Hundreds of ComEd workers out East to help with Sandy damage: ‘You treat it like . . . it was happening to you’
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org October 30, 2012 7:48PM
Lineman Ken Deisenroth, a member of a Commonwealth Edison crew based out of Libertyville, works on restoring power Oct.30 near Pikesville, Md. where Hurricane Sandy dumped heavy rain and winds of more than 40 mph. | Courtesy photo
Updated: December 1, 2012 4:51PM
Tony Mejia and his crew worked Tuesday to restore power in suburban Baltimore as rain fell, wind blew and the temperature hovered in the 40s.
The Libertyville-based ComEd crew was just one of many groups that headed east to restore electricity after Hurricane Sandy left millions of people in the dark.
About 700 Chicago-based ComEd employees and contractors were sent to Philadelphia and Baltimore to help sister utilities, PECO in Philadelphia and Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, Tyler Anthony, senior vice president of distribution operations for ComEd, said from Baltimore.
A caravan of dozens of trucks — including bucket trucks and a mobile-command center — left Chicago Saturday morning. Traveling in that caravan was Pete Jonites, a lineman from McHenry who has been part of a handful of missions to help cities power up.
“You treat it like it was yourself — happening to you,” said Jonites, 50.
For lineman John Grandfield, 45, of Antioch, disaster relief is an opportunity to really show people the type of work he and his colleagues do.
“Sometimes you don’t feel appreciated and you come out to these situations and these people need help. . . . It makes the job of being a lineman, to me, it makes it feel like it’s something,” he said.
There’s men behind that light switch in your house,” Grandfield said. “When that light comes back on . . . we feel just as good as they do.”
And there’s also the thrill of being involved.
In the Midwest, “We don’t get a hurricane. A hurricane is like 10 tornadoes,” Jonites said. “It’s stuff I would have never seen if I wasn’t working for Commonwealth Edison as a lineman.”
No Illinois police, firefighters, doctors or other emergency personnel had been dispatched to help by Tuesday afternoon, but that could change, said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, which receives official requests for assistance.
“This isn’t going to be over in a day or two. There is going to be a long-term response, and we’ll just continue to work with [other states] and see if there’s anything we can provide them.”
Jonites and Mejia were working Tuesday to restore power to a main line in Pikesville, a suburb northwest of Baltimore with about 30,000 residents.
First, they had to move a “huge” tree.
Mejia, the lead crew leader, estimated it was more than 10 feet around. It had knocked down two utility poles and detached the power lines in several spots.
After moving the tree, the crew had to get the power lines out from under it, put them back in place and get them in working order before the power could be turned back on.
“We don’t just turn on a switch and get it back on. It takes a lot of steps so we can do everything safely,” said Mejia, 50, of Round Lake.
“We’re still not done. They don’t have power, so we’re still not done here,” he said.
All of the people who headed east volunteered for the assignment and are paid a premium, Anthony said.
The workers don’t know exactly when they’ll return.
“A lot of times we’ll move up the coast where there is still a lot of power outages,” Jonites said. “It’s just clean up here, move up.”
The crews work long hours — about 16 hours a day — but they said they like being able to help out.
“To pull down a street and see a total disaster area . . . when you leave it’s all put back to normal, and that’s such a fulfilling feeling,” Jonites said.