CL&P linemen 'Heroes of the North '- back row left to right: Steve Botti, Keith Portier, Mike Larned, Matt Charron, Wayne Harrington, Bob Mile, Tom Bongo, Fernando Vargas, Kenny LeMezux, Rick Johnson and in fron the team was led by Steve Jackson.

CL&P linemen ‘Heroes of the North ‘- back row left to right: Steve Botti, Keith Portier, Mike Larned, Matt Charron, Wayne Harrington, Bob Mile, Tom Bongo, Fernando Vargas, Kenny LeMeaux, Rick Johnson and in front, the team was led by Steve Jackson.

Story by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com  

Photos courtesy of Mike Larned and Scott Herman                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Seventy-six Connecticut Light & Power linemen sacrificed Christmas at home with their families to travel to Maine and restore electrical power to areas devastated by an ice storm. Working around the clock in snow and extreme cold – temperatures dipping to seven degrees below zero at times -they were greeted by extraordinary warmth from the grateful residents there.

Rural, ice covered roads.

Rural, ice covered roads in Maine.

 

“They were so appreciative. They couldn’t believe we would be willing to do this, to leave home, leave our families,” said Mike Larned, one of the linemen who made the five hour trip from Connecticut on Christmas Eve day, “The appreciation was nice.”

 

Mike recently shared an account of the experience.

 

Originally he was slated to head up to help with a storm in New Hampshire days earlier. He, his wife Melane and daughters, Michelle and Maryann, had prepared for him to be away for a week. But word came the schedule changed so they all thought “Dad” would be home for Christmas. However, on December 24, 2013 , Christmas Eve day the call came asking if he would assist in hard -hit Maine.

 

“I talked it over with Melane and the girls,” said Mike. Now young adults, he noted the girls grew up  knowing he could be called away to help at virtually any time.

 

“They have been through it before, they understand and were supportive,” said Mike, “I called back and said ‘yes’.”

 

It comes with the life of a dedicated lineman. Mike emphasized the family he left behind is representative of the sacrifice made by each team member who agreed to go.

 

“I take a lot of pride in my work – we all do,” he said.

 

Before he left though Maryann asked that her dad open a special gift she had picked out for him. Beyond that, the family decision was to put celebrating Christmas on hold until he got back.

Downed trees had to be cleared.

Downed trees had to be cleared.

 

Headed for Augusta, the team departed from the Willimantic Service Center, six trucks in convoy making their way north with seriousness of purpose knowing the challenge that lay ahead. They were among a fleet of more than thirty trucks responding from across Connecticut. The Connecticut crews brought with them not only dedication said Mike, but a high level of training, skills and expertise that proved to be invaluable as they worked seventeen hour shifts around the clock along rural roads covered in ice that first had to have downed trees cleared. Branches had to be removed, as well, as they confronted power lines covered by inch thick ice. Approximately 100,000 customers had reportedly been without power, some for days.

 

“Seventeen hours on, seven hours off,” he said.

 

Shared dedication is part of a trust among linemen who consider themselves to be a brotherhood, Mike said.

 

“Trust, trust is very important,” he said.

 

“It was a highly professional operation right from the start,” Mike explained.

 

He credited CL&P for the way they maintain their trucks which makes a world of difference in the confidence the linemen have as they navigate risky situations, he noted. In addition, often unsung for their efforts said Mike, two mechanics and their trucks accompanied the team deployed from the Willimantic Service Center. In addition, company safety personnel visited the sites. Led by Steve Jackson, the team completed the restoration without any accidents or incidents, Mike noted.

Working in sub zero conditions.

CL&P linemen worked in sub- zero conditions, at times dropping to 7 degrees below zero.

 

The crews stayed at a motel in Freeport.

 

“We had to be in the trucks ready to roll at 5 a.m., ” Mike recalled.

 

Even in the best weather conditions, climbing into a bucket to then be elevated high into the air to work on power lines while ensuring they do not become energized is not for the faint of heart.

 

“People often tell us they couldn’t pay them enough to do what we do,” Mike said.

 

In addition, the back roads Mike and other linemen had to drive along surrounded a large pond that seemed more the size of a lake he said. For five days the crews persevered.

 

“We always have to report where the nearest crossroads are and the nearest hospital,” said Mike.

 

According to nutoday, CL&P joined NSTAR, PSNH and WMECo, restoring heat and light back to customers in Augusta, Lewiston, Auburn, Farmingdale, Jefferson and Dresden.

 

Meanwhile, families in Connecticut waited for news of when their loved ones would return.

 

Despite the frigid weather, the people in Maine brought warmth to the linemen’s long hours of work.

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“They came out with whatever they had for us – one woman even made us hot chocolate – I don’t how she did it,” Mike said.

 

Residents offered the linemen chocolate candy, chips, bananas, soda, water. And, many folks stepped out of their homes just to say”thank you.”  In Augusta, a local civic group put on a thank you breakfast for the linemen and an area deli opened especially to make up sandwich wraps for them.

Tackling the challenge at hand.

Tackling the challenge at hand.

 

 

The Augusta response was the first time CL&P has helped out in Maine, Mike said. The team was praised by their boss for a job well-done. Having represented the utility company with an outstanding work ethic and professionalism , it is expected Maine will reach out to them again if the need arises.

Once back in Connecticut, Fox 61 television news was at the service center and interviewed Shamus Mara who Mike said summed up the feelings of the linemen.

A local civic group in Augusta held a thank you breakfast for the CL&P linemen.

A local civic group in Augusta held a thank you breakfast for the CL&P linemen.

Shamus Mara interviewed by FOX 61 upon the crew's return to CT.

Shamus Mara interviewed by FOX 61 upon the crew’s return to CT.

 

“The people of Maine gave us a little piece of Christmas,” Mara told FOX 61.

 

025Without a doubt the welcome from the people of Maine was heartfelt said Mike, yet for the linemen nothing could compare to the welcomes they received from their families back home. The night Mike returned, he, his wife and daughters opened their gifts and then had Christmas dinner together. Said his wife Melane, the girls had each been waiting for calls from their mother with the magic words letting them know Mike was back safely.

 

“Come over, Dad’s home.”

 

 

 

(note: Mike Larned is the writer’s nephew)