Rural Missouri Magazine

Our heroes

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

In the right circumstances, ordinary people can do extraordinary things. I’d like to submit another brand of hero — the rural electric lineman. As I toured parts of the state that were hard-hit by the January ice storm I saw many, many heroes who braved bitter cold, long hours and dangerous working conditions to restore power to people they did not even know.

These linemen came from the local systems and from electric cooperatives as far away as the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They left behind warm homes and loved ones as soon as they were summoned.

In fact, I recently learned that Mississippi’s electric cooperatives had linemen on the way to Missouri just two hours after they were called. Later, additional linemen headed north with just 10 minutes notice.

They came from Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky and Tennessee, also. Of course, every unaffected co-op in Missouri responded in some way. Some of these men worked long hours restoring power at their own systems, then hit the road to help neighboring co-ops. In all, 2,622 linemen worked the disaster.

Time meant nothing to these men. Their workday began at 5 a.m. and many did not get to bed until after midnight. They worked these awful hours not just one day, but for many days and in the worst conditions you can imagine. The linemen from Mississippi were quick to tell us they had never restored power in such difficult conditions. In fact, they told one cooperative they would rather work 15 hurricanes than one Missouri ice storm.

Linemen weren’t the only heroes who rose to the occasion. I wish every electric co-op member could have looked behind the scenes to see what took place on their behalf.

At the 15 electric cooperatives severely damaged by the ice, every employee was mobilized to restore power. Some stayed by the phones, others labored to feed the hundreds of additional workers and do their laundry. Some handled media inquiries and gave daily progress reports to community leaders.

Still others worked the phones in search of scarce materials like wire, poles and hardware. The 15 managers did their part to keep morale high and prioritized safety for employees and the public.

There were many others involved in the effort who deserve our thanks. I’m thinking of the many state employees who worked behind the scenes on behalf of those without power.

Our governor Matt Blunt helped by making the disaster declaration, which is vital to getting reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. U.S. Reps. Roy Blunt and Ike Skelton are helping with FEMA reimbursement. Blunt traveled to Ozark Electric to see the damage first hand. Skelton scheduled a meeting with co-op managers to see what he could do.

Highway Patrol and MoDOT employees helped get permits so we could move heavy equipment across state lines. The National Guard was heavily involved in the relief effort, as was the Red Cross. The State Emergency Management Agency stayed close to the affected systems and kept all of us working together with frequent conference calls.

Our electric cooperative restoration effort benefited from the strong leadership shown by Missouri’s Director of Agriculture Fred Ferrell and Public Service Commission Chairman Jeff Davis. Both men worked tirelessly to provide support, encouragement, and resources not only to the electric cooperatives but for all utilities. We will never forget what they did to help us.

To all these heroes, we extend a huge thank you. Without their assistance, the outages could have lasted a lot longer because of the worst ice storm in Missouri history.

Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

E-mail Barry Hart


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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