For many linemen, the end of a long workday is the start of an even longer evening. After spending hours climbing poles and working in the scorching heat, linemen often turn in their hard hats for baseball caps, work boots for running shoes and flame-retardant clothing for athletic apparel. They might grab a quick bite to eat, load their little ones in the car and drive to the local ball field to coach their children's sports teams. Other times, they might slip into a suit and tie and lead the local church congregation in worship or participate in a community meeting.
Whether they are on or off the clock, many linemen are leaders in their communities. Their jobs demand grace under pressure, dedication and courage, often the same qualities local organizations, charities, schools, churches and political associations search for in leaders. Because of these qualities, linemen often apply for volunteer positions and find themselves quickly rising to the top of the leadership ladder.
The following pages showcase five field workers who have made a mark on their communities. While these five leaders could not be more different, they all share a common passion for helping others, a dedication to their jobs in the field and a talent for juggling responsibilities.
Putting Out Fires
When an ice storm rolls into town, Doug Cook knows he is in for a long night. The former lineman, who now works as a troubleshooter, covers a 24/7 shift for both the Morgan County Rural Electric Association (REA) and the volunteer fire department.
“There's a fine line about how much you put into the volunteer side versus making a living,” said Cook, who lives in a rural community 60 miles east of Denver, Colorado. “When the roads get slick, cars crash into each other, so I get called out on fire calls. I'm also working all night on the power lines.”
According to Cook, the REA has always been supportive of his post at the fire department. “There's been days when the fire pager might go off at 7 a.m., and I end up on a call until 8:30 a.m.,” Cook explained. “I just get the job done and then I get to work.”
After pushing a line crew for many years, he now works out of his home at the Prospect Valley, Colorado, outpost. He became interested in volunteering as a fireman because he and his family lived across the street from a fire station. He often saw fire trucks speed out of the driveway with their lights spinning and alarms blaring.
Because he wanted to become part of the community, he walked over to the fire station for a Monday night meeting. The station brought him on board as a probationary member, and he began participating in weekly training sessions. To become trained as a volunteer firefighter, Cook used his vacation days from work. He eventually became trained as a first responder and is now a leader in the fire department.
The three fire stations in the district receive 400 calls a year, which makes for a busy schedule for Cook. “When I first started in the fire department, I put in a lot of effort and I ran a lot of calls,” he said. “When I had done it for five years, I got voted on as a district battalion chief by the members. It was a real accomplishment that the guys felt comfortable having me as an incident commander on an emergency scene.”
The volunteer fire department in Weld County is not only responsible for putting out fires but also handles all of the medical calls. The county's ambulance comes from 30 miles away, so Cook and the other firefighters have to be able to handle any situation that comes their way.
As a chief of the fire department, Cook is responsible for sending the firefighters to where they are best suited for the job. His job managing a line crew prepared him for leading a team of firefighters, he said.
“A lot of linemen could relate firefighting with line work,” Cook said. “There's a thrill associated with line work, and not everyone can work up to 100 ft in the air and on high voltage. At the same time, not everyone can run into a burning building.”
In addition, firefighters often have the same camaraderie and teamwork as line crews, Cook said. For example, when linemen are working on energized lines, they always have their coworkers watch their backs, and they always go in teams of two.
Like line work, firefighting also requires firefighters to respond at a moment's notice. Firefighters need to always work swiftly and safely to extinguish flames, he said. “Things happen more quickly than an eight- or 10-hour day,” he said. “A fire call is in the heat of the moment, and once it goes off, you have to think quickly. It's just like when linemen work on a storm and their instincts begin to take over.”
Cook's experience as a lineman also prepared him for another role in the community — the president of the Rebel Youth Athletics Association. His association organizes all the soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball and basketball games in town.
He first got started working for the association when he turned on the lights for the community baseball fields. He had the opportunity to speak to a woman on the board, and she invited him to a meeting. From that, he became an umpire representative. Two and a half years later, he became president of the association.
“I was new to the community, and I was proud that people who didn't know me all my life knew I could be a leader,” he said.
He now runs monthly board meetings, gets the information to the local communities, and talks to the coaches. In his area, the community is made up of four smaller towns, and 250 to 300 kids sign up to participate throughout the year.
Cook is not only a volunteer firefighter and a leader in youth sports, but he also coaches his daughter's softball and T-ball team. He has three young children and says he would not be able to juggle his job and volunteer responsibilities without the support of his wife.
“My wife is understanding of what it takes to do what I do,” he said. “Sometimes I'm gone for a few hours for a fire meeting or away from the house on a call. She picks up the slack around the house with the kids.”
He said his children also are very understanding of his role as a leader in the community and enjoy having a firefighter for a father.
While he wears a lot of hats, Cook enjoys being part of his community and serving as a leader. While he has a nonstop lifestyle, he would not have it any other way.
Inspiring the Leaders of Tomorrow
As the father of two sons, journeyman Moe Orcutt spent many nights coaching T-ball and soccer teams. His job as a coach, however, did not stop when his sons left home.
Orcutt, who has worked as a journeyman lineman for Tacoma Power for eight years and previously at Puget Sound Energy for 28 years, now coaches both the boys' and girls' high school soccer teams year-round.
“I love kids, and the way I serve them is through sports,” he said. “I love the contact with the young players and being able to serve as a positive role model for them. Working as a coach in high school fills the spot in your heart that you have when your own children leave.”
He loves it so much, in fact, that he takes 10 weeks off from work to coach the girls' soccer team. After using up his vacation, he takes the rest of the weeks off without pay. When he worked for Puget Sound Energy, he was able to squeeze it in, but now that he is working for Tacoma Power, he said it is easier for him to take the time completely off from work because he has to coach five nights a week during the season.
“They are very cooperative, and they allow me to take whatever time I need off without pay,” he said.
As a former high school basketball player, Orcutt coaches high schoolers in the town of Puyallup, Washington. He coaches the boys at Emerald Ridge High School and the girls at Rogers High School. In addition to serving as a coach on the field, he also chaperones dances, participates in school fundraisers and helps them in any way he can.
Through his role as a coach, he tries to impart important life lessons to the young people. He teaches them about the value of hard work, working well with others and working toward a common goal. He also tries to teach them to be humble and thankful for what they have.
One of the most rewarding parts of being a coach is watching his players move through high school, meet their goals and contribute to society. For example, one of his former high school players is a journeyman lineman in California. After shadowing Orcutt on the job during his senior year of high school, Phil Hartnett went on to work in the utility trade. He now works as a lineman for Pacific Gas & Electric in Sacramento.
“I spent a day on the job with him, and he helped to direct me in the right way,” Hartnett said. “I feel fortunate that I got that opportunity.”
Hartnett said now that he is in the line trade, he cannot imagine having the time to also volunteer as a high school coach.
“I think for him, it gives him the most opportunity to give back to the kids,” Hartnett said. “He was the kind of person you wanted to work your hardest for and give your 110%.”
Orcutt feels the same way about his players, and he often refers to them as his “boys” and “girls.” In fact, he has devoted an entire hallway in his home to photos of his former players. The girls often enjoy coming back to his house three or four years after they graduate to see their photos hung in his wall of fame.
Over the years, he has even volunteered to drive around some of his former high school athletes on their wedding day. His wife, Linda, said her husband's commitment to coaching over the last 25 years is unparalleled.
“He not only coaches the game and technique, but also what goes beyond all that,” said Linda, who coaches gymnastics. “He sends a message of guidance, reassurance and commitment.”
Spreading the Word
Lineman Larry Goll remembers having Bible study with other young families when he first moved to Helena, Montana. That Bible study evolved into a Christian church and school, which has been in operation for the last 25 years.
Goll, a foreman for PAR Electrical Contractors, came to Helena as a young journeyman lineman in 1979. He and his family rented an apartment in a four-plex building and invited their neighbors to participate in a Bible study in their living room. After a few months, they bought a house, and they met for Lord's day assemblies in their home. As Goll and his wife, Barbara, studied with friends and neighbors, they became Christians who followed the Biblical example, and Christ's Church was born. After renting space in downtown Helena, the church purchased a 1930s-era Salvation Army building.
Christ's Church has congregations throughout the state and even nationwide. The church has already outgrown its existing building and has purchased acreage in the Helena Valley to build another facility. In addition, the Golls founded a school called Christ's Church Academy, which has been open since 1985. The school is located inside the church, which is a few blocks from the Montana Capitol.
Goll, who has worked in the utility industry for 36 years, now balances his time between his job as a foreman with PAR Electrical Contractors, his role as a part-time trainer and journeyman test examiner, and his volunteer work for the church. As a minister, he preaches about once a month on Sundays. He has now trained about eight men in his congregation to preach and share their faith in Christ to the 70 to 80 church members.
“Some of the men who are involved in this are doing a lot more than I am,” he said. “Their effort and the blessings of God have made this grow.”
After he works a 10-hour day running a dock crew, he spends his evenings doing Bible studies as well as financial and family counseling. Rather than meeting his members at the church or his house, he instead travels to their homes, sometimes even driving to other towns to preach and conduct Bible studies. In one case, he drove 70 miles to conduct a Bible study with a fellow lineman who just earned his journeyman ticket. He said, oftentimes, linemen have problems or needs, and they can find the answers they are looking for in the Bible.
“Jesus told us to go out into the world and take the Gospel, and that's what I do,” said Goll, who is the son of a former lineman/equipment operator for Montana power line companies. “I go into their homes, sit down with them, work with them and help them with their problems. More of my time goes to that than the evangelistic work.”
Barbara, Goll's wife of 33 years, said her husband loves people and is committed to sharing the Gospel with others. She remembers when her children were young, and her husband would come home from his job as a lineman, eat dinner with them and then head off to a Bible study session.
In the beginning, Goll not only conducted Bible studies, he also spent about eight years as a teacher for Christ's Church Academy during the school year and as a lineman for Montana power line companies in the summer. With the school well established with a full-time instructor and administrator, Goll went back to work full time as a lineman.
All of Goll's five children graduated from the academy, which ranges from kindergarten to high school, and they are now all very successful in their careers, Goll said. The other graduates also have done well academically and have gone on to serve in other congregations and as missionaries.
The school has been in continuous operation since it started and has been a huge success, Barbara said.
“The school is a big part of our life, because we wanted to give our kids a Christian education,” Barbara said. “We could have homeschooled our children, but other people didn't have that option, so we wanted to make the school available to them. Now the kids who have graduated from the school have their own kids in the school.”
The school and the church have continued to grow. Through his preaching and teaching, Goll has helped to plant churches in Butte and Great Falls, Montana, and has been influential in the lives of many Christians around the state and country, Barbara said. All of the churches are local, independent congregations that are not governed by a central headquarters, and they minister to the poor and needy. In addition to serving local congregations, Christ's Church has sent missionaries over to Ghana, Africa and India.
Goll said he felt he was called by God to take the message of Christ out into the world. By creating a Christian church and school in his community, he is hoping to make a difference one person at a time.
Preparing Teens for a Brighter Future
Some teenagers in Yuma, Arizona, never have the opportunity to pursue a college degree, let alone finish their high school diploma. Through help from the Equal Opportunity Center (E.O.C) High School, however, the teens can earn an education and reach their dreams.
“We keep talking about career ladders, and these kids can't even get on the ladder without a high school diploma,” said Edward Ford, a troubleshooter for Arizona Public Service who serves as president of the E.O.C. High School board. “We live in a depressed area on the border, and many of the kids get into the real world, and without an education, there is nowhere for them to go.”
The E.O.C. High School, however, takes on 105 students every year, and last year, 70 of the students earned their high school diplomas. In fact, 30% of the students even went on to junior and four-year colleges.
Ford, who has worked for Arizona Public Service for the last 38 years and is nicknamed “Earthy” by his crew, remembers the first time he attended a graduation ceremony. Seeing the parents and families turn out for the event caused him to get choked up and get a big lump in his throat.
“These kids aren't successful in elementary school, and then they go to high school, they don't fit in and then they leave,” he said. “On their graduation day, you know how much it will mean to their future even if they don't. You also see how much it means to the families that their kids have finally seen success in their lives.”
To help out the E.O.C., Ford leads a monthly one-hour board meeting, gives guidance to the school manager and participates in student fundraisers.
“If they're trying to raise money for a school trip through grilling hot dogs or having a bake sale, I'll try to make it part of my day to go over there and participate,” he said.
In addition, Ford helps to select one student each year to win a $500 scholarship from the local union to the college of his or her choice. Ford is heavily involved as not only the president of the E.O.C. High School, but also the treasurer of the Yuma County Work Force Investment Board, which helps train displaced workers. The County Board of Supervisors and the AFL-CIO nominated him to the board, which is how he eventually got involved with the E.O.C.
“I've always been involved politically behind the scenes from a Democratic party point of view,” Ford said.
Ford, who is also serving his sixth term as chairman of the executive board of IBEW Local 387, has been a member of the union for the last 36 years and a union steward for 31 years. He spends anywhere from one to three hours each day taking care of his responsibilities for the union.
“I am constantly on the phone with people and working with management,” he said. “I get calls at night and on the weekend. When I was on vacation, I got called three or four times. You can take vacation from work but not from the union.”
Ford also wears two other hats: he is a father and the manager of an under-17 competitive soccer team. Over the last year, Ford estimates he has spent 800 hours at soccer practices, tournaments and fundraising events. His soccer team practices three nights a week and travels to a tournament once a month for 10 months out of the year.
He first got involved in soccer when his son was five years old, and he became frustrated with the other adults' lack of involvement in youth sports. He then started becoming more involved, and for the last seven years, he has served as a team manager for two teams.
“When I first did it, I told my wife that I would just handle the business side of it, and I wouldn't go to the tournaments,” he said. “I got so committed to the kids, however, that they became like my own. I go to all the tournaments and all the practices, and it's like I have a kid on the team.”
Ford's son is now out of school and in the Army, but Ford still remains committed to the kids in his community through youth sports and the E.O.C. “I am proud that you have something to do with these kids, and it means so much to see they are successful,” he said.
On a Mission to Help Others
Ameren Illinois lineman Rob Adair's top three priorities fall in this order: God, family and work. As a firm believer in the power of helping others, Adair has been involved in his church since he was a child. As the years went by, he watched his parents go on several mission trips, sponsor missionaries and help local teenagers.
Every Sunday, he and his wife of 11 years, Aliesha, spend a few hours with the teenagers who ride the bus to church. The Bethel Chapel Pentecostal Church in Granite City, Illinois, sends three buses out into the community on Sunday mornings to pick up 60 to 100 underprivileged children who are not able to make it to the service. When they arrive at church, Adair presents a lesson and a skit while his wife handles the music. In the past, Adair even drove the bus on Sunday mornings, but now he serves as a backup.
“My wife and I were raised the same way,” said Adair, who met his wife at the Bible College in Neosho, Missouri. “We were both taught that God gives to others, and we need to think of others first before ourselves. That's how my mom and dad taught me, and that's how I want to teach my kids.”
He often even brings his two older children with him to work at a church camp. For three weeks out of the summer, the church sponsors a camp for 500 to 600 teenagers. Adair always volunteers to help with electrical maintenance and construction projects, and he also serves as a camp counselor.
In addition to doing community service projects within his own church, he has traveled overseas to perform missionary work. In February 2010, he jumped at the opportunity to go on his first mission trip with his father, Bob, who has worked in Ameren's relay test department for the last 30 years.
“My church has six to eight missionaries come to visit every year, and I always felt a tug in my heart to support them,” said Adair, who works in the East St. Louis Operating Center in Illinois. “I always wanted to go overseas to do mission work. When the pastor of my church needed two guys with experience in construction to go to Haiti, my dad and I volunteered to go.”
Rob and Bob spent one week in March near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, working 12- to 14-hour days. A January 12 earthquake caused 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings to collapse or become severely damaged. Their Ameren coworkers donated $9000 to fund the mission trip to Haiti to cover the cost of supplies, food and housing.
Many power lines were severely damaged in Haiti's earthquake, which registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. Adair said in some areas, he was surprised how close to spec everything was, but in other areas, it was the complete opposite, and he was surprised they were even in operation.
After returning home from his mission trip, Adair said he gained a new appreciation for his family and his life in the United States. Through his volunteer work for his church, he has had the opportunity to give back to others and, in the process, lead a more fulfilling life as a lineman and a community leader.