In early September a call went out from the American Public Power Association for help. The call was relayed by the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association to communities across the state, and Chuck Heins then put the word out to the Redwood Falls Public Utilities crew.
Did anyone want to make a trip to Florida to help restore power in areas impacted by Hurricane Irma?
Erik Wieneke and Jason Halvorson, linemen for the local department, signed up.
“We volunteered Sept. 7 and left Sept. 9,” said Halvorson.
The two loaded up their bucket truck with the gear they would need to perform various tasks.
Then the two of them headed to Rochester where they met up with other public utilities crews from all over Minnesota who then got on the road heading south to Florida.
Arriving in Georgia, where the Minnesota delegation was being staged, Wieneke and Halvorson waited for their chance to get to work. The crew waited for the hurricane to pass.
“We stayed in Georgia for a full day before heading into Florida,” said Wieneke.
The crew from Redwood Falls headed to the eastern side of the state and worked in both the communities of Kissimmee and Lake Worth.
“This is what we as linemen do,” said Halvorson, adding the chance to work in a different part of the country provided a new experience along with the chance to help those in need.
Wieneke said he wanted to be able to help others, adding the hope is that the favor would be returned if the need ever arose in this area.
As the worst of Hurricane Irma shifted to the west, where Wieneke and Halvorson went did not have the damage that other areas of the state experienced.
“I actually thought it would be a lot worse,” said Halvorson.
Had the storm moved more to the east it would have been.
After arriving in the area where they would be working, Halvorson and Wieneke were teamed up with a local utilities worker and were prepared to go out and start restoring what had been damaged by the hurricane. The two worked about 16 hours each day for the 13 days they were away from home helping set up lines and connecting individual customers to that power once again.
“When we would turn on the breaker whole neighborhoods would cheer,” said Wieneke, adding many of them had been without power for days. “The people were very thankful.”
Both Halvorson and Wieneke said they had been warned in advance of arriving in Florida that they might encounter things, such as alligators, snakes and other potentially dangerous wildlife, but, thankfully, never did. In fact, the only alligator they remember seeing was in a ditch on their way across the state.
Both Halvorson and Wieneke are nearing the six-year mark of their service as part of the Redwood Falls Public Utilities department, and both said they are happy they had the chance to help others out and to learn some new things they can now use to do their jobs here even better.
Halvorson added he appreciated the camaraderie that they were able to develop with the other crews from Minnesota.
“They were a good group of guys,” he said.
After their role came to an end, the crew from Redwood Falls headed back home arriving this past Thursday afternoon. After a much deserved rest Friday, Wieneke and Halvorson were back on the job Monday morning.
Both Wieneke and Halvorson said it was a lot of hard work, but it was definitely worth it knowing they were able to help others in their time of need.
Heins, who talked about the trek made by Halvorson and Wieneke at the Sept. 19 city council meeting, said the community should be proud of them and their willingness to go across the country to lend a hand, adding he certainly is.