The weather report says that there are severe storms on the way with tornado warnings in the area. You are paying close attention to the weather radar and the continuing coverage on TV as the storm clouds ominously roll in. The wind and rain get bad enough that you grab the dogs and the kids and head to the basement, a storm shelter or an interior room and pray that the roof doesn’t blow off. As the storm rages, the lights go out, and you are cut off from modern life. Hopefully, you have a battery-powered storm radio or a full charge on your cellphone. In the morning, you look outside and see the aftermath of Mother Nature’s wrath from the night before. Trees are down, power lines are down, and it looks like it is going to be a while before life gets back to normal.
A similar scenario can happen when meteorologists predict ice and freezing rain. When ice accumulation on the power lines exceeds one-half inch, the excessive weight can cause them to fail, and ice accumulation can cause tree branches to come down across power lines. Both yield the same result: The lights go out.
Your mind immediately begins to wonder when the power is going to come back on because power drives everything: the internet, TV, radio, heating, cooling, refrigeration and water. Electricity powers life as we know it. It is something that we all take for granted until it is gone, and when it is gone, it is truly all we can think about. A reliable electric grid is essential.
In the silence that follows a storm, there is no sound sweeter than lineworkers driving their trucks up your street and setting up to get the power restored with their chainsaws, bucket trucks, diggers, etc. Everyone in the entire house cheers when the power suddenly comes back on. It is, “Lights on, game on,” and we can get back to normal life. I know this is the case, based on the number of letters and emails I receive from our members giving me firsthand accounts of the dedication and professionalism of our lineworkers. Our lineworkers also travel out of state to provide disaster relief to other cooperative members, and correspondence received also expresses profound appreciation for our lineworkers. Our lineworkers always go where they are needed, when they are needed, and everywhere they go, they light up people’s lives.
America’s electric cooperatives have designated the second Monday of April as National Lineworker Appreciation Day. This month’s article is dedicated to our lineworkers and the tough job they do every day. I have always believed that the definition of a hero is someone who runs toward danger while others run away. I think that aptly describes the work that our lineworkers do every time there is a major weather event. During a severe weather event, while many are fleeing the area to get to shelter and comfort, lineworkers are heading into the area to “get the lights back on.” Enduring 16-hour days in the heat, the cold, the rain, the sleet or the snow, they do what needs to be done.
I was born in 1968, the year that Jimmy Webb wrote and Arkansas’ own Glen Campbell recorded “Wichita Lineman.” As the story goes, Glen called Jimmy to ask him to write another hit song for him like
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which Jimmy wrote in 1965. Jimmy agreed, and as he sat at his piano, his mind went back to a drive he had taken across his home state of Oklahoma. As he passed miles of wires and poles, he saw the silhouette of a solitary lineman at the top of a pole in the distance, and it made an impression on him. Hence, one of the greatest tribute songs to the lineworker profession was born. I am quite certain that if Jimmy had been driving across The Natural State, the song could have been named “Arkansas Lineman.”
I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload
We value safety, employees and families at the cooperative; those are core values for us. Our crews work in challenging conditions that can quickly become dangerous if electrical safety rules and processes are not followed. According to national surveys and utility company data, 42 of 100,000 lineworkers are killed on the job each year. This makes these jobs one of the most dangerous only behind loggers and manual laborers in agriculture. So, with that in mind, please help us live our core values, and do your part to keep our lineworkers safe.
Vernon “Buddy” Hasten is President and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.