By Lynsey Paulo
SACRAMENTO — After 14 days of battling Florida’s elements to help restore power in the wake of Hurricane Irma, PG&E’s storm soldiers have arrived back in California.
On Saturday (Sept. 23), the crews landed at the Sacramento Jet Center, welcomed by PG&E’s Mike Swanson, director of compliance operations and Jeff Deal, director of electric distribution.
About 125 PG&E employees, including IBEW 1245 line workers, equipment operators, supervisors and support personnel, were part of a massive power restoration effort following Hurricane Irma. More than 99 percent of Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) 4 million customers lost power in the storm.
PG&E and FPL signed a cross-country mutual-aid agreement in 2014.
PG&E crews arrived in Florida ahead of the storm, waiting out the hurricane in a hotel in West Palm Beach. After the storm smashed into the Sunshine State, the crews were some of the first boots-on-the-ground, replacing poles and downed wires in West Palm Beach and Punta Gorda, restoring power to more than 41,000 Floridians.
“They were thanking us for coming that far out there to help, they were offering us things when they had nothing themselves. Out of power for days, and offering us water, food, anything they could to help us out,” said Leigh Baker, a general construction supervisor based in Rocklin.
Crews worked tirelessly in unfamiliar conditions — swamps, heat and humidity.
“It’s like getting hit in the face with a wet blanket. The second you step outside, you’re just sweating. You’re just drinking water constantly to stay hydrated,” said Charlie Alberti, a lineman based in Daly City.
The crews arrived back in California to cooler temperatures, and a warm welcome.
Dan Barber’s wife Michelle was waiting at the Sacramento Jet Center when the crews landed.
“He looks a little tired, a little weathered, been a long couple of weeks,” she said.
Barber said he looked forward to seeing his wife and 6-year-old twins after two weeks in Florida.
“We got a lot done, felt like we left them in good hands by the time we left. It was really nice for all the utilities to come together like that and take care of the people in Florida,” Barber, a substation foreman based Auburn, said.
Kelly Grimes was also waiting to welcome home her husband, Curtis Grimes, a lineman from Merced.
“It was thrilling to see him. I had to wait a little bit longer, I didn’t get to see him at the airport, but I was really excited once he got off the bus, I was able to give him a hug and kiss right away,” said Kelly Grimes.
“It was an awesome experience, I’m super happy I was given the opportunity to experience it and help the people of Florida out,” said Grimes.
(Click here to read all of the coverage of PG&E’s response to Hurricane Irma in Florida.)
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.