Well before the sun rises, the hidden heroes of DTE Energy’s efforts in Puerto Rico are hard at work to ensure the overhead line crews have everything they need to do their jobs. They are fixing broken-down trucks, changing tires and replacing parts. They are obtaining supplies for power restoration efforts and unloading pallets of water and ice so the crews stay hydrated for the long, hot day ahead. They are inventorying transformers, utility poles, cable and all other equipment large and small.
These are the men and women who make up the Logistics, Mechanics and Warehouse teams. They toil behind-the-scenes, and without their tireless efforts, the crews would never have a chance to get the lights back on.
That’s where Bethany Rivard and Jim Turner come in. As the Logistics duo supporting DTE’s crews in Puerto Rico, they have traveled many hundreds of miles back and forth across the island to gather needed materials.
“Long nights loading and offloading (supplies) and hours on the road became the norm,” said Rivard, who came to Puerto Rico with the first DTE crews in January to lead Logistics, and is staying until DTE wraps up on the island in early April. “In addition to materials, it is Logistics’ job to manage the lodging, food, gas, transportation and company vehicles. At times, this was challenging too, but with the support we received from our own team, I do believe everyone has been happy! It is so crucial for linemen to get good rest and good food to keep them fueled and it’s our job to make sure they have everything they need to go do what they do best: RESTORE POWER!”
The Logistics team works closely with the warehouse group – or “Stores,” as they are known – to obtain and then sort the necessary supplies. One of Stores’ responsibilities is to keep the laydown yard organized and safe. They used DTE’s continuous improvement principles to make it easier for the line crews to find what they need.
This is Ricky Larkin’s first mutual assistance trip, and he takes great pride in his team’s work and how it connects to the work being done out in the field.
“I’m proud to do it. When I got here and I got out and about, seeing how these people have been out of power for months, and how they’re grateful to be alive, it’s humbling,” Larkin says.
Gery Brown has 34 years with DTE and says he’s nearing the end of his career. He welcomed the opportunity to take part in this mission, also his first trip out of town with the company.
“Everybody works together. It’s a great crew. You don’t say, ‘that’s not my job’ just because back home maybe it isn’t your job. Here, everything’s our job so that we can be cohesive,” Brown said. “We’re here to make sure the linemen can see what they need and get what they need so they can get out to the job and do what they have to do.”
Maureen Belanger has gone on many mutual assistance trips with the company, but says this stint is much different because of the unique challenges that come with working on an island where supplies are more difficult to get. Yet it’s those same challenges that have brought this group of employees much closer together.
“It’s a unique experience, it’s a good experience. These guys have been so helpful, to infinity and beyond,” Belanger said. “We’ve got a good group here. I’m just in awe.”
“Everyone thinks outside the box to get the job done,” Turner added.
For the DTE mechanics, obtaining the necessary materials is just one of their challenges. The mountainous terrain and windy, narrow roads have taken a toll on the fleet of vehicles DTE brought to the island.
Aaron Bailey and Kentrell Gabriel, both on their first out-of-town trip with DTE, have worked miracles to patch up the vehicles when parts are not easily obtainable. On any given day, they might be fixing a broken bucket or hydraulic leak, dealing with overheating trucks, low oil levels and blown tires. They travel to job sites to make repairs out in the field during the day and work early mornings and late nights when the vehicles are back in the yard for the night.
“People don’t really think about us and what we do because we don’t turn on power, but actually, if it weren’t for us, it would be difficult to give people their lights,” Gabriel said.
The genuine comradery and teamwork on display in the yard, on the job sites and at every juncture in between has made all the difference to DTE’s success in Puerto Rico. Bethany Rivard perhaps sums it up best:
“I am mostly grateful for the friendships I have made with the DTE employees sent down to support this mission. I also would like to thank the people at DTE Energy who provided us the opportunity to work here.”