Melissa Dawe, a fourth-year apprentice with Connect Atlantic Utility Services, re-insulates a 345 kV line.

Faces of the Future of Line Work: Melissa Dawe

June 18, 2024
Melissa Dawe would like to be part of helping to train other line workers coming into the trade, and would like to see more women coming into the line work.

Connect Atlantic Utility Services

•    4th Year Apprentice
•    Born and raised in Florence, Nova Scotia, Canada, and has two children: Ethan, 11, and Alexander, 8. 
•    Completed the Utility Line Work—Construction and Maintenance course at Nova Scotia Community College. 
•    Serves as a volunteer fire fighter outside of work.
•    Can’t live without lineman pliers, a knife and tape.
•    Trained in both distribution and transmission, which has helped her to build her experience and shape her as a powerline technician. 

Inspiration to Work in the Trade

I first observed the professionalism and skills of powerline workers during both routine and storm restoration work when I was a traffic controller. I did a lot of flagging for them during their daily work and on storms. I then noticed Raelynn Hawko on Instagram, and she became such a big inspiration to me in this industry.

Getting Her Start

I had a big struggle to get a job in the power line industry after school. Many companies turned me down, saying they couldn’t put me on a truck because it would cause too much tension in homes. It definitely hit hard sometimes, but I did not let it stop me. I never gave up trying. For my first job working for a utility, I worked as a cable line technician for a cable line company. I ran new fiber and did some underground cable work. 

Joining an Apprenticeship Program

In January 2022, Tri-wire took me on for storm response and indentured me into the apprenticeship program so I could get started. I then joined my home IBEW 1928 Union and got myself on a hiring list. I connected with a representative, started to pay my non-working dues and as time went by, my name moved further up the list. Now I am on the next gen committee in our union. I started to get my name out there and applying everywhere. I was starting to lose a bit of hope that I would get on anywhere, but then one day, Connect Atlantic Utility Services called me and offered me a job to do my apprenticeship with them. My heart started racing with excitement. At that moment, my life changed. All I could think was, “finally I am going to do what I dream of doing.” I could not turn down the chance to work with them. It is such a great opportunity, and I get to stay in my home province. My company gave me a chance at being a powerline technician. I am forever grateful for the opportunity they have given me. They gave me a chance when no one else would.

Learning the Trade

The powerline industry has such a wide range of hands-on opportunities, and you’re always learning. The guys I work with are amazing and always willing to teach me. We get training in pole top rescue, fall protection, workplace mentoring, safety and due diligence. We also learn about ropes, rigging, live line rubber glove training, streetlights, framing for standard single and three-phase systems with single phase transformer installations and three-phase transformer banking. Apprentices also get training on transmission tower fall protection,  how to properly use the equipment and frame for transmission structures, proper use of grounds and safety of grounding. 

Working in the Field

I am currently on a reno crew, so I do a lot of disconnects and reconnects for houses getting upgrades to their panels. Because I work for a contractor, I can be anywhere on any job depending on where they need people. When we are being trained on a project, we do tend to stay on those crews throughout our training so we can get the proper skill, knowledge and experience to do the job safely. My main responsibilities are upgrading and maintenance to the powerline infrastructure. I really enjoy the transmission side of the industry when we do re-insulating of towers and live line stick work. I hope to get into make-ready projects and line rebuilds and be able to obtain my hours needed to be certified for rubber glove work here for live line.

Staying Safe

At my company, we have safety days when everyone gets together, and we do pole top rescue training and learn the proper use of equipment and how to test it in the field before use. We also have a start-of-the-week safety meeting every Monday, do risk assessments for each job and review safe work methods on the types of jobs we are doing. In the line trade, you need to wear your proper PPE and take your time. Don’t rush yourself. Learn how to do it slow and the pace will pick up with experience. Allow yourself the time to learn. 

Working a Storm

In 2022, I was storm chasing with Triwire, and we got called down to Maine. We grabbed our storm boxes containing the equipment needed for their infrastructure, and we drove five hours to a hotel. The next morning, we went to station at a mall parking lot. The storm was not as bad as expected, so we went back to the hotel and ended up leaving the next day. That storm, however, got me on the list here at Connect Atlantic Utility Services for U.S. storm response. It has been busy here in Nova Scotia with power line work, so we haven’t gotten to go down for any storms recently. In September 2022, we had Hurricane Fiona, and crews from Maine came up to help us. We worked for 22 days straight to get power back on to customers. Even after those 22 days, our regular day-to-day work was still part of fixing some of the infrastructure from the damage done by the hurricane. It felt good to be part of such a big storm response team. 

Advice to Apprentices

Stay focused and don’t allow yourself to become complacent. Be patient and have a passion for the job. Take all the experience you can where you can, work hard and ask questions. My foreman told me there is no stupid question. You can ask a question that maybe someone else may be too nervous to ask. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood here. They don’t set you up to fail. 

Life in the Line Trade

I love being a line worker—especially on storms when you are helping people by putting their power back on. I love the people I work with, which makes a big difference as well. It’s a real brotherhood and sisterhood. I love being part of a second family. This is the best job I have ever had. I couldn’t imagine ever leaving here, and I couldn’t have asked for a better company to work for. Since I have been with my company, I have gotten to do transmission tower work and build transmission golfport structures and H frame structures. I even got to touch on some live line stick work on 69 kV, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Now I am on distribution. I have done new builds doing line extensions and hanging and installing new transformers, I have also done services to houses and streetlights.

Plans for the Future

I see myself becoming a journey line technician. I would like to be part of helping to train other line workers coming into the trade, and I see more women coming into the line work. I am going to work hard. With the passion I have for this industry, I know I can get the experience needed to help train new lineworkers 10 years from now.

About the Author

Amy Fischbach | Amy Fischbach, EUO Contributing Editor

Amy Fischbach is the contributing editor for the Electric Utility Operations section of Transmission and Distribution World. She worked for Prism Business Media (now Penton) for eight years, most recently as the managing editor of Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro magazine. She is now working as a freelance writer and editor for B2B magazines. Amy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.She serves as the national vice president of the American Society of Business Publication Editors. She can be reached at [email protected].

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