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Left: Raymond Allen, Choctaw Electric journeyman-lineman, works around 7,200 volts daily. After ten years on the job he is comfortable with his work, but he never takes safety for granted. PHOTOS/ BRAD KENDRICK, CEC.


When a careless mistake can cost a limb or a life, it’s easy to understand why linemen form a brotherhood. “When you put your life in the hands of your co-workers every day, they become more than colleagues,” Dale added. “They’re like family.”


Smith and Allen agree. They’ve worked side by side for the past four years. Smith says he knows what his partner is thinking before he says it. That sort of bond plays to their advantage in iffy situations by heightening their concern and their safety awareness. “If one of us is dealing with something, whether it’s the flu or something going on at home, the other one will take over and handle the hot work that day,”Allen said.


the air wearing thick rubber gloves, flame retardant clothing, boots, eye protection, hard hat, and a harness that weighs nearly 30 pounds fully loaded.


On a typical day, they maintain electrical distribution lines or build service to new homes and businesses in CEC service territory. That territory includes Choctaw, Pushmataha and McCurtain counties, as well as a small portion of Atoka County. The work is never the same but always outdoors. These aspects seem to appeal to Allen and Smith, regardless of the physical hardship.


“They have a lot on their plates,” admits Terry Matlock, CEO. “But when our dispatch center calls our crews with a problem, everything else in their life takes a backseat.”


On Call 24/7


Of the many jobs on a lineman’s to-do list, power restoration is priority one. “Our linemen are always on call,” Matlock


pointed out. “We have nine crews standing by 24 hours a day. That means they get called out in the middle of the night or the crack of dawn, and on weekends and holidays.” During the December ice storm, crew members worked 18 hour days in miserable conditions.


“Imagine getting a call at 3 a.m. telling you to go to work outside during bad weather?” Matlock added. “Not many people are willing to face these sort of working conditions, but our linemen face harsh elements daily.”


Another priority for a lineman: staying alive. Following safe procedures can mean life or death.


As director of co-op safety programs, it’s Guy Dale’s job to make sure CEC lineman receive safety training that includes life saving techniques and pole top rescues. “The lives of our linemen are on the line every day,” said Dale. “Job safety is important to all our employees, but for a lineman there can be no slip ups or careless actions.”


That sense of family extends to electric co-ops across the nation. One of the key principles is cooperation among cooperatives. CEC employees respond to other co-op’s calls for help, and they answer likewise.


To be ready to respond no matter the situation or weather conditions, linemen are highly trained. At Choctaw Electric, linemen attend training programs to ensure they stay current on their skills and can work safely with various kinds of equipment required on the job. The equipment gets tested regularly, too. Gloves and sleeves are tested every 60 days; hot sticks and cover-ups, once a year.


Uniquely skilled with a high tolerance for physical discomfort and a desire to serve others, CEC linemen remain an unflappable lot. Most would prefer a pole top to a seat in the spotlight; yet pats on the back are always appreciated. “You do meet some nice people,” Allen noted. “People who understand what we’re trying to do and what we’re going through.” That, he said, is what it’s all about. ■


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