Elite electrical lineworkers representing 10 power companies for a total of 40 competitors, including Southern Power District, Loup Power District, Custer Public Power District and the city of Grand Island, competed in the second annual Nebraska Lineworkers Rodeo Saturday at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island.
According to Jill Watkins, manager of internal operations for Lincoln Electric System and co-manager of the lineworkers rodeo, if there’s a storm or a major electrical problem, a lineman is the person who would fix the downed wire.
“The rodeo allows Nebraska’s electric lineworkers an opportunity to showcase their skills and knowledge through events that mimic real-life situations,” Watkins said.
At the rodeo, crews were judged on their ability to perform work tasks safely and quickly. Spectators had the opportunity to see them perform tasks they do on a daily basis and understand more about how power comes on at the flip of a switch. The rodeo participants also demonstrated tasks only conducted in emergency rescue situations.
Watkins said the idea behind the Nebraska Lineworkers Rodeo was to gather electrical lineworkers from across the state at a centralized location where they could demonstrate the skills they use on a daily basis to help their Nebraska customers.
“They get to demonstrate their skills and compete with some of their other fellow co-workers from throughout Nebraska in a friendly competition,” she said.
Watkins said there are many instances where these separate crews work together in emergency situations, such as the devastating ice storm that hit Central Nebraska Dec. 29-31, 2006, causing an estimated $240 million in damage.
Electrical crews worked 12- to 14-hour days for more than two weeks restoring electricity to customers in not the best of weather conditions. Southern Power District took the brunt of the damage and crews from throughout Nebraska and surrounding states worked together to restore power to its customers as they had to replaces miles of electrical lines and poles that were damaged by the storm. In a six-mile-square area of Phelps County, there were 650 poles on the ground.
“These guys have to work together in these situations as well,” Watkins said. “This (Nebraska Lineworkers Rodeo) is an opportunity for them to come together and have a nice friendly competition among themselves.”
She said being an electric lineman is a dangerous job and takes years of training through school and an apprenticeship to start to master working with dangerous electric lines.
“All the linemen are required to go to a two-year program to learn all of the skills that they need and to do their job safely because it is a very dangerous job and they need to make sure that they follow all safety precautions to make sure they go home every night,” Watkins said.
According to event officials, Nebraska’s lineworkers follow a strict safety code to minimize the chances for accidents and injuries. By working safely and efficiently, they contribute to keeping electric costs low. Costly injuries can be prevented when lineworkers follow established safety procedures. When they operate effectively in the field, it reduces the number of crews that must be dispatched to restore power after severe weather.
“This is a great event and a good way to show appreciation to lineworkers who are out working day-to-day so everybody has safe and reliable power,” Watkins said. “Nebraska is the only all public power state. That is something special about the state of Nebraska.”
One electrical lineworker competing at the event was Luke Blomendahl, an apprentice lineman for the Lincoln Electric System.
“I am glad to be here and excited to compete,” Blomendahl said.
Ryan Eggett, who is also an apprentice lineman for the Lincoln Electric System, said lineworkers “look forward to it every year.”
“It is just a bunch of linemen getting together and having a good time,” Eggett said. “We are a tight group of guys. We are part of a union. We hang together and we are with each other 10 hours a day, four days a week.”
He said working with electricity requires constant training as a momentary lapse could mean the difference between life and death for a lineworker and the crew he is working with.
“You create an important bond with your fellow teammates,” Eggett said. “It becomes an important bond because someday you never know if they will save your life.”
Bryan Satterly, a journey lineworker for Southern Power District, said this is the second year he has competed in the competition. He has been a lineworker for 11 years.
“You get to meet a lot of different guys from these different companies and to compete,” Satterly said. “We have a real good time.”
While it is a competition, he said they’re also improving their skills in a focused way as each event is timed.
“It can be dangerous work,” Satterly said. “We really have to keep an eye out for each other, work together and communicate.”
The Nebraska Lineworkers Rodeo is organized by the city of Grand Island, Lincoln Electric System, Loup Power District, Moehn Electrical Sales Co., Metropolitan Community College, Nebraska Rural Electric Association, Nebraska Public Power District, Nebraska State Fair, Northeast Community College, Omaha Public Power District and Southern Power District. All of the hosting utilities are members of the Nebraska Power Association.