Wednesday is Gulf Power Company’s line worker appreciation day, honoring the men and women who brave the elements to keep the juice flowing.
For Robert Duke, the desire to work as a lineman began early on.
“There was a restaurant not far from where I lived, and I would see a lot of the Gulf Power linemen like after a storm they would eat there,” said Duke. “I would always talk to those guys and they were real nice. And I was always like, ‘Man, I’d like to be a lineman.”
Duke’s dream became reality, and today he is a 34-year veteran line worker for Gulf Power, having been part of crews assisting various parts of the United States after a storm or other disaster.
“I’ve been to Texas, Louisiana, all around the South and Florida, Alabama, Mississippi,” Duke said. “In the Carolinas, to New Jersey, all up the East Coast, New York."
The training program for a Gulf Power line worker is rigorous, says Duke. New hires begin on the ground floor as an apprentice, working with established crews.
“The majority of your learning is on-the-job training; you learn more doing that,” said Duke. “The training guys test them and bring them up to speed on stuff, to see how much they are learning in the field. If they’re lacking in areas, they bring them up to speed with that. It’s a pretty long process until you become a journeyman.”
Over Duke’s three-and-a-half decades at the utility, the technology has changed drastically – to the benefit of those in the field. One example is the tools used to restore power.
“When I started, all of our tools were manual, like crimp tools; now we have pneumatic tools that are battery-operated and hydraulic,” said Duke. “Much more user-friendly. The technology has come a long way, not only what we work with, but what we work on.”
Safety is the bedrock of Gulf Power’s approach to getting back the power. And the cornerstone of that, says Duke, is a healthy respect for electricity.
“Electricity will fool you; everything we do safety comes first,” Duke said. “The training part of it is a very good thing, and once in a while, we’ll hire someone who’s already a lineman, but they have to be brought up to speed to the way we work – not the way they work.”
After wanting to the a lineman when he was young, and then spending 34 years on the job, Robert Duke has a message for those interested in such a career.
“It’s a great job for a young man out there [and] not really knowing what he wants to do; if he wants to work outside and be a team player,” said Duke. “People have got to have water and power, and it’s a pretty secure job, and it’s a safe place to work – a very safe place to work.”
Gulf Power currently has about 180 line workers, some of whom will travel to Louisiana or Texas after Hurricane Laura clears out. More information is available at www.gulfpower.com.