PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA — Gulf Power lineworkers in the Panama City area worked long hours following Hurricane Michael last year, restoring power to customers affected by the Category 5 storm – even as many of them suffered damage to their own homes.
Ten months later, a third of the 18 lineworkers in Panama City are still displaced, along with several others at Gulf Power’s Panama City Beach office. Plus, two-thirds of the lineworkers’ supervisors are either displaced or have extensive damage to their homes.
Despite all that, they continue to work each and every day to serve Gulf Power customers.
It’s these employees and all lineworkers that Gulf Power salutes as Florida celebrates Lineworker Appreciation Day on Aug. 26.
One of those Panama City lineworkers, Chad Taylor, hopes to be back in his home by November. He, his wife, Heather, their 3-year-old son Grant and their black lab Buddy rode out the storm in their home just outside the Callaway city limits when the winds jumped to more than 160 miles per hour at the last minute on Oct. 10, 2018.
“Around 11 a.m. it started getting rough,” he said. “We watched our neighbor’s shed blow over.”
Then 15 minutes later, Chad’s own storage shed, which was held down with 12 anchors, blew over against his house.
“Then what we thought was shingles tearing apart was actually our roof,” he said. “Then we heard the water coming in and the rear window blew out.”
The winds stopped and they went outside, only to realize they were in the eye of the storm. Chad said the thing he really remembers is thousands of birds flying around in the blue sky.
They sheltered again for the back end of the hurricane and a neighbor joined them in the bathroom, where they placed a mattress against the door for more protection.
The entire event took about two hours. When it was over, Chad got out his bicycle and pedaled to the nearest main road. “There were trees down everywhere and not a power pole was left standing,” he said. “I knew then I was going to be busy.”
That’s because Chad, whose official title is winch truck operator, operates the pole truck, which sets power poles.
He and his co-workers spent the next three days removing downed power poles and debris from streets across Panama City.
Then he began setting poles, 10 one day, 18 the next. In all, he estimates he set more than 200 of the 7,000 poles that Gulf Power replaced following the storm. He, like the rest of his co-workers, worked from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day until the power was restored 13 days later.
“Whenever we get the power on after a storm, knowing that you got 30 folks on or 400 on, and you hear people tooting their horn on their car or shooting fireworks, it just humbles you,” he said. “Folks offered food and water and to help. It makes you feel good to know you’re helping people out.”
After staying with grandparents for several weeks, he bought a camper trailer that he and his family have been staying in, parked on his driveway since December.
He got a new roof in February and just a couple of weeks ago finished putting Sheetrock in his home. He still has to lay carpet and paint.
But he knows many of his co-workers and neighbors suffered worse damage than he did. He came to work and heard stories of his co-workers, whose homes had been completely destroyed.
After Chad graduated from Rutherford High School, he earned his electrical certification from Haney Technical School and worked for the City of Panama City for two years. He has been with Gulf Power for almost 13 years, the last seven as the winch truck operator.
“I love the pole truck job,” he said. “This is what I want to do.”