the clocks he works on.

I feel like if I got dropped into the 1700s-1800s, my lifestyle wouldnt change that much, said the clock repair specialist and musician who sometimes enjoys listening to an antique wax-cylinder phonograph.

Michael Daniel works on a clock at his Cleveland Heights shop.

His customers share a kindred spirit in their love of old-fashioned clocks that must be re-wound to achieve what Daniel calls a guiding principle of historic timepieces the controlled release of power.

In ancient times that power was supplied by the controlled draining of sand or water from hourglasses or other vessels, or time candles burning for measured periods.

Mechanical clocks powered by coiled springs and pendulums, turning gears, appeared around 1300 in Europe. Early clockmakers relied on a variety of precision skills, including blacksmithing, engraving, casting, machining, brass working and tool making.

Through the 1700s, clocks became more elaborate, fashioned by craftsmen who also made mathematical and surgical instruments, guns, thermometers and parts for spinning wheels and looms. Variations in style included the grandfather and grandmother clocks, banjo clocks and ball tops.

Mass production moved clocks from civic and religious bell towers to frontier mantels, and then to pocket and wrist watches.

Daniels own initiation to the clock-repair craft came in 2007 when he was working part-time at a jewelry shop in St. Petersburg, Florida, photographing products for catalogs, fliers and a website.

When the shops clock repairman retired, Daniel was offered the job with the understanding that, as the shop owner said, In 20 years most of the clock makers and repair guys will probably be gone.

Daniel, born in Akron with several generations of mechanics in his family (and a possible Tennessee moonshiner), originally wanted to be an architect. I just liked the mixture of art and mathematics, but coincidentally, so are clocks, he said.

He studied the craft via an online course offered by AWCI (American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute) certified master clockmaker David J. LaBounty (About Time Clockmaking), of Nebraska. LaBounty said most of his students are former mechanics or engineers who started clock repair as a hobby and later went into the business when they retired.

AWCI membership has dropped from 10,000 at its peak to 1,500, and the average age of a professional watchmaker is 62.

Cleveland Clock Repair owner Michael Daniel, 33, is a young man in a centuries-old and fading craft, battling against the tide in an analog world gone digital and disposable.

Theres not many of us around anymore, LaBounty said. The modern generation is less and less interested in restoring something. They throw it away and get something new.

Clock repairers share a common set of skills, including dexterity, good eyesight, and an interest in history, artistry and micro-machining, according to LaBounty.

Theres also something that cannot be taught an ability to reason through problems to determine what the original mechanism was supposed to do, he added.

The biggest reward of the work is simply breathing new life into a failed timepiece, LaBounty said.

Every day I come across something Ive never seen before, he noted. Ive been doing this for 30-35 years, and theres a satisfaction in getting something that hasnt worked in generations, working like new again.

To customers who grew up with these timepieces, LaBounty said, Once a clock has been restored and working properly, its like a member of your family has returned. Its a link to your past.

After Daniel finished his tutelage under LaBounty, he started Michaels In-Home Clock Repair, got married, then he and his wife, Kara, moved to Shaker Heights in a more family-friendly and affordable state to raise their two children.

He worked for a local clock repair business for a few years, maintaining his own home-visit repair operation outside the firms service area, before opening his shop on Coventry Road in May of this year.

The work area of his shop is a jumble of clocks in various stages of repair, where dangling pendulums arc in test swings among tools, machines and clock weights, faces and chains. One antique pendulum weighted with glass-enclosed vials of toxic liquid mercury demands special handling due to the potential health risk.

He enjoys the work process. Most of them can be fun, he said. If youre not in a rush, the peace and quiet, its like serenity. Just you and the clock.

Typical problems with broken clocks include the results of a lack of regular service, such as lubricating the mechanism every two years, Daniel said. If the oil stops lubricating, it collects dust and metal shavings and it acts like sandpaper and just wears the metal out, he noted.

Sometimes parts are missing and have to be fabricated after a lot of reverse engineering.

Has the man whose slogan is taking time seriously ever met the clock he couldnt fix? Not often, Daniel said. Its usually just a matter of time (pun probably intended).

One of his more unusual jobs involved a one-hand (hours only) clock made by an English gunsmith in 1640, utilizing rope, iron plates and brass bushings.

The clocks owner, Janet Wright, of Amherst, bought the broken clock in 2017 from a dealer to add to her collection of 16th- and 17th-century antiques. She invited Daniel to take a look at it, figuring, Theres no sense in having a clock thats not going to work.

She recalled, he was kind-of in awe of it. I dont think hed ever seen anything quite that old.

Cleveland Clock Repair owner Michael Daniel, 33, is a young man in a centuries-old and fading craft, battling against the tide in an analog world gone digital and disposable.

The job took a few months but Wright was pleased with the results. Michael definitely knows what hes doing, she said. I think he has a true passion for it, and that really makes a difference.

More typical of Daniels business was a mantel clock that Lloyd Snyder, 77, of Cleveland Heights, recently brought into the shop. He told Daniel, It works, but it winds down a lot faster than it used to, and its not very accurate anymore.

The clock was a wedding present when Snyder and his wife got married in 1983, and he said it has a lot of sentimental value.

Daniel took a look and said the clock dates back to the 1920s. With a $180 cleaning, oiling and service repair, itll likely be around another 100 years, he said.

Snyder grinned and replied, Well, I wont be.

He left the clock in what he believed were good hands. Snyder later said, I was really impressed. I know a lot of people who have old clocks like mine and theyre all having the same problem. So I think and hope there is a market (for Daniel). Its a great service, and there arent that many people doing it any more.

Daniel, too, is hoping that future generations will still see the appeal of vintage clocks.

I definitely see a need for what I do as long as theres an older generation that can tell their children how valuable these (clocks) are, and worth having around, even if the lights go out, Daniel said.

Theres a history that comes with antiques. They all tell a story, and theyre as unique and different as the people who own them, he added.

Daniel hopes to expand his business to several shops, and has started training his cousin Dominic Mason, 33, of Elyria, in the craft.

Mason, a former diesel mechanic, said clock repair fascinated me, the different parts, the gears, how a clock works.

He described Daniel as a patient and talented instructor. Hes very good at what he does. Sometimes hell make parts out of other parts, Mason said. He could build a clock out of just wood and metal.

Mason is banking on a future career in clock repair. Who else is doing it? Its job security, he said. We have to hope the generation that has these clocks now will pass them down, and their children will keep them as a tradition.

Hope for the future mingled with the scent of machine oil and the metronomic beat of swinging pendulums during a recent repair session in the shop.

Daniel reached for a tool, exposing an arm sleeve-tattoo of a fox and a red hawk lunging through a forest.

He said its a reminder that no matter how hard you strive, the darker side of the forest will try to pull you down. Its about overcoming the obstacles in life.

Whether that represents a foreboding or promising omen for the future remains to be seen.

Time, as they say, will tell.

(Michael David can be contacted at the Cleveland Clock Repair shop, 1777 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118; 440-591-4208;www.clevelandclockrepair.com; clevelandclockrepair@gmail.com.)

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Baking With Love In Times Of Grief – WFAE07.09.21

Kacie Smagacz sat outside the Common Market on Monroe Road on a recent day. She had about an hour before she started her shift inside, where she bakes and dreams up new creations for her company Move that Dough.

"I think since I was raised by a grandma who lived through the Great Depression, it's very classic, American-style baking," Smagacz said. "Cake donuts and yeast donuts and cinnamon rolls and cookies and stuff that is comfort food to me."

Comfort food with a twist, that is. All of her creations are vegan and more than half of the menu is gluten-free.

Courtesy of Kacie Smagacz

Smagacz bounced between different households while growing up in Nebraska. Her grandmas was where she felt the most safe and loved and a big part of that was learning to bake alongside her.

A tattoo on the 33-year-old's arm of a mason jar surrounded by flowers reminds her of her grandmother.

"Since I have an ADHD brain, I experienced a lot of adults who would avoid me or talk to me like I was an idiot," Smagacz said. "And my grandma holding that space for me was huge. My grandma kept her sewing notions and all of her things in these mason jars in the basement. And I'd go downstairs and just spin them and look at them, you know? So I got that for her. She was a gardener (too), so thats why there are flowers all around it."

Sarah Delia

Smagacz sells her baked goods through pop-up shops and in local eateries around Charlotte. Her home base is the kitchen in Common Market, but she doesnt have a storefront.

And that helped when the pandemic hit.

Business wise, things were going pretty good in the early days of the shutdown. There was a surge of support for local businesses. She worked by herself at night in the kitchen so she didnt have to worry about social distancing with a co-worker. Her partner would care for their 3-year-old; when she got home, he would head to work and she would take care of their daughter.

A big challenge came when she had to deal with opinionated customers.

"I had never before faced certain customers who are very anti-mask trying to put pressure on small businesses to stand up to the government and, you know, this kind of narrative," she said.

And then there were the customers who still wanted to place orders but wanted absolutely no contact.

"And so I felt very kind of like I was being demanded upon by both ends of a spectrum of people who wouldn't meet in the middle at all," she said.

Courtesy of Kacie Smagacz

But she kept pushing forward and baking continued to be the same outlet it was for her when she was a little girl.

She's used baking to work through tough times before. She remembers going through a period of depression after she gave birth where she felt isolated and alone. Similar feelings bubbled back to the surface during the pandemic.

"When you combine art with business, I can't go through a season of being like I'm not inspired. I can feel uninspired, but I still have to show up," she said. "And the pandemic was no exception. And it's become therapeutic, in that way, where it can be my hardest teacher, but also like my greatest lessons learned have been through this business."

There was another lesson Smagacz would learn during the pandemic, one about family.

Smagacz says she experienced emotional and physical abuse from both her mother and father growing up. She says that abuse was tied, in part, to her very religious upbringing.

"I would say it's cult-level fundamentalist Christianity," she said. "I wasn't allowed to do anything outside of that circle. And it was the kind that reinforced like I was the chaplain of my senior class and I wasn't allowed to pray at graduation because I was a female."

Courtesy of Kacie Smagacz

On top of that, her mother suffered from bipolar disorder, Smagacz says, and her mother also struggled with prescription drug abuse. Smagacz helped take care of her mother when she got sick. There was a song she would sing to her by the Christian artist Phil Wickham, "I Will Wait For You There."

"There were several times in her life where she got very sick and I was the youngest, so I was with her through those years the most," Smagacz said. "So I'd be holding her on the bathroom floor, like, calling an ambulance and singing her that song or in the hospital with her, singing that song."

During the pandemic, Smagacz and her mother werent on speaking terms. But she would hear updates from her brother on how she was doing. In April, he contacted her again. Their mother had COVID-19 and was in the hospital.

Smagacz tried to reach out to her mom she texted her the lyrics to that song "I Will Wait For You There," the one her mother loved, but no reply. Then, later that day, as she was getting set up to serve customers, she got another call from her brother. Nurses were setting up a FaceTime call for the family. Their mother was dying.

"And we basically just had to watch our mom die on FaceTime. And it was disturbing for me on a lot of levels," she said. "So, to know that she was scared, alone and to know that she ultimately died alone which was all she felt her whole life like she forced herself into solitude and loneliness and that was her final experience. And that is heartbreaking because I only ever wish that I could have convinced her that she was as loved and talented as she was."

As they watched their mother die, the only thing they could do miles apart, was play a recording of her favorite song, the same song Smagacz had sung to her mom so many times before.

"I think I was in denial when it was happening because she had been so sick my whole life that I just thought this was going to be another one of those times where she almost died and didn't," Smagacz said. "And so I thought I was going to have time to repair with her."

And then, the FaceTime ended. And she had to turn around and serve customers.

She had help in the kitchen that day and everyone surrounded her, trying to support her through what just happened. If a wave of grief hit her, she would go to the bathroom and take a moment.

"But the grind didn't stop," she said. "Then, that night, I had to come in and bake. The next morning I had to serve customers. And so it took a couple of days till I could actually sit with myself and process the shock because it happened very quickly."

Part of processing her grief was realizing she wanted to help others avoid the position she was in when her mother died. In a way, she was already on that path. In the year before her mother's death, Smagacz got certified to become an end-of-life doula someone who advocates on behalf of the dying person, helps them navigate the funeral industry, and cares for them in whatever way makes sense. She also sees that role as helping repair relationships before that person passes away.

"If we know someone is about to die, is there not like a mediator or a grief counselor who can come in and try to facilitate families talking to each other so that that person can for one final time hear that either they were loved or hear 'This caused me pain, but I forgive you and I've wanted to forgive you,'" she said.

She plans to go back to school to become a grief counselor. She wants to works with people and families at the end of life. In her words, she realizes that her actual heartbeat is not in the sugar and the flour she sifts its in the work she feels called to do with end-of-life care. She wants to help others avoid the trauma and regret that came with her mothers passing.

Much like how she found her way to baking in her grandmas house as a little girl, she wants this new path to have love and understanding as key ingredients.

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This Memorial Day, remember those who died in Afghanistan, and the loved ones they left behind – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel05.31.21

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It was a graduation gift from his mother, a chance to skydive.

Quinn Johnson-Harris of Milwaukee made that first jump anddeclared: "I'm going to live in the sky."

And he did, joining the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Homestead High School, carving out a career and a calling, visiting 17 countries as he served his nation,just like his brothers and grandfather.

On Oct. 2, 2015, Johnson-Harris, an aircraft loadmaster,was ona C-130J Super Hercules plane that took offfrom Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan.

The flight lasted 28 seconds. There was a stall. The plane crashed, killing all 11 people on board, and three otherson the ground.

Quinn was 21.

A photo of Quinn Johnson-Harris, who was killed in Afghanistan on Oct. 2, 2015, is seen at his fathers house on Monday, May 24, 2021 in Milwaukee.(Photo: Angela Peterson / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Think of Quinn Johnson-Harris and his family on this Memorial Day weekend, as we mark a holiday suffused with sadness and reverence.

We remember those in the military who gave their lives defending the country. And this yearespecially,we recall sacrifices made in Afghanistan.

More than 3,100 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan since 2001, including more than than 30 Wisconsinites.

"It's time to end America's longest war,"President Joe Biden declared in April when he orderedthe withdrawal of all remaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021.

"We went to Afghanistan in 2001 to root out al Qaeda, to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan," Biden said. "Our objective was clear.The cause was just."

Families of the fallen, and veterans of the war, are left with their own reflections on their sacrifice and their service.

Yvette and LaMar HarrisSr. remember their son Quinn every day. His laugh, his smile and his exuberance. He's buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Yvette is raising his daughter and says the little girl looks just like him.

Yvette, a nurse, wears a button that shows her son's smiling face. LaMar, a retired operating engineer, has a tattoo on his left arm that honors his son.

They're divorced. But they retain a strongbond.

The military ties run deep in the family.

LaMar Harris, the father of Quinn Johnson-Harris who was killed in Afghanistan, holds a framed photo of the other airmen who were killed in the aircraft with his son on Oct. 2, 2015.(Photo: Angela Peterson / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Yvette's father was a Marine. When he died, her sons stood, saluted his casket and promised to serve in his honor.

There was Jeremy, who served in the Marines and passed away in a motorcycle accident in Indianapolis shortly before the first anniversary of his brother's death.

LaMar Jr. is a West Point graduate who is a U.S. Army captain in the Special Forces.

LaMar's stepson, Christopher Schaffer, just graduated from U.S. Army Ranger School.

And, of course, there was Quinn.

Yvette and LaMar wrestle with the war in Afghanistan.

LaMar said he agreed with the war's aims to help Afghanistan and the Afghan people.

"You don't want to lose loved ones, but any war you're going to lose loved ones," he said. "And they know when they sign that paper to defend the country, there's a possibility they may not come home."

"Our kids don't go in there and say, 'I want to fight and die,'" Yvette said. "Our kids go in there and say I want to serve this country. And because we are America and we're free and we have rights that so many people don't have, when we see suppressed people in the world, we go to help rescue them.

"Our purpose was to keep the Taliban at bay," she added. "And we did that, we did that very well."

The family suffered terrible loss.

"We just wake up every morning, knowing your child gave all he wanted to give to help other people," LaMarsaid.

"My heart as a mother, yeah, I wish we would have pulled out sooner," Yvette said. "But if this is your job, I actually put it on Facebook the day my kid left, anybody who wants a yellow ribbon to tie around a tree, come get it from me. You never think it's going to be you, people knocking on the door (to deliver news from overseas) but what keeps us free are the people who are selfless and serving.

"We gave," she added. "I've given a lot. And what I wish is that people in America don't forget. I don't want anybody to forget what my son did for us. I don't want them to forget his sacrifice for our nation."

Chris Kolenda, a retired U.S. Army colonel now living in Milwaukee, served fourcombat tours in Afghanistan. In 2008, Biden, then a U.S. senator, visited Kolenda's main outpost in the Kunar River Valley in eastern Afghanistan.

Chris Kolenda poses for a portrait Wednesday, May 19, 2021, at his home in Milwaukee. Kolenda is a retired colonel who did several tours in Afghanistan. Kolenda has received many awards and medals during his time.(Photo: Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

After the visit, Kolenda received a letter from Biden that said: "No matter how many PowerPoints one may view, there is no substitute for being able to get out to a Forward Operating Base and get some ground-truth."

Kolenda's memories of Afghanistan are vivid.

"The absolute beauty of the country, the kindness of the people, the joy on kids' faces," he said.

But there are other, darker memories. During his tour, six soldiers he commanded died in combat.

"I think of my six soldiers, their faces, their families," he said.

Next summer, he plans a bicycle trip to honor those men in the places where they are buried, a journey that will take him from Nebraska to Arlington, Virginia.

He can still hear the boom of a rocket-propelled grenade that took the life of Maj. Tom Bostick, July 27, 2007. For his actions, putting himself between enemy fighters and his troops, Bostick received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest medal for combat valor.

Chris Kolenda points to Afghanistan on a map Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Milwaukee. That is the location where his captain died.(Photo: Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Ask Kolenda what he would tell families who lost loved ones in the long war, and he said: "The question you ask is very difficult because you don't have the sort of war that ends with a ticker-tape parade down 5th Avenue in New York, or with a big surrender ceremony. That's not how these wars typically end."

There may be a lack of closure, he said, but at the same time, "soldiers were fighting alongside the people that they trained with, that they were friends with, and ultimately when you get in a firefight soldiers are fighting for one another, to protect one another. They all did that."

Kolenda agreed with the decision to end American involvement in the war. There are many ways the future may play out as the Afghan government and Taliban struggle for power and control.

"My thinking has evolved on this over the last 10 years," he said. "I think our presence at 2,500 soldiers, it was doing very little good and it was encouraging the worst behavior on the part of the key actors. So, peace hasn't been possible with our troops present. It might be possible with our troops no longer there and creating these perverse incentives."

Kolenda, who has authored a book called "Zero-Sum Victory: What We're Getting Wrong About War," said the U.S. is in need of national security reform.

"A war that goes on inconclusively for 20 years is not acceptable," he said. "We need to fix it."

In Beloit, a family remembers Tyler Kreinz.

Tyler was in middle school when the Twin Towers collapsed and the Pentagon was attacked.

He was upset, determined, andtold his mom that fateful day, Sept. 11, 2001: "I want to join the Army."

Tyler loved the outdoors and plannedto go to college and become a conservation warden. But first, hemade good on that youthful pledge, enlisting in the U.S. Army after he graduated from Beloit Memorial High School.

On June 18, 2011, in Uruzgan province of Afghanistan, Tyler was on a night patrol when the MRAP vehicle he was riding in overturned while crossing a river.

There was a desperate rescue attempt but Tyler and three others perished.

The next day, Father's Day, soldiers came to the Kreinz home to break the terrible news.

Tyler was gone. He was just 21.

U.S. Army Specialist Tyler Kreinz, of Beloit, died June 18, 2011, in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered during a vehicle crash.(Photo: Kreinz family photo.)

"His friends are in their 30s now and getting married and having children," said Tyler's mother, Mary Kreinz.

She and her husband, David, holdtight to the letters their sonsent home from training, and Germany and Afghanistan.

"I remember him feeling horrible for the women and children there," she said of his tour in Afghanistan. "I remember going to Goodwill to pick up Happy Meal toys that he could then give to the kids."

Her son shielded the family from his combat role in Afghanistan, telling them he mostly handled calls and did paperwork. Only later, after his death, did they learn he was on dangerous night patrols.

Mary Kreinz said she was glad that the war is now ending.

"It's been too long," she said. "9/11 made us realize there are some vicious people out there in the world."

She said she understood why American soldiers were sent to Afghanistan that al Qaeda needed to be disbanded but she is at a loss to make much sense of what occurred.

"We can't be fighting everyone's wars," she said. "They're fighting about religion, fighting about things we don't understand, we don't have business in."

Mary and her husband keep their son's memory alive through a memorial scholarship through the Wisconsin Conservation Warden Association.

"I would love everybody to know what a gentleman he was," Mary Kreinz said of her son. "And how strong he was."

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

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Signing Day makes official what’s always been true Thomas Fidone is a Husker – Omaha World-Herald12.16.20

Like hes done every fall Saturday since before he can remember, Thomas Fidone settled in to watch and cheer on Nebraska football.

This was Nov. 21, nearly three months after the top-rated tight end in the Class of 2021 made national headlines when he committed to the Huskers in a televised ceremony. Taking in games as a pledge felt different if anything, he was even more invested in the process and the outcome than when he was a grade-school super fan.

Nebraska fell flat that day, losing at home 41-23 to Illinois to drop to 1-3. Fidone posted a message on social media, wondering what went wrong. As the television broadcast ended and the afternoon wore on, the Council Bluffs Lewis Central standout received at least a dozen calls or texts from coaches of other Power Five programs.

Just seemed like a good time to check in, theyd say.

Pretty much all told me the same thing: Come be a part of something great. Wed love you here, Fidone says. And some of it was hating on Nebraska.

Fidone didnt listen. How could he? His first outfit as a 3-year-old was a red Nebraska jersey with a little white plastic helmet. The Huskers were among the first to discover him, back when he was a relatively unknown lanky receiver who showed up at a 7-on-7 summer camp in Lincoln in 2019. He built relationships with fellow commits that far exceeded anything he experienced elsewhere.

In a way, Fidone has always been a Husker. It simply becomes official Wednesday. By January, the top-ranked prospect in coach Scott Frosts third full recruiting class will be on campus, interested only in the future of a team with which he has much history.

Ill compete with anybody in that tight end room, Fidone says. Theres no doubt in my mind that Ill be better than all of them at one point.

***

Fidones first Nebraska outfit comes with a story. Come to think of it, his father recalls, it was the first time he thought his son might be well suited for football.

The two went outside to play, Thomas Jay Fidone and 3-year-old Thomas Jay Fidone II. On this particular fall day, the elder Fidone decided to introduce some contact. Little Thomas grinned when he took the first hit. The second came hard enough that his helmet popped off his head before he fell to the ground.

Father looked at son. You OK?

Hes like, Do it again, Dad, the elder Fidone recalls. Im like, Theres my Husker man!

The Fidone family is big and notoriously rowdy. The original Thomas Fidone is one of four boys to Salvatore II and Shirley along with Salvatore III, Rich and Mark. That meant the younger Fidone had plenty of cousins around growing up, especially when everyone gathered at grandma and grandpas house just outside Missouri Valley, Iowa, for Nebraska games.

Thomas Fidone is consideredthe No. 1 tight end among all 2021 prospects byRivals and 247 Sports.

The tradition dated back to when Fidones father and uncles were kidsand they would put a big speaker with the radio broadcast outside while they played football, imitating Nebraska heroes like Jarvis Redwine and Mike Rozier. Their own children witnessed their passion in later years multiple Fidone men have left marks on the basement ceiling from when they banged their heads jumping in anger or jubilation at however the Huskers were doing that day.

I dont know if you want to call us that loud Italian family, Mark Fidone says. But we were loud, wed scream. The little kids would kind of look at us, but they loved it.

Says the younger Thomas Fidone: There was a whole room filled with insane emotion of every play, of every game. It was basically a holiday every Saturday.

Fidone and his cousins mostly played football outside while the men hollered indoors. Often they would re-create the plays they heard described on television. Sometimes they made up their own. They always imagined it was happening in Memorial Stadium.

But as Fidones recruiting profile began to take off during his junior season, he realized childhood fandom couldnt have anything to do with how he evaluated schools. And it didnt.

Its hard for people to understand who havent been through the process, Fidone says. The relationships and the way I felt about that program was a lot better than any other program.

***

Fidone can jump. He counted 27 in-game dunks from his junior year of varsity basketball.At last Januarys All-American Bowl combine, he touched higher than 12 feet, beyond the range of the device measuring him.

Thomas Fidone runs a sprint during the Warren Academy Top Prospects Showcase in July.

None of it compares to how fast hes risen in recruiting circles. Now hes the 6-foot-5, 235-pound teenager whom Rivals and 247Sports consider the No. 1 tight end among all 2021 prospects. But few knew who he was in December 2018 when he tried out for a 7-on-7 spot with the Warren Academy, a football training group run by former Husker defensive lineman Steve Warren.

The following summer the team competed in a camp tournament at Nebraska, playing nine games in a day and reaching the title game out of a field of opponents from around the Midwest. Recruiting websites that covered the event didnt even mention Fidone among 2021 players. Warren pointed him out to Frost and his staff, who hadnt heard of the receiver.

Lots of credit goes to Fidones father for his sons meteoric rise, Warren says, calling him an old-school guy who set high standards. The older Fidone, now an engineer with the City of Council Bluffs for waste management, had formerly played defensive line with the U.S. Air Force and later dabbled in semipro and arena football. In the 80s he raced dirt bikes, a pastime his son now often enjoys with his cousins at a rock quarry around Logan, Iowa.

It trickles down in that family, Warren says. Hard-working people, and Thomas brings a hard-hat mentality. Hes coming to work, and when hes out here, hes giving everything.

Indeed, Fidone was all-in by the time he received his first scholarship offer from Iowa in July 2019. Weightlifting every day, thanks to early guidance from then-Lewis Central teammate and current Iowa lineman Logan Jones. Dedication to the intricacies of being a receiver footwork, route-running, good hands. He caught 39 balls for 576 yards and seven touchdowns that junior season as the Titans reached the state semifinals.

Ill compete with anybody in that tight end room, Thomas Fidone said. Theres no doubt in my mind that Ill be better than all of them at one point.

We consider him a grinder, a guy that just loves to work, Lewis Central coach Justin Kammrad said. And its almost to the point that he works too much and doesnt give himself enough breaks because he wants to be the best on the field and the best in the state. All that work that he has put in has translated to success. His physical traits and his unbelievable work ethic and mentality of wanting to compete is what has separated him from a lot of other people.

Fidone broke out nationally in January 2020 after an elite showing at the All-American Bowl combine, where he ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash and showed off his massive catch radius in one-on-one drills. Most top-level FBS programs offered from there, and well-known coaches began attending his basketball games and dropping by the school.

A bona fide national prospect, Fidone started to plan his all-expenses-paid official visits to schools hed never seen LSU, Michigan, Georgia, Notre Dame, maybe Alabama when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down recruiting in mid-March. He had already been to Lincoln and Iowa City more than half a dozen times each.

Thomas Fidone has finally found a college football home. And Nebraska has secured its tight end of the future.

The NCAA kept pushing back the dead period, keeping Fidones process in a holding pattern. Daily FaceTime sessions with LSU coach Ed Orgeron. Lots of phone calls and texts with other schools, including Frost and tight ends coach Sean Beckton at Nebraska. Some NU commits included him in a dunk contest on social media, which all begrudgingly agreed he won. Nearby Husker pledges quarterback Heinrich Haarberg (Kearney Catholic), linebacker Seth Malcom (Fremont-Mills in Iowa) and offensive linemen Henry Lutovsky (Mount Pleasant, Iowa) and Teddy Prochazka (Elkhorn South) drove him to Lincoln for an official visit with Nebraska players in early August.

When the dead period extended past September, Fidone knew he was ready to make his decision. In a sense, it was always Nebraska.

LSU finished second, he says, and Iowa third. And as strong as the Hawkeyes recent history is with developing tight ends George Kittle, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson were all draft picks in the past three years Fidone says he didnt have the best relationship with mostof the Iowa staff. Plus, the man who developed those tight ends, assistant LeVar Woods, had moved to coordinate special teams.

I didnt want to join a program that was already decent, Fidone says. Iowas decent. I wanted to join a program that I wanted to turn around and be part of something great. Thats what were going to do in this 2021 class at Nebraska.

***

The future could come quickly for Fidone in red and white.

Nebraska coaches tell him they project a big impact his freshman year. He could flex out wide or fill a hybrid tight end role, similar to Florida Gators star tight end Kyle Pitts. NU may return all four upperclassman tight ends on the roster in 2021, but Fidone represents the first prep recruit under Frost who may stick at the position. He is the third-highest-graded Nebraska recruit in the past decade via the 247 composite (.9604) behind only receiver Tyjon Lindsey (.9769 in 2017) and offensive lineman Turner Corcoran (.9749 in 2020). He is also one of three scholarship tight ends in the class along with James Carnie (Norris) and A.J. Rollins (Creighton Prep).

After gaining 40 pounds and two inches between his junior and senior seasons, Fidone traveled southwest Iowa in the fall giving previews of whats to come. He set a school record with 244 receiving yards on nine catches one week. He made 43 grabs overall for 845 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games while frequently facing double and triple teams.

Fidone says his blocking needs some work, but thats no problem for someone who embraces the grind like he does. He sees that trait in his future Nebraska teammates too, guys who will help bring consistent success back to Lincoln.

Were a few stupid mistakes away from winning, Fidone says of the 2020 Huskers. One more year will make a difference. Were just young. Once we get acclimated to the system and ready to ball, I know were going to turn this thing.

Jumping and screaming with every play will be the entire Fidone clan. Thomas plays for them, too, especially Uncle Sal, who was killed in a roadside accident while filling potholes on an Omaha street in January 2017 at age 48. He wore No. 24 to remember the day Sal died (Jan. 24) and has a tattoo on the left side of his chest in his honor.

The elder Thomas Fidone says his late brother was like a second father to his son. At those chaotic Saturday family gatherings over the years, both men heard time and again from the boy whose dream it was to be the reason his family was jumping.

He always said, Someday, someday, not realizing that someday is an actual day that I hope well see soon, the elder Fidone says. Its almost like a family tradition that continues to go on. To actually see it and have someone you know thats in it, its going to mean so much more.

Nebraska football's 2020-21 recruiting class

St. Thomas More Prep (Tex.) athlete Marques Buford

Omaha Westside safety Koby Bretz.

Norris tight end James Carnie

Buford (Ga.) running back Gabe Ervin

Council Bluffs Lewis Central tight end Thomas Fidone

Irvington (N.J.) linebacker Mikai Gbayor

Palmetto Ridge (Fla.) wide receiver Kamonte Grimes

Kearney Catholic quarterback Heinrich Haarberg

Camden County (Ga.) wide receiver Shawn Hardy

Washington (S.D.) outside linebacker Randolph Kpai

Mount Pleasant (Iowa) offensive lineman Henry Lutovsky

Fremont-Mills (Iowa) linebacker Seth Malcom

Hightower (Tex.) wide receiver Latrell Neville

Miami (Fla.) Northwestern outside linebacker Patrick Payton

Elkhorn South offensive tackle Teddy Prochazka

Omaha Creighton Prep tight end AJ Rollins

Buford (Ga.) defensive back Malik Williams

Grantsville (Utah) offensive tackle Branson Yager

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