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Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Sadly, it is a fact that there are a handful of spoiled apples in the barrel with us firefighters. Cops and medics have the same problem. Some douche steals something or leverages their position into an abusive action, egregiously violates ethics, or just plain exhibits bad behavior. Thanks for the bad publicity on the rest of us. Not.

Unsurprisingly, the power company is no exception to this rule.

One of the more noteworthy characters was a substation operator, "Martin". Martin was assigned to a region in a remote part of the system, prone to troublesome outages and hard-to-reach infrastructure, with long drives between stations.

Martin had lots of alone time.

Now, it isn't unreasonable for guys to do a little personal business on the side, as long as it does not waste resources or put them out of position to respond as needed. My dad, the Smooth Substation Operator, frequently did a little shopping or other errands, but he always participated in the side action by using shops and businesses along the paths he needed to drive anyway, and during time periods where no emergency or urgency was in effect. And to be sure, when the rounds were complete and it was standby time, it was routine to park at a big unstaffed substation, bust out the hot dogs, and watch baseball on the portable black and white TV. Ready and in position to respond, of course.

Anyway, back to Martin.

With little to no normal oversight, Martin was a senior guy who had been around a long time, with a proven ability to be able to resolve problems without help, a prerequisite for remote postings. But he torqued off the wrong person, and the office got a little phone call.

A few days later, Martin was met at one of his major substations, by an unannounced entourage consisting of his boss, his boss' boss, and an HR rep. Bad news. In his shop truck, they found numerous (illegal) animal traps, fresh pelts, and similar sundry items wholly unrelated to the delivery of electricity.

The things you can do in a lawless area without a supervisor, when you have lots of time.

See ya, Martin. He was a couple years away from retirement, and blew it all away. Nice move. That was several years ago.

We recently had someone pop Martin out of his position of notoriety. Multiple someones, in fact, all at once.

Three linemen, best friends of course because they work together and drink beer together after work pretty much every day, were out on a two-week fishing vacation with their families.

The campground was fairly nice, and had very secluded individual sites. It was a popular place, requiring reservations in advance, and they secured three adjacent spots relatively near the road that ran outside the park.

Not content to just rough it, or live with a generator, or use kerosene and batteries like the rest of us, these guys got resourceful. They brought with them - I swear am not making this up (thanks Dave Barry) - a small 15kVA poletop transformer and associated hardware, a few hundred feet of secomdary cable, and a small pre-wired "portable" circuit breaker panel with attached electrical outlets. It was a fantastic kludge, actually.

As these guys were pros, it was no trouble at all for them to wait for cover of darkness, lug their gear to the road, and install the transformer on a pole at the road which carried the local 8kV distribution feeder.

Think about it. This required extensive and intelligent planning. The right transformer, enough cargo space to move it and the wires and related stuff. And of course the equipment necessary to hoist the transformer. After all that, it was no trick at all to hook it up to a live feeder and tack the service drop cable to the pole. These guys could have done it blindfolded, it was a very routine task. With some leaves and branches and debris as cover, who's going to notice the secondary cable on the ground going into the woods?

They were living it up pretty good, but got dumb and left too many lights on, ran too many music players, and conspicuously did not produce any generator noise. How exactly are they doing that, someone apparently wondered, and checked it out.

It's too bad, because they were excellent linemen. A little shenanigan here and there, or an honest minor oops, can usually be survived. A full-blown caper like that, not so much.

See ya, boys.

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