When the power is out, they spring into action to find the problem and solve it, but Saturday line technicians from around South Carolina competed to prove who is really at the top of the electric pole.
The 20th annual Lineworkers’ Rodeo allowed some of the best line crews in the state to show off their skills, and for the first time it was held along the Grand Strand. The event was held at the Conway campus of Horry Georgetown Technical College (HGTC), which has a line technician-training program and a training course that was ideal for the event.
Dozens of line technicians from Santee Cooper and electric cooperatives around the state attended the event along with hundreds of their family, friends and coworkers.
On her first official day as president of HGTC, Dr. Marilyn Fore attended and was impressed by what she saw.
“It’s amazing to me to see the families and friends out here en masse to support those who are in the program and who are working for the utilities,” she said.
Santee Cooper vice president of retail operations for Horry and Georgetown counties Mike Poston sees the event as a fun way to show the public what lineworkers do.
“It brings us and the co-ops together for a friendly competition and we enjoy the fellowship,” he said. “It’s really about the line technicians, because it allows them an opportunity to showcase their talents and their skills.”
Even though most people may have limited exposure to the ins and outs of the job, the work they do is critical to everyone’s life, Poston said.
“The line technicians are the backbone of our company,” he said. “In Hurricane Matthew, for example, they were the ones out in the field who were getting the power back on.”
And even though the power lines the line crews worked on Saturday were not energized, people should not minimize the danger of the job.
“Their job, because they’re working around energized lines, is inherently dangerous and it takes a lot of skill and practice to make sure they can do those tasks safely,” he said.
At the Lineworkers’ Rodeo, apprentices with under four years of experience competed singly and journeymen with more than four years’ experience competed in teams of three.
Horry County resident Jamie Anderson ranked third out of all the apprentice competitors at the event. He believes the competition is beneficial, and not just because it’s a good time.
“It adds to the job,” he said. “It makes you a better lineman, because you get to do stuff you don’t do every day and get to compete against other co-ops.”
He looks forward to the event each year.
“You get to make friends with people from other co-ops, and once we get talking we find out we’re all a lot alike,” he said.
Nick Brown, Coby Martin, Tommy Reece and Bryant Geathers work together on a daily basis and competed in the Lineworkers’ Rodeo as a journeyman team.
“Tommy and I are the two climbers,” Brown said. “Most of the events are in the air and we climb, and Coby is our groundman. He runs all the hand lines for us and gives us our material to work with.”
Geathers serves as the alternate, Brown said.
“If one of us gets hurt he can fill in for us and help finish the event out,” Brown said.
“My favorite event is the downed primary,” Martin said. “The wire is down and we splice it, pull it up and mount it on the pole.”
Martin said the team is good at that event, and he appreciates the amount of teamwork the event takes.
“We put a lot of effort into this year,” Reece said about the team. “We took our time, built our course on our own, and practiced.”
The practice was very realistic, he said.
“One week it was cold and miserable to climb and the next week it was really hot,” he said. “It’s South Carolina weather, being out in the elements, and we pushed through it and the times we’re putting up today, I’m really happy about.”
Geathers practiced with the crew constantly in preparation for the competition. Since starting to work with each other three years ago, the crew has built a relationship, he said.
“We started three years ago and since then we’ve all become good friends,” Geathers said.
Geathers appreciates the teamwork the crew needs to compete well.
“Play hard, work hard together, be smooth with everything and we’ll be all right,” he said.