As Gulf Power and other utility companies across the country prepare to celebrate National Lineworker Appreciation Day Wednesday, April 18, we take time out to recognize the families who love and support our linemen as they keep the power flowing every day.
As a 34-year lineworker for Gulf Power, Rhett McSween has been on countless storm restoration trips and even more callouts at night and on weekends.
But the 60-day trip to Puerto Rico earlier this year to assist the residents there following Hurricane Maria was something entirely different for him and his wife, Cheryl.
As the nation celebrates Lineworker Appreciation Day on Wednesday, lineworkers like McSween, who is a Service technician at the Crestview office, appreciate the sacrifices that Cheryl and other spouses have made over the years.
“We talked a long time ago when I got in this business; Cheryl was always good with me going on storms,” he said. “I never have to ask her if it was OK. She had to handle the kids and the house.”
But the recently completed trip to Puerto Rico was different. Usually, a storm restoration trip lasts no more than two weeks. This was two months.
McSween said they performed line work they’ve never done before.
“We were working in mountains. Driving along the edges of ravines was the most dangerous aspect,” he said. “We cut down a lot of trees. You had to be careful in everything you did. You had to take more time. There was more planning involved because a lot more can go wrong when you’re doing that type of work.”
He and Cheryl talked with each other by phone for 10-15 minutes each night. It’s much better than earlier in his career before cell phones. Then, lineworkers would have to call the radio room to have them relay messages to their spouses.
Despite all of Rhett’s storm trips Cheryl has lived through, the trip to Puerto Rico was different for her because she had fewer distractions to keep her from missing Rhett. Her grown children live elsewhere, but taking care of her granddaughter several days a week helps.
“The Puerto Rico trip was pretty tough, especially at night when I was by myself,” she said. “I knew what type of environment he was working in so there was some concern.”
Cheryl did fly to Spain for a week to spend time with her daughter to take her mind off Rhett being gone. She dreaded spending a few more days alone before he returned.
What she didn’t know was that the team was being released two days earlier and on the same day she was flying back from Spain. Rhett kept it a secret. His plane landed in Montgomery, Ala., he hopped in the van, drove to the Crestview office, then immediately went to the airport to surprise her.
“I knew she was going to be in Spain so I figured I could get away with it,” he laughed.
He arrived 30 seconds before she came out of the terminal.
“The thought of going back to an empty home was depressing so it was surprising to see him,” she said. “It was very sweet. I was pretty giddy.”