Editor’s note: What I learned from my week in Puerto Rico

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Our crews came home last night. The second wave of linemen, mechanics, logistics specialists, medics, safety personnel and warehouse team members stepped off their plane at the Oakland International Airport and into the arms of their excited family members after 40 days away. I’m sure they are all tired, excited to be home and full of stories about what they accomplished for the people of Puerto Rico.     

Our trucks are loaded on to barges for the start of a roughly 2,000-mile journey back to Detroit. History tells us that April is when severe weather season kicks off in earnest for Southeast Michigan, so having everyone and everything back home is necessary. 

Still, being home is a little bittersweet.  

Every one of us who had the chance to serve the people of Puerto Rico came home with a new perspective. I already knew that I loved food like arroz con gandules, mofongo, and alcapurrias. My daughter has never had a root beer float, we only make Malta India floats at home. What I didn’t expect is to fall in love with the island so quickly.  

There is a resiliency found in the people we met that is hard to describe. Having lived in the city of Detroit proper for almost 20 years, it is the resiliency I see in so many people who live here. There is a tremendous sense of place and belonging for the people who stayed to fight for better days in Detroit, just as there was for the people in Fajardo I met. In many ways, being on the island felt a lot like home without the need for winter coats and ice scrapers.  

It was also a chance to understand at a deeper level just how much work goes into delivering electricity from where it is generated to where the power is needed. I learned just how deep we bury each pole to make sure it stays in place during severe storms. I wore the same sunscreen the linemen wore, which is designed specifically so that it will not degrade their safety equipment.   

Most importantly, I witnessed just how much they enjoy the challenge of restoring power after a storm. It is physically and mentally taxing, especially in a climate and on a terrain so different from home. During my time in Fajardo with the crews, they worked for three solid days before having enough infrastructure repaired to start energizing circuits. As they started resetting fuses to allow the electricity to flow and people came running out of their houses cheering, it was evident just by watching their faces they were almost as excited as the residents were. It was a scene that repeated itself several times over with the same result.  

It was also evident how humbled they felt by the reception they received. Our trucks would be blocking a one-lane mountain road for hours, and people would patiently wait until crews were done for the day before driving into town. People would gather when they saw DTE trucks pulling into their neighborhoods and watch, cheering when the power came back on and thanking anyone wearing a hardhat for their work in the restoration. It was a restoration effort unlike anyone of us had experienced, in part because people had been without power for so long.  

Now that the red clay has been washed out of everything I own, the guava and cream cheese jelly roll from Ricomini was devoured, and the battery on the stuffed Coqui frog I bought for my daughter has died, I look back my brief time on the island thankful for the opportunity to learn from some of the best crews in the energy industry. I’m thankful for the opportunity to see el isla del encanta for myself and gain a greater appreciation for what our fellow citizens have been through.  

I’m thankful we all made it home to our families, able to serve our customers another day.