It had been raining all morning before the Nebraska Lineworkers Rodeo at the Nebraska State Fair on Saturday.
The sky was overcast and the ground was extremely muddy with large puddles of water. The weather, however, didn’t stop the Rodeo. Once the action started, the rain subsided, and some members of the enthusiastic crowd that had gathered began to take off their rain ponchos.
The linemen competing, though, are used to rainy weather and much worse. For example, the members of the Grand Island Public Utilities team recently had to battle a horrific thunderstorm that produced heavy rains and winds of nearly 90 mph. The storm caused tremendous tree damage to the community and knocked out power for many residents as fallen trees took down power lines.
Whether it is a vicious thunderstorm, a blizzard, ice storm or torrential rain, linemen are first responders out battling the elements to restore power to the public.
Competing for Grand Island Utilities Department in the rodeo was Apprentice Lineman Judd Garner. It is the second year he has competed in the event. His first competition Saturday was the “hurt man rescue.” In this event, lineworkers are timed going up a power pole to rescue a fellow lineworker exposed to an energized line.
A Grand Island native and Northwest High School graduate, Garner trained to become a lineworker at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. He has worked with the city utilities department for two and a half years.
Garner said the weather for Saturday’s event is just everyday occurrence, especially this year, for the city’s lineworkers.
“We go out on any conditions that the weather throws at us,” Garner said. “This is what we signed up for, and this is what we do.”
One of the Garner’s teammates in the competition was Ethan McGowan, who has been a lineworker for the utilities department for four years. It is also the fourth year he has competed in the State Fair event.
He said many of the events at the competition are tasks they do every day on the job. Saturday’s muddy conditions and the rain just added a bit of realism to the competition.
“It really does, especially with the storm we had a couple of weeks ago,” McGowan said, who is also a Grand Island native.
When asked why he likes being a lineworker, McGowan said he likes working outside with his hands and “getting people’s lights back on.”
Saturday’s competition featured electric lineworkers from across the state. The competition lets them demonstrates their skills and knowledge through events that simulate real-life situations, and test their speed and accuracy.
There are eight events in the competition for journeymen and apprentices, said Todd Bailey, who is the safety and purchasing agent for Southern Public Power, in Grand Island.
Competitors performed various tasks from 40 feet in the air on utility poles, including hurt man rescue, skill climbs and various equipment installations and replacements. Participants are judged on safety procedures, work practices, neatness, ability, equipment handling, and timely completion of each task. The rodeo included events for individual apprentices and journeymen teams of two.
“These are events that we do every day,” Bailey said. “We have to deal with inclement weather all the time, and today is no different from what we usually have to deal with whether it is daytime or nighttime.”
He said the competition is also a chance to show the camaraderie lineworkers share in their profession.
“It is a major bond we have with all the linemen in this state,” Bailey said.
He said it is also an opportunity to show family, friends, and the public the skills lineworkers must have in making sure the power grid is up and running.
“It takes a special worker to do what we do,” Bailey said. “Not everybody can do it. They (lineworkers) take a lot of pride in the jobs that they do as our biggest achievement is getting the customer back online.”
The competition also emphasizes safety as the lineworkers deal daily with the dangers of electricity.
“The number one thing we have to deal with in our work is safety,” he said. “It has to be our No. 1 priority because you don’t get second chances with this.”
Nebraska utilities and partners organize the Nebraska Lineworkers Rodeo. All of the hosting utilities are members of the Nebraska Power Association, the statewide organization of 169 locally owned electric utilities providing electric service across Nebraska.
The Lineworkers Rodeo isn’t the only NPA presence at the State Fair. A “public power station” in the Marketplace offers hands-on activities and safety demonstrations designed to help fairgoers learn more about electricity. And Nebraska is the only “public power” state in the nation.
Fore more information about the Nebraska Power Association, check out the website at www.nepower.org.