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Q&A: Plugging In with a Power Lineman

October 18, 2012 - 4:17pm

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To commemorate what BPA considers a 75-year partnership with the Columbia River, which is the cornerstone of BPA's relationship with the people and utilities of the Northwest, BPA releases the second video of a series detailing its history. You can see the rest of the series on BPA's 75th Anniversary YouTube channel.

This Q&A and video are part of a series produced by the Bonneville Power Administration, which chronicles BPA's history focusing mostly on the past several decades since the passage of the Northwest Power Act. You can see the rest of the series on BPA's 75th Anniversary YouTube channel.

Craig Froh is a third generation power lineman. His career began in 1973 and by 1987 he was working for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). He worked on several crews as a lineman for 17 years. Froh has held his current position in the engineering group as a technical services representative for the past 10 years.

What does a lineman do?

The lineman’s goal is to keep the customer in service, no matter what. At BPA, linemen are like the engine of a machine that keeps a utility functioning. The effort is coordinated with management to attain the goals of the administration. Those goals are to achieve continuity of service while maintaining low-cost electrical energy.

The job of a lineman is not easy. A lineman must be willing to work in all-weather conditions at all hours of the day. They are a “jack of all trades.” That means a lineman must have a good working knowledge of a variety of trades, such as surveying, carpentry, heavy equipment operation, mathematics and the assessment of falling trees, to name a few.

How has the industry changed over the last thirty years?

Technology in the utility industry is changing virtually every day. Those changes include but are not limited to new processes, tools and materials, and safety procedures. Individual utilities need fewer interruptions to service, so the need for a lineman to work the system energized is becoming a factor. Technology has also created assets for a lineman in the field. Those assets include computers and programs, GPS systems, satellite telephones, smart phones and computer-assisted heavy machinery.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Safety is the number one priority for a lineman. That’s why BPA invests in extensive training, whether it’s proper clothing, tools, and work procedures, fall protection or the proper use of equipment and materials. In fact, at BPA all of these things matter are part of machine that’s continually calibrated to keep our linemen safe. At the end of the day our goal is to send all linemen home to their families, while supplying our customers with un-interrupted service. 

What would you say to the new generation considering this line of work? 

Linemen are often the ones on the frontlines interacting with landowners and rural communities. That’s why a lineman today must be skilled in public relations. The key is to practice respect.  Collaboration between linemen, management and engineering ensures that the goals of our utility customers can be accomplished in a timely and cost effective way.

A good lineman is assertive, takes pride in work, has self-confidence, is open to innovation and can build trust in fellow workers. It’s very challenging work, but also important work, and that in itself is very rewarding.

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