In scorching heat and arctic blasts, linemen suit-up from head to toe, protecting themselves in the unlikely event one of those wires might be live. The voltage running through power lines can create an electric arc about four times as hot as the sun’s surface. And the human body is one of the best conductors. Burns from these arcs can be fatal – even from several feet away.
“That adds so much to the work: the danger,” said Tim Sweat, a journeyman lineman with 35 years of experience who is now JEMC director of job training and safety.
Every action on the line is dictated by a strict set of rules designed to keep workers safe. He said it takes seven years for someone to move through the ranks from apprentice to journeyman. “The goal is for everyone to get back home safe.”
To ensure they get home safely, Sweat says he looks for applicants who are dependable, trustworthy and have a strong work ethic.
“A lineman’s mentality is to get the lights back on, and safety rules can slow them down. It takes discipline to put those features in place and you have to be disciplined to be safe on this job,” he said. “At the end of the day you are absolutely exhausted; covered in dirt and sweat. It’s a demanding job, but the satisfaction and reward is there every day.”
A Lineman's Gear
1. Hard Hat A hard hat provides insulated protection against electrical hazards and protects the head from blows and falling objects.
2. Insulated Gloves Insulated rubber gloves provide protection against electric shock and burn injuries – these are tested approximately every 60 days to withstand 30,000 volts. They are worn inside leather glove protectors, or gauntlets, that protect the rubber against cuts, abrasions and punctures.
3. Climbers/Hooks Contoured leg shafts are made of aluminum or steel and hold the gaffs securely in place next to the lineman’s boots. Climbers are strapped on just below the knee and also around the boot holding them in place.
4. Extendo Stick Typically made of insulated, high voltage-tested fiberglass, and extendable up to 40 feet, extendo sticks help linemen safely perform a variety of jobs while working on energized power lines.
5. Finger Numerous tools are attached to an extendo stick’s universal head. The attachment shown is called a finger and can be used for opening or closing fuses, or breakers.
6. Gaffs Two-inch razor-sharp steel points on the shaft of the climbers/hooks for climbing poles. Only the tips dig into the wood, helping linemen climb more safely and efficiently.
7. Safety Glasses Linemen must wear protective goggles or glasses, whether working on electrical lines or clearing right-of-way. This protects their eyes from loose debris and other hazards, including electrical flashes.
8. Fire-resistant Clothing While our linemen do everything possible to prevent them, unexpected fires can happen. Fire Retardant clothing will self-extinguish, reducing injury due to burns.
9. Equipment Belt Think of it as the lineman’s suitcase, with clips, loops and D-rings providing the ability to carry virtually every tool he might need when working on the pole.
10. Dirty Bag This canvas bag hangs from the lineman’s belt and literally holds the nuts and bolts (and connectors, etc.) that linemen need for any number of jobs.
11. Safety Strap When a lineman reaches the top of a pole, he unhooks one end of his safety strap from his lineman’s belt, loops the strap around the pole and rehooks the strap to the D-ring on the other side of his belt. Having “buckled off” he can now safely work with both hands free.
12. Boots A lineman’s boots help prevent linemen from stabbing themselves in the leg or foot. A raised heel on the boot helps keep the climber positioned correctly when climbing, and a steel shank built into the sole provides extra support for the feet when on the pole.
13. Handline Complete with steel clips and a pulley block, this rope is hung on the pole and is strong enough for any job – from routine hoisting of material to lowering a lineman to the ground in a life-threatening situation.
14. Handline Block Linemen can’t carry everything up a pole, and the handline block – a main component of the handline – is used to raise and lower heavy equipment.
15. Tool Pouch This bag also hangs from the side of the lineman’s belt normally carrying 9-inch lineman’s pliers and a 10-inch adjustable wrench.