Spotlight on the Line Trade: Jason Novak

Jan. 24, 2023
Jason Novak, a long-time Lineman’s Rodeo competitor, is giving back through the Climbin’ for Kids campaign. He is pictured with Clayton Gulley, Guiliana and Joe Davidson at the 2022 Lineman’s Rodeo.

Ameren Illinois

  • Born in central Illinois and now lives in southern Illinois.
  • Married to his wife, Jennifer, and has an eight-year-old daughter, 23-year-old son and 1.5-year-old granddaughter.  
  • Enjoys hunting, house flipping, going to church and spending time with family.Develops new products and tests designs for Buckingham Manufacturing. For example, he helped to develop a rescue device and a new climbing belt.
  • Considers bucket trucks and battery-powered tools as ways to save time and prevent injuries.

Early Years

I was really blessed to get into line work. I almost signed up to be a tree trimmer, but I became an apprentice lineman instead. At that time, I didn’t have a clue what a lineman was, and it took me almost one-and-a-half years before I got the call to go to climbing school. I remember the instructor putting the hooks on me for the first time, and the first person I ever saw climb was the guy on the pole next to me. I was grateful of the opportunity and determined to take full advantage of it. We didn’t have a lot of the safety equipment back then that we do now, but I never felt unsafe. You were basically allowed to work within your capabilities. I did my apprenticeship on outside construction through IBEW Local 51, and I’m currently a member of IBEW Local 702 in Marion, Illinois.

Day in the Life

I am now a line crew foreman for Ameren Illinois, and I will probably remain one untiI I retire. I tried a trouble truck for a while, but it just wasn’t my thing. I still enjoy working in my tools and teaching others what I’ve learned over the years. We install and repair everything from underground cable to overhead high line. We also have quite a bit of easement and rural lines, so trees keep us busy. Last week we were wading waste deep through a swamp because a tree fell and ripped down the wire and broke a crossarm. Then two nights later, we were replacing a section of underground cable because a fiber optic company bored through our primary. It keeps you on your toes, because when the phone rings you never know what it’s going to be.

Safety Lesson

I’ve had a few close calls and injuries along the way. Today, working for Ameren Illinois we adhere to the Six Steps to Injury Prevention, so most things are preventable, however some you just can’t see coming.  For example, once I was out repairing grounds and inspecting high-line structures with another lineman. We were walking through chest-high grass and shrubs when we heard a loud snap. Someone hid a beaver trap next to one of our structures. When it closed on the central bony part of my foot, it felt like it was being crushed. Fortunately, the other lineman had bolt bites in his work truck, and when he opened the trap, nothing was broken. In addition, I have been to two different job sites where a coworker received an electric contact injury. It’s a very sobering feeling telling someone that they’re going to be fine while going over the steps of CPR in your mind. Luckily both men survived, however, I hope that is something no one ever has to experience.

Memorable Storm

Storm restoration is one of my enjoyable aspects of line work. From ice storms to inland hurricanes, the destruction can be unbelievable. The hours can be very long, but also the work is very rewarding. When I worked up north, we had a tornado take down about 60 high-line poles with under-build. We worked very long hours at the time and mostly out of our hooks because bucket trucks were limited back then.

Giving Back

Last year I started Climbin’ For Kids and raised more than $5,500 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This year I partnered with Ameren Illinois. We, along with a fellow lineman and his family, who have experienced the care and expertise provided by St. Jude presented a check to a St. Jude representative for more than $44,000 at the ILRA awards banquet. It is a memory that touched my heart, and I will never forget it.  Plans are already underway for next year’s fundraising campaign. The line community has been very supportive, and we’ve had linemen and vendors reach out from across the country. Our goal is to expand this campaign with the hopes of raising an even greater amount next year to help even more families in their greatest time of need. 

Plans for the Future

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started, and I continue to learn constantly. I enjoy the work and challenges presented by our environment, landscape and even engineering. Thankfully, my family doesn’t complain about the late hours, missed games and lost weekends. I feel that restoring power is not only a job, but a passion and a blessing to others. I am thankful to be a lineman and the brotherhood that comes with it. Line work has provided a great life, and I can’t imagine my life without line work.

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