Utilities rely on out-of-state workers after storm

Jul 3, 2012, 9:36 PM

Associated Press

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) – A fleet of 20 electrical utility trucks, with cranes capable of hoisting a line worker 55 feet above the ground, commandeered the parking lot behind a Hampton Inn in the northern Virginia exurbs of Washington early Tuesday morning.

The sight was familiar in the days following a violent thunderstorm with near-hurricane-force winds that knocked out power to millions of people in the Mid-Atlantic region. But residents and hotel guests might have been surprised by the company name on the trucks _ Gulf Power, as in the Gulf of Mexico _ and the Florida license plates.

On Saturday morning, the day after the storm, Pensacola-based Gulf Power rounded up more than five-dozen employees and told them to pack for up to 2 weeks on the road. It took 2 full days for the convoy of trucks to make the nearly 1,000-mile trek to Leesburg, a town about 40 miles west of the nation’s capital that’s surrounded by wineries and horse farms.

“It’s long and grinding. That’s probably the worst part of the whole thing, is trying to get here,” said lineman Kirk Allen, 51, who’s worked for Gulf Power for 23 years.

Utilities routinely rely on a network of out-of-state workers to pitch in during major outages. Of the 5,400 workers restoring power to Dominion customers in Virginia, 1,800 were from out of state _ including crews from as far away as Iowa, Texas and Ontario, Canada. Baltimore Gas & Electric, which serves central Maryland, had 1,300 out-of-state workers supplementing its own 2,000 crew members, and Pepco, which serves Washington and suburban Maryland, had 700 out-of-state workers among its 3,000 field personnel. All three utilities brought in workers from Canada.

Utilities would not disclose how much they are paying for out-of-state workers, but Richmond-based Dominion says they are covering all the expenses associated with bringing crews to the region and reimbursing their employers for the workers’ wages and overtime.

Without the assistance from other utilities, restoring power to everyone “would take weeks and weeks, rather than just days and days,” said Ed Orenduff, 64, a retired Dominion employee who was called in on a contract basis to coordinate the out-of-state crews.

As he spoke, another supervisor was calling area restaurants and asking whether they could accommodate up to 75 hungry workers. Orenduff advised him not to make a reservation earlier than 8 p.m.

“We need to work `em till dark,” he said.

That’s exactly what the out-of-state crews expect. Their 16-hour days follow a familiar routine: a wake-up call at dawn, breakfast and lunch on the road and a sit-down dinner. They collapse in their hotel beds and do it all over again.

“When you get in the bed, you go straight to sleep,” Allen said. “The first few days, it’s not that bad. You’ve got a whole lot of adrenaline.”

Allen said he’s had tougher assignments than working in the Washington area amid sweltering July heat. He cringed at the memory of an ice storm in Mississippi in 2002 that had him on the road for 18 days.

“That was worse. Real slow, real cold,” Allen said.

John Parker, 55, a 29-year Gulf Power employee who was supervising a team of workers from the Panama City, Fla., area, said that when out-of-state assignments pop up, there are always more volunteers than available spots. He tries to distribute the work evenly, and workers can usually count on a couple of road trips a year. The overtime pay is nice, but not enough to radically alter anyone’s lifestyle, he said.

Allen said he didn’t take the out-of-state assignments for the money.

“It’s more the satisfaction of getting people’s lights back on. Not everybody can do it,” he said as his colleagues worked to fix a snapped power line. “These guys working for Dominion right now, they’re tired.”

As if on cue, a local resident drove by in a pickup truck, lowered his window and yelled, “We appreciate it!”

___

Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at
http://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)...
Associated Press

Santos of New York steps down from House panels amid ethics issues

Republican Rep. George Santos of New York has told GOP colleagues he is temporarily stepping down from his two congressional committees.
1 day ago
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)...
Associated Press

US wage growth slowed in the final quarter of 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pay and benefits for America’s workers grew at a healthy but more gradual pace in the final three months of 2022, a third straight slowdown, which could help reassure the Federal Reserve that wage gains won’t fuel higher inflation. Wages and benefits, such as health insurance, grew 1% in the October-December quarter […]
1 day ago
In this image from video released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, Alec Baldwin stands in c...
Associated Press

Alec Baldwin, movie weapons specialist formally charged in fatal shooting

Actor Alec Baldwin and a weapons specialist have been formally charged with involuntary manslaughter in a fatal 2021 shooting on a movie set.
1 day ago
A fisherman throws a cast net along shore of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, F...
Associated Press

California holds out as Arizona, other states submit Colorado River water plan

Six Western states that rely on water from the Colorado River, including Arizona, have agreed on a model to cut water use in the basin.
1 day ago
Actress Cindy Williams attends the ceremony honoring her and actress-director Penny Marshall with a...
Associated Press

‘Laverne & Shirley’ star Cindy Williams dies at 75 after brief illness

Cindy Williams, who was among the most recognizable stars in America in the 1970s and 1980s for her role as Shirley opposite Penny Marshall's Laverne on the beloved sitcom "Laverne & Shirley," has died. She was 75.
1 day ago
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)...
Associated Press

Ex-Twitter execs to testify on block of Hunter Biden story

Former Twitter employees are expected to testify next week before the House Oversight Committee about the social media platform's handling of reporting on President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Utilities rely on out-of-state workers after storm