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By MEGHAN HAAS
People may think it’s as easy as flipping a switch to turn power back on, but a local lineman said his job is normally much more involved. Wayne Beneke, 43, of Portage, said his job requires a four-year apprenticeship to work with electricity.
The electricity is the most dangerous part of the job. If a lineman messes up, he could be killed, Beneke said. “Electricity is not very forgiving.” However, with all of the personal protective equipment, Beneke said the job is 100 percent safe. But when asked if his wife felt the same, he just laughed.
He said accidents happen when people take shortcuts and don’t follow the rules. “I’ve taken shortcuts, but not anymore,” Beneke said. He has known people who were killed on the job.
Beneke said storm work is a favorite part of the job. After Hurricana Katrina, Beneke spent 17 days in Louisiana. “Hurricane K was the most interesting job I’ve worked from the devastation to the stench of water, dead animals and dead crabs all over the roads, I’ll never be able to forget it,” Beneke said.
In Louisiana, in some areas, Beneke said the tide was strong enough to rip electric poles, or as he called them “power poles,” out of the ground and toss them haphazardly, completely destroying lines. Some poles were easy to find, and were brought back to the nearest hole to be reused, Beneke said. In other cases, new poles had to be set, and the lines rebuilt.
One pole was lying over a river; Beneke said using the giant tongs on the back of the truck couldn’t straighten the pole on its own. Someone living nearby brought a boat that Beneke said he and a few others used to row out into the river and hook the pole up with chains. The chains were then attached to the extendible arm of the truck to stand the pole up.
“We were in the boat and alligators were swimming around us. It’s a little scary for a guy from up North who has never seen an alligator that close,” Beneke said.