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Linemen Are First Responders: Arizona Public Service's Scott Kahrs [Energy Central's Weeklong National Lineman Appreciation Day Celebration in Partnership with Quanta Services]

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  • Apr 20, 2022
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There have been many occasions when Arizona Public Service’s (APS) Scott Kahrs has felt proud to be a Journeyman Lineman. 

There was that time when he repaired a customer’s flickering light connection. “He was ecstatic,” says Kahrs. Then, there was that time when he and his team brought power back to a hospital, after a contractor had damaged its lines. “It was an amazing feeling to bring power back to such a critical place,” he says.  

And there was that time when his team traveled to Puerto Rico to help with power restoration efforts, eight months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Residents, deprived of electricity for a long time, erupted into a spontaneous celebration of honking car horns and driving and dancing in the streets after their homes were lit up. “It became emotional for us just turning their lights on,” says Kahrs.

These instances, when a lineman’s work has provided critical support and joy to customers, prove that linemen are first responders – just like law enforcement officers and medical professionals, says Kahrs. “But we don’t get parades like them.” 

An Intensive Work Schedule 

Regardless of whether they get parades or not, the moments add up to what amounts to a “rewarding career” for Kahrs. His initiation began even before he worked in the industry. His father worked as a lineman for 27 years, first in Ohio and then in Arizona, and would regale him with stories about his work and colleagues. 

Kahrs started as a meter reader at APS in January 2000, topped out as a lineman in 2007, and now works as a troubleshooter. In his current role, he mostly works alone and from home, attending to outages and service requests, in the large coverage area of 40 miles that is APS’s Eastern Division. When needed, he calls into his office for reinforcements at his work site. Or, depending on his schedule, Kahrs might also go out on the field to help a colleague. "There is a lot of camaraderie that comes with being a lineman," he says. 

The flip side to this is a hectic and strenuous work schedule. Kahrs’ day starts at 6 am and often extends late into the night and, sometimes, on weekends. Sometimes, it takes a toll on work-life balance as the time when he had to miss his kids' coaching events due to work. “It gets crazy,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t know whether you are coming or going.” 

Kahrs relaxes from the stresses of his job by exercising at his gym, hiking, and mountain biking. 

A New Approach 

In addition to mental stresses, the job is also physically demanding and accompanied by the inherent dangers that come from handling high voltage equipment. “To work on power lines is something not a lot of people can do,” says Kahrs, who has seen three of his colleagues die on the job due to unsafe working conditions. 

But things have changed for the better in recent years. Linemen are equipped with better tools to reduce the physical stress of working large equipment. "It ensures longevity [for the worker's health]," says Kahr.

More importantly, there has been a paradigm shift in approaching on-the-job safety. 

Blaming workers for their injuries or mishaps was common when Kahrs began working in the industry. As he describes it, the attitude was one of “Blame, Shame, and Retrain.” Now there is more analysis. The lineman’s working conditions are evaluated and preventative measures are incorporated into processes to ensure that the accident is not repeated. “The idea is to ask how can we make this safer,” explains Kahrs. 

He appreciates the new ethic and calls it a "forward-thinking" approach to safety. “People don’t go out to work to get hurt,” he says. According to him, the work environment for most linemen is extremely complicated given the pressures of working out in the open and with high voltages. "Everyone takes a different approach and it is a challenge to learn from these mistakes [that come in such conditions] and improve working conditions,” he says. In spite of the hazards, however, most linemen "find a way to have fun and enjoy their work," adds Kahrs.    

In The Future 

That environment will become even more complicated in the future thanks to new technological developments, such as bidirectional power flows from solar panels and the advent of electric vehicle chargers. But Kahrs says a lineman’s duties will remain the same. “There will be more technology on the job…workers will need to have a wide knowledge of different types of technology equipment,” he says. 

Kahrs’ 20-year-old son could be that tech-savvy lineman, given his familiarity with technology and his father’s journey into the profession. For now, though, the son isn’t biting the bait. “He wants a job that is a little easier,” laughs the 48-year-old. But Kahrs says there is still time. After all, he himself came into the profession, when he was in his mid-20s.

 

And a special thanks to our Partner Quanta Services for supporting this initiative!

Quanta Services is the leading specialty contractor with the largest skilled labor force in North America – providing fully integrated infrastructure solutions for the utility, pipeline, energy and communications industries.

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Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Apr 20, 2022

Scott, thanks for sharing your story and thanks for your service. 

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