“How do you know the power went out?” my son William asks.
I explained that I was woken up by my white noise maker stopping abruptly in the middle of the night and that in the morning, our microwave was flashing “PF” for power failure. I also shared that at around 3 a.m. I heard a someone sawing something outside my window. I assume a power worker had to come out and remove a fallen tree to get the lines working again.
This he found fascinating. “So someone is up waiting all night just in case our power goes out?” he inquired. This question doesn’t surprise me as he is always asking about who does what for a living and what does that work entail. When I watch his basketball games I do my best to remember which name goes with which jersey number. Yet my son knows every player, the points each scored last game, and which child’s parents work as a speech pathologist, wine salesman, lawyer, and mortgage broker.
I had to admit, I hadn’t given that much thought. Do they stay up all night in case there is an emergency?
Are they on call? How often are they working through the night? Turns out, power company linepeople are like electricity – always ready, and there is always work to do for a lineperson no matter the time of day or night. There’s work for others in electric companies, too, like Paula Lawter, who we highlighted as a night shift dispatcher with SCE&G. No electric company has people sitting around “just in case” – there is always work to keep the system up and running well.
My son and I further talked about how his surgeon grandfather had to be on call many weekends. He appreciated that an on call doctor could live only so far from the hospital, might be able to attend a child’s local basketball game but would have to miss out on travel sports overlapping call weekends.
In contrast, we also discussed my best friend who is a career San Francisco firefighter and now fire investigator. Laura decided she could have the most time to mother her three awesome children if she worked only nine days a month. The kicker? The nine days are each 24 hour shifts. So William and I compared firefighters to doctors and nurses. Laura is not “on-call.” Rather, she lives at the firehouse on work days. On some shifts that means having dinner with colleagues, calling home, and even a decent night’s sleep. Another night she spent hours chasing a person who threw three Molotov cocktails at three different homes for targeted victims, then she got involved in an ATM burglary.
Fighting fires and performing emergency surgery are jobs we eagerly recognize as important. Keeping the power on also takes a sacrifice I sometimes take for granted. Do you? As we head into Labor Day weekend, I am especially thankful for the working people who care for us, protect us, and keep the lights on!