A few months ago, wildfires across the San Gabriel Mountains torched thousands of acres, and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes. When the inferno was past, and conditions allowed, it was up to a very special team from IBEW Local 47 to repair the transmission lines that span the high country, sending power to millions below.

There is no such thing as an ordinary job for an IBEW Local 47 linemen, but this one is more unusual than most. Planning and “tailboards” are just a little more intense when you don’t drive to your job…you fly. It’s certainly not unusual for a lineman to work high off the ground, but when the towers on which they work are just short of inaccessible, it brings a whole new meaning to teamwork. That’s because to get to the job site, they are at one end of a 100-foot rope – while an IBEW pilot and his helicopter – are at the other.

 

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IBEW Local 47 San Gabriel Mountains Helicopter Job

Hello and welcome to another feature story here on IBEW Hour Power.

I’m Erica McClaugherty. A few months ago, wildfires across the San Gabriel Mountains torched thousands of acres, and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes. When the inferno was past, and conditions allowed, it was up to a very special team from IBEW Local 47 to repair the transmission lines that span the high country, sending power to millions below.

Let’s head out to Southern California…

While the city sleeps far below, another day’s work is being mapped out in the rugged terrain of the San Gabriels.  There’s no such thing as an ordinary job for a Local 47 linemen, but this one is more unusual than most. Planning and “tailboards” are just a little more intense when you don’t drive to your job…you fly.  It’s certainly not unusual for a lineman to work high off the ground, but when the towers on which they work are just short of inaccessible, it brings a whole new meaning to teamwork. That’s because to get to the job site, they are at one end of a 100-foot rope – while an IBEW pilot and his helicopter – are at the other.

When wildfires tore through the mountains last summer, it destroyed everything in its path…including a skyline of 500kv transmission lines.  

Marc Ferguson: General Superintendent, Transmission, So. Cal Edison 

“It damaged a lot of the wires insulators and marker balls for the FAA so that planes don’t hit the wires. Those got melted. We are replacing all that and pulling a couple miles of fiber-optic line that we run on top of our power line above our energized wires. We are replacing all that. The terrain is really bad and everything has to be accessed with helicopters. We have a specialized team of guys that do this work. They hang on a rope on our helicopter and fix things!

“This is what the balls look like in the air now from the heat from the fire – and this is what they are supposed to look like. So the challenge is to cut these off while on the wire and hanging from the rope from the helicopter and then replace it with this guy.”

Mike Fournier: Pilot, IBEW Local 47, So. Cal Edison

We’re going to move men and equipment to different tower locations. The helicopter and line placing by the method called “short haul” or in our department it’s know as HEC, Human External Cargo. We’ll be moving groups of two to different tower locations. They’ll be making repairs and then we’ll leap frog them along the way as repairs are needing to be accomplished along the line.

Louie Michael Galindo: IBEW Local 47

“When we’re hanging from the helicopter, the one thing that comes to mind is the safety aspect of it. We’re all trained and we all work together even though he’s holding a 100 foot long line. The pilot and I are on the same page all the time even though you can’t hear him and he can’t hear us.”

Mike Fournier: Pilot, IBEW Local 47, So. Cal Edison

My passengers are external to the aircraft. They have more to do with the safety of the operation than I could ever express. It’s a two-way street, so we’re looking after each other and it takes safety and a buddy check to a whole other level.

The job is complete now.  Far down below, when residents throw a switch, the light goes on.  When they push buttons, machines come to life.   Traffic lights continue to monitor the controlled mayhem of LA streets and highways. Electricity powers the city.   Same as it ever was.

And high above in the San Gabriel mountains, vegetation and other signs of life will eventually return.   While the towers that bring power to millions, loom overhead.

Marc Ferguson: General Superintendent, Transmission, So. Cal Edison

“We can’t do it without them.  It’s very specialized work they have a ton of training for it and not a lot of people have the guts to do the stuff these guys do.”
What incredible pictures from such a challenging job. That will do it for this feature story here on Hour Power. Share it…post it…send it along to a friend, won’t you? Thanks for the click.  I’m Erica McClaugherty. See you next time. 

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Erica McClaugherty

Erica McClaugherty joined the IBEW Hour Power team in 2015 and has been traveling around the United States and Canada ever since, bringing the stories of hard working IBEW brothers and sisters to life.

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