Linemen for South Carolina cooperatives often work side by side during storms to restore power and rebuild infrastructure. During the first statewide Lineman’s Rodeo in March, however, journeymen linemen and apprentices were able to collaborate in a completely different environment.
Pee Dee Electric Cooperative hosted the inaugural event at the 20-acre site within the Touchstone Energy Commerce Park in Florence, South Carolina. Nineteen out of the 20 electric cooperatives in the state were represented at the rodeo.
“It was a good opportunity for our cooperatives to work together on a project other than during storm-related mutual assistance,” said Mike Fuller, CEO of Pee Dee Electric Cooperative, Inc., in Darlington, South Carolina. “The entire state came together on this big project, and it created teambuilding.”
Building Out the Site
Last April, the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina (ECSC) decided to host its first cooperative-only Lineman’s Rodeo in the state of South Carolina, to allow the cooperatives to showcase their skills to the member owners. Nick Adams, a senior training and safety instructor, and the state-wide association then created a committee of all the cooperatives to handle the tasks of marketing, construction and vendor relations.
Next, Pee Dee Electric partnered with ECSC and Santee Electric Cooperative, Berkeley Electric Cooperative, Horry Electric Cooperative and the Mid Carolina Electric Cooperative on the construction of the rodeo event site. The cooperatives worked together to set 40-ft Class 4 poles for the competition and a few 45-ft poles for the flag raising ceremony and other uses.
“All of the cooperatives came together to build the rodeo site,” said Chris Byrd, safety director for Pee Dee Electric Cooperative. “It was a big undertaking, but we built the entire site in less than three days.”
To help launch the first event, some of the material suppliers made donations to the rodeo. For example, Cooperative Electric Energy Utility Supply (CEEUS), a material supplier to the South Carolina cooperatives, donated crossarms, wire and anchors; Koppers provided all of the poles; and Hubbell Power Systems donated all of the Versa-Tech reclosers for the event site.
“It is the same material that they work with day in and day out,” Byrd said.
Competing in Events
The event site was split into seven areas to host the journeymen and apprentice events. The journeymen competed in the speed climb/egg race, wire transfer event, Versa-Tech recloser event, and a knots and crossarm lift event. During another mystery event, all the members of the journeymen teams performed as climbers during the crossarm changeout relay, and they all wore full fall protection.
“At our rodeo, the groundman in the competition did not have to stay as a groundman,” Byrd said. “Teams could switch up the climbers in the events so everyone had the opportunity to participate in climbing.”
As in the International Lineman’s Rodeo, the participants had to compete in mystery events, and they had no idea what they would be doing until they arrived on the rodeo grounds.
“Our linemen must make quick decisions in the field and be able to overcome different obstacles,” Byrd said. “The mystery event makes them think and problem solve on the fly to try to figure out the best way to handle the situation that they are put in.”
Meanwhile, the apprentices had to compete in a hurtman rescue, speed climb/egg race, knots and crossarm lift event, and a LED yard-light changeout. The apprentices also had to take a 25-question written test, and the questions stemmed from the statewide safety manual used by all of the cooperatives. A total of 18 journeyman teams and 59 apprentice competitors participated in the inaugural event.
“We decided to host this rodeo to showcase the linemen with the co-ops to the member owners who they work for every day,” Byrd said. “At the same time, we wanted it to be a safe and controlled environment with safety being the main priority.”
At the same time however, Byrd said linemen all have a competitive nature, and by participating in the rodeo, they could compete for the fastest time with the least deductions. In addition, it served as a teambuilding event for the competitors.
“It helped them to learn how to all work together,” Byrd said. “Some of the guys who competed together don’t always do so on a day-to-day basis, but they trained together for the rodeo.”
Expanding the Event
Along with watching the competitors, the attendees could observe a live-line demonstration from PIKE Electric, enjoy bounce houses for the children and taste the local food.
“It was a fair-type atmosphere with funnel cakes, hot dogs and snow cones for the kids,” Byrd said.
While Pee Dee Electric hosted the first event, in the future, it could move from one South Carolina cooperative to the next. For example, four cooperatives in the state have interest to host the next year’s rodeo. At this time, these cooperatives are looking at whether or not it is possible to move it from year to year to different parts of the state.
In the past, the cooperatives have competed in the Santee Cooper Lineworkers Rodeo, and some linemen also participated in the Gaff ‘n Go. In the future, the organizers of the South Carolina rodeo may opt to invite cooperatives from outside of South Carolina to come and participate.
For the first year, however, the focus was on the South Carolina cooperatives and allowing the linemen and apprentices to compete against one another.
“We were very fortunate to be able to host the first one, and everything went well,” Byrd said. “Some of the guys had been competing for years, and they enjoyed it and said it was a well laid out site, and we are hoping we can grow it in the future.”
Recruiting Future Workers
The rodeo not only gave the apprentices and journeymen linemen the opportunity to compete against one another, but also enabled the cooperatives to recruit the field workforce of the future.
The cooperatives invited high school and trade school students to the event to expose them to careers in the line trade.
“These high school kids are interested in some kind of skilled trade, and we wanted to make them aware of a future career opportunity in which they can learn the trade and do line work,” said Jeff Singletary, vice president of Marketing for Pee Dee Electric Cooperative.
In fact, Pee Dee Electric Cooperative is starting its first internship program in its line department this summer, and some of the job candidates attended the rodeo. Following the interviews, the cooperative will hire three students to work with the line crews.
“This summer internship will showcase what we do,” said Jack Dearhart, vice president of Operations for Pee Dee Electric Cooperative. “Afterwards, they can maybe go to one of the lineman’s schools and get hired on at a utility or contractor. Most of these students are taking classes that are leading them toward a skilled trade, and we want to give them the opportunity to learn about line work.”