East Central Energy workers assist with storm damage

By Elizabeth Sias

East Central Energy workers may not be repairing downed power lines in north Minneapolis from the recent tornado damage, but they’re often called on to help with storm damage.

The electric cooperative based in Braham will send crews to other areas in the Twin Cities and neighboring states when other cooperatives request help.

“With the volatile weather here over the last few years, it’s probably happening eight to 10 times a year,” Operations Manager Dave Curtis said.

Most recently, he said, the company sent 15 linemen — workers who repair electrical power lines to restore power — to Timber Lake, S.D., to work on damage from a major ice storm.

East Central Energy linemen Denny Willert, left, and Dave Thom repair electrical power lines June 2010 after a tornado hit a confined area, causing severe damage to a group of homes and property east of Pine City along Highway 70. Photo submitted

In that case, the workers stayed in the area for two weeks, but the number of employees sent and the time they remain on location varies depending on each situation.

Assistance is usually requested from cooperatives in Minnesota and surrounding states for both rural and urban areas, but Curtis said ECE has sent crews as far as Florida to help with hurricane damage.

Typically, he explained, linemen will assist with emergency power restoration with downed power lines and broken poles, and sometimes the cooperative asks for specific equipment, such as off road vehicles for hilly areas, ATVs, dozers, bucket trucks and machines that can go into swamps.

The workers usually stay in hotels or motels in the area, but in very rural areas, they might stay in hunting resorts or school gymnasiums. They sometimes work 16- to 18-hour days to help with storm damage, and the cooperative that requested help will provide meals.

In one situation, Curtis said over 6,000 poles broke after a storm in South Dakota. It was declared a federal disaster and the National Guard assisted with snow removal. ECE received a call for assistance, and crews were sent out. Because of the amount of damage and number of people helping, the community came together to provide meals and workers stayed in residents’ homes.

While restoring electricity is the goal, Curtis said safety comes first — both for linemen and residents in storm-damaged areas.

“Safety is our big concern,” he said. “Safety is first and power restoration is second.”

If a downed power line is spotted, Curtis advises everyone to stay away from it and notify East Central Energy on their 24-hour toll-free number at 1-800-254-7944.