Utility workers find little rest

Linemen call it the “18 and six” routine. When severe weather strikes, National Grid’s repair crews
National Grid Transmission Supervisor Mark McDermott talks Monday about what crews have been up against since the ice storm hit.
National Grid Transmission Supervisor Mark McDermott talks Monday about what crews have been up against since the ice storm hit.

Linemen call it the “18 and six” routine.

When severe weather strikes, National Grid’s repair crews typically work 18-hour days on damaged power lines before taking a six-hour rest. Then it’s back to the bucket trucks — back into the weather — for another long shift.

Veterans are accustomed to working the grueling hours after a storm. And when the number of customers without power peaks at 229,000, as it did last week in the region, they know they’re in for the long haul.

“We’re tired, but we’re hanging in,” said Karl Krosky, a chief line mechanic from Guilderland, while at a repair site off Rosa Road in Schenectady. “We just want to get everyone back on the grid.”

Mark McDermott, a veteran transmission and distribution supervisor with National Grid, knew fairly quickly that Thursday night’s ice storm would keep him moving throughout the week. In nearly 30 years on the job, he could only think of two storms that may have been worse.

“Top five would be easy to say,” he said. “Maybe even the top three.”

McDermott and Krosky were among hundreds of National Grid line crews responding to the outages brought by toppled trees and ice-covered wires. More than 900 crews are dispatched around the area this week, totaling about 1,900 workers, in addition to another 1,000 in support roles.

The workers are contending with power line damage that some are calling the worst they’ve seen in upstate New York since a crippling ice storm struck the Plattsburgh region in January 1998. Others said the storm’s toll was almost as bad as a heavy snowfall that struck the Capital Region in October 1987.

“We’re grabbing any crew we can,” said National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella. “We’re going to do everything we can to get this done as fast as possible.”

The influx of visiting crews — some from as far west as Michigan and as far east as New Hampshire — have filled about 1,000 rooms in 30 hotels across the region. Nearly all 81 rooms at the Holiday Inn off Nott Terrace in Schenectady were booked Monday, many of them by the visiting workers contracted by National Grid.

“We’ve been filled with National Grid crews since Thursday,” said Bob Green, the hotel’s general manager. Green said the visiting workers are also eating at the Holiday Inn, which has been serving about 200 breakfasts and dinners every day since the storm struck. The business comes at a time when the hotel is normally quiet as business travel slows just before the holidays.

“Out of such a negative comes a positive for the business side of it,” Green said.

But the crews haven’t been hanging around the hotel much. So far, Stella said, crews have replaced more than 350 broken utility poles and have repaired roughly 75,000 feet of fallen wire.

Their efforts reduced the number of people out of power in the region to about 50,000 Monday evening, a decrease from the estimated 70,000 in the morning. While wind gusts and melting ice continued to cause outages throughout the day, crews were able to make significant progress, thanks to temperatures that reached the low 50s.

National Grid had about 18,000 customers without power in Albany County at about 9:30 p.m. Monday, making it the largest concentration in the greater Capital Region. Another 11,000 customers were without service in Rensselaer County, while Schenectady and Saratoga counties shared about 3,000 users without electricity; some could remain without power until Wednesday evening, according to information posted on the company’s Web site.

Authorities are blaming the storm for causing three deaths in the region, including a couple in Glenville and a man in Washington County.

Ralph and Mary Fazio, ages 65 and 61, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their Country Fair Lane home Saturday. Authorities said the deaths were caused in part because the couple set up an emergency generator in their garage and their house filled with carbon monoxide.

The third occurred in the town of Jackson, where 57-year-old Robert Hendrickson was found dead in the garage of his Route 22 home.

State police spokeswoman Maureen Tuffey said a friend discovered his body over the weekend near a heater and generator, neither of which were operating. She said investigators are now awaiting a toxicology report on Hendrickson, who was last seen alive on Friday.

“We cannot say definitively that it was carbon monoxide poisoning until toxicology comes back,” she said. “But it has been ruled an accidental death due to carbon monoxide poisoning and is considered storm-related.”

In Schenectady County, highway crews struggled to contend with fallen tree limbs and brush before another snowfall occurs. County Public Works Director Joe Ryan estimated the damages could cost in excess of $200,000.

“It’s going to take probably three to four weeks to clean all this mess up,” he said. “There’s lots of stuff out there.”

Rotterdam Highway Superintendent Jim Longo said he’s already requested an additional $25,000 to help clear the piles of brush accumulating alongside town roads. In 33 years at the department, he couldn’t recall a time the town suffered as much damage from a winter storm.

“Between the trees and the power lines coming down, I don’t remember it being this bad,” he said.

In Schoharie County, emergency management officials were estimating $825,000 worth of storm-related expenses. And while many of its 32,000 residents had power restored Monday, Emergency Management Director Judith Warner couldn’t help feeling like her county was overlooked by the television news crews focusing on the more populated areas of the Capital Region.

“I know we’re a rural county, but people are still suffering without power,” she said.

Some found refuge at area warming shelters. Others scoured the region for emergency generators.

“I drove to Syracuse and bought a generator,” said Wright resident Chris Spies, after his power was restored Monday morning.

Residents of the towns in southern Saratoga County were starting to regain a bit of normalcy after spending the bulk of the weekend in the dark. Clifton Park remained in a state of emergency throughout Monday, and residents were being urged to start moving storm-related debris to the curb.

In Halfmoon, officials said the Town Hall would remain open as an emergency shelter and would continue to serve three meals a day until all electric power is restored. Supervisor Mindy Wormuth said the town’s transfer station is also accepting debris from the ice storm free of charge.

Categories: Schenectady County


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