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I&M doubles size of its crew helping in Sandy recovery

300 workers and contractors now in W. Virginia, New York, New Jersey

Friday, November 2, 2012 - 8:04 am

Before the snow fell in West Virginia this week, about 140 Indiana Michigan Power Co. workers were headed there to help in the recovery from Hurricane-turned-blizzard Sandy. Now the size of I&M's on-loan recovery force has more than doubled, to about 300 workers and I&M contractors.

Although the majority of I&M workers helping in the recovery are in West Virginia, additional workers arrived in New York and New Jersey Thursday, I&M spokesman David Mayne said Thursday. “Most of the workers there are those that specialize in underground network power systems,” he said.

Workers helping restore power in the devastated area are on demanding schedules. Mayne said they work 16-hour days, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. He said they're “in good spirits, and all have worked safely and injury-free to date.”

Among the workers from Fort Wayne aiding in the recovery are tree-clearing crews from Asplundh Tree Expert Co., a national company with operations in Fort Wayne. Mayne said about 130 Asplundh workers -- about 55 crews -- from I&M's service area are working in Sandy recovery efforts. No one at the national headquarters of Asplundh responded to a request for more information on the workers helping in Sandy recovery.

Besides daily double-shifts, the crews working in West Virginia face obstacles in the environment itself, even after Sandy left the scene. “The weather has been a challenge,” Mayne said. “At first there was snow and ice to contend with and that has been followed by nearly constant rain. The mountainous terrain also represents a challenge.”

Mayne also said that the Asplundh workers who've gone there don't necessarily work with I&M crews.The Asplundh workers who normally work for I&M become part of a large pool of forestry workers and are dispatched where they are needed. It is common, however, to see forestry workers working closely with line workers because their efforts are so intertwined in restoring power, he said.

Sometimes workers see immediately how their work has potential to save a life. Mayne passed along a story about two I&M engineers based in Fort Wayne.

“While patrolling a distribution line,” Mayne wrote in a Thursday email, “a damage assessment team consisting of Carl Matthews and Josh Filler found a house trailer whose only entrance was blocked by a large communication cable. The cable and distribution line had been taken down by a large fallen tree. Trapped within her home, an elderly woman was burning candles for light and would not have been able to exit her home in the event of an emergency.”

Matthews and Filler got in touch with the tree crew, he said, and they cleared the tree and the cable from her door, so that she wasn't trapped inside her home any longer.