#AfterIrma: Reflections from the front lines in Florida

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Staging crews for a power recovery event like Hurricane Irma is a massive undertaking.

Diesel fuel is brought in by large tankers so the linemen and tree trimming crews have fuel when they need it. All the equipment crews need to do their work, including new poles, are on site so they can be loaded on the trucks before anyone heads off to a job.

Crews get bused in so they are not clogging hotel parking lots with bucket trucks. When they arrive, breakfast is waiting for them, along with a boxed lunch to take so they don’t have to venture far to eat later in the day.

I walk away from our four days of following DTE Energy’s crews impressed by things such as the work it takes behind the scenes to restore power after a storm, let alone a hurricane. I have a better appreciation for the work a lineman does, too. Intuitively, I knew it is a physically demanding job and took a lot of work to recover from a storm over the course of many long days.

Those times when linemen are seen sitting in their trucks and you think they aren’t doing anything? Well, that could be a sign of many things. They could be waiting for someone a few blocks over to finish putting up protection before they start working. They could be reading the circuit map, planning the best way of tackling the job they were assigned. They could be cooling off and rehydrating so they focus on working safely when they get back outside.

I also have a newfound appreciation for the people behind the linemen. A mechanic traveled with our crews to make sure their trucks stayed on the road. Logistics people took care of everything from buying sunscreen for the 60 guys we followed, to making sure their laundry was done so the linemen could focus on getting rest after a 16-hour day. And, of course, the tree trimming crews who did amazing work clearing all the tree debris left by Irma.

One of the oft heard questions this week was why would crews from Michigan drive down to help the people of Florida. Of course, there are the formal mutual aid agreements that compel the participating companies to help.

At the human level, it seemed like it was easy to find a Michigan story wherever we were. There was a woman in Coral Gables who came out to thank the crews and started talking about summer vacations in Bad Axe as a kid. I spoke with a man in Coconut Grove who went to Wayne State University for his bachelor’s degree and Cooley Law School to become an attorney.

Many of the men and women from DTE who were in Florida have a connection in that state too. Many of us have family and friends who live there. A few of the guys grew up in South Florida. In that sense, it seemed just like neighbors helping neighbors. Even if most of the time, they live 1,000 miles apart.