By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Aug. 30, 2018) In the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, three members of the Berlin Electric Utility traveled to Orlando, Florida last September to join a multistate effort to restore power there.
On Monday, the Berlin Town Council announced the utility had received an American Municipal Power Mutual Aid Commendation for its efforts.
Berlin is a member of American Municipal Power, which coordinated the hurricane relief effort. Mayor Gee Williams on Monday described the organization as “a nationwide association of electric utilities owned by municipalities.”
Williams said Berlin Electric, despite being a relatively small utility, were “able to show critical assistance where it was needed.”
Electric Utility Director Tim Lawrence said his department was contacted around Sept. 11 last year and asked to help restore power outages caused by Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever seen in the Atlantic Ocean.
Originally headed to Clewiston, Florida, Lawrence said the three-man crew, including himself, Chief Lineman Alan Parkinson and First-Class Lineman Claude Littleton, were somewhere in Georgia when they were rerouted instead to Orlando.
“I told all the guys, ‘we’re going to Disney World!’” Lawrence said with a laugh.
Arriving at about 10 p.m., the group immediately went through a safety orientation hosted by Orlando Power.
Among other things, the crew was warned of water moccasins swimming through flooded areas, Lawrence said.
“That actually came after one of the lineman that was working down there, and they told us to watch out for those and then also alligators,” he said. “They told us, ‘if you’re near a body of water to keep an eye out for alligators.’ Well, guess what? The water next morning we ended up being right next to a pond.”
Lawrence recalled looking over at Parkinson and several times asking, “Do those look like two little beady eyes sticking up?”
Along with the perils of local wildlife, crews also had to be wary of extreme temperatures and were limited to shifts of two or three hours before being asked to take a break. Lawrence said the heat index on the first day was 113 degrees.
Still, they worked through most of a three-day period, Sept. 15-17, and when they left to return home on Sunday, “they still had six or eight people still without power,” Lawrence said.
“We had utility companies from 16 different states that were there,” he said. “We met people from Alabama and all through the south area that were working.”
Lawrence recognized Littletown and Parkinson on Monday, as well as others who stayed behind to “keep the lights on” in Berlin: Meter Technician Barry Daniels, Chief Lineman Jim Higgason and Superintendent Augie Wienhold.
Williams praised the department, which he said included “the most risky jobs within any of our departments.”
“And you’ve done a fantastic job,” he said. “We’re just very grateful for the reliability because, as people may understand or may not, the Town of Berlin is in the top 7 percent in terms of reliability of power in the nation.
“As with any other mutual aid commendation, we are so thankful we haven’t had to be on the receiving end, but if that day every comes, we know we have a lot of good partners there who would come to our aid as well,” he added.