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Montana electric linemen ready to help in natural disasters

No requests yet in Florida
Posted at 11:04 AM, Sep 29, 2022

Natural disasters often times help bring teams together that may not work with each other on a normal basis.

While many Montana electrical companies will not be heading to Florida this time around due to distance, they are always willing to answer the call.

Electric companies and co-operatives in Montana have not received the request.

But they've seen it in Montana before with crews from in state and out of state helping to get electricity back.

While no linemen are on their way to Florida yet, they have a good sense about how mutual assistance or mutual aid will work in Florida.

When states suffer severe power outages like those expected in the Sunshine State, local electric companies and co-ops often call for help from around the country.

"It's a standing mutual aid agreement," said Brandon Wittman, Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative C.E.O. & general manager. "Makes it more efficient to there's no haggling over what's the price for this alignment from this co-op versus this co-op and that sort of thing."

Wittman has experience as a lineman in emergency situations.

"You get all hands on deck and everybody really starts pulling the rope in the same direction," Wittman said. "And there's a lot of camaraderie and guys just really want to help folks get lights back on in short order."

Recently, crews from cooperatives have responded to emergencies caused by flooding in Carbon, Stillwater and Big Horn counties.

"Lineman's a brotherhood," said Ryan Hall, Montana Electric Cooperatives Association communications director. "You'll hear them say that a lot. And especially within subsets like cooperatives with them doing the same training and same classes. A lot of those guys know each other and are familiar with each other. And again, mutual aid has happened enough, several of them have seen each other before."

Hall said the association is made up of 25 co-ops, including Yellowstone Valley.

"As of right now I've heard back from over half of our managers and none of them have received a call or request for assistance," Hall said.

But he does say many would be happy to answer the call if needed.

Beartooth Electric Co-op has also not sent any workers to Florida.

Wittman says it's most efficient for crews within 500 miles to respond.

Requests to co-ops would come through the National Electric Cooperative Association.

NorthWestern Energy also has not received a request.

Jo Dee Black, NorthWestern public relations specialist, says that request would come from Edison Electrical Institute (EEI).

She sent a written statement:

"Our thoughts are with all those impacted by Hurricane Ian, a dangerous and powerful storm. NorthWestern Energy is monitoring the mutual assistance needs. Based on the extent of the needs of the energy companies in that area for damage recovery, NorthWestern Energy will evaluate sending our crews or releasing contractors from work for NorthWestern Energy to support the efforts to repair damage caused by Hurricane Ian and restore energy service. Mutual assistance is a hallmark of the energy industry."

"There's a sense of helping your neighbor," Hall said.

"Just that spirit of trying to help is pretty impressive," Wittman said.