Tampa Electric's troublemen used to drive down dimly lit streets in the middle of the night. Their trucks' headlights and spotlights illuminated the road ahead of them, and to patrol circuits, they had to glance out of their side windows. By taking their eyes off the road, even for a split second, they were putting themselves at risk for an easily preventable accident.

About a year ago, the troublemen expressed concern to management that the trucks' caution and strobe lights needed major improvement. In response, a project team comprised of the company's fleet, trouble and standards departments met to brainstorm solutions and make changes. The project team identified and then implemented modifications to improve the overall safety of the troublemen's work environment.

At Tampa Electric, safety is the thread that holds all team members together. This emphasis on safety motivated three different departments to work together to improve the safety of troublemen in the field.

Lighting the Way

To improve the trucks, the utility started researching lighting technology. The fleet department searched for light-emitting-diode (LED) lights to illuminate the bottom of the trucks. The trouble department looked for new strobe lights, and the standards department researched spotlights.

The team ordered samples of spotlights from manufacturers and then selected a date to test them. At 9 p.m. one night, the project team and six troublemen evaluated all of the spotlights and decided on the Night Ray High Intensity Discharge (HID) light from K&H Industries.

This light features a 50-W HID metal halide arc discharge bulb with 750,000 candle power output. For that reason, it is considered one of the brightest remote-controlled spotlights in the utility industry, according to the vendor. In addition, the light can withstand extreme weather conditions such as snow and ice, and its open yolk design provides a full range of motion in any weather condition. The light can be rotated 370 degrees on a horizontal axis and 350 degrees on a vertical tilt, and can be controlled from within the vehicle via a redesigned control panel.

The next step was for the team to select lighting for underneath the truck. The lights couldn't exert a significant load on the trucks' electrical system, so Tampa Electric opted for LED lights, which draw minimal electricity.

The LED lights, manufactured by Star Headlight & Lantern Co. Inc., feature a bright, long-lasting light with 12 patterns — 11 preprogrammable flashing patterns and one setting that stays on constantly.

In addition, the LED lights can serve several functions on the trucks. For example, when set to flash, they warn approaching traffic of utility work ahead. When programmed for steady-on, they can be used for ground illumination, providing a well-lighted work zone 360 degrees around the truck.

The utility selected LED technology for ground lighting, compartment lighting and warning strobes. The ground lighting consists of LED lights mounted on the underside of the compartment body and front bumper. Tampa Electric also outfitted its compartments with LED lights to provide adequate lighting. The company programmed the LEDs, which were installed on the front and rear of the truck, to flash. In addition, Tampa Electric requested that a LED mini-light bar be installed on the roof of the cab.

The utility now has a spotlight mounted on each side of the truck. This HID light features a wireless remote, which enables the troublemen to control the light without being in the cab.

Vehicle Modifications

Tampa Electric mocked up one of its existing trucks with the new lights, and invited managers and directors to the company's training center for a demonstration. Team members simulated a real work environment by shutting off all lights in and around the training center. Team members then drove in one of the utility's existing trucks to show management the difference the lighting upgrades made.

As a result, management gave the project team the go-ahead to begin outfitting existing trouble trucks and establish the lighted truck as the standard for future trouble trucks.

Tampa Electric was scheduled to replace half of its trouble fleet with new trucks. The utility took the opportunity to work with its rental company, Global Rental Co. Inc., a subsidiary of Altec Industries, to modify the new trucks prior to delivery and to work with Total Mobiltronics to upgrade the remaining trouble trucks.

The new style trouble truck is a quad cab design. This design allows the troublemen to store fragile test equipment adequately in the back seat in a secure, dry environment. A wire mesh partition was installed between the driver and the back seat to ensure the driver is protected in the event of an accident. Additionally, the company's trouble trucks were equipped with back-up cameras.

The company also added aluminum steps on the driver and the passenger sides of the vehicle. These steps reduce the distance to step down to the ground by half. As a result, the steps help minimize the possibility that a worker could sprain his or her ankle when getting in and out of the trouble truck.

Another value-added feature that Tampa Electric installed inside the cab was several additional 12-V and 120-V power outlets. These outlets allow the troublemen to charge their test equipment and battery-operated tools.

Improving Morale

Tampa Electric's troublemen have adapted quickly to the new technology on their trucks. The company also has noticed that the troublemen are taking pride in their new trucks. The workers are showing their appreciation for all the work that went into the trucks by washing them regularly and keeping the interior neat and clean.

Tampa Electric's number one core value is safety, and the project to improve the trouble trucks spoke to the utility's dedication and commitment to its employees. The company supplied the troublemen with a new tool — a vastly improved trouble truck — and through teamwork and dedication, three of the utility's departments worked together to improve the safety of its troublemen.

Steve Brockman (sdbrockman@tecoenergy.com) has served as a senior functional technical specialist for the engineering, distribution engineering and standards division of Tampa Electric for 36 years.

Steve Elliott (sbelliott@tecoenergy.com) has worked for Tampa Electric for 33 years. He is currently a restoration supervisor in the trouble department.

Scott Williams (sbwilliams@tecoenergy.com) has been with Tampa Electric for three years and been in the utility business for 34 years. He is fleet technical specialist senior in the fleet department.

Companies Mentioned:

Altec Industries www.altec.com

Global Rental www.globalrental.com

K&H Industries www.khindustries.com

Star Headlight & Lantern Co. Inc. www.star1889.com

Tampa Electric www.tampaelectric.com

Total Mobiltronics www.totalmobiltronics.com