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Sense of Community: On the Job Dangers of a CU Lineman

CU Line Foreman Randy Ursino faces the elements and electrical shock to keep the power on.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY MARCH 27 2012, CITY UTILITIES

 Program begins with sound of KSMU Producer Mike Smith and C.U. Line Foreman Randy Ursino climbing into the bucket of a Springfield City Utilities Bucket Truck located in a C.U. facility parking lot in East Central Springfield, and being lifted to a height of around 60 feet.

For KSMU, I’m Mike Smith.  As our Sense of Community Series continues its focus on dangerous professions which benefit the community, we are introduced to Springfield City Utilities Line Foreman Randy Ursino, and we’re inside the bucket of a C.U. bucket truck.  A workspace Randy Ursino knows well.

 Ursino:  “You can work a 60 foot pole with this truck”.   Smith:  “Here we go”. Ursino:  “How’s your fear of heights?” Smith:  I’m OK with heights”.  Ursino:  “Good, then we’ll take it all the way up then.  It’s pretty windy out here today”.  Smith:  “You’ve worked in worse conditions I suppose.”   Ursino:  “oh man, it gets miserable in the winter time, cold and raining”.  When the bucket stops, Randy Ursino says “There we are.  You can see that we’re well above 60 feet because we can see the top of those poles over there.” (looking  to the east of the C.U. facility)    Smith:  “When you’re raising the bucket, you have to be aware of everything around you I suppose”?  Ursino:  You certainly do, you have to be aware of where the other end of that boom is at all times so you don’t stick it in any hot wires”. 

The parking lot we’re 60 feet above is a controlled environment, and the weather is warm and windy. But I couldn’t help but think of days or nights when the weather is much worse.  Someone’s electricity is out and a C.U. Line Crew is working to get power restored.  I put myself in that situation and something scares me.  It’s not a fear of heights, nor of the elements.  It’s a fear of high voltage electricity.  (SOUND OF 15,000 VOLT ELECTRIC ARC)  

Randy Ursino:  “I think most of us who work with it (electricity) respect it.  If you’re afraid of it you might not be able to work with it comfortably.  It’s got a lot of power and we’ve just got to respect it and handle it correctly.  One of the things we get called out a lot for is traffic accidents, cars hitting poles.  Wind storms, ice storms, lightening, excessive heat all cause transformers to blow and to overload the system.  We’re out in the elements all the time. For the transformers next to the road we use the bucket truck exclusively, but we do have a lot of equipment in back yards where we can’t get the trucks in because of fences or buildings or whatever.  Those poles we climb, but we do have a little machine we use to help lift the transformers with.  The transformers weigh 600 pounds as they are filled with oil and copper windings. Normally we’d de-energize the transformer, go up and disconnect it.  There’s a switch right above the transformer that we can open to disconnect.  The switch actually houses a fuse, and those fuses will blow if there’s a problem, a short.  When they blow, there’s a loud noise like a shotgun.  We’ll lift the transformer off the pole and put a new one in.  It usually takes an hour or two.  It gets dangerous when people don’t follow the correct procedures, very dangerous.  In the day to day work, we’re wearing the rubber gloves, up in the bucket, all conductors are energized and we’re just completely surrounded by electricity. (SOUND OF 15,000 VOLT ELECTRIC ARC)  They sometimes have to handle live lines because you can’t always shut it off.  You can hear it arcing on the higher volts especially.  Most of us have had a few close calls, and I’ve had my share of them.  If anything goes wrong when the wires go phase to ground, it’s a loud and terrible roar.”

In some cases, as loud and terrible a sound as 345,000 volts can be when arcing not only near, but where C.U. line crews work.  Sub stations and transformers maintained by C.U. gradually step that down to 7,600 volts on poles outside Springfield homes and businesses , but if anything were to go wrong at any point in that process, C.U. Line Foreman Randy Ursino knows exactly what his mission would be:  “To keep the electricity flowing.  To bring electricity from the power plant and deliver it to the customer’s homes”.

For KSMU and ksmu.org, I’m Mike Smith