Holmes linemen program alumni aid in hurricane relief

Holmes linemen program alum aid in hurricane relief.

Alumni of Holmes Community College's electrical linemen program employed with various electric companies are putting their skills to good use in the wake of the recent hurricanes. Although Holmes instructors feel certain that there are other graduates aiding in the relief efforts, there are, for certain, five former students working in Texas and one in Florida.

Following Hurricane Harvey's devastating destruction, linemen graduates Brook Ables, Shane Arnold, Eric Peterson and Zack White have been working with Entergy to restore power under supervisor Jody Gatlin. Jody Branson is also working in Texas, but with Southern Electric Corporation of Mississippi (SEC). A native of Florida, linemen grad Cade McKedzee headed to his home state to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma with his company, KCI, under supervisor E.S. Hutto.

Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25 in Rockport, Texas, as a Category 4 Hurricane with winds of 130 mph. Even as it weakened to a tropical storm, it dropped 40-52 inches of rain in Texas and Louisiana, causing catastrophic flooding. The historic hurricane not only brought widespread destruction of homes and buildings, but as many as 70 people lost their lives in the storm. Also, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, over 300,000 people lost electricity, making it essential for linemen to come from all over the United States to help restore power.

Meanwhile, Irma - the first Category 4 landfall in Florida since 2004 - remained a Category 1 hurricane through the early morning of Sept. 11 before finally being downgraded to a tropical storm and then a tropical depression. The storm left behind dangerous floodwaters, power outages for millions and a death toll of 22 people in Florida. According to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)'s media center (http://www.ibew.org/media-center), more than 10 million Floridians are without power following Irma, and there are tens of thousands of lineworkers participating in "the largest power restoration workforce in U.S. history."

Qualified electrical linemen are currently in demand, and the hands-on electrical linemen program at Holmes is taught by instructors with valid experience and specialized education in the field. The students who go through this course must complete 608 clock hours of training over the 16-week course to earn their electrical lineman certificate.

"The young men that went through our program at Holmes are now gaining first-hand experience working in these storms," said electrical linemen instructor Mac McBride. "This is what they signed up for, this is a lineman's type of weather, but that doesn't make the job an easy one. Most will leave at a moment's notice, not knowing where they are going or how long they will be gone. It's just a day-to-day thing, moving from one place to another, working around 16 hours a day for sometimes two-four months at a time."

McBride describes how these linemen must deal with some pretty difficult conditions in the storm aftermath: excruciatingly long days, dangerous flood waters, difficult driving conditions, piles of debris, swarms of mosquitos and people breaking traffic control rules just to come observe the storms' effects.

"Sometimes these guys might be in situations where getting hot meals, washing their clothes daily and getting a good night's sleep are not possible," McBride said. "Sometimes hotel rooms may not be available and they have to stay in emergency accommodations such as trailers pulled up on-site. On top of that, their families must make adjustments since they could possibly have to stay for weeks at a time. This is no easy task, but when they are out there, they are their brother's keeper, watching out for one another.

"I can also say from experience: there is no greater satisfaction for a lineman than finally getting the power restored after an outage, throwing a switch and watching those lights come back on. It's like watching a Christmas tree once you've strung up all the lights and finally switch it on. It's a beautiful thing, and a great feeling to know you've helped so many people."

The electrical linemen program at Holmes is currently offered on the Goodman Campus. Those interested must have a high school diploma or GED certificate, be 18 years of age or older and be prepared pass a drug test as well as a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical.

After completion of the program, each trainee will be able to drive commercial vehicles requiring Class A license, and will have the necessary knowledge and physical training to successfully work in the electrical lineman field. Program graduates will understand all aspects of the electrical lineman safety manual, make connections of meter loops, transformers, and other equipment on de-energized poles, assist with the framing and installation of poles and apparatus on the ground, read and understand general information on the REA specification book, assist in the burying of cable and other related work, differentiate between an energized and de-energized structure and recognize appropriate hazards, make basic connections and disconnections, check voltage/amperes and operate vehicles and equipment (bucket trucks, digger derrick trucks, forklifts, etc.) safely.

"We are proud of these young men who go through this program and feel confident that they are equipped to handle the tough but rewarding job of being an electrical lineman," McBride said. "We're  also glad to know that they are using those skills to help other people."

For more information on the program, contact Earline Russell-Smith at esmith@holmescc.edu or (662) 472.9105.

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