Veteran OUC linemen climbed three separate poles to hang local and state flags before the competition began.

Florida Rodeo Zones In on Safety and Training

May 24, 2016
Orlando Utilities Commission sponsors 16th annual event for municipal utility apprentices and journeymen.  

Linemen from around the world will showcase their skills and compete for top honors at the International Lineman’s Rodeo in October. But before they travel to Kansas City for the annual event, journeymen and apprentices are competing in local and regional rodeos nationwide. For example, for the first time in seven years, the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) sponsored the Florida Municipal Rodeo.

Over the last 16 years, this event, which was started by the Florida Municipal Electrical Association, has rotated to different cities in Florida including Lakeland and Ocala. This year, 124 competitors representing a dozen municipal utilities participated in five events in which they scaled wood poles, rescued an injured lineman, demonstrated their skills on an AED and replaced a blown transformer.

While speed was an element of the scoring, the competitors were also judged on the precision of their work. Like the International Lineman’s Rodeo, the Florida competitors lost points for dropping tools or equipment or not following safety guidelines.

At the event, the apprentices competed individually while the journeymen worked in teams of three. This year’s rodeo attracted more apprentices than in past years. More than 60 apprentices competed in the rodeo, says Clint Bullock, vice president of electric and water delivery for OUC.

“I think that is a great indicator of the industry and making sure we get these young folks learning the craft,” Bullock says. “While it’s only one day of competition, there is a lot of preparation and training that goes into this event.”

All 124 competitors walked to the stage together for rodeo’s opening ceremony.

Spotlight on Safety

The Florida Rodeo not only celebrated excellence in the line trade but also focused on safety. In the past, each of the competitors had to wear a climbing belt, but over the last two years, the apprentices and journeymen have had to wear full fall protection. While the harnesses slowed down the competitors’ time slightly, they also improved the safety of the competitors — which was at the heart of the rodeo.

For example, the 2016 rodeo honored three linemen who lost their lives in the line of duty — Timothy Beard of Ocala Utility Services, Josh Yarbrough of Keys Energy Services and Marc Moore of Lakeland Electric. The memorial tributes, which were displayed on the rodeo grounds, included photos of the linemen, personal items such as cowboy hats, ropes and climbing belts, and a broken wood pole and burnt transformer. During the kickoff ceremony, the linemen came down to the center of the stage to pay tribute to the memorial and to their fallen coworkers and friends.

Before the competition kicked off, Tracy Moore, founder of the Highline Heroes Foundation and the wife of Moore, one of the three fallen linemen, also spoke to the linemen about the importance of working safely. Following the event, she plans to take the memorial around the country.

“Our goal is to make sure the memorial is living and breathing and is available for future events and education,” Bullock says.

In addition, OUC coordinated with local food vendors and food trucks to donate the proceeds from a lunch to By selling tickets for a raffle for custom painted hard hats and a lunch to the linemen, OUC was able to raise $2,700 to help send the children of the fallen linemen to college.

A lineman from Kissimmee Utility Authority competes in the 2016 Florida Lineman’s Rodeo.

Focus on Family

The rodeo not only emphasized safety but also the linemen brotherhood and sisterhood. Workers from five utilities traveled to Orlando before the event to set up 68 40-ft wood poles, which will later be repurposed into OUC’s system.

The linemen also brought their families to the event, which was located near the Orlando airport and close to hotels and an entertainment district. Because the rodeo grounds were within walking distance of the hotel, the spouses and children could take a break during the six-hour event. Also, the children were able to enjoy a bounce house, rock climbing wall and bucket truck rides when they weren’t on the sidelines watching their parents compete in the rodeo.

To further foster collaboration and fellowship, the rodeo organizers set up a community tent. Each of the participating utilities backed up their trailers to this tent, where vendors set up displays, and linemen could enjoy a warm breakfast out of the sun.

OUC line tech Mike Atout performs a light changeout in an apprentice event.

Honoring Winners

Following a long day of competition, the top linemen were recognized at an evening awards banquet. By racking up the highest scores and the lowest times, these competitors received trophies at the concluding ceremony.

During the evening, the linemen also had the opportunity to network with one another, which is valuable when it comes to future severe weather events. If a storm comes through the state, the municipal utilities often lean on one another and rely on their brother and sister linemen to get the power back on. While the linemen may compete against each other at the rodeo, they can work side by side during storm restoration events.

In addition, by competing in the FMEA Rodeo, the competitors were able to go on to the American Public Power Association Rodeo April 1-2 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to compete. As a result, they were able to gain knowledge, observe other linemen’s techniques and prepare for the International Lineman’s Rodeo this fall in Kansas. 

Editor’s note: Clint Bullock, vice president of electric and water delivery for Orlando Utilities Commission, contributed to this article. He is the son of a lineman and has been with OUC for 26 years. His department is responsible for planning, engineering, maintenance and operations for the transmission, substation, construction and distribution divisions on OUC’s electric side.

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