A devastating hand injury isn’t enough to keep Blake DeForest from continuing to follow his passion for welding.
The Nokesville resident earned his arc (stick) welding certification from Laurel Community College Workforce Solutions several years ago.
“I had kind of been around welding all my life,” said DeForest, who had friends and family members who welded.
He learned he was a natural when he first picked up a welder in his ninth-grade shop class.
“The teacher said, ‘Is this your first time?’” DeForest recalled. “He said, ‘Well, that’s pretty good for your first time.’”
DeForest was homeschooled for the remainder of high school and enrolled in Workforce Solutions after graduating. After receiving his certification, he was hired to work in Vint Hill doing mig welding. Wanting to earn more money, DeForest began working at a factory in Culpeper doing production welding and later maintenance work.
In June 2020, nearly a year into his job at the factory, a manager told DeForest a fan wasn’t working on the roof.
“I had a bad feeling, but I was like, I’m going to go do it anyhow,” DeForest remembered.
He shut the fan off, pulled the cover off and tightened the belt. While he was checking the blade’s transmission, a coworker turned on the fan and DeForest’s hand got stuck between the blade and the pulley.
DeForest was told he came within minutes of bleeding to death. DeForest has since had more surgeries and physical therapy.
On his left hand, he lost his middle finger to his second knuckle and his index finger down to the first knuckle. Thankfully, DeForest is right handed.
Undeterred, DeForest has since returned to Workforce Solutions to do more welding education, becoming certified in mig welding.
While there are certain maintenance jobs that are made more difficult by his missing digits, “I still enjoy it.”
“I definitely want to start my own company,” said DeForest. “I already have all of the equipment.”
Additionally, DeForest would like to take his experiences and teach workplace safety. For now, he does deliveries for a parts store.
And, DeForest is interested in taking more workforce classes, possibly HVAC, plumbing or electrical. The majority of his tuition costs have been covered by Workforce Financial Assistance (FANTIC) funding, as well as a scholarship from the Laurel Ridge Educational Foundation thanks to the generosity of the Wise Foundation.
“The Workforce Solutions classes I already took were well-taught,” he said. “If anyone needed any help with welding tips or anything like that, they were there for you. Knowing all that I had gone through, they made me push for my best.”
The first responders who helped him at the accident site have a special place in DeForest’s heart. He takes them homemade cookies at Christmas.
“I like going down there because I like to show them I’m doing well, because a lot of times, they don’t know the outcome for patients,” he said.
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.