When Hurricane Irma left Florida in the dark, electrical crews from Connecticut were among those working to turn the lights back on.
More than 100 employees of Eversource, including 52 from Connecticut, traveled more than 1,100 miles south to join other out-of-state utilities in helping Florida Power & Light restore service to more than 12 million homes and businesses. The Eversource team, working as one, restored power to more than 8,000 of those, according to the utility company.
Mary Beth Tiberio of Newtown had gone in to clean up the damage left by storms before. A supervisor of Eversource’s Electric Field Operations, she previously traveled to New Hampshire after ice storms. In July 2005 she was deployed to Florida after Hurricane Dennis.
“Dennis was originally supposed to be hitting as a category 5 (the strongest ranking), but by that time it had actually slowed down to a category 1,” Tiberio said.
While there was some sand blown into condos and other damage, it was minimal compared to what crews found after Irma.
“There were a lot of palm trees down,” Tiberio said.
Power lines there are not typically located along the roads, as is common in the Northeast.
“A lof of their feeds are in back yards,” she said. “There was a lot of walking through what we called the jungle.”
Those walks involved carrying all of the necessary equipment for climbing and for restringing the power lines. The linemen wore gear designed to protect them from current.
“It was close to 100 every day,” Tiberio said, adding that the humidity was “unbelievable.” Given the heat and humidity, proper hydration was among the topics at daily safety meetings, she recalled.
With trucks unable to reach the backyard poles and lines, linemen had to climb poles by strapping hooks to their lower legs and using a belt wrapped around their waists and the pole.
“Rather do the bucket (on a truck), obviously,” Tiberio said.
Eversource sent a convoy of 70 vehicles, including the company’s Mobile Response Center, according to a company spokesman. As a longstanding member of the electrical power industry’s Mutual Aid Network, which works together to restore power after devastating storms and major events, Eversource sent as many crews to Florida as possible while retaining the resources needed to maintain the system at home. In addition to sending crews to join FPL’s workforce, Eversource’s call center provided support to Tampa Electric Co. by answering its customers’ outage calls.
After one “night” at a Hilton at Epcot in Orlando (arriving at 6:30 in the morning, leaving for their first safety meeting at noon that day), the Eversource team worked in Melbourne, Fla. They stayed in what Tiberio called “pods,” 55 to 60 mobile units, each containing 16 beds. A trailer at the end of the complex had showers. Another massive tent served as a mess hall.
“We were up by 5 in the morning, ready to roll by 7,” Tiberio said. Sometimes the workday ended at 7 at night. Some days, such as the day a crane had to lift a fallen tree over a house, the Eversource crews worked until 10 p.m., “depending on the job and on what we got caught up on,” Tiberio said.
“Our team is working through extreme heat and high humidity, but we’re thinking of the people of Florida who have had no air conditioning all week,” Eversource incident commander Marc Geaumont said in a press release. “These are pretty tough conditions, and I’m very proud of our people down here supporting this effort.”
Without power for gasoline stations, Tiberio said, tanker trucks were driven in to fuel the line trucks.
“We could have done more good,” Tiberio said, acknowledging that the New England crews had to be prepared for what could have happened had the next storm made landfall here. “I was very impressed with the amount of people they brought down there and how they handled things.”
The people of Florida expressed their thanks to the crews in the field. Tiberio said Girl Scouts brought candy to the crews. A woman dropped off ice pops, a welcome refreshment in the Florida heat.
Tiberio did find one pleasant surprise. The hurricane had blown away many of the insects ubiquitous in Florida, allowing a break until their final day there. The crews came back early while forecasters watched the track of Hurricane Jose.
“This is lineman 101,” Tiberio said. “This is what the guys do. This is what they want to do. It feels good to go down there and put the power back on.”