When Mother Nature unleashes high wind and heavy rain, it’s natural to retreat to a place that’s cozy and dry.
Unless you’re a utility lineman.
Storms are a typically a time when linemen are at their busiest, when weather conditions disrupt lines and force residents to be without power.
To thank linemen for their work under the worst of conditions, First Baptist Church and Collins River BBQ co-sponsored a Linemen Appreciation Lunch on Monday. Employees with McMinnville Electric System and Caney Fork Electric attended.
“With all of the storms that have been ripping through, we get upset when our electricity goes out, but we often don’t say thank you when it comes back on so quickly,” said luncheon organizer Jane Allison of First Baptist Church. “Linemen don’t wait till the weather clears up. They get out there in storms and they are literally risking their lives. For that I have a great appreciation of them.”
Working with electricity is inherently dangerous. MES lineman Kevin Prater knows that as well as anyone after an accident in 1995 hospitalized him for three weeks and left him out of work for nine months.
“I don’t remember all of it,” said Prater.
When asked if he remembers the pain of the electrical shock, Prater said, “When I woke up I could sure feel it.”
MES employee Hal Champion was the first on the scene of the accident which injured Prater and co-workers Billy Pitmon and Tony Foster.
“It’s scary to come up on a site and see three of your men on the ground,” said Champion.
Prater said they were setting an MES service pole underneath a Caney Fork line when the accident took place.
The pole shifted unexpectedly and brushed against the Caney Fork line, sending 14,400 volts of electricity into the three men.
“It entered in my left hand and came out my right hand and both feet,” said Prater.
Explained Champion, “Electricity tries to get to the ground as fast as it can go.”
That accident 20 years ago is the last major accident at MES. Caney Fork’s last major accident in Warren County was in March 2011 when lineman Ryan Lorance was injured while working on Jacksboro Road.
During a brief, but intense, thunderstorm that struck this area three weeks ago on March 21, thousands were left without power. That included about 10,000 customers in the multi-county Caney Fork Electric area, and 465 in the city of McMinnville.
Linemen were pressed into extended duty to restore power as quickly as possible.
“We were called in at 6 p.m. and we worked till 7 a.m. the next morning,” said Caney Fork lineman Phillip Powell. “We took a couple hours off then we came right back.”
Powell says 36 hours straight is the longest he can remember working at one time in his 32 years on the job. McMinnville Electric System lineman Tony Foster says he can recall a couple 40-hour shifts.
“It depends on how much trouble you have,” said Foster. “Most of the time it’s not pleasant conditions.”
According to the National Lineman Appreciation Day website, there are 115,000 linemen in the United States. They help provide service to an estimated 155 million electrical customers.
The trade began in 1879 with the invention of the Thomas Edison lightbulb.