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City of Oconomowoc Utilities linemen head east to help repair storm damage

Five from city utility join team to restore power

Oct. 31, 2012

City of Oconomowoc - Five Oconomowoc Utilities linemen have put their lives on hold and are in Pennsylvania to help with storm damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Two other utility employees also canceled their vacations so they could help the utility maintain operations with the others gone.

All together 28 people from state municipalities that are part of the Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin (MEUW) created a team that went to an area northwest of Philadelphia to help restore downed power lines. They expect to be there about a week.

Oconomowoc Utilities General Manager Dennis Bednarski said the work the linemen do every day prepares them for what they will be doing in Pennsylvania. However, what makes thesituation challenging is that you encounter an area with its infrastructure damaged and lying on the ground. Bednarski said crews will have to figure out what goes where. He said what makes the situation even more dangerous is that residents using generators are able to make a line live at any given time.

"What makes it extremely dangerous is when you're out of power for more than a day, everyone gets generators. Transformers work both ways, which means you could put the primary voltage back on a line, and that can liven wires on the ground. It can be hard especially when you walk into a backyard especially at night when it's dark and you're trying to figure out what is there," he said.

The city utility, Bednarski said, goes through hundreds of hours of safety training each year to prepare for these situations. He said that while it's a budgetary item that might not mean actual "wrench time," it allows the utility to be far more productive in a situation like these - whether elsewhere or at home.

The crews are also in unfavorable conditions working 16-hour shifts and wearing 90 pounds of gear and equipment, Bednarski said.

"It's cold out there now. They have to wear rubber gloves, sleeves and boots. They work all day long with 90 pounds of equipment and clothing, but they are highly trained," he said.

Bednarski said when the city was called to provide mutual aid, staff was asked who wanted to go. He said many volunteered, including the two who offered to cancel their vacations to help at home, because it's the supportive mentality utilities demonstrate.

"We went to Michigan last year after a big wind storm. We've been to Florida and did the Stoughton tornado. Throughout the year we do one to two days when areas have problems. The last storm we had here we supported We Energies for two days.

"The reason we are able to do that is our system is in place. We have a wonderful system we've worked hard at maintaining. And if we need help, people will help us. We want to help others so they will help us. It's what you do in the electrical business," he said.

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Weekend Happenings

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Rotary Pancake Day: 7:30 a.m. Feb. 28, Waukesha County Expo Center, 1000 Northview Road, Waukesha. Fundraiser for the Waukesha Rotary Club is 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Expo Center Arena. Advance tickets at Waukesha State Bank, downtown location., $5-$7. $5 advance, $7 at the door; free for children 5 and younger. www.waukesharotary.org.

Ninth Annual Oconomowoc Rotary Wine & Brew Fest: 5 p.m. Feb. 28, Olympia Resort, 1350 Royale Mile Rd, Oconomowoc. Wine, food and beer. Features foods from the best of our local restaurants. Purchase tickets at $50 from an O-Town Rotarian, through Facebook, or in person at most area First Bank Financial Centre locations, Books & Company & Lorleberg True Value Hardware. See more at www.oconomowocrotary.org. $50.

Chili Tasting: 11 a.m. Feb. 28, The Garden Mart, W297 S9115 Highway 83, Mukwonago. Chili tasting from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Local vendors will be selling unique merchandise. Judging is open to the public and all proceeds from voting will be donated to the Mukwonago Food Pantry. Event is free. Call (262) 363-5252 for information.

Dr. Seuss Birthday Bash Literacy Event: 10 a.m. Feb. 28, Hartland North Elementary, 232 Church Street, Hartland. Families with children in 4-year old kindergarten through second grade are invited to a special event. The Cat in the Hat and the Lorax will celebrate with a big birthday cake for all of our guests along with lots of literacy activities based around Dr. Seuss books.

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