National Lineman’s Day

The energization of the first house on Kankakee Valley REMC in 1939; courtesy KVREMC

Most of you know that I am (or maybe was) a power lineman, as well as an industrial electrician. Frankly, I love both, but was prouder of being a lineman, and as we used to say, qualified to work hot. It’s a pretty good job, except at 2 am when you’ve been out since 8 the previous morning in 80 below wind chill during a blizzard. But that too engenders a certain pride.

It’s also a job that often runs in families, my dad was one too. When he started a man (and they were all men in those days) had about a 50% chance of dying on the job. By the time I came along, it was quite rare, Why? Better tools and much better work rules, and management that valued their people. And for that matter, Grampa ran the town light plant, as did one of my uncles, another was a district manager for Northern States Power, and dad was eventually general manager of a rural electric coop.

I was taught from childhood on both by dad and by others in the company: There is no such thing as a no-fault accident, somebody always had a way to prevent it. Fault is a legal term and means something else, but all accidents are avoidable by taking (or not taking) some action, or list of actions. Let’s start here:

I’ve worked 2200 in plants, and it’s safe if you follow the rules. But electricity is an unforgiving b*tch. It’ll kill you, sometimes quickly, but often fairly slowly and painfully if you screw up.

I’m sorry but such a list of blown safety rules, to me, makes this little less than suicide, and him a poor employee, and you know what, once he thought about it, I’ll bet his supervisor wasn’t surprised, although saddened. But that’s fine, he failed as well.

 

I have a strong preference for overhead lines because you can see enough to make sense of it, that’s not always true of underground, but I’ve worked both. Not really very different than how we did it in the 60s, but a world apart from how dad did it in the 30s. And he was one of the people who saw how much better it could be, and sold it to his board and wrote the book.

It shouldn’t happen, but it does, and frankly, it is why you never see electrical utility crews leaning on our trucks, which we specifically do ground. The advice given here on what to do if this happens to you is the same that I have been taught all my life.

One thing that causes us out here to lose a farmer every once in a while, is when they get something to close to a power line, note that you don’t have to touch it. Think about a farmer holding a 20-foot section of 8-inch aluminum pipe getting close to a line. Most years out here it happens once or twice, or a grain elevator, or even a combine sometimes. As our Public Power Districts keep saying, Look up; For safety’s sake. It’s good to go home at the end of the day.

And finally, most American power companies have demonstration rigs like this that are available, and the skilled presenters that go with them. if you haven’t seen one (or even if you have) pay attention, this is the straight scoop from our side of the meter.

And yes, I have killed more than a few generators (and sometimes the tractors they were attached to, when I safed a line. DO IT RIGHT, or be prepared to kill a lineman, or to replace your generator, cause after a storm, we simply don’t have time to drive the line first, and often have people from other companies or contractors helping who don’t know the system.

Curious where I learned this? Here.

On his last day before retirement, I asked my dad what he was most proud of. The answer could have been many things, when he had started with them, the coop was a shoebox of paper, when he retired it was a multi million dollar company and one of the biggest employers in town, of which every employee was a local, and so many other things. He looked at me and said, “Come with me.” He took me out into the lobby of the office and pointed to a plaque on the wall, and said, “This.” It was a plaque from the insurance company proclaiming that the company had worked one million man hours without a lost time accident.

And you know, at the other end of my career, I don’t have a plaque about it, but I’ve never had a man seriously hurt either. My people always went home safe at night. And for me as well, it is one of my proudest achievements. And you know something else, Dad and I were both considered hard asses to work for. It’s connected. And that is about a century’s worth of electrical work done right, without casualties.

 

%d bloggers like this: