Mike Madrigal Signs His E-Mails with a Simple Message: Live Safe. A certified safety and training specialist for Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L; Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.), Madrigal not only talks the talk, he also walks the walk. This former lineman knows firsthand the dangers faced by his fellow utility workers and has dedicated his career to helping protect them.
Born and raised in Kansas City, Madrigal says he enjoyed playing soccer and football at Bishop Hogan High School. After graduation, he attended college to study accounting, but decided sitting behind a desk didn't appeal to him. So Madrigal took a job as a meter reader. In 1990, he entered KCP&L's apprenticeship program and became a journeyman lineman in 1993.
“I worked as a lineman until 2001,” said Madrigal. “At that time, Keith Kensinger, who was in charge of corporate safety, played a driving force in convincing me to come in from the field and join KCP&L's safety program. Also, I thought it was important to have someone who had worked as a lineman to instruct that group.”
Madrigal's safety and training expertise are indeed needed by his organization. A full-service energy provider and resource, KCP&L supplies power to more than 500,000 customers in 24 western Missouri and eastern Kansas counties — a service territory of approximately 4600 sq miles. Furthermore, the utility's parent company, Great Plains Energy, recently announced plans to acquire Aquila, a Kansas City, Missouri-based electric and natural gas distribution company that serves approximately 900,000 customers in five Midwestern states (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.) Aquila also owns and operates generation assets.
Just because he works in the office now doesn't mean he sits behind a desk all day. According to Madrigal, his department's goal is to make the safety and training program hands-on. “My philosophy is that a linesman is a craftsman,” he explained. “And there's nothing more boring to a craftsman than sitting in a classroom watching Power Point presentations. Right now, we are working to develop scenario-based training that will have our linesmen spend minimal time in the classroom. Instead, we take them into the field where they are evaluated while performing tasks and, if necessary, can be shown the safest work procedure.”
Madrigal believes complacency is a linesman's greatest safety threat. “I know from experience how important it is to leave your everyday problems at the bottom of the pole and pick them back up when you come down,” he said. “It's vital to focus and concentrate on the work at hand. It seems like accidents happen when people are operating in normal mode.”
Like many people in the electrical industry, Madrigal sees recruiting and retaining future lineman as a major challenge for utilities in the United States. To address the issue, he said KCP&L is visiting high schools and trying to reach out to students before they graduate.
“Being a lineman is a great career, but the industry is struggling,” he noted. “I think it's a generational issue. At the start of an apprenticeship program, we'll have maybe 23 people. At the end of the first few weeks, we'll have lost a quarter of them. If I could figure out a solution to the problem, I'd be a millionaire.”
When he isn't working, Madrigal spends as much time as possible with his two children, a son and a daughter. He enjoys taking them to the lake and traveling to watch their favorite sports teams play at different venues. Last season, he and his son visited Wisconsin to see the Green Bay Packers play. In fact, Madrigal says the walls of his home office are covered with ticket stubs and pamphlets from games he has attended over the years. Madrigal credits his father with his and his family's interest in sports.
“My dad was my inspiration. He always played in recreational sports leagues and then got into officiating. He didn't stop officiating games until two years ago.”
Although his long-term goals include returning to school to obtain his accounting degree, Madrigal has no plans to leave KCP&L's safety and training department any time soon.
“I don't necessarily want to climb the corporate ladder,” he said. “Right now, the thing that gives me reward in my job is the relationships I am making with people who have the same goal as I do. Our goal is not to write safety rules, but to give workers the information and tools needed to make the right decisions out in the field.”
Madrigal is proud that KCP&L has recently had some of the lowest safety-incident years on record, which he believes in a result of not having to justify every purchase or action. “We've cut out a lot of the red tape,” he said. “Every day my phone rings and it's someone who just wants to talk or needs a question answered in regard to a work practice. I'm pleased and will take these calls 24/7. The alternative is getting a call that we've had an incident and a worker is injured or worse.”