According to the Washington Post, one of the most dangerous and deadly jobs in America is that of electrical lineworker, cracking the top 20 at number 10. These jobs are considered by many to be the fourth most dangerous occupation in the world.
Working with live wires is dangerous enough. Add to that working in all types of weather, from torrential storms to oppressive heat to responding to the scene of an accident. All to make sure electricity continues to flow safely to homes and businesses.
It’s a tough job with little thanks. But Gulf Power, with the State of Florida, will recognize the contributions and dedication of lineworkers during Lineworker Appreciation Day Aug. 26, a day set aside by the state Legislature in 2012.
Gulf Power will pay special tribute to the nearly 190 employees who work on the company’s 9,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines.
One of those lineworkers, Chris Grant, has worked the past 22 of his 32 years at Gulf Power as a “high lines” transmission line technician.
“I wouldn’t want any other job in the world,” said Grant. “I get to be outside, not tied behind a desk and work with a dedicated team of professionals who help keep the power flowing every day, no matter what.”
Grant started working at Gulf Power after a friend who was working for the utility told him about possible job opportunities. He applied, was one of five who was hired, and literally went from “toting bottles” for a local water company to “shoveling coal and sweeping floors” at Plant Smith.
“It was one of the hardest jobs I ever started, but I was thankful to God for giving me the opportunity,” said Grant in a thick Southern accent. “I had a family to support and I was willing to do it and eventually work my way up.”
When Grant started, his dream was to become a lineman. For him, that chance came a year and a half later when he went to “downtown” Panama City to start working as a helper. It was a career path he would never regret.
“Oh sure, I was starting at the bottom again, cleaning trucks, running errands and a lot of grunt work,” said the Panama City native. “But I also had a chance to prove to myself and those around me that I could do the job.”
According to Grant, he started on the pole trucks setting poles, working as a truck operator, and learning to climb.
“I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” added Grant. “This is what I was meant to do.”
But he wanted more. So a few years later he volunteered to work the “high lines” and made the jump from distribution to transmission where it’s the norm to work 65-100 feet above the ground with lines transmitting up to 230,000 volts.
“People think we’re crazy to work that high up with that much power surging through the lines,” confessed Grant who admitted at one time he was afraid of heights. “The danger of the job crosses your mind all the time, and you have to be safe and think safe at all times. You can’t have a bad day and bring it to the job with you. That’s when accidents happen. We brief every day and talk about safety and things that could potentially happen. But we are our brother’s keeper so we look out for each other.”
Gulf Power, Grant continued, makes sure the workers are trained, have the proper safety equipment and most importantly, come home at night.
“At Gulf Power, everything we do is safety oriented in providing safe and reliable power for our customers,” added Grant.
Despite the heat, mosquitoes, ticks, wasps, occasional snakes and alligators, Grant, who recently turned 60, plans on working the line for the next seven years, the average time for a lineman to go through the apprenticeship program.
It will be hard, he said, but he’ll know when it will be time to hang up the boots and finally be able to enjoy the sound of a passing thunderstorm.
“We’re like family on the line and there is a lot of camaraderie so I’ll think about the guys when they are on storm duty,” he said. “Everyone’s a volunteer on the high line so that creates a special bond. We’re not out in the limelight but what we do matters — people depend on us —and that is what it’s all about.”