Kai Burleson is a Lopez High School graduate and has been a Journeyman Lineman since 2008 after a four-year apprenticeship with OPALCO. Kai is the Lopez Island Substation Technician and Shop Steward. He served on OPALCO’s safety committee for many years and is currently on the apprentice committee. You can find him boating and fishing throughout the San Juan Islands with his two sons – when not restoring your power. Kai sat down with the Communications team this winter to let us know what it’s like to work during a power outage.
What is the first thing that happens when there is a power outage?
Kai: When I’m the lineman on call, the dispatcher calls me to report the outage details. Then I decide how many crew I’ll need to get out of bed to work on the issue (there are always at least two line workers on any outage). We meet at the warehouse to have a tailboard meeting. We look at the location and size of the outage and decide what sort of equipment and trucks we might need. We know the system well enough to often guess the cause of the outage whether it’s an overhead transmission line that’d likely be affecting a larger number of meters or an underground outage that is affecting a smaller group – like a neighborhood. There are times we’ve got no idea – which adds time to power restoration as we work to determine what is causing the issue.
What do you bring with you when called out on a power outage?
Kai: Food – always bring food! During the winter months and when I’m on call, I’ve got my warm clothes, gloves, hard hat, safety glasses and easy foods ready to go. I’m on call every other week which means I need to be able to call in within 15 minutes and get the headquarters within 30 minutes. If I have my kids, I need to make sure my family is ready to come over if an outage occurs. We never really know if it’s going to be a short amount of time or hours and hours. During a big storm, we could be moving from one outage to another depending on our priorities. I’ve been heading out in the boat to an outer island outage to then get the call that we need to go to Shaw to address something there. We always prioritize the biggest feeders and then think about the medical centers, grocery stores and schools when we are deciding which outage to restore first. We want to get the most people’s power restored and then work down the line to restore the smaller issues.
What’s the longest outage you’ve ever worked on?
Kai: 43 hours. We had to replace seven 60-foot transmission poles on Shaw back in December 2015. That year the wind gusts got up to 60-100 mph, icy-cold temperatures and a 120-foot grand fir tree blew into the lines with such force it knocked down the seven poles. That repair job was huge.
How do you get by and keep working during such long intervals?
Kai: Lots of pizza and coffee. The foreman brings in food and drink and we take 15-minute breaks. The time just slides by – we are so focused on the job and getting the power back on that the sun comes and goes and we just keep working. We keep an eye on each other to make sure we aren’t getting too exhausted and are always working safely. It’s intense, dangerous work but we’re always working together and having each other’s backs.
Do you like working outages?
Kai: Love it. It’s challenging, different and engaging.
Is the bucket truck scary to work in during stormy weather?
Kai: Nah – they feel pretty stable, but you can get really cold up there – like ice cream headaches and numb fingers. You’ve got to put your hard hat on super tight, so it doesn’t blow off while you’re up there working. Underground outages are my least favorite: sitting in a ditch up to my elbows in mud, poking around the dirt to find the faulty equipment – not my favorite.
What do you want members to know about outages?
Kai: Call them in and report. This helps us so much to determine and to restore power faster if members call in to our system. We get this info from our call center almost immediately.
Thanks to Kai and the whole OPALCO crew who work 24/7 to keep our power on all year long! OPALCO’s reliability rating was 99.8% for 2022!
When you see the crew out working in your area, give them a wave or a thumbs up, but please don’t come near their work site – it’s dangerous work and they must stay focused for their safety and yours. Never approach downed power lines: call 911.
To report an outage, call 360.376.3599 or visit www.opalco.com/outages for the most up-to-date outage map and information. You can report outages and sign up for outage notifications for your specific account on SmartHub.
We’re working together to stay safe and warm this winter!