Lineman: Our Unrecognized Public Service Heroes
There are plenty of professions that require workers to complete dangerous tasks for our wellbeing, and many of those professions are recognized. But, one such profession that is frequently overlooked is that of a lineman. Electrical linemen are the first people on the scene during and directly after a storm when the power goes out. They are often required to work with live power lines in difficult and dangerous conditions to ensure that our power is up and running as quickly and effectively as possible.
Often referred to as unsung heroes, linemen work meticulously to help guarantee the reliability, comfort, safety, and convenience of the electricity that we have all come to rely on. That’s why, in 2013, congress reviewed a Resolution presented to the United States Senate to name April 18thLineman Appreciation Day. The Resolution outlined their intent to recognize linemen, the profession of linemen, the contributions of these brave men and women who protect public safety, and expressing support for the designation of April 18 as National Lineman Appreciation Day (1).
The Resolution outlined the difficult—and often dangerous—work linemen have to do on a regular basis. They are usually the first to respond during catastrophic and hazardous weather conditions, and they work to ensure the safety of the general public. Linemen literally work with power lines containing thousands of volts of electricity on a regular basis. Not only does the electricity pose a direct threat, so does the at-height work.
Electricity is not only a public safety factor—particularly during unusually hot or cold seasons—but it’s also a matter of the comfort and convenience we have come to expect over the past century. Linemen tend to work in hazardous conditions with very little recognition regarding the difficulty and danger of their work. In fact, line crews respond to all emergency calls, from downed power lines due to storms, accidents, or animals to electrical failures and fires. In fact, Transmission and Distribution World Magazine named Utility Line Workers as “one of the top 10 most dangerous positions in the world based on annual fatalities” (3).
Line crews have to stay insulated from top to bottom—in the subfreezing cold and sweltering heat—to protect themselves from hot power lines. Their clothing is often bulky and their tools can be extremely heavy when standing 50 feet in the air in a small bucket to navigate dangerous cables. According to Pennlive.com, “Thick rubber gloves, rubber sleeves, flame-retardant clothing, boots, eye protection, hard hats, and harnesses are non-negotiable gear (2).
To expand on that, linemen often use ratchet winch hoists (also known as come alongs) to complete their work. Because hoists do not have the dielectric properties needed to fully protect workers from hot wires, they also have to use hot sticks or rings to insulate themselves properly. Carrying this type of gear all day long, while perched in a bucket at the top of a power line, is very taxing work.
Without electricity, we wouldn’t be protected from extreme temperatures, hospitals and other emergency services couldn’t run effectively, and those who rely on electric for life-saving medical devices would find themselves in a very dangerous situation. Because of their lack of recognition and the dangerous circumstances in which they work, the profession of a lineman tends to be immersed in tradition. Such tradition creates a close-knit community, where many linemen form a strong familial bond. For years, linemen have referred to themselves as a brotherhood of men (and women) who work together strenuously to meet the demands of a labor-intensive job. But, it has only been over the past four years that we have finally started to recognize linemen for the work that they do.
After a quick run-down of its resolution, congress passed the bill to recognize April 18th as National Lineman’s Appreciation Day (1). Although it is not National Linemen’s Appreciation Day today, we would like to thank our linemen and women and show our appreciation during these cold winter months as they climb atop power lines, drag equipment to inaccessible sites, and carry 50+ pounds of protective gear in the heat and cold, all while facing potential dehydration, hypothermia, heat stroke, storms, and downed power lines.
Linemen know how to build, repair, and maintain power lines, but they also know how to prevent accidents and save lives. When working with electricity and hot lines, there’s no room for miscalculation. Safety is paramount. Linemen have to learn and practice the safety rules and regulations that cover every move they make while on the lines. Linemen protect one another on a daily basis, which truly bonds them together in a unique way. That’s because their top priority is to keep our electricity up and running—even in the worst conditions—and to maintain their own safety and the safety of their line crew.
Linemen are not only tasked with keeping us safe, but they are also tasked with maintaining the entire energy infrastructure in the United States. The next time you see a crew of linemen on the side of the road, stop and thank them for their hard work and public service. They deserve it!