For many years, linemen devoted valuable time and resources to dealing with unruly vines and unexpected power disruptions. Fast-growing, hard-to-kill vines often wrap around utility poles and then get tangled up in primary and secondary conductors. When they go to ground, they often blow a fuse, knocking out power for customers.
To pull down these vines, linemen typically have relied on the end of their extendo or switch stick. These tools only have one prong on the end of them, however, and often, they are not designed to pull down big clumps of vines.
Usually utility companies rely on tree trimmers to trim the main line feeders, laterals and easements on a four-year rotating cycle. In between these multi-year cycles, the vines often grow out of control. As a result, electric utilities in the Southeast needed a new tool that would help linemen to quickly clear away the vines and, therefore, minimize outages.
Inventing a Solution
Crews were spending a significant amount of time climbing the poles, clearing the vines and cutting them away from the circuit. One day, Ralph Stinson, a 40-year veteran lineman, figured that there could be an easier and more efficient way to deal with the problem, so he came up with an idea for an effective tool.
“Vines grow up our poles, and it's become a real problem,” Stinson says. “I sent a crew out to clean the vines off, and it took them a few hours. I thought there had to be a better and quicker way to get the job done.”
Stinson, who began his career in 1967 as a laborer, worked as a lead line supervisor and now serves in his utility's training department, then created several prototypes. After working with some first responders to field test the product, he discovered that the angles were not right and the stems to pull down the vines were too thick. Through continuously tweaking the product, he eventually decided on a two-prong, angled-tapered design.
The tool, called the DEVINER and sold by MADI LLC, is made from a lime-green fiberglass reinforced nylon material that is non-conductive, lightweight and minimizes user fatigue. It also features an aluminum base for a secure fit and corrosion resistance, and it can work with all universal sticks. The tool has been out on the market for about a year, and many line crews and first responders now carry the tool on their trucks. While they mainly use the tool to clear away vines, the DEVINER also has been used effectively for hooking tag lines, removing tree limbs, breaking ice, clearing vegetation at the pole base of a transmission tower, fishing down wires from trees and removing vacant bird nest debris.
Using the Tool in the Field
To use the tool, linemen put the DEVINER on the end of their extendo or insulated switch stick. It can be rotated for the angle needed, whether they are on the ground or are working from an aerial device such as a bucket. The linemen then use the tool to grab the vines at the top and pull them down, clearing the hot conductors.
While most linemen are not responsible for all tree trimming, occasionally they will use hydraulic saws or a gas-powered chain saw to trim a tree in order to clear the line. In addition, they use cable cutters and other tree-trimming tools to clear hard to manage vines and other vegetation. In addition to using the DEVINER to remove the vines from the transformers and conductors, the linemen also use knives to try to cut the vines at the base of the poles; otherwise, they will grow quickly and will be back again in a few months.
So far, the linemen for one Southeastern utility have found that the tool is durable and has withstood heavy usage. In addition, it grabs well and is nonconductive, which is useful when working around energized conductors.
The DEVINER is easy to use and there is no need for additional training, so crews can start using it immediately after purchasing it. With this new tool, first responders and line crews are able to remove vines from utility poles quickly and safely. This results in a shorter outage time for customers.
“I have gotten nothing but positive feedback from the linemen who are using the tool out in the field,” Stinson says. “I feel it was something that was really needed in our industry.”