October is Cooperative Month,
the focal point of the 2012 International Year of
the Cooperative. Globally, these community-focused
businesses generate millions of jobs. ECE is one of
more than 900 electric cooperatives in the United
States. Its 57,000 member-owners are served by 162
employees. They all play a role in delivering safe,
reliable electricity, whether they work in the
office or in the field. This is a snapshot of a day
on the job with a line crew.
If there were predictable days in the life of
electrical linemen, Jerod Stamper and Bryan Wolbert
wouldn’t like their job so well.
“No two days are alike,” said Stamper, a crew
foreman in ECE’s Superior, WI district. “When we
think we’ve got a day all planned out, it changes.”
On this brisk September Monday morning, they were
scheduled to install animal protection on
pole-mounted transformers in the Wascott area.
Squirrels and birds often cause power outages on
ECE’s system, and the co-op started installing the
devices about two years ago to enhance the
reliability of electric service.
“We want to install them across the whole system,”
ECE Operations Manager Dave Curtis explained, “but
we’re targeting problem areas first. We’ve found
that in the areas where they’re installed, blinks
have gone away and outages have gone down
significantly. We tested a lot of different products
to find a standard that works best for ECE. We
wanted something that was efficient to install and
cost effective for our members.”
Stamper and Wolbert had just gotten on the road when
Jerod’s cell phone rang. A member had called the
co-op to request a service disconnection at a
seasonal property, and they were the closest crew.
Along a winding road near the Minong Flowage, Bryan
located the member’s transformer, while Jerod went
in search of the property owner.
“We like to talk to the members if they’re home and
let them know we’re taking care of their request,”
Back in the truck, the men talked about their next
job, including the safety procedures they would
follow. As a foreman, “making sure everything gets
done safely and in good time” is Stamper’s
responsibility. “We do a job briefing before we
start anything,” he said.
The knowledge that their job is dangerous is always
with them, and they take every safety precaution.
“You have to stay focused on what you’re doing,”
Bryan explained. “This isn’t a job where you can
bring any home troubles to work.”
“Everybody is always looking out for everybody else
in this job,” Jerod added.
ECE has 44 linemen working out of its five service
centers. They’re responsible for construction and
maintenance of the lines and substations that serve
the co-op’s 4,300 square-mile territory. Crews start
their day with a list of job priorities provided by
their supervisor. The projects vary, from plowing in
line for a new service, to changing out
transformers, installing animal protection,
replacing insulators and other line maintenance
tasks. Outages and service calls from members may
occur at any time, and the shop contacts the crews
by cell phone so they can respond.
Stamper and Wolbert are both native Wisconsinites
and graduates of the line worker program at Chippewa
Valley Technical College in Eau Claire. Jerod has 17
years of experience, 14 with ECE, while Bryan has
been on the job for eight years, five of them with
Jerod’s dad was a lineman; he grew up knowing he
would be one too. He smiles as he shares fond
memories of stopping at the shop on his way home
from school and “hanging out with crew.”
Bryan chose the profession because he wanted to work
outdoors. “I’ve had desk jobs, and the day couldn’t
go by fast enough,” he said. “There’s a sense of
freedom to this…being trusted to be out here doing
our jobs. We have accountability between ourselves.
You want to be efficient at your job.”
The makeup of a crew is determined by the type of
work to be done. Wolbert usually drives a digger
derrick, Stamper a bucket truck. They don’t work
together every day.
While much of today’s line work is done from a
bucket, Jerod said ECE crews still do “a fair
amount” of pole climbing, depending on the terrain
they’re working. He demonstrated the climbing
technique and installed a new cutout fuse, repaired
an arrestor, and added the squirrel protection
device while strapped to the pole.
Crews typically eat their lunch in the truck, parked
along a country road. “When you work outside, every
day the scenery is just a little different,” said
Jerod, and as if to prove his point, a deer
sauntered onto the dirt road ahead.
Both men are husbands, fathers and avid outdoorsmen.
Fall is their favorite season to do whatever job
comes their way.
“Fixing an underground fault in the middle of the
night, in the middle of winter…. I don’t like that,”
Jerod said, and Bryan agreed. “It’s always the
coldest day of the year, and you’re out there,
pounding through frost….”
Their profession has caused them to lose sleep, miss
family gatherings and cancel plans with friends, but
they can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Getting people’s power back on, especially when
they’ve been out for a while…, that’s a good
feeling,” Jerod said. “We’re usually out in weather
that snowplows won’t even go out in. When somebody
comes out and pats you on the back and says thank
you, it takes some of the pain away from missing
birthday parties, Christmas, anniversaries.”