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By Sarah Heggen

For some people, working outside in the elements is a dream come true. But when the temps dip below freezing, loyalty to the job is put to the test. After all, there is still work to be done, and we count on our linemen to do it.

Guthrie County REC Line Superintendent Elden Wolfe and the line crew have been preparing for winter’s fury. Elden says before winter hits, he visually inspects lines across the service territory and takes note of problem areas. Back at the co-op, crews make sure the tires on all vehicles are good, repairing any tire chains that may be needed, and swapping out the fuel for winter diesel fuel.

“The more we can prepare, the less time we’ll need to spend on repairs later,” Wolfe says.

Journeyman Lineman Darwin Marean says the winter months can be challenging in this line of work. Cold, snow and biting winds can be relentless against power lines, as well as the linemen entrusted to their care.

“We encourage the crew to dress for the weather, meaning plenty of layers to fight the cold,” Darwin says. “We also tell them to keep extra dry clothes in their vehicles and to take breaks to warm up as needed.”

In addition to the nearly 50 pounds of regular linemen gear, workers will add insulated boots, long underwear, one or two sweatshirts, heavy weight bibs and stocking caps to battle the cold. Their hands, however, must remain bare – only fire-rated, safety-approved rubber gloves can be used.

“The wires themselves are no more difficult to handle,” Darwin says. “But your cold hands and fingers definitely make using the tools more difficult. The required rubber gloves aren’t much help.”

Rural roads can be dicey when trying to get to an area during or after a snowstorm, Darwin adds. If needed, co-ops like Guthrie County REC can sometimes call on their county maintenance crews to come plow the road. Otherwise, linemen walk in to the section they’re trying to get to, then wade or crawl through snow-filled ditches to reach the poles.

It’s all part of the job to take the heat with the cold, the beautiful days with the ugliest winter battle, he adds.

Winter weather calls for additional safety measures if a power outage occurs. Here are a few tips to follow if the power is out:

1. Call your local electric cooperative to report your outage – don’t assume that your neighbor has already called it in. The outage may be isolated to your home only.

2. Be aware that in cold weather, water pipes may freeze. Drain the water supply lines if possible, but if they must remain operational, insulate the lines or allow a small flow of water to continually run through the system.

3. If you have an unvented, fuel burning space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface – not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Cross-ventilate by opening a window an inch on each side of the room; it’s better to let some cold air in than to run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, never leave a space heater unattended or within the reach of children or pets – and turn it off when you leave the room or go to bed.

4. Keep curtains and exterior doors closed.

5. Use your fireplace if you have one. Otherwise, make sure the flue is closed.

6. Do not use your stove, oven, cooktop, outdoor grill, camping stove or any other fuel-, charcoal- or wood-burning cooking equipment to try to produce usable heat inside your home. The carbon monoxide these devices produce could be fatal within in a matter of minutes.

7. Don’t use candles for lighting; they can cause a fire. Use a flashlight or battery-powered camping lantern instead.

8. Do not use generators unless they are connected to an isolated circuit. Generators connected directly to a home’s electric circuit may create a life-threatening situation for crews working on the line. If you are not certain that a generator is isolated, do not use it.

9. Stay away from down power lines and poles. Always assume the lines are energized and report any damage to your local electric cooperative.

10. Avoid riding snowmobiles in ditches and other areas where power lines are down. Buried conductors, downed lines and broken poles represent a significant safety issue.

Sarah Heggen, CCC, is a communications & member relations specialist with Central Iowa Power Cooperative.

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