Linemen work in all weather
Every season brings the potential for problems with the electrical lines that require the work of a power lineman, said Josh Cabler, a lineman with Northern Plains Electric Cooperative out of Carrington.
"Winter storms are the worst," he said. "Frost and ice storms put so much weight on the lines it can break poles. If the poles break, we have to get the big trucks in there to set poles."
The other seasons all have their hazards including the summer and fall when farm equipment can bring down overhead powerlines or damage ground-based equipment.
"The biggest time for problems is probably during the day," Cabler said. "Call in right away so we know where the problem is."
Summer can also bring thunderstorms and lightning strikes that can blow fuses within the system.
And animals can cause problems almost any time of the year.
"Squirrels are a lot bigger problem than people think," Cabler said. "For a lot of outages, it's an animal problem."
Whenever the problem occurs, the power linemen are dispatched to get the power back on. This often involves leaving family or events to go to work after regular work hours.
Cabler said the first step is trying to find the problem. The cooperative's equipment can give them some idea where the lines may be down or broken but they often rely on outage reports from customers to determine where to start looking.
Once the problem is located, repairs have to be made.
"We have to take precautions because this is very dangerous," Cabler said. "We work as quickly as we can as safely as we can."
Making the repairs takes time.
"I tell people who are upset about the time it takes to repair an outage to 'take your daily job and do it in the dark with a little headlamp on your head,'" he said.
Not every workday involves responding to a power outage.
"During the summer it is a lot of construction," Cabler said. "During the winter we have a line patrol program that looks for potential problems."
But when an outage is reported, the goal is to make the repairs as quickly and safely as possible.
"A lot of people get upset when the power goes out," Cabler said. "We want to get the power back on so we can go back to our families as much as they want the power on."
Cabler has worked as a lineman for about 15 years, 12 of them with Northern Plains.
"Working in the outdoors," he said, when asked why he continued working as a lineman. "There is the satisfaction of working with good people to get the power back on after a storm."
Northern Plains Electric employs more than 20 linemen across its service area.