The Statesville crew who worked for 10 days in Georgia and Florida, restoring power in communities hit by Hurricane Irma, returned home tired, but fulfilled that they had made a difference to some of the thousands of people they helped.
“I’ve never felt so much appreciation,” said Statesville Electric Utilities Operations Manager James Bowers, who was a part of the crew of six Electric Utilities employees and two employees of Carolina Tree. “Everywhere we went, people thanked us and asked if there was anything we needed…we’d leave our trucks and come back and it’d be full of snacks left for us.”
The gratitude was certainly nice after working 15-hour days, sleeping on cots and dealing with the humidity of Florida. “We walked into a restaurant in one community, and the customers began applauding,” said Bowers. “Everyone was so nice.”
John Maclaga, Director of Statesville Electric Utilities, said he is very glad that everyone returned home safely. He’s also extremely proud of the crews who went to help out, as well as the linemen who stayed in Statesville and put in extra efforts to make sure the needs of Statesville customers were met. “This department is an amazing group to work with. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Maclaga is aware that Statesville’s assistance may be reciprocated one day. “These mutual aid alliances with utilities in Georgia and Florida work both ways. We may be calling on them one day to help us after an ice storm. The good will our crew created in these communities is so valuable. They did good work.”
Bowers said the good work they were able to accomplish kept them on the road. “We worked with crews from Kings Mountain, Concord, Huntersville and Gastonia and together we were able to go into areas and restore power quickly and efficiently … so they kept moving us to help in other areas. It felt good to make a difference to so many people.”
The Statesville crew worked in public power communities, as well as investor-owned communities. “We went where we were needed,” said Bowers. “In Fort Myers, an investor owned utility, had 900 linemen working on the system. Working with so many different utilities is a challenge, but it’s also very educational … it’s a great opportunity for linemen to sharpen their skills in real-life situations.”
The men have lots of pictures of working in a swamp. “We were warned about snakes and alligators,” said Statesville employee Latney Lowtharpe, “but we only saw one alligator.” He also laughed about staying in a motel while working on the gulf and not realizing that they were beach front. “We left before the sun came up and went to bed after dark, so it took two days to realize there was a beach out there.”
Statesville sent crews to New York following Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and to South Carolina last year after Hurricane Matthew. Maclaga said the employees are paid well for their long hours, and explained that the city being assisted always foots the eventual bill for the aid, including lodging, meals and equipment.
“Being a public power community is certainly a benefit,” continued Maclaga. “We are one of about 70 cities and towns in the state who provide reliable and responsive electric service to our customers. We are directly accountable to our citizens and elected officials.”
The employees from Statesville who traveled to Georgia and Florida were Trey Norton, Jamie Bishop, Latney Lowtharpe, Garrett Tomlin, Jeremiah Christopher and James Bowers. They took two bucket trucks, two pickups, a trailer, line truck and tree truck, along with two employees of Carolina Tree, Sammy Roysdon and Robert Lindark.
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