By David Kligman
SACRAMENTO — The first of two groups of PG&E electric crews that flew to New York to help the East Coast restore power following Hurricane Sandy returned home today (Nov. 14) to hugs and handshakes.
The 170 electric workers and other employees exited the chartered plane at the Sacramento Jet Center shortly after 2 p.m., more than two weeks after they left to help Con Edison with the monumental task of restoring power to nearly 1 million customers in Westchester County and New York City. The late October storm was responsible for more than 100 deaths and left 8 million without power.
Greeting the crews were family members and PG&E leaders Greg Kiraly, Mike Kress and Barry Anderson. IBEW and ESC union leaders also were on hand to offer congratulations.
“It was a mess,” said Ken Bedsaul, an electric estimator based in Chico and a 35-year PG&E employee. “I’ve been in a lot of storms in my career and this was the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Bedsaul was one of the employees greeted by family members. His wife Karen gave him a hug. The crews came from throughout PG&E’s service area. After gathering their luggage, they boarded buses that took them to the utility’s Davis yard and were to head home from there.
‘We’re so proud of him’
Michelle Barber brought her 20-month-old twins to the airport to greet her husband Dan, a lineman based in Rocklin near Sacramento. “We’re so proud of him,” she said.
Like many of his fellow employees, Tim Bedford downplayed the notion that they were heroes. Bedford, a restoration and control manager based in West Sacramento, worked 16-hour shifts in New York and got to ring the closing bell at the Stock Exchangewhen it thanked companies helping in the relief efforts.
Kiraly, PG&E’s senior vice president of electric distribution operations, thanked the employees as they emerged from the airplane.
“This is what our linemen and support people do best,” he said. “They did a fantastic job. It was just a wonderful effort.”
He noted that he had heard from his counterparts at Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority about the great work done by PG&E crews. Many of America’s utilities respond to mutual-assistance calls in the aftermath of Sandy.
“This is how the utility industry comes together,” Kiraly said.
The employees volunteered for the unique assignment, which included long shifts working in an unfamiliar environment and navigating downed trees and wires. Conditions went from bad to worse one week later as they endured a Nor’easter that brought snow and freezing temperatures to the region.
Restoring power to 23,000 customers
Despite the obstacles, PG&E electric workers—including overhead and underground maintenance and construction crews, electric first responders who determine the cause of an outage and damage assessors—restored power to more than 23,000 customers in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. They replaced 200 spans of electric wire, 30 transformers, 30 utility poles, and also cut and pruned fallen trees.
Residents were grateful for the help. Some expressed their thanks by providing coffee and donuts for the California workers.
Dan Barber said some residents displaced by the storm were in the same hotel as the PG&E crews. He spoke to one frustrated customer and told her that while he couldn’t assure her that he would personally restore her power, he knew that he and his fellow PG&E crewmen were working hard every single day.
The woman later left Barber a hand-written note at the hotel’s front desk, writing that “you are an angel who brings hope to the hopeless. I will never forget you.”
Throughout the two weeks, PG&E’s Facebook page was flooded with well wishes.
“God bless the crews from your company!” wrote one woman from Nassau County. “Without them we would have no power still! Thank you from all of us NYers from the bottom of our hearts! You guys rock!”
An additional team of 100 PG&E electric workers restoring power for Long Island Power Authority were scheduled to return Friday.
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.