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CoServ linemen answer the call to assist after Hurricane Ian

CoServ linemen answer the call to assist after Hurricane Ian

CoServ's convoy arrived to assist Peace River Electric Cooperative. Photos by KEN OLTMANN and CoServ crews in the field.

 

By Nicholas Sakelaris | CoServ

From alligators and portable power generators to extreme heat, humidity and bugs, CoServ linemen faced a number of challenges and hazards while they worked to restore power after Hurricane Ian in Florida.

Family members showed up at 5 a.m. to wish our crews well and Lineman Garrett McFerren with his son, Everett.

CoServ Employees restored power to 1,800 meters from Peace River Electric Cooperative (PRECO) and Lee County Electric Cooperative during their nearly 2-week mutual aid trip to central and southern Florida.

“It’s a pretty good feeling when you’re driving out of a neighborhood that has lights that you put on. It’s like a victory parade. They’re clapping, they’re waving. You hear people in the background, “Thank you, Lord! We love you guys,” said Luke Hawkins, CoServ Linemen Crew Supervisor.

This is Luke’s 12th mutual aid deployment, but he said the destruction, especially in Fort Myers, was the worst he’s ever seen. Luke has worked ice storms, wildfires and even Hurricane Katrina. 

“They’d been without power for eight days when we arrived so they were extremely happy we were there,” Luke said. “They had a lot of damage. They were pretty overwhelmed, particularly, Pine Island and Sanibel Island where they still have months more work to do.”

The devestation on Sanibel Island in Lee County. Photo by CoServ Operations

Everywhere they looked in Lee County there were blue tarps on the roofs, fences were down, trees uprooted and the exterior of the houses were damaged. Beach side houses were totally demolished.

In Wauchula, CoServ crews donned waders to fix a broken pole in a heavily flooded area. Then they spotted the alligator floating nearby. They had to wait until the alligator left the area to proceed and even then others kept watch to make sure it didn’t return.

Coming face-to-face with an alligator is scary but it was actually the swarms of so-called “no-see-um” bugs that caused the biggest inconvenience, Luke said. The bugs flourished in the hot humid air after the hurricane and CoServ workers finished every day covered in bites. 

Safety is a top priority for all CoServ Employees but especially when they’re working in the aftermath of a natural disaster on the scale of a major hurricane.

The linemen wore voltage detectors while they worked and occasionally they would find a high-voltage line that was energized by a backup generator. While the generator only produces 240 volts to feed a house, the biggest danger comes if the electricity reaches the transformer, stepping up to a deadly 14,400 volts before it travels out on the same lines the linemen are working on. 

“We would hear the generator running and our voltage detector would be going off,” Luke said. “A transformer works both ways so the generator is a source that we have to really look out for when we’re working a storm restoration.”

The linemen would ask to inspect a member’s generator and ask them to turn it off so they could work safely on the lines.

Electric cooperatives have always been about helping others and this mutual aid is one of the most visible examples of that. CoServ Members should also know that if disaster ever strikes North Texas, other co-ops will rush to our aid in the same way.

“It feels good to help someone else out. People don’t realize how much they rely on electricity until they don’t have it,” Luke said.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Denver Nestle, Jon Perez, Alex Garza, James Anderegg, Dustin Heard, Gage McCarty, Cramer Basham, Santiago Estrada, Chris McKeehan, Garrett McFerren, Mason Horton, Justin Brown, Clay Nowlin, Jordan Jones, Cody McBee, Luke Hawkins, Michael Hartin
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