Repair work seems endless
Utilities: Crews drawn from 27 states and Canada labor beside BGE teams to restore power, one line at a time.
Crew members cast long shadows as they walk to their vehicles on an illuminated parking lot at the state fairgrounds in Timonium, which is being used as a staging area for BGE and out-of-state workers. (Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron / September 22, 2003)
By 10 a.m. yesterday, when the utility trucks and tree trimmers rolled into Prescott Avenue in North Baltimore, Gerald Mason and his eight-man crew had already been on the job six hours straight, tramping through back yards, clearing huge fallen trees, turning off home generators, reassuring anxious homeowners and donning rubber gloves and goggles to scamper up poles and reattach power lines.
And, with hundreds of thousands of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers still begging for power, the grueling routine stretched like infinity before Mason's team and hundreds of other repair crews racing across the Maryland landscape.
"You just keep going and going and going and going, like the Energizer bunny," said Mason, an overhead crew leader for BGE who was hoping to wrap up the workday about 8 p.m. "Then you say you've had enough, and there's always somebody to help you out. The human body and mind can only do so much."
Yesterday, the extra help came in the form of eight utility employees from Vermont, who worked on the lines while Mason supervised, scouted out the next jobs and acted as a guide in unfamiliar territory.
The workers from Central Vermont Public Service of Rutland, Vt., were among the 600 repair crews BGE called in from 27 states and Canada to help restore power to the more than half-million customers left in the dark by Isabel.
"We get tired working 16 or 17 hours," said Gary Sharon, a CVPS line foreman who drove down to Baltimore Saturday evening with 12 trucks, 24 workers and two supervisors.
Sharon and his crew spent 18 hours Sunday working in Dundalk, mainly in back yards, a far cry from the rural woods and mountains of Vermont. But "a mess is happening, and they need help," he said.
With the stench of scorched wood wafting through the air on Prescott Avenue, Mason's team cut and cleared the top of a 70-foot-tall oak tree that had narrowly missed Alexander Jones' white Cape Cod-style house.
Jones, who has lived in the house for 53 years, heard nothing when the tree smashed into his side yard early Friday morning.
Jones discovered the tree when he woke up. "I looked out the front door and saw nothing but leaves," he said. "I was just blessed that the tree missed the house."
He and his neighborhood of about 20 homes along the dead-end street had been without power since the top of the tree fell on electric wires and yanked a utility pole partially out of the ground.
It took Mason's crew about 3 1/2 hours of cautious step-by-step labor to replace the wires and restore power to the homes.
The crew first walked the site to assess damage, then shut off all the power in the area. They also listened for private home generators, which if left running could prove dangerous for workers handling lines that ought to be dead.
"You could be in the woods and not hear a generator and start working on the secondary [line] and get sparks," Mason said. He had discovered one generator running on Prescott Avenue. "We cut the generator off and unplugged it, and told them the electricity would be on within the hour. They loved hearing that."
Next, the tree trimmers came in cut up the fallen tree trunk, stacking piles of logs next to Jones' house.
Finally, the crew re-attached the power lines. They faced one minor setback shortly after turning on the power, when a tree branch apparently fell on a wire insulator, causing the line to spark and the crew members to rush back into Jones' yard.
While the crew worked, Betty Hall, a retired state worker who lives next door to Jones, sat in her darkened living room, eating a late lunch. About 2 p.m., Hall's living room lamp suddenly came on.
"I can't believe it," she said. "Oh, my goodness. How wonderful."