News & Press
On the night of Easter Sunday, a line of severe thunderstorms approached middle Georgia. These storms were no surprise. For several days, meteorologists had forecast storms that left fatalities and severe damage in Mississippi and Alabama. But for Tri-County’s employees, particularly the linemen, there was added apprehension. For the past three weeks, these linemen had been quarantined at home, working out of their houses and their trucks, to avoid contact with each other and the rest of the world during the coronavirus pandemic. As the wee hours of April 13 arrived, so did the first test of social distancing for these linemen.
April has been designated “Linemen Appreciation Month” for many years, a month set aside in Georgia and nationally to honor one of the most dangerous positions in our workforce. In a world where computers and automation have changed the way many of us work, the life of a linemen is still largely about physical labor and going out into the elements when Mother Nature has brought destruction. Short of vehicle accidents, there are rarely power outages on calm, sunny afternoons.
In early March, much like the rest of Georgia, Tri-County EMC began planning for coronavirus. Deemed by Homeland Security as part of critical infrastructure, the cooperative employees are certainly considered essential. But having a designation and actually keeping them and the public safe are two different things.
The co-op began implementing measures to allow and encourage social distancing when paying bills or interacting with cooperative employees. The lobby was closed. Since mid-March, the workforce was split into teams to further isolate from each other should an employee be exposed or test positive. The cooperative’s linemen were split into smaller teams of two and sent home, dispatched remotely to daily jobs and outages.
“Teamwork is important as an electric lineman,” said Mike Hulett, South District Supervisor. “You rely on your fellow crew members to help you get the job done and keep you safe. In two-man teams, our linemen are doing the same work that would typically be done with a three-man team. That means more trips up and down the pole, working on multiple tasks at once, and taking even more precautions with safety measures. Our two-man crews are able to get the work done, although it may take a little longer than normal.”
At 3:00 am on April 13, as weather-alert phone calls began, Tri-County’s linemen rolled out of bed and into the dark in a world that felt a bit different. One of twelve tornados to strike Georgia touched down in Putnam County. The fast-moving storm left about 1,800 accounts without power and hundreds of downed trees, many across roadways and right-of-ways, making it difficult to reach downed lines. Working in two-man crews, the Tri-County linemen were able to restore many of the largest outages before dawn. By late afternoon, every meter capable of receiving service had been restored.
Tri-County’s service territory was spared much of the destruction that hit other places. For many of us, the outages were a disruption to a new routine that is anything but normal. We were blessed to have very understanding members who placed numerous kind remarks on social media. And we are grateful our linemen were able to restore almost all of outages in less than twelve hours. It’s no longer April. But it our minds, it is always linemen appreciation month. (29959001)