OPALCO Honors Linemen for National Lineman Appreciation Day

Lineman Day signageThe core strength of our Cooperative come from our linemen, those dedicated guys in the bright safety gear who drive the trucks, string the lines, monitor and repair our electrical grid to keep it safely running and the lights on in our homes and businesses.

On Friday, April 17th, OPALCO GM Foster Hildreth visited each of our three line crew facilities to celebrate their critical roles in the Co-op and in honor of National Lineman Appreciation Day (declared by Congress for April 18, 2015). Staff provided some treats, decorated their crew rooms and each lineman received a new work shirt.

photo of sewn color safety logo 72These were not just any work shirt, but an industry specific fire retardant shirt sporting the new OPALCO safety logo as designed by OPALCO Engineer Ed Lago. Why the special material? The conditions under which our linemen routinely work expose them to high voltage, and wearing gear that provides them with that extra layer of safety is just one of the steps we take to send them home safely at the end of a long work day.

Hildreth made the “three-island tour” to acknowledge all of the OPALCO linemen. “You guys are deserving of recognition every day for your vital service to the membership,” said Hildreth.  “I’m in awe of your commitment – knowing that you are out there day and night, in calm or wind or sleet or snow to restore power.” He further recognized those linemen who have come up through OPALCO’s apprenticeship program. “This is what a co-op is about: giving our local members – the next generation – opportunities for education and training, as well as a living wage so they can raise families in their home communities.”

Jay Fowler, General Foreman on the Eastsound crew, said this about his crew, “They’re a great bunch who go out, do their job right and keep OPALCO running. I’m proud to lead this group and watch them develop.” Jay, along with Matt Minnis, Roger Sandwith, and Dan Watters, are all home-grown products of the OPALCO apprenticeship program. Nathan Ahrens joined the OPALCO team as a power lineman after he completed the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee School.

Foster Jim & LOPEZ crew editedOn Lopez Island, General Foreman Steve Dengler finds his crew stretched pretty thin these days. Still his line foreman, Brian Swanson, and journeyman linemen Kai Burleson and Kevin Zoerb, make him proud to be part of the work team every day. “These guys are dedicated, even as short-handed as we are,” said Dengler. “They show up every day ready to tackle the job, and are dedicated to serving the community and the membership.” His crew added Trevor Steinbrueck as a hot stick certified apprentice lineman early this year. Like Steve, Kai and Kevin, Trevor grew up on Lopez. The Lopez crew is looking to hire a Journeyman Lineman to replace Tim Savage, who retired in 2014.

San Juan crewThe linemen of Friday Harbor form the largest OPALCO line crews. Led by General Foreman Steve Eyler, and anchored by long-time resident Rex Guard as Line Foreman, these journeymen have handled everything possible during their years with OPALCO. “This crew is exactly what you want when dealing with the kinds of problems we face,” said Eyler. “Skilled, safety conscious and always willing to learn.” His crew of five journeymen linemen includes Bob Belcher, Luke Furber, Russ Hebert, Sean Parsons and, of course, Rex Guard.

The fifth Cooperative Principle is “Education, Training and Information.” OPALCO’s four-year-long Apprenticeship Program is a good example of that commitment. Journeymen Linemen mentor and train the Apprentices, alongside a prescribed progression of work experience and training. The first year the Apprentices get on-the-job training as ground men and take a correspondence course to prepare them for the next three years of the program.  Years two through four include classroom time every other Saturday (November through May) at the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee School in Seattle and five weeks spent with other apprentice linemen at Camp Rilea in Oregon. The first year of camp is climbing school (two weeks); year two is distribution hot-sticking school (two weeks) and year three is a week-long transmission hot-sticking school. Safety is a major focus throughout their training and all apprentices become certified in CPR, First Aid and pole-top rescue.