Electric Heroes of Border Country

COLUMN: East of Ely, by David Krikorian

Life can be interesting at the end of the road, especially when the power goes out. This happened a few weeks ago after a storm front passed over and left us disconnected for thirty-six hours. Thankfully our small generator enabled us to continue working from our remote location with our refrigerator running.
Folks around us have learned to cope despite the frustration of waiting for the electric to come back to life, checking the power Co-op’s outage web page on the hour and then trying to fathom why it’s us who always seem have the short end of the power pole.
Yet we keep calm and bear it, while none us, except for a few disgruntled tourists, would think to complain about the power restorers working day and night, risking their necks to fix dropped lines and fried transformers.
After the tree splintering monster storm two summers ago, the line crews took nine days to reach our end of the Snowbank Lake grid. Thanks to our modern saturation of social media, our society too often declares a hero out of anyone who does something as ordinary as helping an elderly person cross the street. But after conversing with one of the line crewmen that day, I learned there are a few true, unsung heroes who deserve genuine credit.
With the generator churning outside, I barely heard Dan, a line crew foreman, knocking at the cabin door to announce that his crew was out back on the road and about to re-connect the line that had been cut in several places during the storm.
I asked him if he needed anything, and he responded by asking me if I had cell service, informing me that while the line crews had radio communication they no cell signal out this far.
He had been unable to speak with his family that day, anxious to learn about his daughter’s condition after having her wisdom teeth extracted that morning. I handed over my phone.
Dan looked about twenty tons lighter after making the call and learning she was well, so relieved that he starting talking about his last nine days on the job.
I learned how he had wanted to become a lineman since high school, and after twenty years on the job, had worked his way up to foreman.
He said he had had a passion for the challenges of the job, the sheer physical efforts that come from the heavy work, dealing with new problems every day, the satisfaction of restoring power and so on. But with such responsibility, came the stormy parts of the job, literally the blizzards and thunderstorms that had zero respect for the human calendar not to mention the clock.
Dan had gotten the call for the July 21 storm at three in the morning and had been away from home since, and thank goodness it was summer and there were no school events to be missed and no birthdays, though he had missed both his daughter’s dental surgery and his sixteenth wedding anniversary.
He went on to explain how sudden dispatches like this can expose his crew to all kinds of dangers, as it left them with no real picture of what to expect on the ground.
On any normal day, he’d get to the Co-op’s operation center before the crew’s shift began to sift through emails and daily work orders. He explained how this routine usually ended with a crew briefing that served as much to get everyone thinking about how to approach the day’s workload with a clear headed focus on safety before heading out to the job site. But with sudden dispatches like this, safety had a tendency to be tossed aside.
Yes, there are set procedures regarding electrical dangers, but no one is truly safe in an area of half fallen widow-maker trees and razor-sharp power pole cables swinging loose in the dead of night.
“Yup,” he concluded, “A job like this has its challenges, but what I like most is how the rigors have kept me mentally and physically in shape, and I’m especially appreciative of every moment spent with my family and friends.”
The power came on two hours later, and by the time I reached the road to thank Dan and his crew, all the Co-op vehicles were gone.