It’s a Lineman’s World

Aug. 25, 2015
Transmission & Distribution World celebrates the lives of linemen by focusing on topics that linemen are passionate about — working storms, getting support from their families and training the next wave of workers.

From the time he was 14 years old, Dave Swanson knew he wanted to work as a power lineman. One night, his family’s rural Minnesota farm lost power, and he watched the lineman from the cooperative climb a pole, install a new fuse in the transformer and restore electricity.

“I remember just standing there in awe,” says Swanson, now a 66-year-old safety trainer for Utility Line Construction Services. “I became the first person in my family to ever work as a lineman.”

Over the years, Swanson has worked his share of severe storms, endured tough work conditions and spent time away from his family to restore power for other families. But Swanson, a retired foreman from Alliant Energy, says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What I have always admired about linemen is that we are out in all kinds of conditions, and we restore power for the people,” he says. “Our job gives us a certain amount of gratitude.”

Linemen put their lives on the line every day to build and maintain power lines, restore power following storms and work on underground systems. As such, they form the foundation of many electric utilities, and their companies depend on them day in and day out.

Transmission & Distribution World is again celebrating the lives of linemen through this annual supplement. This year’s edition covers three topics that linemen are passionate about — working storms, getting support from their families and training the next wave of workers.

Braving Severe Storms

When Mother Nature decides to wreak havoc, most people are safe and warm in their homes. For many linemen, however, severe storms mean one thing — long work hours and time away from their loved ones. Swanson says his five sons remember when he had to go to work in the middle of the night and miss holidays and special occasions.

“I remember working on Christmas Eve, and it was blowing snow, and I was restoring power,” he says. “As I was driving down the road to make sure everyone’s lights were on, I would see Christmas trees in the homes, and the little kids would wave at me. I felt like even though I was not always able to be there for my family, I was there for other people.”

When linemen focus on restoring power, their families are often back home wondering about their safety. In “Moms Support Linemen Every Step of the Way,” mothers talk about how they stand behind their beloved linemen when they are away from home for several days, weeks or months at a time.

In “Tales from the Storms,” veteran linemen reveal their personal storm stories about different hurricanes, which had a life-long impact on them and their crews.

This issue also features an in-depth look at the Boston snowstorm with “Record Snowfall Brings Flurry of Activity.” Restoration efforts are brought to life through the stories of four linemen who worked on the utility front lines. This quartet of linemen battled 18-hour shifts, record snowfall and dangerous driving conditions.

Training the Next Generation

In addition to working storms, linemen are also focusing on transferring knowledge from one generation to the next. As waves of linemen retire from the industry, utilities are focusing on recruiting and training new apprentices and field managers. As a result, companies such as Kansas City Power & Light are building new training centers.

For example, Kansas City Power & Light celebrated the grand opening of its Cedar Point training center in July. For the first time in the history of the company, this facility has brought the safety and training departments from generation and delivery together in one location, which leads to many training synergies, says Greg Beel, manager of field training. Within this facility, apprentices learn how to scale poles in an indoor climbing arena, and the field workforce learns how to use tools and technology.

“Compared to 10 or 15 years ago, today’s linemen are more like technicians,” Beel says. “As technology increases, Kansas City Power & Light is updating its safety and technical training curriculum to meet industry needs.”

Beyond electric utilities, the U.S. Army is also training the next generation of linemen through its new Power Line Distribution Course. In “Military Linemen,” instructors discuss how the program will prepare soldiers to work on power systems both in the Army and later on in the civilian world.

Through a focus on training, the Army and the utility industry are helping linemen to restore power safely and swiftly. As such, linemen have the tools, knowledge and experience to battle Mother Nature’s most fierce storms and come home safely to their families.  

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