Local 829 Custodians Honored for Saving Student’s Life on Campus

The San Mateo County Community College District Board recognized the Local 829 members at the June 14, 2017, meeting.

It started out as a normal weeknight for the custodians who work at Cañada College. All of them were doing their rounds in the buildings spread throughout the campus.

But a little after 10 o'clock, one of the custodians—an AFSCME Local 829 member—noticed something odd that grabbed his attention. All classes were over, and most of the students, instructors and staff had left for the day. Something in the back of his mind, however, told him to stay more alert than usual that night.

What happened next was nothing short of heroic. The custodian's keen awareness that night and the rest of the custodians' quick reactions literally saved a student who attempted suicide at Cañada.

If they had not worked as a team and went above and beyond their normal course of work and duties—as AFSCME members do—the student may not be alive today.

The San Mateo County Community College District Board recently recognized the members and other staff for their efforts at a public meeting in June.

“It displayed immense courage in a very critical matter. And they acted so quickly that they saved the life of a student,” Thomas Mohr, president of the San Mateo County Community College District Board, said at the meeting as the district publicly recognized the custodians. “It says a great deal about who they are, who they represent and what they value. No question that in that moment, they were the best of who are.”

It was Local 829 member Giao Van Bui, known on the job as “BG,” who first noticed that night that a student was acting strange in one of the buildings he cleans. Before he knew it, the young person was hanging from a rope.

That’s when he got on the radio and frantically called out to his coworkers for help. BG quickly ran over to the student and his first reaction was to try to save the young person. By that time, a nearby public safety officer, who overhead BG’s call for help over the radio, had arrived and they both assisted the student.

Shortly after, six more custodians—Local 829 members Carlos Mendez, King Lau, Edgar Nelmida, Jimmy Chow, Tuong Lu and Rosendo Zamora—and Ignacio Carlos, the custodial supervisor, rushed to the building to help as well.

“The only thing I could think about was, ‘I just want to save the student,’” Mendez recalled.

Miraculously, the student survived and first responders took over to make sure everything was OK.

Looking back, Carlos said, he hopes the campus never has to deal with that type of situation again. But he also knows that if there was trouble on campus, the custodial staff wouldn’t hesitate to rush to someone’s aid.

“I’ve been working with this group for a long time and the teamwork didn’t just happen. The teamwork happens all the time,” Carlos said. “Even if somebody was sick and you asked one of the guys to help out, they’d say, ‘No problem.’ That’s the kind of teamwork we have here.”

Most of the members who assisted the student that night are now back to work, taking care of each of their buildings to keep the campus clean—just like they always do. Council 57 staff recently held a celebration for the custodians and presented them with a plaque in recognition of their heroic efforts.