Linemen are often hailed as heroes when they work long hours in severe weather to restore power. Many linemen, however, earn their angel wings even when they are not in the spotlight of storm restoration.
Within their action-packed workdays or weekends, some linemen are squeezing in time to volunteer for their local communities. Here are the stories of linemen who have made a difference in their cities and towns.
Linemen work in challenging conditions to provide reliable power, but children may only see them working at a distance at a power pole or in a bucket trucks. To highlight the important work of line crews and educate children about the trade, Georgia Power recently sent more than 20 of its apprentices, linemen and troublemen to elementary schools across the state of Georgia.
“The events gave our linemen a unique opportunity to share their experiences directly with the students and provide an up-close demonstration,” says Andrew Vickery, spokesperson for Georgia Power. “By associating a real-life person with the profession, the students were able to develop a deeper appreciation for the work that these crews put in day or night, rain or shine.”
As part of their presentations, the linemen taught kids about electrical safety and life on the line. Some of the visits included real-life scenarios involving electricity and safety through the company’s PowerTOWN presentation. The school’s presentations emphasized the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers as linemen.
Tray Jackson, crew leader for Georgia Power, says he urged the elementary school children to call 911 or find an adult if they found a downed power line. He brought his bucket truck, hard hat, rubber gloves, line hoses, rubber blankets, line hoses, rubber boots and quick sleeves to share with the children.
Jackson and the other Georgia Power linemen gave the students a demonstration of how the trucks worked and what tools were stored inside. The children were thrilled to see the equipment up close. “They wanted to see the bucket truck go up and down and wear rubber gloves and PPE,” says Jackson, who has worked for the company for 11 years. “We opened up all the bins on the trucks, and they asked a million questions on how we used it and what it was used for.”
The students also asked Jackson if he had ever been shocked and how birds can perch on a power line and not be electrocuted. In turn, Jackson taught them that a bucket is like a bird in the air, and it isolates to the ground.
The presentation also helped Jackson become more comfortable with public speaking, he says. “I’m not a big talker or good public speaker, but talking to the kids has helped me to grow as a person,” he says.
Following the presentation, he and his partner gave out pens, pencils and little knickknacks with the Georgia Power logo. The children then gave Jackson and the other Georgia Power linemen handmade cards and letters to show their appreciation and honor them as community heroes. Jackson says he feels like the kids learned a lot during the presentation about the line trade and electrical safety.
“When we first got there, I asked the kids if anyone knew what we do, and not a lot of them could answer that question,” Jackson says. “After we were there, the kids started to recognize us when they saw our truck. I even saw one of the kids at a grocery store, and he told his mom that I was at his school. It was good to see that.”
The school visits were part of the National Lineman Appreciation Day. For the fifth year in a row, Georgia Power joined other utilities to celebrate and thank linemen for their role in keeping the lights on. In addition to the school visits, the utility encouraged Georgians to sign a digital thank you card at www.georgiapower.com/thankalineman and engage on social media.
Jackson, who has a four-year-old son, says that being a part of the school visits was very rewarding, and he enjoyed giving back to the community.
“It was fun watching them and interacting with them and seeing them get interested in what we do, which was awesome from my perspective,” Jackson says. “Not a lot of people out there understand what we do. We go into a lot of situations where people lose power, and when the lights are out, they’re not happy, and they let you know how they feel. I really enjoyed seeing the kids’ young faces and how happy they were to see what we do.”
Lighting Up an Animal Shelter
The 5A’s Humane Society in Godfrey, Illinois, cares for abandoned, abused animals in the River Bend area. During the wintertime, when the days are short and the nights are cold, the shelter operated in the dark because of the lack of proper lighting.
A shelter volunteer made one call to Ameren Illinois, and soon two journeymen linemen and an apprentice arrived on site to volunteer their time. The utility supplied two poles, the dusk-to-dawn lights and the underground wire to improve security for the no-kill shelter by illuminating the side of the building.
“It’s bright, it’s safer, and it’s better security,” says Rick Jun, executive director of 5A’s Humane Society. “It makes our lives so much better. This is something that we could not afford, and we couldn’t do this without Ameren Illinois. We would still be literally in the dark.”
Powering Overseas Communities
Twelve linemen from nine Illinois electric cooperatives didn’t just help their local communities — they traveled more than 4200 miles to Bolivia, where they powered four villages. As part of a volunteer project sponsored by AIEC and coordinated by NRECA International, the linemen spent three weeks in central Bolivia to construct a power distribution system to 62 homes, two schools and a facility for individuals with disabilities. During their time in Bolivia, the linemen constructed nearly 30 km of power lines and installed 21 transformers.
The linemen and their respective cooperatives participating in the project included Joseph Alexander and Ryan Little from Illinois Electric Cooperative; Timothy Baker and Bret Richards from Corn Belt Energy Corp.; Shannon Davis and Brannon Dasch from Tri-County Electric Cooperative; Eric Dewitt from McDonough Power Cooperative; Matt Eisenmenger from AIEC; William Fields, Jr., from Norris Electric Cooperative, Kurt Krohmer from Jo-Carroll Energy, Inc.; Terry Riggins from Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative; and Troy Shafer from Menard Electric Cooperative.
The Illinois volunteers traveled from the United States to Santa Cruz, a large city in central Bolivia. They then traveled 3.5 hours on a narrow, curvy and windy road with significant drop-offs to Samaipata, which is where they stayed during the three weeks.
The farming village of Samaipata included about 15 small huts, which each included a homemade coal- or wood-fired mud oven, says Branonn Dasch, a lineman for Tri-County Electric Cooperative Inc. in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.
“The villages we worked in were very secluded and were far from towns that had power,” Dasch says. “I don’t know what the population was, but it was definitely less than 100 residents. The landscape is totally different from where I grew up in the flatlands of Illinois. I will never forget the mountainous terrain we worked in.”
Bill Fields, a lineman for Norris Electric Cooperative, remembers seeing cows, chickens and peacocks running around the village, which was located in the mountains with valleys, cliffs, fruit trees and cactus. He says it was a fantastic feeling to provide power to the village.
“I was overwhelmed with joy and was really excited for these people,” Fields says. “Doing this project was also a huge reality check on how great my life is here in the states. I am a more grateful person now, and I am not sweating the small things anymore. I would do a trip like this every year if my wife and co-op would let me. I hope Illinois continues to send people to projects like these. They truly are making a major impact on people’s lives.”
By working together with the local electric cooperative named Cooperativa Rural de Electrificación (CRE), the linemen were able to provide electricity to the villages for the first time. Kurt Krohmer, a lineman for Jo-Carroll Energy in Elizabeth, Illinois, says he made friends for life with some of the Bolivian linemen.
To honor the volunteer linemen’s accomplishments, the community sponsored a celebration at the school and invited village leaders, linemen, the mayor of the village and board members from CRE. Tim Baker, a lineman for Corn Belt Energy Corp. in Bloomington, Illinois, says the celebration was very emotional for him.
“To think they had to light their homes with a candle at night to now flipping a switch and having a bulb come on had to be life changing for them,” Baker says. “It made me realize how blessed we are to have reliable electricity and how much we may have taken that for granted and proud to be a cooperative employee.”
For example, during the celebration, the residents set a freezer inside the school with water and sodas, so they could have a cold drink on a muggy day, Baker says. In addition, the kids told the translator that they were very happy because they could now get their homework done at night, says Bret Richards, lineman for Corn Belt Energy Corp.
Davis says they also will be able to enjoy many other comforts because of the new access to electricity. “It was a very satisfying feeling knowing that from now on, they would have the ability to have light at night, refrigeration for fresh food and medication, and all the other things we take for granted,” Davis says. “Knowing their lives will be changed for the better because of what we did was unbelievable.”
Sidebar: Special Memories of Volunteering Overseas
Illinois linemen will never forget their volunteer mission to Bolivia, where they spent three weeks providing power to remote villages. Here are a few of their experiences they will never forget.
Bill Fields, Norris Electric Cooperative, Newton — "The last day we were there, they had a ceremony at a school to celebrate, and turned on a light. During this ceremony, the school kids sang songs to us that they had written. There were two little girls singing back and forth. They were singing about not being scared anymore and having light to do their homework. It was all in Spanish, but it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. I had tears rolling down my face."
Bret Richards, Corn Belt Energy Corp., Bloomington — "I will never forget the pure beauty of Bolivia, my friends from the country and the pure, undeveloped land. I also have new friends here in Illinois now from the trip. The happiness that we brought to all the kids at the school and the people was very emotional. And I will never forget climbing up and down those mountains."
Tim Baker, Corn Belt Energy Corp., Bloomington — "The special memories I have from the trip are the ones with the Bolivian linemen. These guys are extremely hard workers who are just fun to be around. Even with the language barrier, we developed a friendship that will last a lifetime. The terrain just made the work hard, and they always seemed to have a smile or joke around to lighten the feeling of pain and exhaustion. There was a mutual respect between us that really fortified the true brotherhood of linemen, and I could feel that from day one. That same feeling holds true for all of us from Illinois. We had never worked together before, even though some of us live pretty close together. We helped each other out and watched over one another like a band of brothers. There were so many people involved in the project who will be missed, and hopefully our paths will cross again someday." ♦