Thank you for leaving your families to come help our families. All of your hard work was greatly appreciated.
That was the message local Hydro One workers found on their windshield after nearly two weeks of working in Miami to restore power following the devastation of Hurricane Irma.
Tim Sluman, Matt Patterson, Brandon Bigelow, Dan Exell, Gary Adams and Reece Morrow, all from Huntsville, joined the 175-strong Hydro One contingent from Ontario who made their way to south Florida to help Florida Power and Light (FPL) in their restoration efforts.
On their arrival, Sluman says Florida was a ‘mess’. “There was a lot of brush and trees all over the place. There were palm leaves everywhere you looked. There were sticks and trees and branches; there were trampolines upside down. Car tents were on their sides in the middle of fields. There was a lot of chaos for sure.”
Using the Miami Zoo parking lots as the staging area the crews worked 12 to 14 hours days, stopping only to eat, sleep and reload supplies. The daytime temperatures were soaring, reaching 38 degrees Celsius without factoring in humidity.
FPL briefed them about the types of voltages and electrical systems with which they would be working and warned about the kind of hazards they might encounter. “Everybody has their generator running so backfeed posed the biggest hazard,” Sluman said. “The next biggest thing was the heat and after that it was insects, reptiles and poisonous plants.”
Even though the days were long and hot, Sluman said it felt good to do good. “We didn’t leave a community of houses without making sure they were all on if we had power to our line.”
Obviously, the Florida people were very happy to see the Hydro workers but the way they showed their appreciation was surprising at times. “They would be in their house, in the sweltering heat and without electricity and they would bring us water that was on their blocks of ice,” Sluman recalled. “One guy wanted to give us a whole garbage pail of avocados after we got his hydro on. And one day we went to buy a bunch of fruit from a grocery store and the lady behind wouldn’t let us pay, she paid for it. They couldn’t believe we came all that way to help.”
It is not unusual for Hydro One workers to attend areas outside Ontario to help restore power. They are part of the North Atlantic Mutual Assistance Group which has reciprocal agreements in place with North American utilities to provide assistance during significant power outages. In these mutual assistance situations, all costs are covered by the utility receiving the help.
According to Nancy Clark, Communications Officer with Hydro One, Ontario residents have nothing to worry about when crews are outside the province helping in other situations. “When we are assessing who and how many crews we will send to a mutual aid situation we take a two week outlook at weather patterns, and at planned work, and we shift things accordingly. If there was a situation where we had a weather event in Ontario often we are still able to pull from other areas of the province to bring crews to help restore power.”
Almost two weeks to the day they left, the Huntsville crew is back home. No doubt it’s tough being away from family, missing birthday celebrations and working in horrendous conditions with little sleep, but as Tim says, “It is nice to be able to help, especially with something like this, that is for sure.”
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