Locals rise to the occasion

Every single Florida Keys Electric Cooperative lineman turned into a customer service representative this week. Locals like FKEC journeyman lineman Rob Christensen had their personal cell phones blowing up as friends called with questions about service.

“We, as a team, worked as fast as possible,” said Christensen. “I still get choked up once a day going down these Oceanside streets. It’s such a mess. I don’t want them to have to worry about power too.”

From start to finish, FKEC had power available to every single home able to receive it in eight days. Eight days for almost 34,000 customers. After a Category 4 storm. But with the plethora of out-of-state crews on the ground, it’s easy to overlook the heroic undertaking by our local team that orchestrated the restoration in emergency conditions, with the precision of a big-city conductor.

According to FKEC CEO Scott Newberry, there were about 400 crew members from out of town. Each crew was paired with an FKEC journeyman lineman to work a specific area. And restoration started in almost every neighborhood at once. Christensen, for example, tackled Key Colony Beach with a huge contingent of borrowed workforce.

“It turned chaos into something very, very workable,” said Don Bell, who has been with FKEC for 18 years and was assisting Christensen from the ground on Sept. 25 with a pole on 64th Street.

“Our local journeyman knows those specific circuits. Our guys knew how best to get the power on in those areas and avoid injuries,” Newberry said.

And every single customer service representative had work in the field to do, as well.

“We have 115 employees. And it wasn’t just the linemen out there,” said Newberry. “Our office staff was all involved in this effort. They accompanied the crews to take notes on everything we will need for the FEMA claim.”

Newberry said he thinks Hurricane Irma will cost the utility between $15 million and $20 million, most or all of it reimbursable by the federal government.

The utility outperformed everyone’s expectations, but Newberry said he was confident not only about their infrastructure, but also the emergency contingencies  in place.

“We spend a lot of time and attention on that main transmission line and that paid off,” he said. FKEC also “lends” help to other areas when they are affected by a storm. The employees come back with valuable lessons learned. And last, but not least, were the amenities provided under the contract with Storm Services. That group came in and set up showers, cots and a kitchen.

“I’m just really proud of how we came together as a team,” Newberry said. “They really put out maximum effort.”

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