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From A Lineman’s Perspective

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By JESSE JUSTUS  |  Special to Moonshine Ink

I’ve been a journeyman lineman for almost 12 years, and what we experienced with the series of winter storms this year is the worst I’ve ever seen. That’s saying a lot because I worked recovery after Hurricane Katrina, which also brought lots of downed trees that caused utility damage with people stranded in their homes.

I was on vacation in Oregon when the first storm hit, and headed home after talking to some of my fellow Liberty employees who told me how bad things were. I arrived at the office in Tahoe Vista on Tuesday morning, where I stayed and worked for five straight days. I was able to go home on Sunday and sleep in my own bed for one night, and then worked for another three days straight. We all grabbed a few hours of sleep when we could in our trucks or on sleeping cots located in the conference room those first days. Even though the room was always busy with Liberty staff working, it wasn’t hard to fall asleep due to both physical and mental exhaustion.

The damage done to Liberty’s structures is the worst I’ve seen in my eight years up at the lake. Trying to make repairs was made even more difficult by limited accessibility because of closed roads and avalanche dangers. Even when we gained access, the crews had a tough time finding the snow-covered wires; we had a transformer that was buried so deep we didn’t locate it for about five days and finally had to dig it out with a backhoe!

As foreman of the line crews, it’s my job to coordinate their repair work, and, most importantly, to ensure their safety. This was especially challenging with the storms that never seemed to let up. One of the hardest calls I’ve ever made in my entire career was when I had to call the crew off their repairs along Hwy 89 due to avalanche danger. It had taken them nearly an hour just to snowshoe in to the site to make the repairs, and they had worked for about 12 hours through the night and were about two hours away from finishing the job. But, we received word that the avalanche danger was just too high and I called them off the job. They weren’t too happy about it, but I knew I had done the right thing when an avalanche buried a car along the highway just 200 yards down the hill from where they had been working.  

Linemen believe that we are our brother’s keeper. We always say that you’re only as good as the guy working next to you. So while none of us — including our customers — want to go through what we did during the storms, it was a challenge that Liberty’s linemen met because that’s what they train for and that’s their passion. And our customers’ appreciation of our efforts through the home-baked goodies delivered to the office and the words of encouragement as we worked out in the field really helped us get through those long days, too.

~ Jesse Justus is a general foreman for Liberty Utilities.

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June 14, 2018