Gulf Power celebrates Lineworker Appreciation Day
According to the Washington Post, one of the most dangerous and deadly jobs in America is that of electrical lineworkers, cracking the top 20 at number 10. These jobs are considered by many to be the fourth most dangerous occupation in the world.
Working with live wires is dangerous enough. Add to that working in all types of weather, from torrential storms to oppressive heat to responding to the scene of an accident. All to make sure electricity continues to flow safely to homes and businesses.
It’s a tough job with little thanks. But Gulf Power, with the State of Florida, will recognize the contributions and dedication of lineworkers during Lineworker Appreciation Day on Aug. 26, a day set aside by the state Legislature in 2012.
Gulf Power will pay special tribute to the nearly 190 employees that work on the company’s 9,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines.
Born and raised in Crestview, Florida, Service Technician Craig Irlbeck has been working for Gulf Power for 10 years and has 25 years of utility experience.
At 17, Irlbeck started working at Gulf Power as a Warehouse helper as part of a high school program Gulf Power offered at the time. That program helped him find his first job at Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative where he worked for 13 years before returning to Gulf Power.
He’s at home working the lines. “I don’t ever get scared, but you constantly have to stop and think about what you’re doing,” he said. “You don’t want to get your hands in front of your head when you’re dealing with electricity.”
Irlbeck enjoys training the new generation of lineworkers and has assisted with Gulf Power’s climbing school for several years.
Lineworkers typically use bucket trucks to reach equipment, but still have to train to climb poles to make repairs in certain situations. Irlbeck has always liked climbing poles, “you have to be a little sick to enjoy climbing poles like we do,” he joked.
“I love helping the younger ones learn,” he said. “We have to get them trained the right way. We try to teach good habits to begin with and it starts in the training yard.
“You have all these lineman that have worked for 30 or 40 years retiring soon and that’s happening all over the country,” Irlbeck said. “I was fortunate enough to learn under some of those guys and I tried to soak it up like a sponge. I want to pass along experience like that in the industry.”
Irlbeck likes to keep it light while teaching the trainees to get comfortable working at the top of a 40-foot utility pole.
“I like to talk them through it and keep them laughing while they’re training,” he said. “Experience is what keeps us safe though. One of my worst fears would be hearing about one of the new guys getting hurt or thinking about what I could have told them differently. If I don’t call them out on it now, they’ll keep making those mistakes.”
During climbing school, if one of the trainees doesn’t follow instructions, the penalty is that everyone has to climb down the pole and then back up again and start over with their task.
“You’ll see a little frustration, but it’s much better for it to happen here then out in the field,” Irlbeck said. “Because here you get a second chance, but if you’re out in the field and you have a whole crew of men working on a job and one guy down the line makes a mistake, you’ll have a penalty that you can’t recover from. Somebody may not go home.”
Irlbeck has five children and six grandchildren. His wife, Wanda Irlbeck, also works at Gulf Power as a Customer Service representative out of the Fort Walton Beach office.
“I love helping people,” Irlbeck says about the job. “There is nothing I don’t like about it. I know how it feels to be at home without lights and I just love helping our customers.”
Gulf Power is an investor-owned electric utility with all of its common stock owned by Atlanta-based Southern Company. Gulf Power serves more than 447,000 customers in eight counties throughout Northwest Florida. The company’s mission is to safely provide exceptional customer value by delivering reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electricity while strengthening our communities. Visit online at MyGulfPower.com or on the company’s Facebook page. News information can be found at GulfPowerNews.com.