Gord Laverdiere, transmission line maintenance supervisor for SaskPower, works in the pole yard behind his company’s service center.
I was applying for a gas utility worker job but ended up in the line trade instead. I loved it. My first job at SaskPower was loading flyash at one of our coal-fired stations. Flyash is the light byproduct from burning coal, and it's sold to concrete companies to strengthen concrete. I eventually got an apprentice line technician job in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, which is where I met my future wife.
Day in the Life
In my current role, I meet with engineers/consultants on various projects. I also work with our scheduler and in-scope supervisors to ensure the work is planned properly. In addition, I do work observations on my crew and contractors. Right now, our crews are performing line maintenance and changing poles and spars on our aging system.
Challenges and Rewards
When you work in the utility industry, you face the challenge of not only keeping up with the aging infrastructure, but also staying ahead of the crew and scheduling around conflicts with customers and system operators. It's also hard to get new people to enter the trade, because it's a difficult and sometimes dangerous trade, and the new generation doesn't seem interested because it's so challenging.
The rewards are when the crew gets the job done safely.
I learned the importance of safety when I first started at SaskPower and had to measure the flyash in a large silo. I would drop a tape measure down a hatch. One day, the end got caught on a railing. I climbed in and unhooked it, and then climbed out and went back into the office. When I told my supervisor what I had done, he went very white. Apparently, he just started transferring flyash into the silo. I would have been knocked off the railing and killed. He told me I needed a lock-out permit, but I was so new I didn't know any better. I was working hard and trying to prove myself. From that experience, I learned to ask first.
Over the past three years, we have had major storms come through Saskatchewan. Weather patterns are definitely changing. Just last June, we had plough winds and tornados go through our system and take down a lot of lines. In fact, it was the most damage I have ever seen.
As I look back on my career, I have worked a lot of storms and had a lot of experiences, but there's one moment I will not forget. I was in a helicopter crash when we were working in a forested area in Northern Saskatchewan. We flew back and forth to the work camp, and one day, our engine flamed out, and down we went.
We survived and had to walk a few miles down the right-of-way to a road to get a ride back to the camp. Then an hour later, we taxied down the runway in an old plane in a blizzard to fly back home. We were laughing about the fact that we survived a helicopter crash and then could have ended up dying in a plane crash just an hour later.
Life as a Lineman
I like the nature of the work, and I think there's no other job like it. I like being outside, even when it's cold. I enjoy the mentality and camaraderie of linemen. There are no people like them. The colder/hotter and dirtier the conditions are, the harder they work to get the lights back on. The amazing people who are in the industry work through sometime horrible conditions to keep and restore power. Right from the top down, we get support to do our jobs efficiently and safely.
I plan to work eight years more and then retire to the lake and maybe head south to Phoenix in the winter. I'm proud to say I'm a lineman, and I would not want any other career. Being a lineman is not just a job, it's a way of life.