Pole-top rescue training focuses on speed, safety

Line specialists stay ‘Safe by Choice’

Photo of lineman Dave Helton teaching a training class.
Dave Helton stands next to a rescue mannequin used in pole-top rescue training at the English work center.

A second-generation line specialist, Dave Helton once saw his dad’s friends climbing poles and putting up power lines near his workplace.

“After I saw that, I knew going forward I wanted to be a lineman,” says Helton, who has worked for Hoosier Energy almost 27 years. “I’ve never looked back. I love working with my hands, climbing poles, being outside, doing hard physical labor.”

About seven years ago, Helton became a safety and training instructor with one of his primary duties being pole-top rescue training.

According to Helton, this training focuses on speed and safety for both the rescuer and the victim in situations when somebody has been in contact with an energized conductor or has a medical emergency. He says workers can encounter anything on the pole, from a bee sting to a high-voltage shock to any type of medical emergency or inclement weather, including storms and lightning.

“We are trained in ascending the pole, tying a rope with the proper rigging around them, and letting the victim down within minutes,” he explains, adding that speed is vital to ensure a better outcome for the person in crisis. “We do this type of training because our jobs are dangerous, and, at any time, one of us might require rescuing off a pole.”

In an emergency, Helton says the first step is to call 911, and then assess the situation fully so rescuers don’t endanger themselves when committing to a pole-top rescue. “We climb up in a safe position, tie the correct knot – bowline or three half-hitches – and try to lower them to the ground in a safe and timely manner,” Helton explains.

Despite the best preparation, rescue efforts pose numerous challenges to overcome. Not only is every incident different, so are weather conditions, the poles being climbed and if the conductors are energized or not. This means rescuers have to adapt procedures to get the person down as quickly and safely as possible.

Helton adds that being safe and training properly are ways for line specialists to take care of themselves and each other, as well as live out the Hoosier Energy initiative, “Safe by Choice.”

“We are trained to be our brothers’ keepers,” Helton says. “That’s at all times, not just with this pole-top rescue, but in all aspects of our work.”