As Steve Cranfill works with his crew to restore power in Dover, N.J., he’s reminded of home. He said if it wasn’t for the Empire State Building within view from the top of the mountains, he might think he was in western North Carolina.
Cranfill is one of about 2,850 workers from Duke Energy dispatched across eight states to restore power after Hurricane Sandy and Wednesday’s nor’easter. He’s normally the general manager of power delivery and operations for the Durham office, but since Oct. 31 he has been working in Pennsylvania and New Jersey erecting new utility poles and restringing wires.
“The work’s been pretty similar in each area,” Cranfill said by phone Friday. “There’s a lot of structural damage, a lot of poles down, wires broken.”
Cranfill is managing a team of 128 Duke Energy employees from North Carolina. Their days start at 6 a.m. and typically last about 16 hours, he said. Scouts on their team assess damage, and the rest of the crew follows and makes repairs.
The work is the same as what they do in North Carolina, Cranfill said, but it’s a lot slower. Putting up one new pole requires a lot of planning and preparation, often including clearing trees, and can take several hours.
“The most challenging part for us has been just the level of difficulty in the work,” Cranfill said. “You work for half a day and just get a handful of customers on because of the damage. We’re used to putting in that kind of work and getting a lot of customers on.”
Most energy companies have mutual assistant agreements where they pledge to send trucks and crews in the event of a disaster, said Duke Energy spokesman Dave Scanzoni. Crews from as far as away as New York and Florida came to North Carolina to assist Duke Energy after the ice storm in 2002. The assisting companies keep track of their hours and expenses and then bill the local utility.
A hazardous mission
The post-Sandy crews are first focusing on restoring power to emergency services, such as hospitals, and then on places that will bring power to the most people, Scanzoni said.
The workers must be specially trained because of the difficult and dangerous work, Scanzoni said. The job can require going into flooded areas, handling exposed wires and navigating around fallen trees, among other challenges.
The utilities send convoys of trucks and bring along food, water, fuel and even tents, just in case, Scanzoni said.
“It is like a military operation,” he said. “We have everything you need to survive, just like the Army does.”
Cranfill and his crew members have been staying in hotels. The nor’easter came through at night, so it didn’t really get in the way of their work, he said. But it did make it a lot colder than his workers were used to.
Residents are grateful
Though they’re working on power lines much of the day, Cranfill said he and his workers have gotten to meet several customers, and he’s been overwhelmed by how pleasant they are.
He said he had just spoken to a man who had offered him coffee. Earlier, a woman came by with several pies, and a man threw a bag of cheeseburgers in the back of their truck.
“We’re going to have to go on a diet when we get home,” Cranfill said.
Cranfill, who lives in Chapel Hill, has been with Duke Energy for 31 years, and estimates that this is his 30th post-disaster deployment. He’s been as far as Detroit.
He hopes to be home from this trip by Tuesday at the latest.