April 15, 2022
From keeping the power flowing 24/7 to restoring service after storms to enhancing public safety, linemen make a major impact on everyday life for utility customers throughout the U.S. On April 18, their profession takes center stage during National Lineman Appreciation Day.
“Linemen have been called the backbone of the electrical industry, and that’s an accurate statement,” said Edward Kemp, general manager of Starkville Utilities. “They’re on the front lines of customer service, making sure our we deliver safe, reliable and affordable electricity to power Starkville. We depend on linemen for so many things, and they’ve always been up to the task, no matter how challenging.”
Starkville Utilities currently employs eight linemen and six apprentice linemen who work together to maintain the city’s electrical distribution system, which comprises approximately 190 miles of distribution lines.
Two main crews are equipped to work on energized lines and equipment and build overhead and underground facilities, substations and other construction projects; while a two-person service crew handles connections, repairs and other tasks to keep customers’ lights on.
“Our crew is like family. When you work together every day, you’ll become a family,” said David Hatfield, a Starkville Utilities crew chief with 36 years of industry experience. “We work together well, and we always do our best to please customers.”
Becoming a lineman requires a significant investment of time and training. The apprenticeship phase involves a minimum of 7,000 hours of on-the-job training along with classroom instruction, labs and testing—a process that can take up to six years.
Starkville Utilities partners with the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association to provide training for employees. The first phase is an intensive pre-apprentice assessment workshop to determine if an employee is suited for the demands of the job. Trainees must demonstrate their ability to perform line work under stress, their capacity to learn and how well they follow orders.
It’s clear why apprentice training programs are exceptionally rigorous. Working with high-voltage equipment requires specialized skills and experience along with physical strength, mental focus, a teamwork mindset and an unwavering commitment to safety. Line workers also are adept at climbing poles and working at heights.
“TVPPA offers a great training program that covers a lot of areas,” Hatfield said. “Apprentices must progress through stages to become linemen. They can’t go up in a bucket truck right away—they have to put in their time, help with ground work and become familiar with the tools and equipment on our trucks. They’re also required to have a class A commercial driver’s license.”
Apprentices learn quickly that keeping safety in the forefront is part of the routine. Starkville Utilities crews begin each day with a morning “tailgate” meeting where employees review the day’s work schedule and discuss safety requirements for each job.
Service trucks are stocked with personal protective equipment including rubber gloves and rubber sleeves that can withstand 30,000 volts of electricity, insulated poles and climbing gear designed to prevent slips and falls.
Storm response is another dimension of line work with its own unique demands. While getting the lights back on quickly for customers is important, time pressure is the enemy of safety. Line crews focus on assessing damage, developing a restoration strategy and identifying and eliminating hazards before their work begins.
“Customers appreciate the work we do and the conditions we’re working in,” Hatfield said. “In the past, they’ve brought us donuts and biscuits and told us how grateful they are that we’re working to get their lights back on. Helping others makes me want to come to work every morning. I love what I do.”
Considering the essential role linemen play in delivering power to customers, Starkville Utilities keeps an eye out for qualified line workers and apprentice candidates and posts job openings on its website and social media.
“We always want to have a full complement of linemen to maintain our electrical system in top condition and to train and mentor future linemen,” Kemp said. “Linemen are leaders who are always looking out for each other and for our customers, and we appreciate their service and commitment to safety.”
Starkville Utilities is a public utility serving 14,000 residences, businesses and industries in Starkville, Mississippi as well as Mississippi State University. Its mission is to supply safe, reliable, and cost-effective electric and water service of superior quality and value that improves the lives of its customers.