When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last September, it was very personal for Diego Libreros, a manager in DTE Energy’s engineering group. Libreros was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico and his grandmother still lives there. His wife, Ana Medina, also is a Puerto Rican native and manager with DTE. She was part of the first wave of DTE employees who helped restore power on the island. Now it’s Libreros’ turn to serve on DTE’s team restoring power to the island.
In Michigan, Libreros oversees DTE’s equipment engineering group – all the assets at substations, transformers, generators, cable and more. He also helps lead the company’s preventative maintenance program and electric infrastructure investment program. But like many of DTE’s employees working in Puerto Rico, his role is much different there than it is back home. “I’m a jack of all trades and master of none,” Libreros says with a chuckle.
He serves as a community liaison and interpreter, helping build relationships with community leaders, local government officials and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. He also helps the crews with some engineering work. And every morning, during DTE’s safety huddle, he shares a word of the day in Spanish with the crews. On the day we met, the word of the day was “familia” or “family.”
Libreros has been in Puerto Rico for more than a month. Here’s an excerpt of our interview about what it’s like to return to his homeland in this capacity:
Question: What has it been like for you, working for an energy company in Michigan, and now helping here in Puerto Rico?
Answer: “Everything started from the hurricane hitting in Puerto Rico. Ana and I asked, ‘How can we help the community?’ So, we started by holding donation drives, working with the DTE Energy Foundation. Then when it was clear that there was a need for utilities from the mainland to help, we started talking to our senior leadership to see how DTE could help through mutual assistance. Making that happen was a dream come true. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. Even though we’re used to doing mutual assistance in other states, it’s completely different. The topography, language. Even though Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and there are a lot of common things, it’s also very different. But DTE has been able to overcome the challenges safely and efficiently.”
Question: “Your role here on the island is different than what you do back in Michigan How do you just jump in and interact with the community, serve as a liaison, how do you do that?”
Answer: “Personally, it’s very rewarding to give back to the community where I was born and raised. It was something I had to do. In addition to having the background in electrical engineering and working for a utility, it helped me to right away be able to work with the community.
“In addition to being a liaison, as an engineer, I’ve been able to support the crews, whether it’s patrolling the circuit or reconfiguring the connections of the electrical system, I’ve been able to do both – the technical and the community work.
“It’s been very, very rewarding. Looking at their faces, seeing their smiles, their hugs. They cook us meals. We’re not just restoring electrical service, we’re restoring hope, we’re restoring faith.
“Basically, electricity is the most needed commodity that a human being can have. Just having the ability to restore that, for them, it’s beyond words. That sentiment or feeling, it is mutual from the entire team. Not just me as a Puerto Rican, but the entire DTE team has been very devoted and dedicated to this cause.”
Q: Is there anything you want to make sure you and DTE accomplish before you leave the island?
“No. 1 is making sure we complete all the assignments that were given to us to restore the power. No. 2 is to show Puerto Rico the quality of work that DTE provides. We talk about our purpose and aspiration, being the lifeblood of communities and a force for growth and prosperity in the communities where we live and serve. Basically, what we’re doing here is a true testament to that. From our safety culture, to continuous improvement to community work, to playing to win as a team, it’s just amazing and makes me very proud to be a part of DTE Energy.”
Q: I know our crews are always committed to getting the job done safely and efficiently, whether in Michigan or Puerto Rico. But seeing the crews here and the work they are doing so far from home has been impressive. What’s your reaction to that as both a Puerto Rican native and DTE employee?
A: “It’s just simply a very humbling experience. The slogan here among all the energy companies is ‘One Team. One Mission.’ And it’s very true. The impact that we’re having in the community is amazing. And the community response is incredible. Even with the language barrier and everything, that sense of community is universal.”
Q: Would you consider moving back to Puerto Rico?
“I have created good roots in Michigan. All our family is here, but I see it as a place where we can come in, visit my family, have my kids learn and treasure their history. Maybe once I retire, perhaps. Puerto Rico is a part of me but right now Michigan is home.”