When Hurricane Irma made U.S. landfall in September, its devastation left over 6 million people in Florida, Georgia and other southern states without electricity.
The next day, Kankakee Valley REMC’s Chris Brown, journeyman linemen, and Chris Frank, apprentice linemen, said farewell to their families and joined a team of 65 electric co-op linemen from around Indiana who volunteered to help families in the stricken areas get their electricity back on quickly and safely.
“We take care of needs at home first, but our crews are always eager to help those in need,” said Dennis Weiss, CEO of Kankakee Valley REMC. “They take tremendous pride in representing Kankakee Valley REMC and the state of Indiana in both a professional and safe manner.”
The cooperative convoy gathered in Indianapolis and headed south Sept. 12. Crews returned a week later with mission accomplished.
As part of a mutual aid program, coordinated by Indiana Electric Cooperative’s Job Training and Safety Department, cooperatives have provided assistance to states impacted by hurricanes and other disasters. This was not the first time Brown assisted out-of-state cooperatives. In 2004 and 2005, he was in Mississippi and Alabama following Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.
“Helping with hurricane relief is a unique experience,” Brown said. “We are working in unfamiliar areas, alongside people we don’t know. Yet, the end goal is the same; to help people when they need it most.”
Because the electric cooperatives’ national network of transmission and distribution infrastructure has been built to federal standards, line crews from any American electric cooperative can arrive on the scene ready to provide support, secure in their knowledge of the system’s engineering.
This time, the Kankakee crew worked a week alongside cooperatives from Indiana and neighboring states to provide assistance to Sumter EMC in Americus, Georgia, and SECO Energy in Sumterville, Florida. Fallen trees, downed power lines, broken poles and flooding were left in the aftermath of the hurricane in these areas.
“The people we met and helped in Florida and Georgia were very appreciative of us being there,” added Frank. “They offered us food and to do our laundry. They were very accommodating, even though they had lost so much.”
Residents were not the only ones to welcome crews to the rural areas, Brown noted. Wildlife including reptiles, snakes and spiders, normally hidden in the area, were dredged up by the storm. “What we encountered was all very familiar to what we experience during any local storm, the challenges though were very different,” he said.
“I am proud of the support that our employees give to fellow cooperative members in need. When we can join resources, the impact is seen in the many lives we help. To change one life is great, to change hundreds or even thousands is amazing,” Weiss said.