The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have a new kind of hero. These men and women possess all the traits of myth. They are brave and selfless. They work in dangerous conditions. They give power back to the people – literally. They are the linemen who are restoring lights, refrigeration, computers, and all the conveniences that we have come to depend on since Edison switched on the Pearl Street Station in Lower Manhattan in 1882 to provide service to the world’s first 59 power consumers.
Four months after the combined super-storms Irma and Maria knocked out electricity to nearly all residences and businesses in the US Caribbean Territories, teams of powerline technicians continue to arrive to restore the power grid. As of January 2018, over 800 linemen have been deployed from the mainland United States and other countries.
These men and women have captured the imagination of the islanders and the world for the amazing feats, antics, and the tragedies that have become part of the linemen’s lore.
A lineman’s job is extremely dangerous. While aloft, a lineman wears special conductive clothing that is connected to a power line. This allows the lineman to handle live wires. The power worker may still be electrocuted if he completes an electrical circuit, for example, by handling both ends of a broken conductor.
St. Thomas’s own Jason Julius was killed in the line of duty on September 12th, 2017. Jason was accidentally electrocuted and died while working in the Sugar Estate area of St. Thomas as part of a WAPA electrical restoration crew.
On January 10th, Cameron Alley, a lineman from Florida deployed in Puerto Rico, plunged 80-feet to the ground while working from a helicopter to restore lines in a mountainous area. Cameron’s wife states that he will need surgery for the broken bones and fractures, and hopefully, over the next few days, this father of five will be stable enough to make the flight back to the United States.
“I think they’re the unsung heroes,” said Cameron’s father, Dan Alley. “Everywhere they go they don’t know what’s gonna happen, and they will go 300-feet in the air on a cable spinning below a helicopter to get the people’s power back.”
Ron Alexander, one of the DOE responders deployed in September blogged about his experience. Ron was among the first wave of DOE personnel that arrived to support the USVI’s Water and Power Authority (WAPA) to assess the damage and create a plan to reenergize critical infrastructure, including the airport, hospital, and water plant. Despite the intense heat, hazardous conditions, and fourteen-hour-plus days, Ron wrote in a note to the people of the territory, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now and I am glad you asked me to help.”
On a lighter note, “Scot da Lineman” who caused an island-wide sensation after “wuking up” with a woman during J’ouvert on St. Croix arrived for an encore performance with Destra Garcia wearing a shirt that said, “Fete Like Scot”. Scot is now a local celebrity.
There were cheers, tears, and dancing in the streets as the linemen worked late the night of December 7th to restore power to the small town of Coral Bay, population 700, that had been running on generator power for three months. The town threw a party shortly after with BBQ, beer, Bloody Marys, and free boat charters and swimming tours for the linemen.
Virgin Islands customers are reminded that homes with temporary roofs (blue roofs) will be restored with electrical service once a licensed electrician has certified, in writing, that the structure is safe to energize. If work needs to be done to repair a damaged meter base and/or weather head, customers must call the Emergency Call Center at 340-774-1424 on St. Thomas-St. John or 340-773-0150 on St. Croix. The call centers operate seven days a week, 9 am – 5 pm.