It takes a lot more to keep Conway powered than to simply flip a light switch. This #PublicPowerWeek, we want to spotlight our linemen who work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to serve this community. Our crews work in sweltering summer weather, torrential rainfall and even snowstorms – all to keep the lights on.
Linemen are trained to install, maintain and repair electric power lines and other equipment which impacts essentially every part of our lives. But what does it take to become a lineman? Electric Distribution System Senior Foreman Scott Ussery oversees the overhead electric department and has been with the company since he was 19 years old. For Scott and many on the electric department, the day begins long before the lights come on in the Conway Corp offices.
“We’re here at 6 a.m. We start each day with a check-in. Most of us work four ten-hour shifts a week, and then we are on call,” Electric Distribution System Senior Foreman Scott Ussery said. “We also start early to protect us from working during the most extreme part of the day.”
Safety is critical in this department. Before any job, Scott and his crew meet, regularly inspect their tools and equipment, debrief on tasks and projects that they finished and talk through the priorities for the current day before dispersing to address electrical issues all over Conway.
At Conway Corp, the journey to becoming a lineman is far from an overnight process.
“The journeyman lineman program is four years. Everyone starts as a groundman, then becomes an apprentice lineman,” Scott said. “There is a lot of on-the-job training and classroom education as well, including ten tests a year and a final.”
As employees progress through the program, they are first through fourth-year apprentices. To keep employees safe, each apprentice is limited to what they are able to do. For instance, a first-year apprentice cannot work primary, which includes climbing poles outside and working in the bucket. They focus on how to safely and efficiently run equipment, the basics of climbing poles and learn what the crew in the air does.
During a lineman apprentice’s second year, they are given more responsibility and begin to participate hands-on, donning special safety gear to protect them from the electricity as they work. They are then able to work what is called hot secondary, which includes working with the amount of voltage one would find in a home. At this time, they practice climbing poles regularly.
In the third year of the program, linemen apprentices are allowed to start primary work, such as going up in the bucket as long as they are accompanied by a journeyman lineman. In the fourth year, apprentices can go up in the bucket alone while supervised by a journeyman lineman on the ground. After successful completion of on-the-job training and classroom materials testing, apprentices are promoted to journeymen linemen.
So what is a typical day for a lineman? There’s nothing typical or routine about it. At a live worksite, Senior Lineman Jim Simpson and his crew set a new electric pole into the ground and wire it to power the new micro lofts that are being built on College Avenue.
But linemen have to stay flexible. As the crew moved carefully to set the pole, Scott received a call about another pole a few streets away that had been damaged by an 18-wheeler accidentally backing into a pole. The linemen quickly gathered their gear to this new priority to keep the power on and everyone safe.
A day in the life of a lineman like Scott, Jim and others is filled with dedication to safety, many years of skill and practical application and the ability to remain flexible no matter what.