By Jeff Wadsworth | CEO
When a disaster strikes, most people think of the fire fighters, the Red Cross, Search & Rescue teams and others as the first responders to the scene but many forget “the crew” that is just as critical – the crew made up of linemen.
The past couple of years, our crew has been put to the test as first responders. A year after the floods, and two years after the High Park Fire, the memories of the hard work put into restoring power during the natural disasters will never be forgotten by us and by our communities.
Poudre Valley REA linemen were first at the scene right alongside the fire fighters and other first responders when the High Park Fire struck west of Fort Collins in 2012. In the fall of 2013, when flood waters gushed through the foothills and plains of Northern Colorado, the linemen were rolling out in trucks, responding to outages. Our crews were actually some of the first to gain access and provided necessary assistance in responding to the disaster.
A lineman’s job is truly a professional trade. Our lineman are well-educated, experienced and know the trade like the backs of their hands. The job is already dangerous, considering that linemen are working on distribution lines every day, but add in the component of a natural disaster - and the job becomes much more difficult. It’s one thing to be doing routine maintenance on a normal work day; it’s a completely different situation when a natural disaster hits and you’re now working in “emergency mode.” While job safety is important to everyone, no matter the occupation, for lineworkers it has additional implications; there can be no slip ups or careless actions. Mistakes can cost a limb or, God forbid, a life. That’s one of the reasons linemen form lifelong bonds that last long after they are done working as linemen.
When the High Park Fire started on June 9, 2012, it was a Saturday and crews were spending time with their families on their day “off.” They were called in to the shop to quickly head out into the foothills. The fire was blazing across our service territory with 1,700 of our members affected, eventually destroying more than 250 homes, 10 miles of line and 400 poles.
Even as the experiences of the High Park Fire still burned in our memories and many of our members were struggling to rebuild a year later, another natural disaster inundated Northern Colorado affecting many families in the Poudre Valley REA service territory when the floods of September 2013 hit. In the hours after the water began to rise, PVREA trucks were among the first to gain access to help in responding to the disaster. During this second emergency, more than 2,600 of our members were affected. The flood waters took down 150 poles and 160 spans of line. Crews worked into the night. They rotated shifts over weekends and evening hours, bringing electricity to those most in need.
In both natural disaster situations, coordinating crews and material and planning restoration took a well-organized effort among emergency agencies and internally at the co-op headquarters. Of course, we hope to never see natural disasters like these again, but our crew is ready and willing to deploy if a natural disaster strikes again.