Down in Florida, the OPPD mutual aid team that restored power to hurricane-battered residents encountered some things they don’t typically see in Nebraska: sopping humidity, thick clouds of gnats, rattlesnakes, gator-filled ponds and banana spiders the size of a child’s fist.
Their biggest takeaway, though, was the gratitude expressed by those the OPPD team helped. Residents shared hand-written notes of appreciation. A local bank plastered a message on its digital billboard: “THANK YOU LINEMEN.”
“All of the customers were very friendly,” said Scot Dasovic, a working line crew leader at OPPD. “They didn’t even ask how long it would take. They just said, ‘Thank you, guys, you’re doing a great job.’”
OPPD’s mutual aid team spent nine long, sweltering days in northern Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, which knocked out power to roughly 556,800 electricity customers in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
The 16-man team included four three-man line crews, along with two mechanics, a field supervisor and a safety representative.
OPPD’s team rebuilt badly damaged distribution lines to help the Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative, a utility based in Live Oak, Florida. The utility called for assistance after Hurricane Idalia ravaged the area, leaving 25,365 of its customers without power at the outage’s peak.
OPPD Field Supervisor Dave Green praised the mutual aid team’s teamwork and safety in a challenging, unfamiliar environment.
“You guys put in a lot of hours, a lot of miles, with no accidents,” Green told the team after they returned. “I appreciate that more than you know.”
In a remote corner of the state swollen with thick, jungle-like forests, OPPD’s mutual aid team worked 16-hour shifts to restore power to rural residents.
Idalia slammed the area with winds greater than 100 mph, sustained for more than three hours. The storm damaged an estimated 1,500 poles.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said OPPD journeyman line technician Tyler Grady. “Pretty much every line you drove past was laying on the ground.”
The team also encountered huge, long-legged banana spiders and rattlesnakes.
“For those nine days, we just saw them everywhere,” said OPPD line technician Dan Larrick.
Dasovic said gnats in the forest became so bad that line technicians dangled dryer sheets out of their shirt necks and applied strong-smelling arthritis medicine to their helmets to try to repel the bugs. That worked for a while, but the odors faded and the gnats returned.
While line technicians and troubleshooters worked to restore power, many others at OPPD played critical roles.
OPPD Injury Prevention Specialist Bryan Bernhards served as a safety guide for the team. He handled other tasks, such as fetching lunches, so that line crews could focus on repairs. Bernhards brought ice water to the crews, found shoe insole replacements for one line technician, and spent hours tracking down chainsaws to replace old ones that suddenly stopped working.
“Anything that’s a distraction to them, we take it off their plate,” said Bernhards, a former line technician. “We help them with anything they need.”
Transportation mechanics kept OPPD’s trucks running well throughout the trip despite intense heat, long distances and heavier-than-normal loads required for the repair work. The round trip from Omaha to Live Oak, Florida, covers more than 2,500 miles, and some trucks logged at least 3,600 miles. The mechanics fixed bent rims, flat tires and a hydraulic leak that left one truck boom stuck in the air.
When they weren’t maintaining OPPD’s vehicles, the mechanics brought transformers, wires and other materials to the line crews while they worked. They also gave pointers to a rookie mechanic for another utility.
Journeyman Mechanic Kyle Hansen said local and federal emergency responders helped the OPPD team with meals, supplies and even a next-day laundry service. Mutual aid crews worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“It was nice not having to worry about that,” Hansen said. “Most of the time, we’d get back to the hotel late, and all we were worried about was showering and eating.”
Back at home, operations clerks, managers and many others supported the effort by handling paperwork, settling payments and working with the American Public Power Association to ensure OPPD follows the correct mutual aid protocols.
OPPD and other mutual aid crews arrived in the area before the storm hit. The crews stayed just outside of the hurricane’s path until it passed. Then they were able to respond quickly to the widespread damage.
OPPD has benefited from mutual aid assistance in the past when huge storms ripped through its service territory.
The OPPD employees who traveled to Florida were Troubleshooter Danko Pike; Line Technicians Chris Meredith, Brent Sass, Justin Dobernecker, Wyatt Gewinner, Cody Shanno, Dan Larrick and Tyler Grady; Transportation Mechanics Thomas Dowdy and Kyle Hansen; Field Supervisor Dave Green; Working Line Crew Leaders Todd Frey, Dale Gray, Jon White and Scot Dasovic; and Injury Prevention Specialist Bryan Bernhards.
“Our team did a fantastic job,” said Brian Kramer, OPPD’s senior director of Utility Operations Construction and Maintenance. “The line technicians, the safety guys, transportation mechanics and field supervisors all came together and supported each other to get the job done.”
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