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Window washer thankful to survive power-line jolt

"I just got the shock of my life," Nicholas Genovese said from his hospital bed at Nassau University Medical Center's burn unit as he recalled Saturday's incident. "I was stunned. The volts went through me. The next thing I know, I hit the ground." (Nov. 29, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Just days after celebrating Thanksgiving with his family, Nicholas Genovese feels truly thankful for his life.

"I believe it's a miracle I'm alive," he said.

What was supposed to be a simple side job on Saturday morning - washing windows at a Lynbrook bank - took a terrible turn when Genovese and his friend Alan Weinberg were shocked and burned after strong winds pushed the 40-foot-long cleaning pole they were holding into a power line strong enough to power a neighborhood.

Both suffered second- and third-degree burns, and Weinberg went into cardiac arrest, police said.

Genovese, 58, of Staten Island, later said his first thought was that he had been struck by lightning. Roughly 33,000 volts surged through his body outside the Bank of America building at 300 Merrick Rd. in Lynbrook, according to Nassau police and Lynbrook fire spokesman Steve Grogan.

"I just got the shock of my life," Genovese said Monday from his hospital bed at Nassau University Medical Center's burn unit. "I was stunned. The volts went through me. The next thing I know, I hit the ground."

He could feel burning on his hands and feet. "I thought I was dying," he said. The electricity singed his socks and put holes in his work boots. "My socks were burned right through," he said.

Genovese works for the New York Racing Association, cleaning windows at Belmont and Aqueduct racetracks. He occasionally works side jobs for his friend Weinberg, 64, of Long Beach, who owns Brook Window Cleaning in Lynbrook.

The two were preparing to wash windows at the four-story bank with a long aluminum water pole at about 7:30 a.m. when a wind burst slammed the 40-foot long pole into a nearby power line, according to police.

Joann Genovese, 51, said she didn't understand at first what happened to her husband when he called her while on his way to NUMC. "He was kind of in a daze. He just told me he had an accident, and I thought he was in a car accident," she said. "He wasn't talking right. I guess he was in shock."

Lynbrook firefighters performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Weinberg for more than 20 minutes and used a defibrillator three times before he was revived, said Grogan.

The Merrick Road power line that the pair struck is a "major line," he said.

The voltage carried on the line is equivalent to a substation strong enough to power a neighborhood, according to LIPA spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter. The average Taser shock, by comparison, is about 1,200 volts, according to a spokesman for Taser.

Dr. Louis Riina, associate director of the NUMC burn unit, said Genovese indeed was lucky to have escaped death.

"It just depends how your body responds to the current. It's a very iffy thing," Riina said.

Genovese could be released as early as Tuesday to continue his treatment at home, hospital spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said. His wounds are not expected to require skin grafts because they are small, although deep.

Weinberg was transferred Monday from South Nassau Communities Hospital to the Nassau University Medical Center burn unit, and remains in critical condition, Lotenberg said. A woman who answered the phone in his hospital room declined to comment, and calls to his home number were not returned.

Genovese said he was worried about his friend, whom he's known for seven years.

John Chavez, spokesman for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the accident is under investigation to determine how it happened, and whether OSHA's distance and safety guidelines around power lines had been followed.

As for Genovese, he's planning to go right back to work cleaning windows, a business he's been in for 40 years. But he will probably make a few changes in his life, he said, as the accident has renewed his faith in a higher power.

"I am not the most religious guy, although I am Catholic," he said. "I will start going back to church."

With Gary Dymski

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