Some linemen give the ultimate sacrifice — their lives — in order to keep the power on for their communities. With the job of a power lineman rating as one of the top 10 most dangerous occupations, electric utilities are investing in the latest tools, technology and training programs to keep their crews safe in the field.
Even so, the electrical utility industry loses anywhere from 30 to 60 linemen each year on job sites, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The number of fatalities, however, may actually be even higher when you take into account those fatalities recorded by the Department of Transportation. Each year, an equal number of linemen die from car crashes, rollovers and other vehicle accidents on their way to or home from work.
When an electric utility loses one of its linemen, the crews often come together and try to do everything they can to help the victim’s family. To help provide even more financial and emotional support, a non-profit association called the Fallen Linemen Organization (FLO) was founded one year ago.
To raise awareness about the line trade, FLO helped to organize a NASCAR truck race in Madison, Illinois, over Father’s Day weekend. Ten percent of the truck’s winnings from this race, as well as every race during 2014, will be donated directly to the families of linemen who lost their lives in the line of duty.
Customizing the Truck
The day before the NASCAR Daytona race, the founder of the International Lineman’s Museum invited FLO to help sponsor one of the trucks. A few weeks later, the association team had the opportunity to see the MAKE Motorsports Truck No. 50 and meet the driver.
After checking out the race truck, FLO asked the driver if he would consider dedicating his truck to all electric linemen, including those who work for non-union and union electric utilities, co-ops and contractors. After the driver was on board, MAKE Motorsports customized the hood of the white Chevrolet truck with a skull logo and the words, “Dedicated to Electrical Linemen.” On the side of the truck, a large circular blue logo depicted a silhouette of two linemen at work.
Following the Daytona race, FLO and the International Lineman’s Museum noticed that an upcoming St. Louis, Missouri, race had not yet been named. They then worked with the owners of the racetrack to secure the naming rights for the event, which they called “Drivin’ for Linemen 200.”
Eight weeks later, Ameren and MAKE Motorsports partnered with NASCAR to sponsor the Camping World Truck Series 200 truck race at the Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, just across the river from St. Louis. For the race in Madison, the FLO opted to dedicate the truck to not only fallen linemen, but also those still working out in the field.
Honoring Past and Present Linemen
To create awareness about the line trade, Ameren set five utility poles near the winners’ circle and invited its linemen to hang an American flag during the event. To show support for their fallen brothers and sisters, linemen climbed the utility poles as eight airplanes flew overhead at the start of the race.
Then, as the pickup trucks sped around the 1.25-mile NASCAR racetrack, apprentices and journeymen cheered from the sidelines. Supporters also tuned into Fox Sports 1 to watch the race on TV, making it the most viewed program on that channel that week.
As a result of the event’s success, NASCAR and the racetrack owner signed a three-year contract with FLO for the Drivin’ for Linemen race. Next year, the association plans to organize a full week of activities surrounding the race including a go-cart track with kids’ divisions and a local lineman’s rodeo.
The International Lineman Museum and Hall of Fame are also working together to build a new facility to honor the history of line workers and to showcase their tools and equipment. They are currently looking at several different locations for the new building, including an old power plant near the river and St. Louis Gateway Arch, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Within a green space at the new museum, the foundation will permanently install a bronze memorial statue of a lineman kneeling down, holding his hard hat and saying a prayer for a fallen coworker. The FLO displayed the traveling statue at the Lineman Recognition Day ceremony in Pennsylvania and at local rodeos before unveiling it to linemen at the Drivin’ for Linemen event.
The larger version of the statue will be encircled by a group of new statues of linemen putting their hands on each other’s shoulders and wearing their personal protective equipment. When completed, the scene is designed to show a crew taking a moment out of their work day to say a prayer for a fallen worker. Nearby the statues, the museum will feature granite walls with sketchings of the distribution, underground and substation workers.
The FLO hopes linemen will travel to the St. Louis area to visit the future museum, see the memorial, attend the race, celebrate their profession and meet other linemen. Whether they work for a union or non-union company, a utility or a contractor, or work as a CEO or a groundsman, the foundation hopes the event will help to bring trade professionals together to celebrate the present, past and future of linemen.
Chad Dubea ([email protected]) is the founder of the Fallen Linemen Organization. He also served as the CEO of T&D Solutions and worked for a contractor as a lineman. He is also the founder of the Elite Line Training Institute and bought the naming rights for the NASCAR race. He has been in the industry for the last 20 years.
Editor’s note: As a tribute to the linemen who lost their lives during 2013 and 2014, the Fallen Linemen Organization lists the names of the fallen linemen on its website at www.flo.org. For the race in Poconos, Pennsylvania, FLO is giving each family who has lost a lineman a metal replica of the race truck with their loved one’s name and the foundation’s logo. If you are interested in sponsoring a race, call Tisha Self with MAKE Motorsports at (409) 658-0330. As a sponsor, you can be in the pits and get behind the scenes before, during and after the race.