Hurricane Irma mission forever etched in mind of FortisBC technician from...

Hurricane Irma mission forever etched in mind of FortisBC technician from Oliver

Crews from Kelowna, the South Okanagan and the Kootenays ready to head out from the Kelowna airport to join counterparts from across Canada to help restore power to the Island of Turks and Caicos in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. From left: Jesse, Mike, Conor, Aaron, Kevin, Travis, FortisBC powerline technicians; and Dean, operations supervisor. (Contributed photo)

By Lyonel Doherty

A FortisBC power line technician from Oliver says he will never forget the smiles on people’s faces after Hurricane Irma wiped out their community.

So he had to ask why they were smiling amidst all of that destruction. Their answer was simple? Because they were still alive.

Conor (last name withheld by request) was one of 14 linemen who volunteered to travel to Turks and Caicos Islands (southeast of Miami, Florida) to restore power immediately after the category 5 storm hit in September.

Technicians were quick to volunteer when Fortis Inc. activated its emergency response plan in anticipation of the hurricane.

Conor said he signed up for the mission because he felt compelled to help these people in crisis.

“Being a lineman, when people’s power is out, we go to work,” he said emphatically.

The Fortis crews were actually the first responders on the ground, even arriving before the Red Cross.

Looking out the airplane window, Conor could immediately see the colossal task that awaited them; there were downed power lines everywhere.

On the streets, he saw many buildings with no roofs or windows left, but the people were jovial to see the newcomers.

Before going to work, crews were briefed on the situation, including the risks and hazards involved.

“The biggest hazard was working in the extreme heat and humidity,” Conor said. “The humidity was out of this world; it felt like working inside a sauna.”

But the technicians made sure they stayed well hydrated with bottled water and lots of ice. They were also encouraged to take breaks in air-conditioned vehicles.

The team stayed in a hotel that was badly damaged with no air conditioning, which made sleeping very difficult.

Despite these challenges, and seeing how hard it was on the island’s inhabitants, the crew was in good spirits. People were cheering them on wherever they went.

Conor worked 13 hours a day “putting poles back in the ground and putting wires back in the air.” The crew’s main priorities on South Caicos were restoring service to the water treatment plant, the medical centre and the airport.

One troubling setback that Conor’s crew had to endure was being forced to leave the area because another hurricane, Maria, was heading their way.

“I was not a big fan of leaving … it’s not a lineman’s nature to run away from a fight,” Conor said, noting that leaving those people behind was hard.

But fortunately most of their completed work survived the second storm.

Conor spent nearly four weeks in South Caicos, so he was happy to come home to his wife and children, albeit a little sad to leave people still without power.

When asked why he chose power line technician as a career, he said he loves working outdoors and likes helping people in their time of need.

In total, Fortis teams restored power to more than 14,800 customers (77.5 per cent) of the islands.