Working the lines with Brandon Sanders
The work of a lineman has changed a lot in the 79 years since Jackson EMC hired its first one; in 1938 linemen worked without bucket trucks, dug and set poles by hand and completed all of their work without the protection of safety gear. Today, the job is much different. To see what a typical day is like on the job, meet Brandon Sanders, a Jackson EMC lineman apprentice.
“Nothing’s ever the same,” Brandon said, about a typical day on the job. “It may look the same on a piece of paper, but each job is different; that’s what keeps it interesting.”
Brandon is one of 119 linemen serving Jackson EMC’s members every day.
8:00 A.M. Every day might be a little different, but they all start at 8 a.m. with a crew meeting. Brandon gathers with the rest of his team (five other linemen and a foreman) for the first meeting of the day. They learn about the day’s jobs and everyone contributes to the plan on how to attack the day.
“There are some things we do on a normal basis that some people wouldn’t want to do, but we work together as linemen to carry out that plan safely. We all look out for each other,” he said. “Safety is emphasized here – above everything else. That’s a tremendous thing.”
All Jackson EMC employees attend monthly safety meetings, although the content can vary based on your job function. Linemen cover topics including outage restoration, grounding and blood-borne pathogens. All employees are CPR and first-aid certified and complete defensive driving courses.
8:30 A.M. By 8:30 a.m. the crew members are gathering the necessary equipment, tools and water needed for the day - some supplies and equipment have already been collected the night before. Within a few minutes, the trucks are loaded and headed to the jobsite. Most of this day will be spent installing transformers in a new subdivision. Yesterday, this crew spent several hours running the wire underground to serve this neighborhood. (Jackson EMC began running wire underground in the 1960s). Banana peelers, speed strippers, adjustable end strippers and semi-conductor scorers are specialty tools developed to make underground line work faster and more precise. Wire is insulated; to complete the electric circuit, the electrical wire must be exposed by stripping off the insulation. These precision tools help linemen complete their work more efficiently. “We didn’t always have these tools,” said Charlie Watson, Jackson EMC operations superintendent. “They all do about the same thing, but the most important thing is they prevent linemen from accidentally cutting too deep, or over cutting the wire.”
Over cutting, Charlie explains, can shorten the lifespan of the equipment.
11:30 A.M. By 11:30 a.m. two transformers have been set. Today, the entire group is grabbing lunch together. Some other crews will join them at a nearby restaurant. Most days, however, they eat a sandwich on the jobsite.
After lunch, it’s back to the neighborhood to continue the work installing the transformers to serve a section of the new neighborhood. First, the crew needs to hand dig about 200 feet of cable to uncover the existing lines.
“This project started several months ago, and we’ve had some rain recently so we want to be sure those lines are still where they’re marked,” said David Halloway, Jackson EMC line foreman.
With four men digging, it took only a few minutes to expose the wire. Now, work continues setting the third and final transformer for the eight-home section of the subdivision. Every task includes a team: Setting the concrete foundation requires a ground man and a boom truck operator, wiring the transformer goes much faster with two people stripping insulation and running ground wire, digging holes is faster (and more fun) with more than one shovel in the ground. While this work is going on, there’s a support team of foremen, dispatchers and system control working to ensure the lines are safe.
4:00 P.M. At 4 p.m. the crew heads back to the office to get ready for the next day. As they exit the trucks, they’re moving equipment from one truck to another, planning for what they’ll need the next day. Brandon settles down at a table in the breakroom with a few other linemen for a quick card game. He’ll stay late today to help light a new billboard. They have to cut power to some other nearby businesses to make the connection, so they’re hanging around until after 5 p.m. when the other businesses close their doors so they can get to work.
10:00 P.M. A wind storm blows some trees down and Brandon gets the call to come into work.
“When system control calls you with an outage, they can pretty much tell you where it is,” Brandon said. “They can give you a fuse, a recloser, or a viper and they can guide you on in to where it is and most of the time they’re right.”
This time, the outage took Brandon and his partner through the woods, across a creek and into a pasture. He spends several hours working to get his neighbor’s lights back on.
Because he’s spent so many hours of overtime today, he’ll get the day off tomorrow. Which, he’ll probably spend at least some of fishing.