As citizens of the Carolinas shelter and wait for the worst of Hurricane Florence to pass, there are people who will be on the starting block, eager to get outside: Utility linemen and women.
As a storm approaches utilities are already assessing risk. How much damage will be caused, how many crews will be needed, and exactly where will they be needed? To be sure, many people support linemen – scouts who go out and assess damage so crews can get into the field with the right equipment and supplies; tree crews that clear the path so wires and poles may be replaced; warehouse and procurement staff make sure the materials are at the ready; staging area teams make sure line crews are fed, housed and briefed every day; call center teams take information from customers and get that to crews in the field. Crew chiefs will spread the word about the timing to report to work. Crews will be stocking up their trucks. Those off-shift will make sure they get rest – there are long hours ahead.
Lineworkers prepare, then must wait because crews can’t get up in the air to work when the winds are roaring. They’ll have to wait until the winds die down enough so it’s safe to work. There are floods, too, which could be especially significant with Florence. When lineworkers do get out there, they’ll be working steady, too – 18 hours on, 6 off is common after big storms – until customers are back in service.
Lineworkers are special people who make our lives easier in several ways. What traits are universal in these professionals?
Lineworkers have safety as the top priority. Utility workers must manage varied possible hazards. According to OSHA: High-voltage, working at heights, sometimes working in confined spaces, bad weather, and physical work issues like welding and cutting. (Reference)
Lineworkers are brave. They are out there in good times, and really bad times. It is tough. “Utility line work is in the top 10 of the most dangerous jobs in America.” (T&D World) They take their work seriously.
Lineworkers are problem-solvers. They venture into a tangle of broken pieces and make the parts work together again. In the process, they use not just their physical skills, but familiarity of mathematics, electrical knowledge, and mechanics. They work as individuals as part of a large team that with the goal of safely restoring power.
Lineworkers are members of our communities. Each person we see on a pole or in a truck often presents several people, actually. A spouse or significant other, maybe children, parents. hey represent people involved in schools, churches, theater, Scouts, Little League… Lineworkers, by their nature, contribute to our overall quality of life.
A person who goes into lineman work must have a special DNA to even apply. These high standards are also drilled into lineworker students. Caldwell Community and Technical Institute, Hudson, NC, is a premier trainer of lineworkers. David Coffey is the Coordinator and Instructor for the Electrical Lineman Program, and he says this about educating lineworkers. “We teach our students from day one that their own personal safety and the safety of their crew is paramount. Our students are taught that the goal is not individual success but rather the success of the entire class. The emotions shared at graduation are good indicators of just how close our students become over the course of the class. That sense of brotherhood and family goes with them into the field and is essential to their success, especially in dangerous conditions. And it starts in the classroom on day one.”
It is a field of work looking for good people. Duke Energy ran an article about being a lineworker: “Energy companies plan to hire lineworkers to fill a shortage that’s been building across the U.S. as the baby boom generation retires. Lineworkers are in the field daily constructing, maintaining and restoring equipment to ensure reliable energy service. It’s a demanding job that has its rewards, financially and in the accomplishment that comes from helping return life to normal after storms, accidents and natural disasters.”
For all of us, it is reassuring to see lineworkers out at work after a storm. It is a sense that getting back to normal has started. We are looking forward to that feeling after Florence, and thank lineworkers in advance for their service to us in the challenge ahead.