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Spotlight on the Line Trade: Raymond 'Vinny' Zichmiller of ComEd

Feb. 17, 2022
In his more than 50 years in the line trade, Raymond “Vinnie” Zichmiller has seen a variety of technological advancements.
  • Born in Chicago and has a younger sister.
  • Married and has a daughter who works as a pediatric occupational therapist. He also has an eight-month-old grandson who “looks really cute in a crocheted ComEd lineman costume.”
  • Enjoys spending time with his family, especially his grandson, and working on home improvement projects. He also likes giving back. “Sharing what a great industry we work in is important to me,” he says. “Pre-pandemic, I often volunteered to demonstrate the bucket trucks on weekends at community events.”
  • Has two cousins who worked for ComEd.
  • Can’t live without telescopic extend hot sticks, wireless phasers and battery-operated impact wrenches. The new hybrid bucket trucks and rear lot carts were also welcomed industry innovations that contribute to improve productivity and safety, he says.

Early Years

I needed a job when I was released after two years in the military. ComEd was hiring, and my first job was as a red lineman out of Maywood headquarters, which is a regional office within ComEd’s Chicago region. 

Day in the Life

My current title is an overhead electrician specialist (OES).  I perform switching routines and troubleshoot outages. In a typical day, I either work on switching or cover an area to do house tickets.  I also mentor new OESs have rotated through the Maywood office.

Challenges and Rewards

Some challenges of working in this industry are to be away from family, especially when working on holidays.  The nature of our business requires flexibility in the light of unpredictability. For example, we must work longer hours during storms. On the flip side, however, my wife is happy when I get to work overtime. I also enjoy learning about new equipment, which makes our jobs more efficient.

Safety Lesson

About 20 years ago, I noticed that something didn’t look right while switching, but I ignored my instincts. The switchgear I was testing failed unexpectedly.  From then on, I never doubted myself or my instincts again.

Memorable Storm

Following a tornado, I worked for what felt like numerous days straight to help restore the power. It was windy and raining, and too many poles and wires were down to even count.  Many houses also sustained significant damage from tree and wind contact.

But my most memorable storm moment was on December 25, 1989, when I got called into work for storm conditions. I went to work and told them that I had to be off the next day because my wife was going to the hospital for a planned delivery of my daughter. At 5 a.m. on December 26, 1989, a foreman had to come to the field and pick me up because my wife called and said that she was ready to have the baby.

Memorable Moment

Once there was a hostage situation at a house in Northlake, Illinois, and I had to work with the police for about five hours to shut the power off and restore when it was over.  The offender eventually surrendered with no injuries or incident. 

Technology of the Trade

Currently, we continue to install innovative solutions such as distribution automation and voltage optimization devices.  ComEd remains dedicated to enhanced system performance, improving reliability and grid modernization throughout the organization. Linemen play a huge role in the storm and system hardening directly when we’re upgrading and replacing our wood poles and wires. In short, our primary focus is to create a safe work environment for our employees and customers we’ve privileged to serve.  

Story Behind the Nickname

While at work, a crew leader saw me, stopped and said, “it’s Vinnie Babarino.” Several employees were around, and ever since then, the name stuck.  Apparently, John Travolta, who played the character, Vinnie, in “Welcome Back, Kotter,” copied my hairstyle or resembled me a bit.  Shortly after, the company needed me to come in and called my house. My wife answered the phone and they naturally asked for Vinnie. She told them they had the wrong number because no one by the name, Vinnie, lived there. The same thing happened when my daughter was old enough to answer the phone.  In the office, I’d occasionally get referred to as Ray or Raymond—my real name—and employees said they didn’t know who that was.     

Plans for the Future

It is exciting, challenging, and rewarding.  I began this great career on June 4, 1971, and celebrated my 50th service anniversary this past June so my future plans are retirement. It has been very interesting to watch our utility and industry evolve from the time I started.  The core of all technology, advancement and day-to-day life would not be what it is today or continue to advance without electricity and the linemen and linewomen dedicated to their craft.  It’s been an amazing 50 years witnessing the evolution, powering through changes and advancement and most importantly, powering lives.

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