For Mississippi lineman, assisting power restoration like helping family


GULF SHORES, Alabama — When the call came to assist with power restoration following Hurricane Sally in Baldwin County, like so many others, crews from Coast Electrical Power Association of Mississippi were ready to head the call.

“Our crew stays ready 365, 24/7,” said C.J. Wilson, the company’s overhead construction foreman. “It’s just a matter of our guys packing their clothes, saying goodbye to their families and hitting the road.”

Coast EPA is the largest electric cooperative in Mississippi in terms of meters per line and one of the largest in terms of the amount of line they service, Wilson said, serving Pearl River County, Harrison County and Hancock County in Mississippi.

A total of 37 crewmen brought 43 pieces of state-of-the-art equipment to assist fellow Touchtone Energy Cooperative Baldwin EMC.

Crews arrived Thursday and worked through salt, sand and water restoring power to West Beach Boulevard, Wilson said, while other crews waded through waist-deep water at Gulf State Park before moving to the area around Johnnie Sims Park, West Second and Third Streets and 22nd Street around the park.

“My family lived in Orange Beach when I was young,” Wilson said. “I remember playing t-ball in this park. My sisters played softball here and my mom and dad both coached teams. In a way, it’s like helping my neighbors.”

Coast EPA is one of 96 electric cooperatives from 12 states called in to assist with power restoration following Hurricane Sally.

“We have reciprocal agreements throughout the nation,” said Mark Ingram, Baldwin EMC vice president of Corporate Services and Public Relations. “When disaster strikes, we send out a call to our state cooperative, who in turn sends out a call to other state cooperatives across the nation.”

Likewise, crews from Baldwin EMC area called to assist other cooperatives.

“We had a crew assisting with Beauregard Electric Cooperative (in Louisiana) and called them back when Sally was approaching the Coast.”

For linemen and other utility workers like Wilson, coming to the aid of fellow electric cooperatives is more than just a part of the job.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “I’ve worked for private corporations and with them, you do have a sense of coming in to help your neighbor through a crisis, but with the cooperative, these guys are just more like helping out family.”

And for Wilson, working on an electrical crew is somewhat of a family business. Both his wife’s father and her uncle work for utility’s crews.

“When we started dating, these became the people I began hanging around and I guess you could say I caught the bug,” he said.

But it was Hurricane Katrina where he got a taste of cooperative electric companies coming to aid in electrical restoration.

“I almost hate to bring up Katrina, but that was the big one,” he said. “There were crews from all over. We even had a couple of crews that came down from Canada to assist. I guess it was then that I thought, “This is what I want to do.”

Working on reciprocal crews, Wilson said he has traveled all over the country and experienced hospitality from every corner.

“Everyone is just so appreciative of us being here,” he said. “It just makes you feel good to be able to make a difference for people.”

In addition to cooperatives, prior to each year, EMC sends out a national disaster plan and companies are approved to assist with various needs, including line crews and right of way crews.

“Then when a disaster strikes, we send out a call to all of those companies with what we need and the companies who can fill those needs respond,” Ingram said.

Riviera Utilities, based in Foley and Daphne, also called in 400 additional utility workers from 17 different assisting agencies in Alabama, Louisiana and Florida.

“Our crews have been working day and night to get power restored to all of our customers,” said Miles McDaniel, manager of public affairs for Riviera Utilities. “As always, we owe them and all of the crews working throughout the area a debt of gratitude.”

For Wilson and his crew it’s about getting everything back up and running while staying as safe as possible.

“I have a saying, 10, 10, 2 and 2. Ask any of my crew and they’ll know what it means,” he said. “Basically, it’s 10 fingers, 10 toes, two ears and two eyes. We all came with them and I want to make sure we all leave with them.”