By Andrea Menniti and Mayra Tostado
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — For the 125 PG&E workers who spent two weeks on both coasts of Florida, the experience was as exhilarating as it was exhausting. They restored power to tens of thousands of people in hot, humid conditions, dealing with swamps and bugs and snakes and alligators.
Yet, whatever they dealt with, they always remember that families were suffering in shelters or storm-damaged homes, waiting for the lights to go on. And, besides focusing on safe and efficient power restoration in the wake of Hurricane Irma, it might be the emotional, personal moments that they’ll remember from this humanitarian, mutual-aid mission.
Here are a few of those stories.
After the hurricane has passed and as PG&E crews headed out for the first day of restoration efforts in West Palm Beach, a pair of linemen noticed a wheelchair-bound woman stranded in the middle of a road.
Here’s how the linemen, who prefer to remain anonymous, describe the situation:
“She told us she had been evacuated and was trying to find a ride to a relative’s house, but she lost a shoe, so she told us she couldn’t board the bus.”
Realizing they were in Florida to provide assistance in ways besides stringing wire and replacing transformers, the linemen helped the woman to the lobby of a nearby hotel, offered to call her a cab, and started gathering cash to help her out.
“We said, ‘Here, get some coffee, get something to eat and get another pair of shoes.’ It hurt. It was sad. But we came out here to help people and not just turn their power on, but to help them anyway you can. She was so grateful.”
After about a week of restoring power on the east coast, the PG&E contingent packed up and headed to the west coast of Florida where the impact of Irma was more severe. Before leaving, the team started a donation jar to help the folks whose lives had been so disrupted.
Dollar by dollar, the donation jar quickly filled. And a few days before the mission in Florida ended, Eric Boettcher, PG&E’s HR emergency management specialist, found a local non-profit to receive the monetary gift.
“I am truly touched by the selfless giving nature of our deployed crews wanting to support the communities they helped restore. I was honored to select and research such a great homeless shelter that also gave so much to those victims in desperate need,” he said.
But it wasn’t just money that went to help customers in Florida. Beyond the donation jar, crews donated cases of remaining supplies consisting of sunscreen, first aid items, snacks and more. And Boettcher set up a Campaign for Community opportunity, allowing PG&E employees back in California to pitch in.
And no doubt that these acts of kindness were reciprocal.
Neighbors delivered bottles and cases of cold water to crews working 16 hours in the sweltering heat and humidity. A local BBQ restaurant pulled up to a work site and delivered hot meals – chicken and burgers and potato salad.
And crews received countless “thank yous” – in person or on signs or a friendly wave as they drove by in their FPL trucks – for their work to turn the lights back on.
“The response from neighbors has been incredible. People have been very kind here in Florida,” said Danny Barber, an Auburn-based PG&E electric subforeman.
(Click here to read all of the coverage of PG&E’s response to Hurricane Irma in Florida.)
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.