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Posted on January 16, 2013

San Luis Obispo County: Hurricane Sandy ‘Heroes’ Honored by PG&E, American Red Cross

By Tracy Correa

Mike Chavez said nothing could have prepared him for the devastation and heartache he saw in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last year. And restoring power in the area was a monumental task, especially as cold conditions continued sweeping through the Eastern Seaboard.

Even so, the PG&E restoration troubleman said he would help out again — in a heartbeat.

Eighteen San Luis Obispo County residents – including five PG&E employees — who assisted with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts were thanked for their service at a reception at the PG&E Energy Education Center. At Tuesday’s event, from left to right, were: Paul Deis from the American Red Cross; PG&E’s Barry Allen and Mike Casiday; San Luis Obispo Chief of Police Stephen Gessell; PG&E’s Jeff Power and Mike Chavez; San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson; and San Luis Obispo City Councilmember John Ashbaugh. (Photo by John Lindsey)

“Oh, I would definitely do it again,” said Chavez, who still gets choked up when he talks about the experience that took him away from his San Luis Obispo home for two weeks.

Chavez was one of 18 San Luis Obispo County residents – including five PG&E employees – honored for their service Tuesday (Jan. 15) night at the East Coast Heroes reception held by PG&E and the local chapter of the American Red Cross. The event at the PG&E Energy Education Center also provided a forum for local emergency responders to discuss county-wide preparedness and lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy. (The Santa Maria Times also covered the story.)

More than 250 PG&E employees aided relief

In the days following Hurricane Sandy in late October, PG&E sent more than 250 employees and 100 pieces of equipment to assist Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority with restoration efforts in New York. Over two weeks, PG&E employees worked 16-hour days helping to restore power to thousands of customers in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island. (Click here to read about PG&E’s efforts as reported on Currents.)

PG&E electric crews worked alongside a Con Edison employee to energize eight customers in Queens in November. (Currents Archive Photo.)

PG&E’s electric employees were among 5,000 mutual-aid workers, including utilities and contractors, who traveled to New York in the days after the late October storm. Earlier this month, PG&E leaders Tony Earley and Chris Johns accepted the 2012 Emergency Assistance Award from the electric industry in recognition of its Hurricane Sandy restoration efforts.

At Tuesday night’s reception, guests were welcomed by PG&E’s Barry Allen, site vice president at Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Allen thanked the local citizens for their help in the relief effort just before they were honored with service pins. Paul Deis, American Red Cross emergency services manager — who also went to help after Hurricane Sandy – discussed lessons learned and the importance of local emergency preparedness.

Along with Chavez, PG&E restoration troublemen Jeff Power and Mike Casiday received pins. PG&E employees Bob Simmons and Jeff Hammond, both senior estimating engineers who also helped in the relief effort, were unable to attend Tuesday’s reception.

His motto: ‘At your service’

Chavez said the devastation he witnessed is difficult to explain. So is the feeling of desperation he witnessed by residents who were without power. “We look at these things sort of through binoculars, we are doing our job. But these people were traumatized,” Chavez said. He recalled a group of women coming up to the utility workers and offering them money to get their power turned on. “I said, ‘No. That’s why we’re here,’” and asked them to give the money to those in need or the American Red Cross.

“My motto has always been ‘At your service,’” said Chavez. “I think that’s PG&E’s claim to fame and why we were there.”

Tracey Vardas, PG&E emergency planning coordinator, said while the reception provided a forum for discussing county-wide coordination in the event of a disaster, the highlight was recognizing those who left their families to aid others in need.

“I don’t know that our troublemen get a lot of recognition for the jobs they do every day,” said Vardas. “I think it was a proud moment for them when they got their pins.”

E-mail Tracy Correa at


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