Seemingly overnight, the world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing, however, remained constant — the dedication of America’s linemen. Deemed essential workers, linemen continued to serve on the front lines.
Across the nation, 75,000 linemen had to adhere to new social distancing and sanitation protocols while weathering “the invisible storm” of the pandemic. Instead of working closely together in large crews, they had to work alone or in pairs. Travel plans were put on hold, and many in-person training and educational events were postponed to 2021.
As schools temporarily shut their doors and transitioned to virtual learning, many Americans shifted to working from home. Linemen, however, worked around the clock in severe weather conditions to keep the lights on.
On July 10, the Edison Electric Institute, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Electrical Contractors Association and the Utility Workers Union of America joined forces to celebrate the men and women in the line trade amidst the ongoing pandemic.
“The nation’s lineworkers are the face of America’s electric companies, and we are grateful to these highly skilled and dedicated men and women, and the families who support them, for the work they do each and every day to power our lives,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how indispensable electricity and the energy grid are in our society. Thanks to our nation's lineworkers, we are powering through this crisis together.”
T&D World also celebrates linemen every year with its annual Lineman Supplement. As the country navigates uncertain times, linemen are helping to provide customers with reliable energy. As the nation’s original “essential workers,” linemen deserve to be in the spotlight each and every day for their passion, hard work and dedication to the trade.
Telling the Tales of Troublemen
Due to the nature of their work, journeymen linemen often work long hours in extreme conditions. A specialized group of linemen, however, serve as first responders to everything from house fires to car-pole accidents. Through experience and a commitment to their jobs, they learn how to respond safely to the emergencies, protect the public and solve electrical problems.
In this year’s edition, we are highlighting six troubleshooters from across America in “Tales of Troublemen.” This article explores the upside and challenges of working solo instead of on a crew and responding to emergencies day and night. These troublemen have learned how to serve as electrical detectives and solve problems to keep the lights on. Look for continuing profiles of troublemen in our Lifeline department in the Electric Utility Operations section of T&D World magazine in the months to come.
We are not only highlighting troublemen, but also linemen who have made a difference through volunteering for projects through the National Rural Electric Cooperation Association (NRECA) International. For four linemen, the experience of building power systems in Liberia, Guatemala and Bolivia forever altered their views of the line trade and their lives back home in America.
I know all too well the value of overseas volunteering. Twenty years ago, I lived in the small Mayan village of Izamal in Yucatan, Mexico, as part of a summer volunteer program. I slept in a hammock, explored the local pyramids and taught art classes at the Yucatan Cultural Foundation. As travel restrictions begin to lift worldwide, I encourage all linemen to consider volunteering, either through NRECA International or another program called Electrical Workers Without Borders.
Recruiting Tomorrow’s Linemen
The supplement also highlights strategies for recruiting the next generation of linemen. As waves of veteran linemen retire from the trade, utilities must discover ways to fill their work boots. To attract new workers into the trade, utilities such as Duke Energy, Omaha Public Power District and FirstEnergy are tackling the labor shortage head-on by investing in recruitment and training programs. In addition, Northwest Lineman College and other educational institutions are also doing their part to create awareness about opportunities in the line trade.
Finally, the supplement features a story about how linemen are helping their utilities to install new technologies and harden infrastructure to mitigate wildfires. In past years, wildfires have ravaged utilities’ service territories, incinerated power poles and inflicted widespread destruction.
Many of America’s utilities, however, are taking a proactive stand against wildfires. Rather than focusing on preparing for “wildfire season,” utilities like Southern California Edison are taking a year-round approach to mitigation. Linemen are often actively involved in these mitigation efforts to minimize the effect of wildfires on their utility’s system.
As we move into the end of 2020, a year without an in-person International Lineman’s Rodeo, we look forward to the day when we can all get together again to celebrate the line trade. In the meantime, be sure to subscribe to our Linemen Life enewsletter, follow LinemenWorld on Instagram and check out our continuing linemen coverage in our Electric Utility Operations section. In today’s upside-down world, our team at T&D World is here for you and is behind you every step of the way.