Photo provided via Flickr/Creative Commons agreement by rikioscamera.
Downtown Los Angeles on July 6, the first day of a record-setting heat wave in the city. The temperature reached 104 degrees downtown.  

The IBEW and others in the electrical industry celebrated National Lineworker Appreciation Day on July 10. The timing was fitting in Southern California, where hundreds of IBEW members worked to repair power outages caused by some of the area’s hottest temperatures on record.

Los Angeles Local 18 members repair power lines during the recent heat wave that blanketed Southern California.
Photo provided by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Record-setting highs were set across the region on July 6 and 7, including 117 degrees at the Van Nuys Airport in the San Fernando Valley, according to the Los Angeles Times. Temperatures topped out at 113 degrees in Riverside, Calif. Things were a little cooler in downtown Los Angeles, but hardly comfortable, where the high was a mere 104 degrees.

Los Angeles Local 18 senior assistant business manager Gus Corona said about 400 members worked 16 hours per day during the height of the heat wave. Most Local 18 members are employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. With 4 million customers, it is the largest municipally-owned utility in the United States.

The local also has members at utilities in the nearby cities of Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale and Azusa, and the heat wave caused long hours for linemen, electrical mechanics, and substation engineers alike.

Los Angeles DWP reported that nearly all of its 78,000 customers that lost power during those first two days had it restored by July 10. LADWP said the work was made difficult by the fact the outages were spread out over a large area instead of being concentrated to a cluster of businesses and homes.

Corona was pleased to report there were no injuries among Local 18 members.

“In situations like this, safety is always our biggest concern,” Corona said. “Our guys work safely, but sometimes when things are in a hurry and the public is pushing you, and especially when you’re working long hours, you get tired. The heat exhaustion makes it hard to keep your minds on the task.

“But these guys are some of the best linemen in the country. They know how to respond to these types of situations.”

Most Local 18 members were lugging 45 pounds of equipment while climbing poles in the heat. Corona noted that many of the affected power lines were on private property in residents’ backyards, so using the bucket lift wasn’t an option.

An added complication: overheated residents understandably wondered when their power might be restored and were approaching linemen on the job and asking questions. Usually, the best workers could tell them was that service would be up as quickly possible, which led to a lot of frayed nerves in the sweltering temperatures.

“One thing about our guys is they really take pride in being able to respond quickly,” Corona said. “They take their job seriously.”