Providing electricity to the North Central Texas region, National Lineman Appreciation Day April 18 recognizes and honors the efforts of those who battle nature to overcome outages
When a severe thunder storm begins to roll in, people start getting worried about an electricity outage. For a lineman, a major storm signals the time to go on high alert – ready to put on their boots and work gear – because outage calls are bound to come in, and there will be power to restore.
Winds can damage equipment directly, along with broken and blowing tree limbs contacting wires and other equipment. Lightning strikes also are common causes of outages. Flooding resulting from tropical storms can impact service. The more it rains, thunders, blows and snows, the more valuable linemen become.
After all, linemen and women are first responders in their own right their work should not go unnoticed and the workers deserve recognition for what their service to their communities. They are on the front lines, keeping the power pumping. Their dedication and sacrifice is therefore celebrated and appreciated. In the aftermath of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, the 113th Congress passed a bill designating April 18 as National Lineman Appreciation Day. The bill became law in 2013, and therefore, April 18th was established as National Linemen Appreciation Day.
To keep electricity flowing to people’s homes and businesses, linemen’s work is demanding and dangerous – working with thousands of volts of electricity, high atop power lines for long hours – and is full of unique challenges. Additionally, fixing outages often means going out in tough conditions – torrential rain, sleet, high winds, often at odd hours. According to Clifton foreman Ben Gardner, the head to toe safety work gear with thick rubber sleeves and gloves is an additional challenge in the Texas heat.
Working conditions are always more difficult outside in extreme cold, wind or rain, and makes it imperative for linemen to slow down and focus on safety, and all the while wanting to get the power back on as soon as possible, so people can enjoy the amenities that electricity makes possible, aside from the necessities.
On April 18, the Texas-New Mexico Power North Central region linemen started their day with an “all out” breakfast at the Clifton, as an appreciation for their hard work, and commitment to their jobs.
An electrical lineman is someone to look up to; literally because they often are at work on the poles or towers, high up in the air, but also because they do important work that benefits their communities. Their work is essential to keeping the lights on, and in scorching hot Texas summers, the air-conditioning, fridges and freezers. The past winters, even in Texas heating during the long cold snaps has been vital too.
Gardner is a Clifton High School Graduate, and all four of his children attended CHS. After school he had job plans that took him away from Bosque County. “I had seen linemen in the field,” Gardner said. “And I always looked up to them. So after a while I started off contracting. It was the icing on the cake to come back to the area where I grew up.”
The TNMP North Central area covers a lot of miles and a lot of small towns. And all that extreme weather brings dangerous driving conditions for the repair crews and their equipment. TNMP prepares crews for power outage work in areas that are forecasted to be affected by incoming weather. They also have plans for quickly calling in additional crews, if needed. And their first focus is on ensuring public and employee safety. Restoration efforts then prioritize fixing damage that is disrupting power for key community services, like hospitals, water and sewer lines, etc. The crews then work on repairing outages affecting the largest numbers of customers.
In Central Texas, brush fires also are a big concern for the electric companies. When the poles burn, the wires become floating and electricity needs to be cut off. Break points are mapped, so the least amount of people are affected by the repairs.
Linemen are trained to expect the unexpected. Because outages and electrical hazards just do not work on a schedule, no day is the same. So, it is rare that a lineman gets to start work at 8 a.m. and be done at 5 p.m. A day can be 24 hours long, working in shifts. The job demands attention 365 days a year; so yes, even on holidays and weekends.
When bad weather rolls in, there is no hunkering down at a lineman’s house. And the linemen are not the only ones making sacrifices – their families sometimes have to miss ‘their lineman’ on a fun family barbecue or that icy cold Christmas Eve because someone’s power went out for whatever reason.
In spite of high turnovers, of people that decide the work is too strenuous, stressful or dangerous, there is an increasing interest with youth wanting to get into the field according to Gardner. Being outdoors, the physicality, the excitement of giving people relief and helping them out, the travel all are appealing. With natural calamities in other states, mutual aid takes the linemen across state lines too.
A video by Triangle Communications in which Hill County Electric Linemen share stories and give some insight on what it's like risking their lives each day to keep the power on.
“The job takes a lot of knowledge, confidence, and good work ethic,” Gardner said. “You have to have a good head on your shoulders, because you have to make good decisions all day. And you have to be focused. You have to be able to put everything aside and make the best decision for yourself and the crew because you are always your brother’s keeper in this job. You also have to take pride in and being committed to helping others.”
Electricity linemen are responsible for installing and maintaining the physical power lines and cables that provide homes and businesses with electricity. They go through long hours of field training and classroom work to understand how the electrical delivery system works so that when there is a problem, they’ll know how to fix it.
And that includes anything from installing, maintaining, and repairing power lines that transmit electricity; stringing power lines between poles, buildings, and towers; identifying defective devices, transformers, voltage regulators, and switches; inspecting and testing power lines and auxiliary equipment; operating power equipment; climbing poles and transmission towers and using truck-mounted buckets to reach equipment, first aid and Cardiac Pulmonary Resuscitation and driving work vehicles to job sites.
But first and foremost, their job is doing their work is following safety standards and guidelines and looking out for their crew mates.
A video by Southern Pine Electric summarizes a Day in the Life of a Lineman with Jamie Arender and Dalton Bourgoyne. Even with changing technology the industry the dedication of the lineman and the need for safety on the job is unchanged.
Because the possible adverse conditions, the stress, the dangerous and strenuous physical aspects of the job a lineman – or woman – must be mentally and physically strong. Working on the line means hauling gear, pulling thick cable and wire, and not minding having to work long hours day or night. And working with high-voltage lines leaves absolutely no room for error. Mistakes from fatigue can be life-threatening in this job.
And a lineman cannot be afraid of heights. Every day they are in buckets high above the ground, or climbing poles. And a lineman needs to be on point and focused all the time. They cannot have “a bad day” because that could result in hundreds of people being without power, or fatal accidents.
While some recruits start the job from the ground up, Gardner feels an applicant has the best job options after finishing a community college course. The first step to working on high-voltage lines takes about 15 weeks to learn the basics. But then comes at least four years of on-the-job education and training as an apprentice before becoming a journeyman lineman.
It might not have occurred to some, but electricity linemen – and women – are first responders in their own right. More often than not, firemen, police and Emergency Medical Services cannot do their jobs safely until an electricity crew has come out to cut the power to that live wire, or to that burning structure. And we all breathe a sigh of relief when the lights, air and heat, fridges and freezers kick back on after a couple of hours without electricity. Next time you see a lineman crew at work with new line construction or maintenance, remember that they are also out in horrific weather conditions, for you and your neighbors. So, give them a thumbs up. They’ll really appreciate it. #thankalineman.
Even though Glenn Campbell sang the ultimate song about linemen with his “Wichita Lineman,” this country music video from an unknown singer sums up the lineman life with great images.
Photos & videos courtesy of TEXAS-NEW MEXICO POWER
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