By Andrea Menniti and Mayra Tostado
On Friday (Sept. 8) just after sunrise, about 125 PG&E employees, including IBEW Local 1245 line workers, equipment operators, supervisors and support personnel, boarded a plane at Sacramento International Airport bound for Florida.
While millions of Floridians were evacuating, or had already left the state in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, PG&E’s small army of emergency responders headed toward the storm.
“That’s what we do, we’re storm soldiers,” said Todd Steichen, a task force leader based in Bakersfield.
The crews are part of a mutual aid agreement with Florida Power & Light (FPL) to help restore power in the wake of Hurricane Irma, forecasted to be one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in history.
After traveling all day, crews landed in West Palm Beach, greeted by FPL’s CEO, Eric Silagy, who thanked them for coming to Florida.
“We’re out here before the storm, working hand in hand with FPL so that once this storm passes, we’re able to help restore power to the communities under FPL’s direction when it’s safe to do so,” said Jason Regan, emergency management director.
As expected, Irma left more than 3 million FPL customers without power.
Before the brunt of the storm hit, about two dozen PG&E employees went to FPL’s yard in Riviera Beach on Saturday (Sept. 9). They familiarized themselves with FPL’s fleet of trucks and equipment they’ll be using in Florida. Some of the equipment is PG&E’s, stored in containers in Florida as part of the mutual aid agreement.
“We’re going through the vehicles seeing what tools are on the vehicles, what tools we need, we’re getting all of our batteries operated, chargers set up so the batteries will be charged,” said Steichen.
They had limited time to go through the trucks and equipment, as the storm inched closer, forcing them back to the hotel where they waited safely ”hunkered down” until Irma passed.
Early Monday morning, the crews boarded buses to pick up their FPL trucks to begin the work of assessing the storm damage and to begin restoring power, side-by-side with FPL crews.
“It’s about helping people, that’s what this is about. We’re here to help,” said Steichen.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.