Don Brown, a 31-year lineworker for Gulf Power (a division of Southern Company No. 44 on the DiversityInc Top 50 list), has served on many storm restoration trips over the years, but he knew that the recent trip to assist Puerto Rico with power restoration was going to be different from the first day he arrived on the hurricane-ravaged island.
His crews’ first assignment was to repair a pole and a line that stretched across a gorge that spanned some 1,800 feet wide. They set the new pole, then he had to go down into the gorge to retrieve the wire that was wrapped around some trees below.
“I rappelled down with another lineworker and a chainsaw,” said Brown, who works in the Pine Forest Office in Pensacola.
When they dropped to the trees, they realized what they thought was a tree only six inches in diameter was ended up being much larger, he said. “We had to cut down that tree. We knew right then it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk,” he said.
Brown was part of a Gulf Power team of eight lineworkers and three support personnel who spent 60 days from late January to March restoring power on the island that was devastated by Hurricane Maria last year.
They were joined by other lineworkers from sister companies Alabama Power, Mississippi Power, Georgia Power, as well as Minnesota Power. The power companies’ bucket trucks were ferried by barge from Mobile, Alabama to Puerto Rico in advance of the teams’ arrival.
Gulf Power lineworker Don Brown of Pensacola is a veteran when it comes to restoring power after storms. GULF POWER
Brown said one of the trucks ended up being the one he uses here at Gulf Power, but that was about the only thing that was familiar on this storm trip. They worked in mountainous areas, traversing dangerous roads up and down, repairing poles and wire in densely vegetated areas.
“The line work was not Linework 101,” he said. “They told us when we got there it was something we haven’t done before and that was true. It was totally different.”
They worked 16-hour days, seven days a week for the two months they were in Puerto Rico.
Fortunately for Brown, his rappelling experience when he was in the military helped with going up and down the steep gorges.
“It wasn’t for the weak,” he said. “If you weren’t in shape the first two weeks, you got in shape after that.”
While working away from home and in such dangerous conditions, many lineworkers find the support from their families helps them stay focused on their jobs so they can work safely.
Brown made sure he talked to his wife, Angie, every day. While he was gone, she helped with paying bills and even getting work done on his hot rod vehicles that he races.
And with a laugh, he said: “But she did tell me don’t ever go on a long trip like this again.”
(Originally published on SouthernCompany.com)