by Don Keelan
March and April are devoted to award distribution: the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys, and the Tonys. In addition to Hollywood and Broadway types, much attention is showered on sports figures and TV personalities. When have we ever witnessed an awards celebration for electric line workers?
If it were up to me, awards would be given to the hundreds of line persons who demonstrated their commitment, dedication, and courage during the recent record-setting snowstorm that closed Southern Vermont. In terms of outages, it ranked as the fifth worse storm in Green Mountain Power’s history.
The Albany National Weather Service notified Southern Vermont and its surrounding area that a severe coastal storm might dump wet snow on the region beginning on March 13th and ending on March 15th. Many of us believed the warning to be another overreaction. How wrong we were.
Bennington and the towns close by were the storm’s bulls-eye. What was thought to be a storm of a foot of snow turned out to be a storm that, in some places, deposited over three and a half feet of wet cement-like stuff.
Countless trees and branches were no longer in their natural environment but resting on electric and cable power lines or the roads. Over 2,800 incidents of damage were recorded, and over 102,000 customers were without electric power.
The area’s major electricity supplier, Green Mountain Power, had the foresight to realize that Vermont would encounter a significant natural disaster, and they needed to be ready. They brought over 500 line workers to Vermont from as far away as Kentucky, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and even Canada.
There were many things to observe from this mustering of forces, and one was how well multi-state utilities/contractors can work together for the common good.
During the mid-March storm, uncommon perseverance to restore power was evident from the electric line workers. First, to essential areas, hospitals, and government installations. Then, to all of us without power, which for some was hours and others days.
These were not Hollywood stunt workers up in those buckets, 30 feet above the ground, bracing against 35 to 45 miles per hour winds, snow falling at two inches per hour, and tree branches snapping around them. This was not theater; it was real.
In-state and out-of-state line crews were required to be out in the most undesirable weather and, for many, 16 continuous hours.
Amidst all, many lineworkers and crews remembered the recent tragic death of one of their own. In early December 2022, 41-year-old Lucas Donahue, working to restore electricity in Halifax, Vermont, lost his life when a tree came down upon him during a storm.
We have become so dependent on electricity that even without it for an hour or so can be a great inconvenience, a problem if not available for days. It can be physically and financially dangerous if the outdoor temperature falls below 32 degrees.
I would be remiss if I did not recognize how our area restaurants and hotels stepped up to feed and house the lineworkers and crews, providing their services around the clock.
Last month, Vermont needed help from outside of the State, and it was there for us. During other natural disasters elsewhere, Vermont’s line persons gear up and move out. The Chinese have a word for it: Gung Ho, working together.
Our elected leaders in Montpelier and Washington, D.C. can learn from the cooperation we have recently experienced to get the job done in record time. Who knew so many heroes surrounded us?
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont
Maybe our Governor can extend a week of official appreciation for our line workers (like he just did for farmworkers), acknowledging the occupational risks they face and the nastiest of weather they do it in, while most of us at least are able to huddle around our woodstoves during an outage.