When I was 20 years old, I got out of the U.S. Army and started putting out applications. San Diego Gas & Electric hired me on as a laborer, and I was responsible for digging holes for poles. After two years, I was accepted into the apprenticeship program. I topped out as a journeyman in 1976, and after working for 22 years as a lineman, I became a working foreman and crew leader. Since 2008, I have been a construction supervisor.
Day in the Life
During a typical day, I field work review jobs, stake pole holes that need to be dug and help to get everything arranged to meet the customers’ request for power to complete the work.
Challenges and Rewards
During my 43 years of employment, I’ve always been able to provide for my family with my job. It’s a challenge, however, trying to get young people interested in this kind of work. In the face of this economy, however, a person with a high school education can walk into a really good career in the power industry.
Early in my career, I had a very close incident that should have been a fatality. By the grace of God, however, it wasn’t. Back in 1977, I was on a pole, and we were just getting ready to ground new conductors that we had strung in for breaking out. I attached the ground jumper to the band, and my pole partner went to install a ground on the new conductor with a shotgun stick. Unfortunately, his belt slipped and he contacted the energized phase. In my hand, I had a jumper that was attached to the clamp and belted above the band. When the circuit tripped, I felt a sensation but no residual effects.
I was extremely lucky. Before we knew what an equipotential (EPZ) zone was, we had created it. My life was saved with direct barehand contact with an energized conductor.
Today, EPZ grounding is something that I really enjoy talking and teaching about. In fact, in 2001, I was involved in project at an A.B. Chance laboratory to quantify and qualify the EPZ theory. At that time, we did several tests to back up our work method of EPZ grounding.
Back in 1992, we had a very heavy winter storm with a lot of washed out poles and lines. That was a big challenge. Five years later, we had 1,000 poles down as a result of the fires. We worked 16- to 18-hour shifts, would get a little sleep, fuel up the trucks and get back at it. It was a challenge to restore power following this major transmission and distribution outage, and our whole service territory was out of power for a month.
Hardening the System
We are heavily involved in California fire prevention. Our utility has been affected financially by fire, and we are now hardening our system. For example, we are installing steel poles so our poles don’t burn down. We’re also going to a fault tamer fuse, which is a combination of a sand fuse and a quick-acting fuse.
Life as a Lineman
I would go into the power industry because I have enjoyed it and done well in it. It is a talent I didn’t know I had going in as a 20-year-old. And now I don’t think I would have been as happy in any other occupation.