Irma Brings A Storm Of Linemen
Hurricane Irma was a historic storm, and utilities coordinated a historic response. About 5,000 electric cooperative workers from 25 states congregated on the hurricane’s impact zone to aid with restoration efforts. Ohio crews, comprised of 69 linemen, assisted Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) and Jackson EMC, both large electric co-ops in Georgia. North Western Electric Cooperative sent two linemen to help. Several NWEC linemen were eager to go, but Tom Clark and Chad Livensparger were next in line for a mutual aid opportunity.
Upon the arrival of the Ohio crews, 17,600 of Tri-County EMC’s 21,000 members were without power, while 63,000 of Jackson EMC’s 220,000 members were without power. Thankfully, the affected co-ops took steps ahead of Irma’s landfall to prepare for restoration, which helped speed up the process. Following a successful week, Ohio’s crews departed Georgia for home on Saturday, Sept. 16.
When asked about the trip, Livensparger said it was a good experience, but was “just like any other day repairing outages.” Two differences he did note were that it was more of a metropolitan area and the red dirt was easy to dig. “I could dig it with just my hands,” he recalled.
Clark commented on the heavy traffic and different terrain working in foothills at the edge of mountains. Clark’s biggest challenge was dealing with the pests along the way, as “there were fire ant mounds all over and huge spiders,” he said. Before the crews began working, they were warned to check all bushes for snakes; copperheads are prevalent in the area. Two of the Ohio linemen came dangerously close to being attacked by a copperhead. They were speaking with a couple, and shortly after they walked away, the gentleman was bitten and rushed to the hospital.
NWEC is always ready to help in these types of situations. “One of the fundamental principles of electric co-ops is what we call cooperation among cooperatives, which stipulates that co-ops come to each other’s aid in times of need,” said Darin Thorp, President/CEO of North Western Electric Cooperative. “When we heard that our co-op friends in Georgia needed our help, we didn’t hesitate to answer the call.”