Building a quality municipal electric worker

Clip Note: Article is from the March 3, 2006 edition of Public Power News. I served as a freelance correspondent for a little over a year. This article focused on a human interest topic, specifically, the dedication of municipal electric employees to repairing and maintaining reliable service in the city of Wadsworth, Ohio. The marketing objective of the publication was to build a sense of empathy and appreciation for the work these employees complete.

By Paul A. Miller
PPN Correspondent

The characteristics of a good municipal electric employee include a willingness to learn, a respect for the risks involved in working with electricity – and a commitment to the community.

“Our employees are out there every day living up to that service ethic,” said Chris Easton, Wadsworth’s service director. “It’s a 24-hour a day job, people are on call 365 days a year.”

That truth was demonstrated over the Christmas holiday in December 2005. Easton said the distribution division had five callouts that week, including one on Christmas Day, with employees responding to – and repairing – outages.

“It shows their dedication and the fact that they will be out working no matter what the day.”

For the approximately 40 people serving in Wadsworth’s electric department, education is an important – and continuing – need to address.

“The skills needed depend on the exact division of the electric department the person is working in,” Easton explained. “The basic skills are the skills of a lineman. Linemen go through a training program to build those skills.

“There’s a very technical element to electric work,” he continued. “In Wadsworth, we have a communications system in contact with the electric system.

“People are responsible for communications inside the system. We have the capability of controlling devices remotely.

“An outage sets off alarms to help identify where the source is.”

Larry Marquis, AMP-Ohio’s vice president of business and technical services, explained the training programs offered by the organization.

“Line worker training is specific to line crews that go out and build power lines,” he said. “They learn safe methods for performing their duties, like setting poles, hanging wires, energizing and so on.”

AMP-Ohio provides a four-level course for line workers: Basic I, Basic II, Intermediate, and Advanced. Courses included classroom material as well as hands-on learning in the field.

Another aspect of education provided by AMP-Ohio is technical training.

“In technical training, we try to answer questions like, ‘How does a transformer work?’ or relaying, that sort of thing,” Marquis stated. “Technical training is more of a theoretical approach.”

According to the AMP-Ohio website, the topics covered in technical training are reliability basics, measuring reliability, maintenance practices to increase reliability, relaying and fuse coordination, transformers, circuit breakers and reclosers, distribution line design and metering.

Even after instruction such as that offered by AMP-Ohio, learning does not stop for the municipal electric worker.

“It’s ongoing,” Marquis said of an electric worker’s education. “There’s a saying: ‘When you stop learning, you die.’ In this case, it may be so, especially on the safety side. If you stop learning, you can really get hurt.

“Plus, this industry is constantly changing,” Marquis continued. “There’s always something new out there.”

Ultimately, the specific training, coupled with learning on the job, translates into the performance municipal electric customers see from their electric departments.

“The service that our members give to customers is in direct proportion to the level of training and knowledge of the municipal’s employees,” Marquis said.

Among the duties handled by distribution workers in Wadsworth are the construction, maintenance and repair of lines, conductor restoration, the performance of live-line switching, use of bucket equipment, pole climbing and driving the large vehicles.

“There are a lot of people in the department who aren’t linemen,” Easton pointed out. “The entire division is necessary for us to successfully deliver power to our customers.”

The various duties of workers within the department mean a “typical day” for one may be very different from a “typical day” for another. For line workers, a wide range of activities may be in store on any given day.

When Mother Nature behaves herself, line workers start the day with a plan developed by the division management.

“They may be constructing new facilities, reconstructing existing facilities, taking care of regular tasks like pole removals,” Easton noted. “They may be setting transformers or putting in new underground in residential neighborhoods.

“There are also civic issues, like raising banners.”

“The ‘typical day’ can involve capital projects that take some time – many days,” Easton continued. “Sometimes you have to leave those. Typical days get interrupted, most often by Mother Nature.

“Customer service is always number one,” he added. “Frankly, an outage gets the priority.”