This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which left parts of Long Island and the Rockaways devastated in its aftermath. Recovery efforts were steady, but damage lingered while the linemen of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), and other utilities, worked tirelessly to restore power.
“It was tough,” said Kevin Donnelly, now a PSEG Long Island field supervisor, but a LIPA lineman at the time. “And dangerous. A lot of downed wires, broken poles. You really had to be extra cautious.”
The importance and expansion of safety measures, Kevin said, was his number one take-away after Sandy.
“The conditions were so dangerous, it was easy to make a mistake,” he said. “Thankfully I didn’t have any incidents when working after the storm, but there were some close calls. Since then, the crews and I have really focused on making sure conditions are safe before starting any work.”
This lesson was equally important when Kevin and other PSEG Long Island crew members traveled to Tampa, Florida last month to assist in restoration efforts after Hurricane Irma. Upon arrival, out-of-state crews sit through an orientation to learn safety procedures specific to the hosting utility–in this case Tampa Electric (TECO).
“Bird dogs”–employees of the hosting utility–bring you to the work site, Kevin explained, and from there, individuals work with the crew with which they traveled to begin work.
“In the case of Tampa, their voltage was the same, so many of the safety measures and procedures they used were identical to ours,” Kevin said, making it an easy transition.
Traveling to assist other crews is an experience like none other, he continued. Greeted by smiling faces, trays of food, and dozens of ‘thank yous,’ linemen like Kevin are often reminded of the importance of their work.
“People are so happy to see you,” he said. “Just a few months ago when we were in Florida, a woman with her two kids stopped by our crew’s site and brought us a brown paper lunch bag with an apple and Gatorade in it.”
When assisting crews during another storm, Kevin recalls being met with hundreds of Styrofoam trays of hot food for the linemen.
“It really means a lot when you’re there,” he said.
Gratitude is a two-way street. During Sandy, crews from across the country were dispatched to Long Island and the Rockaways to help restoration efforts. Both the linemen and residents were grateful for their arrival.
“I was living in Miller Place and foreign crews actually came to my neighborhood and re-energized my house. My family was pretty happy to see them,” he laughed.
Kevin started working in the utility industry in 1986 as a welder for the Glenwood Generating Station in Glenwood Landing. From here, he went on to become a lineman, braving Long Island’s “Storm of the Century” as his first, in 1993.
“I was an apprentice working out of Riverhead, and a lot of the work we were doing was on Dune Road,” he said. “We were climbing poles, cutting wires down, it was some scary stuff. This was the beginning of my storm experience.”
In addition to Florida, Kevin has also traveled to Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and the tri-state area to help restore power to those in need after a storm.
But one of his most vivid storm memories?
“Boats floating down the middle of Bayshore Road,” Kevin said of Superstorm Sandy. “I’ve just never seen anything like it,”