From its inception, the International Lineman’s Rodeo has focused on safety and showcasing skills, and the 2023 event was no exception. Lineworkers and their loved ones traveled in record numbers to Kansas City for four full days of networking, education and competition.
The event kicked off with two concurrent training conferences—the International Lineman’s Rodeo Safety and Training Conference and the Powerline Conference—at the Overland Park Convention Center. As the Powerline attendees learned about best practices for overhead wood pole design and how to safeguard line crews, the safety conference participants listened to presentations on personal protective equipment, flame-resistant clothing, situational awareness, bonding and grounding and injury prevention.
“We’re here to get everybody trained up and ready and informed on things in the industry and promote the Rodeo and the safety with the Rodeo,” says Rustin Owen, a member of the International Lineman’s Rodeo Association (ILRA) safety committee. “It’s all geared toward safety in the industry. “
Chad Schimpf, an ILRA safety committee member from Ameren Illinois, says the first day of the conference, 230 attendees registered for the event, and the second day, they had more than 300.
“It’s obviously growing, and we’ve had a lot of good content,” says Schimpf, who served as a speaker at last year’s conference. “We are already looking forward to building on this year for next year “
Sharing Safety Lessons
Over the last few years, the safety and training conference opened with stories from personal injury survivors to drive home the importance of coming home safely each night. This year, the attendees listened to presentations from two arc flash survivors including Brandon Schroeder and Jason Brozen.
Schroeder shared his personal injury story called, “Believe in Safety.” Back in 2000, the electrician performed a routine electrical task without his arc flash suit or proper personal protective equipment.
“It’s something that I have done a million times,” he says. “I went ahead and disconnected that wire, and I ended up burning 16 percent of my body.”
Schroeder urged the line students, apprentices, journeyman lineworkers and field managers in the audience to take safety seriously and not take risks.
“If you take risks like I did, and have had some close calls, remember that there’s someone watching you,” Schroeder says. “That person may not have the skills and experience you have, and you’re teaching them that the risks you’re taking are acceptable. But when you have a mentality like that, it’s just a matter of time before you have an accident like mine, or worse.”
Journeyman Lineworker Logan Hultgren, a Rodeo competitor from Liberty Utilities, said Shroeder’s presentation about his arc flash incident stood out to him at the conference.
“I’m learning about being safe, not being complacent and how to de-escalate situations,” he says.
To wrap up the first day of the safety and training conference, Evergy’s public safety team returned from last year to give a live electrical safety demonstration to the conference attendees. Tim Boswell and his team first talked about accidental contact between curious animals and live electricity, using the stuffed animal, “Squeaky, the Squirrel,” as part of the demonstration.
The team also incinerated everything from a hot dog to a balloon. To drive home the importance of wearing flame-resistant garments, which was discussed earlier in Bulwark’s Derek Sang’s presentation, the team also tried to ignite a FR long-sleeved shirt, which quickly snuffed out.
“You can clearly see that it doesn’t continue to burn, minimizing the damage to the soft tissue of the body,” Boswell says.
Discovering New Technologies
Following the second morning of the Lineman’s Safety and Training Conference, the flood gates opened to the 2023 Lineman’s Expo. Thousands of lineworkers, family members and supporters lined up outside the exhibit hall in the convention center to get the first look at the latest tools, technologies, products and services for the line trade. Timothy Hanna of IBEW Local 145 came to Kansas City for Lineman’s Rodeo Week to support the apprentices.
“It's always good to see the vendors,” Hanna says. “I just keep an eye out for new ideas, new products and things coming out on the market. There’s just about anything that goes on a line truck or bucket truck. If it’s out there, and it has anything to do with line work, it’s here.”
Joseph Herrin, who was supporting the teams from Austin Energy, says the Expo gives lineworkers the opportunity to see new power tools and other technologies on the market.
“I can see the new ideas and shoot them up to our bosses and hopefully get better equipment to help our guys out in the field,” he says.
This year, the Expo expanded into a new exhibit hall space to accommodate the growing number of vendors and attendees. On the show floor, attendees could visit with exhibitors, enter drawings, participate in contests and even catch a glimpse of the KC Chiefs cheerleaders with the KC Wolf.
Swapping Shirts and Stories
After the second day of the Expo, the Rodeo Week rolled into an annual tradition: the Lineman’s BBQ and Trade Night. Before ascending the escalator for a BBQ feast, lineworkers and their families participated in a swap meet trading everything from lightning bolt earrings to caps to glasses and T-shirts. Some even offered shirts for the “little lineworkers” with tiny line trade-themed baby- and toddler-sized shirts.
“Our Rodeo logo was ‘Taking Kansas by Storm” as a proud representation of our storm team,” Wilson says.
Dane Olsen from OG&E says for his utility’s Rodeo shirt design, they included an illustration of one of their apprentices, Drake Hirst.
“He’s climbing up and out of Oklahoma and up on top of the world facing the universe,” he says. “Hopefully, he’s going to win this thing.”
Challum County PUD out of Washington also showed its pride in the trade with a long-sleeved black T-shirt designed by Apprentice Boyd Eickmann and his wife.
“We’re out of Local 997 out of Washington,” he says. “We tried to capture the mountains and the water and everything we see in the Olympic Peninsula. We went with an old-time theme with some interesting letter work.”
After the T-shirt swap, the lineworkers enjoyed some Jack Stack BBQ and some networking time before the day of competition at the International Lineman’s Rodeo. T&D World also announced the winner of the raffle drawing sponsored by Milwaukee Tool. Timothy Schneider, a lineworker for Avangrid/NYSEG in New York, won a prize package valued at more than $1,000.
Following the banquet, the lineworkers and their families prepared for the 39th annual Lineman’s Rodeo, which attracted competitors and spectators from around the world.
Shane Svach, general foreman for Michels Power, says it’s an honor to be around so many lineworkers and their families during the Lineman’s Rodeo Week. After 21 years in the trade, he now serves as a barehand live line trainer for his company, and at the Rodeo, he was judging one of the events.
“It’s like a giant brotherhood coming together as one,” he says. “It’s a good family event to have a lot of linemen come here. I love it.”
Amy Fischbach ([email protected]) is the Field Editor for T&D World magazine.
Editor’s Note: Visit www.tdworld.com/electric-utility-operations to see photo galleries of the T-shirt swap, safety conference and electrical safety demo trailer. You can also listen to the October 2023 Line Life podcast featuring competitors and spectators at www.tdworld.com/podcasts or by following the Line Life podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcasting app.