Hey Consumers Energy, why are your lineworkers just sitting in their trucks? I’m waiting for my power to be restored. What’s the deal?

In this edition of “Hey, Consumers Energy!” we sat down with lineworker Cleveland Reid to get responses to the common questions and complaints we hear, especially during a storm situation.

Why are lineworkers just sitting in their trucks doing nothing while I’m without power?

You may see lineworkers sitting in their trucks, but it is unlikely they are doing nothing. According to Reid, it could be for a variety of reasons. Once they arrive to the job site, they have to report that they have arrived. They then look at the order to see if there are notes about the job or the problem.

If our crews are working in an area that traffic could be a risk or they identify a need for traffic control, there is a questionnaire crews go through to request temporary traffic control, as required by MIOSHA.

The crews also have a work methods app – so if they come across a situation that they need clarification on or have a new crew member or apprentice with them – they may be showing them how to look up information or find the correct method for the job. They also might be verifying the Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping on their device to confirm they are in the right place for the reported outage.

All of this could look like our workers are just sitting in their truck, but they are gathering all the information to do the job safely and efficiently.

In some cases, they might not have the correct supplies, or enough workers to make the fix. In that case, there will be waiting period while they request the additional resources or items to fix the issue.

We haven’t seen any crews in our neighborhood. Are you even restoring power?

When our power is out, it makes sense to assume you will see a crew in your neighborhood when they are fixing the issue, but it’s not always that simple. Our circuits and lines can go for miles. The fix that needs to happen may be a couple miles away or may be at the substation itself. Sometimes work happening by a third party causes the outage. In that case there is a checklist of items that must be complete, including a form to fill out before the substation can be reenergized.

Why is someone just standing there watching?

Anytime there is a lineworker in the air near primary voltage – it is mandatory to have an assisting employee. “That person’s only job is to watch the individual up in air working the primary, otherwise there is nobody working the primary; you can’t have one or the other, you have to have both,” said Reid. “It’s a second set of eyes, watching all the things that aren’t in that worker’s direct view or even in their peripherals.” Having an assisting employee has stopped potential injuries and saved lives. After an employee died in 2018, the role became known as the safety watcher. “I would say it’s a rule that has been written in blood.”

Why do I see people sleeping in trucks?

During a storm situation our crews could be working 16+ hours. And while they have a mandatory rest period – if they are a distance away from home or a hotel, they don’t necessarily want to waste their rest hours commuting, in which case they might sleep in the truck.

In a non-storm situation, a worker could get called out at 2 a.m. and work for 4 hours on a job, then be scheduled to work a regular shift starting at 7 a.m. In this scenario it doesn’t make sense for the worker to drive home for only a couple hours – and they may just sleep in the truck.

A third scenario could also be in a storm situation when work is continuous, but it may take some time for dispatch to communicate the next job a crew should head to. In that instance, you may see a crew member resting while they wait for information and instructions on their next assignment. “I don’t know any linemen who on a blue-sky day says, ‘I’m going to go take a nap in my truck,’” said Reid.

Power outages and storm restoration is a high-stress time for everyone involved, but if you see a lineworker taking a rest in their truck, know that it is much needed and is done with the safety of our customers and workers in mind.

Why do you congregate at restaurants?

Typically, a line crew will go to breakfast and/or dinner during a storm scenario. Similar to what was said in the answer to the previous question – during storm situations, even with the mandatory rest, it doesn’t make sense to drive all the way home for a meal. If they do go home for rest, they don’t want to use that time packing a lunch or prepping for dinner. And when you’re working long hours – it’s important to eat a meal or two while on the job. Reid admits that he does feel guilty about it in storm situations, “Working those kinds of hours we need to eat but I do feel guilty that I’m eating while people are without power, but I also know I need to eat to do my best to get the power on,” said Reid.

Why do you leave your trucks running all the time?

If you come across a truck idling with workers in it, it could be for a few reasons.

If they are working in extreme temperatures, they may need to warm up or cool down. “In the winter when you’re 40 feet in the air working, the wind is blowing three times harder. We might need to sit in the truck to warm up.” If the crews aren’t in the trucks, they be doing a quick job or finishing something up and keep the diesel engine running so they don’ have to wait to get it going when they are done.

During the summer they may have just completed a job in the heat and need to use the air conditioning in the truck to cool down while they hydrate.

But customers should be seeing less of that with the newer trucks, Reid said. His truck, a 2021, shuts off when he is in park and runs off battery. The battery also charges while he drives. “It’s better for the environment and it’s quiet,” he said.  

What else do you want customers to know during a storm?

There are times when a customer with power must be shut off due to a safety hazard. One example would be a wire down that’s still energized. Another is when damage is done to the mast on the side of the house. In that case, a licensed electrician would have to make the necessary repairs before we can safely turn the power back on. (Check out this blog to learn who is responsible for what.)

“I hope customers understand that we don’t want to cut off their power but also understand it’s our number one priority to get them hooked back up right away after they have the repairs complete,” Reid said.

“Every storm, we learn new things and find ways to improve and we try to fix it for the next time.

“It’s not always what it looks like, we do try our best and I think everybody has the same goal, to get the power back on as soon as possible and return to normal.”

Learn more about what a typical day looks like for our lineworkers.

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