News People On Campus

CVTC Alumni Come to College Dean’s Rescue

tech college-trained law enforcement, medical staff respond after man pinned under tree

Alyssa Van Duyse / Chippewa Valley Technical College |

SAVED BY CVTC. Adam Wehling, pictured, hasn't stopped thinking about what went wrong on Jan. 2 as he cut down a tree on his property. (Submitted photos)
SAVED BY CVTC. Adam Wehling, pictured, hasn't stopped thinking about what went wrong on Jan. 2 as he cut down a tree on his property. On that day, the tree fell in an unexpected direction pinning Wehling underneath.  (Submitted photos)

Adam Wehling climbed the short but steep hill of his wooded land south of Eau Claire. He weaved his way through prickle brush to the 18-inch round fallen oak tree that nearly took his life.

As he led people to the scene, he was preoccupied with telling the details of his harrowing experience. Then he approached the 6-foot-long log and paused for a brief second.

“I’m a little self-conscious of that cut,” Wehling said pointing to the tree’s trunk.

The 43-year-old Chippewa Valley Technical College dean of Agriculture, Energy, Construction and Transportation, hasn’t stopped thinking about what went wrong on Jan. 2 as he began to cut down a tree on his property.

On that day, the tree fell in an unexpected direction, pinning Wehling underneath. He’s lucky to be alive, he said. The people who came to his aid – nearly all are CVTC alumni – agree with his assessment.

The Accident

Wehling was trained in the skill of cutting down trees at the age of 16. He took a forestry class at Fall Creek High School and received “extensive supervised training” while cutting up and felling trees in the school’s forest.

For more than 25 years, Wehling has been using a chainsaw successfully and without injury. He is in the habit of taking all precautions while using the chainsaw by following his process of checking in with his wife every hour; wearing a hat, vest, long-sleeve sweatshirt, and Carhartt work pants with a side pocket for his phone; wearing ear plugs, boots, and gloves; and by parking his John Deere gator 50 feet away on the gravel road from where he would be working – easily visible “just in case,” he said.

But Wehling admits that even with a “prepared approach, accidents happen.”

“It happened in an instant – so fast I couldn’t do anything,” he said.

As he had 100 times, he made the wedge cut and then began the back cut. The chainsaw became pinched. While pulling the chainsaw, the hinge broke, and the butt of the tree pivoted and slipped on the bar of his chainsaw.

The treetop fell Wehling’s way, knocking him down and pinning him to the semi-frozen ground.

“After hitting the ground, the tree bounced slightly on the ground and myself, and as I twisted and the tree slid slightly downhill, it firmly rested on the top of my pelvis and upper legs,” he said. “I tried lifting and moving the tree off my body, but it wouldn’t budge.”

Wehling did a quick assessment as he reached for his phone, which was accessible in the side pocket of the pants his wife had purchased days earlier.

He called 911 and hoped help would be able to find him off the backroads of rural Mondovi. When he heard the sirens and the crunch of gravel under tires, he knew help was near.

CVTC to the Rescue

Steven Schlewitz, an Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Department deputy, was first on the scene less than 15 minutes from the time Wehling dialed 911.

The CVTC criminal justice and law enforcement academy graduate said he was able to find Wehling, which isn’t always easy in rural areas.

“When I got there, obviously I observed that he had a tree on him, and with my training (from CVTC) and instincts of growing up in the rural areas, I knew what had to be done,” Schlewitz said. “I wasn’t able to lift the tree by myself, and I knew I needed to cut it.”

Being a lifetime outdoorsman and skilled with a chainsaw, Schlewitz grabbed Wehling’s Stihl and began cutting the tree trunk to take some pressure off of Wehling’s body.

Wehling and Sheriff Steve Schlewitz (right).
Wehling and Deputy Steve Schlewitz (right).

“The only thing that was really going through my head is ‘I gotta do what I can do to try and help this guy,’ ” he said.

That’s when Township Fire Captain Larry (Scott) Wertz, another CVTC alumnus, showed up to render aid.

“(Schlewitz) was running the saw and … I went running up there. It was quite a sight,” Wertz said. “The tree was so big that it pretty much covered him all up, and at first, I was wondering why I was there because I didn’t see anybody until I got real close. I saw Adam’s feet, and his head was sticking out the other side.

“That’s when it hit me that this was serious.”

After a few cuts were made in the tree trunk, the two men used brute force to lift the log so Wehling could roll out from underneath.

Wehling’s body was free from the tree’s weight.

“I sat on the correct side of an oak tree that a few minutes earlier had me in a perilous position,” he said.

As the paramedics arrived, Wehling assessed potential injuries.

His body was sore, but he didn’t think he had any broken bones. A medical helicopter had been deployed, but the decision was made to call it off after Wehling literally stood up and walked away from the event that could have taken his life.

Wehling declined a ride to the hospital, but paramedics suggested he get a ride to the hospital from his wife because, although he felt OK at that moment, his body likely was in shock. It’s best to be checked to make sure, they said.

When Wehling arrived at the hospital, it was overflowing with patients. But because his emergency was a trauma, he got top billing. When Sondra Mero, a CVTC EMS instructor who moonlights as an emergency department registered nurse, saw that a trauma patient was waiting to be seen and that it was Wehling, she told her manager she needed to check on him right away because “I know who he is, and I don’t think he would come in unless it was bad,” she said.

Captain Larry (Scott) Wertz.
Captain Larry (Scott) Wertz.

Mero, another CVTC alumna, wheeled Wehling back for tests. That’s when he encountered CVTC grad, Amanda Poirier, a radiology technician.

“They called a trauma overhead so we immediately get set up for the worst-case scenario,” Poirier said. “I wasn’t expecting Adam (Wehling) to roll in. I knew that there was a bad accident and a tree had fallen on someone, but I wasn’t expecting to see him.”

Poirier recognized Wehling from her time at CVTC. She scanned him carefully from head to toe to assess for internal bleeding or fractures that would require surgical intervention.

“I, amazingly, saw much of nothing,” she said. “I was expecting at least some fractured ribs or something. That’s pretty common. But the scans were great. (He is) pretty fortunate after an accident like that.”

Sondra Mero.

Wehling walked away with deep bruises and back pain, which he expects will subside. Twenty-four hours after being pinned under the oak tree, he sat down and wrote six pages of a memoir titled “Saved by Chippewa Valley Technical College.” It was his way of processing the events.

“Most of my gratitude from this experience lies with Chippewa Valley Technical College for training the individuals that saved my life,” he said. “Understanding the calamity of factors that could have altered the course and made this situation much worse, I am instead focusing on what did happen and those who raced into action to help. CVTC is an essential component of our society and without the trained workers that quickly responded to my call, I hesitate to think what might have happened.”