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IBEW power linemen join thousands in Northeast

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Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012 5:19 pm | Updated: 2:00 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

Six power linemen from the Fairbanks area are on temporary duty in the Northeast, putting in 16-hour days to restore power in New Jersey and New York.

Working for contractors that have been called in from across the country, the members of IBEW Local 1547 are dealing with downed trees, snapped power poles, heavy traffic and the complicated logistics of power outages that cover an entire region.

Three of the six are working in New Jersey in the Asbury Park area, while three others are on Long Island.

"It’s a beautiful day today, the sun’s shining but there’s still some snow on the ground," Nick Dynes said Friday afternoon while heading toward Valley Stream in Nassau County. "We just picked up a load of poles and we’re on our way to get with the rest of our crew."

He mentioned seeing a guy who was unloading a new generator for his home, just as the linemen were about to get that home back on the electric system.

Dynes, 32, flew down to Chicago early last week with fellow linemen James Cummings and Jimmy Gappert. They rented a car and drove to eastern Pennsylvania, where they worked before moving to Long Island Thursday.

They found a hotel to stay in temporarily and have plenty of work to do. He said that many of the power lines running to local neighborhoods have been knocked out by trees.

"In a lot of places they just trimmed trees around the power lines, cutting holes in the branches," he said.

With the winds of the storm and the weight of the snow this week, thousands of trees hit the power lines.

"We heard this morning there are about 3,500 tree trimmers on the island and 10,000 linemen on the island," he said. "They’re getting at it."

Cummings said Friday afternoon that he had spent most of the day in a residential neighborhood. One of the tasks that is time consuming is digging holes for power poles by hand. He said with the large number of buried utility lines, they have to dig them with a shovel.

"We’ve been cutting trees out, climbing poles and digging holes," he said.

Cummings, 32, said they could be busy through Thanksgiving.

Gappert, 26, said there are linemen from all over the country working on the power lines.

"What we’re doing right now is we’re getting ready to turn on about 50 homes," he said Friday evening.

While he was speaking to me on his cell phone someone came up and asked about the prognosis, "Yes, it will be on tonight." he responded.

For Cummings and Gappert, this is the first time they have ever seen New York City, though truth be told they haven’t seen much except for a lot of power poles and bucket trucks.

Meanwhile, Jake Barnett is with a group in Asbury Park, N.J. working under a contractor from Michigan, Brute Force Determination.

A photo of Barnett, taken by photographer Tom Spader, appeared on the front page  Thursday of the Asbury Park Press, showing him in a bucket truck, working to fix a power line as it snowed.

"Some areas were so bad that we couldn’t get to them," said Barnett.

"A lot of people are coming out of their apartments and thanking us. They’re real nice people," he said.

C.J. Brooks said he, Barnett and Darrell Laird left Fairbanks on the Sunday before the worst of the storm hit and ended up driving through Pennsylvania with  heavy snow blowing sideways.

"It’s normal storm work," he said of the past several days. "But it’s more people in a bigger area with a much bigger system. Their  grid is incomparable to ours."

"They’ve got big oak trees back here," he said. "They don’t trim them."

"Some of the poles just snapped right off because there was over 100 mile an hour wind," he said.

Brooks, 27, said the first two hotels they stayed in did not have power.

"We were working all day and taking cold showers, walking around the hotel with your head lamp," he said.

"The extent of the damage is so great that people are just happy to get their power back on," he said. "Everybody’s been pretty fair. They bring us coffee and hot chocolate."

Karm Singh, the power lineman representative for IBEW Local 1547 in Fairbanks, said the call went out for "all the power linemen we could spare" on the Saturday before the Northeast was pounded.

In two groups, the six men flew to Chicago and drove to the East Coast because flights were canceled.

Laird said that the weather in New Jersey is nicer than the weather in Alaska.

He said they are working in bucket trucks, climbing and installing poles, replacing transformers and putting service drops into houses where needed.

One of the big differences in the electric work between Fairbanks and New Jersey is that the linemen are using rubber gloves to handle many of the energized lines. Alaska is a so-called "hot stick" state in which insulated poles known as "hot sticks’ are used to handle the lines.

In other states, there is greater latitude for allowing linemen to handle electric lines with rubber gloves. The gloves are checked carefully to make sure they are  no holes in them. In Alaska, linemen must use "hot sticks" on lines carrying more than 5,000 volts.

Rubber gloves aren’t a good alternative for winter work in Alaska.

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