While most electric utility linemen use bucket trucks to carry out their daily duties, safely and quickly scaling a 40-foot pole remains a skill they hone.
More than 50 apprentice and journeyman lineman demonstrated their skills this week when the North Carolina Association of Municipal Electric Systems held its 24th annual Linemen's Rodeo at the Greenville Convention Center.
Greenville Utilities Commission hosted the event and competed with 10 other municipal electric providers that traveled from as far west as King's Mountain and Gastonia and from nearby New Bern and Wilson.
The competition is divided between journeyman and apprentices, with each group participating in four skill areas.
An apprentice is a line worker in training, said Ken Wade, GUC assistant director of electric systems. A journeyman is qualified to construct and maintain the electrical power system.
"Typically, it takes seven or more years experience and completion of four levels of advanced certification to obtain the designation of journeyman," Wade said.
Both groups compete in the hurtman rescue. The other competitions differ because of the linemen's skill levels but involve changing out transformers and other equipment and installing new equipment. The journeymen compete in an obstacle course.
"It's fun for the guys to be able to go and show off their skills, but the real reason we have it is because the skills they learn when they are practicing are the same skills they use on the job," Wade said. "We primarily use bucket trucks 98 percent of the time but that 2 percent of the time they are having to climb a pole because it's in a backyard, that's when they are most at risk."
Greenville had 13 participants in this rodeo.
Zach Bullock, who's worked two years with Wilson Energy, said he's always wanted to be a lineman.
"I wanted to be a lineman forever since I could remember. I wanted to be in the power industry. There's just something about keeping the lights on," he said. "There will never come a day when you don't need electricity. There will never come a day you don't need a lineman. It's something to be a part of."
It's a good feeling to help families during difficult times, Bullock said. While some may direct their frustrations toward the linemen, many express their gratitude because they recognize the crews aren't with their families.
Thursday's rodeo concluded a three-day event that featured sessions on safety, rescue techniques and substation security.
GUC Board meets
Thursday's competition was the same day the Greenville Utilities Board of Commissioners held its monthly meeting.
The board held a public hearing on updating the system development fees for water and sewer. Jonathan Britt, GUC manager of advanced analytics presented staff recommendations. No one else spoke.
System development fees are one-time charges GUC assesses to new water and sewer customers for using the system and for recovering up-front system capacity costs.
The General Assembly in 2018 approved legislation that allowed the fees and set formulas for determining the fees. One requirement is that utilities update the fees every five years.
Britt said GUC will calculate the water fee based on a blended value of existing and expanded system capacity. The sewer fee will be based on the values of the existing system capacity.
With the public hearing completed, the board will approve a resolution adopting the updated fees at its June 8 meeting.
The board also approved an agreement with the City of Greenville and Greenville Eastern North Carolina Alliance to build a shell building to attract new industry. GUC and the city are each contributing $1 million to the project.
The alliance's president and chief executive officer Josh Lewis also delivered a presentation on the organization's strategic plan and organization update.
The alliance is a public-private partnership working to recruit new businesses and support existing ones to create job growth.
The alliance has about 90 partners, Lewis said. Its five-year plan for meeting objectives includes starting a site prioritization study; creating a marketing and promotion strategy; working with partners to cultivate knowledge about the industries they are focused on recruiting; supporting policy advocacy coordination; working on securing more shell buildings; and creating initiatives to support startups that can grow and add jobs and other activities.
The board also congratulated nine employees who completed GUC's iLead program.
Created to give employees an opportunity to become future leaders, iLead is a nine-month program where select students study topics such as leadership, diversity, communications and other topics, said Richie R. Shreves, director of human relations.
As the program concludes the participants form groups to undertake projects related to GUC's mission.
Thursday's nine graduates bring the total number of successful participants to 82, Shreves said. More than 36 percent of the program's graduates have been promoted, she said.