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Wednesday

April 2014

16

City of Oconomowoc Utilities linemen head east to help repair storm damage

Five from city utility join team to restore power

City of Oconomowoc - Five Oconomowoc Utilities linemen have put their lives on hold and are in Pennsylvania to help with storm damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Two other utility employees also canceled their vacations so they could help the utility maintain operations with the others gone.

All together 28 people from state municipalities that are part of the Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin (MEUW) created a team that went to an area northwest of Philadelphia to help restore downed power lines. They expect to be there about a week.

Oconomowoc Utilities General Manager Dennis Bednarski said the work the linemen do every day prepares them for what they will be doing in Pennsylvania. However, what makes thesituation challenging is that you encounter an area with its infrastructure damaged and lying on the ground. Bednarski said crews will have to figure out what goes where. He said what makes the situation even more dangerous is that residents using generators are able to make a line live at any given time.

"What makes it extremely dangerous is when you're out of power for more than a day, everyone gets generators. Transformers work both ways, which means you could put the primary voltage back on a line, and that can liven wires on the ground. It can be hard especially when you walk into a backyard especially at night when it's dark and you're trying to figure out what is there," he said.

The city utility, Bednarski said, goes through hundreds of hours of safety training each year to prepare for these situations. He said that while it's a budgetary item that might not mean actual "wrench time," it allows the utility to be far more productive in a situation like these - whether elsewhere or at home.

The crews are also in unfavorable conditions working 16-hour shifts and wearing 90 pounds of gear and equipment, Bednarski said.

"It's cold out there now. They have to wear rubber gloves, sleeves and boots. They work all day long with 90 pounds of equipment and clothing, but they are highly trained," he said.

Bednarski said when the city was called to provide mutual aid, staff was asked who wanted to go. He said many volunteered, including the two who offered to cancel their vacations to help at home, because it's the supportive mentality utilities demonstrate.

"We went to Michigan last year after a big wind storm. We've been to Florida and did the Stoughton tornado. Throughout the year we do one to two days when areas have problems. The last storm we had here we supported We Energies for two days.

"The reason we are able to do that is our system is in place. We have a wonderful system we've worked hard at maintaining. And if we need help, people will help us. We want to help others so they will help us. It's what you do in the electrical business," he said.

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