Seattle City Light's Brandon Melland's Journey As A Lineman [Energy Central's Weeklong National Lineman Appreciation Day Celebration in Partnership with Quanta Services]

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Experts and Staff, Energy Central
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  • Apr 21, 2022

One of the proudest moments of lineman Brandon Melland’s career occurred after Hurricane Sandy. The Seattle City Light employee was part of two teams sent by his utility to New York to help with power restoration efforts after the 2012 storm devastated the city. As he drove around in his truck – its sides boldly emblazoned with Seattle’s name – New Yorkers looked on disbelievingly. “People were thinking: You know these guys came all the way from Seattle to New York to help us restore power. That [experience] was really neat and I felt proud of being a lineman from Seattle,” he says. 

Of course, that reaction – of amazement and gratitude – is absent for linemen on most workdays. “You are either invisible or a nuisance,” says Melland, a reference to the job’s equipment that is ignored or cursed because it obstructs traffic and causes road closures. 

Melland began as a pre-apprentice lineman at the age of 26. He’d finished two-year college and was on track for an “office path” after an acceptance from the University of Washington.  But the thought of spending entire days at an office desk did not appeal to him, who likes being outside and working with his hands. “I didn’t see myself being happy at that [a desk job],” he says. A career as a lineman also served the more immediate need of finding a living wage to support his wife and kid. The decision to pursue a career in the utility industry turns out to have been the correct one; he’s been a Journeyman Lineman for the last 16 years.   

A Unique Role 

In his years working in the industry, Melland has seen quite a few changes. The most important ones are related to safety. When he began as a pre-apprentice, safety gear was not the norm. Free climbing of wooden poles and towers was common. “If you fell, you fell,” says the 42-year-old. Things have changed and new safety guidelines from the Occupational Safety Administration and Health Administration (OSHA) have reduced the dangers of climbing and handling dangerous equipment. 

In his most recent assignment, Melland is part of a team of linemen assigned to work with Seattle City Light’s Safety division. The role combines his experience on the field with a job inside the office and is “knowledge-based”, he says. This means he is involved in the design of best practices and safety initiatives for his colleagues, with a goal to make a lineman’s job easier and safer in the field. 

The scope is broad. So, he might develop training material and best practices for SCADA-enabled switches for field workers at his utility for one project. On another one, he might analyze the effect that an increasing number of electric vehicle chargers might have on a grid and on the lineman’s job. “The chargers add complexity [to grid operations] and require additional equipment on electric poles and that affects safety of linemen,” he says.

How to Succeed as a Journeyman Lineman

According to Melland, a career as a lineman requires a combination of physical fitness and mental smarts. The physical demands of a lineman’s job are inescapable. “The job is physically hard, things are sometimes heavy, climbing is hard on the body, hours can be long and you can be working in conditions where you are wet or cold or too hot,” he says. 

But that doesn’t mean that you “need to grow up swinging a hammer to turning wrenches to be successful,” he says. Certain pre-requisites are non-negotiable. For example, you cannot fear heights. You must also be able to climb. 

Those physical attributes are complemented by mental ones. They should be self-starters and open to being coached by their seniors. “I have known smart, hardworking apprentices who struggled to reach their potential because they resisted coaching when it would have served them well,” he explains and adds that the ability to accept criticism, even seemingly unfair ones, is also critical to success. 

Effective communication skills are also important because they contribute to an effective work environment as the job becomes more demanding. “I only see effective communication, both between members of the crew and between field workers and engineering or dispatch, becoming more important as more distributed automation enters our systems and complexity increases,” he says. 

To decompress from that complexity and the demands of his job, Melland likes to travel. He is also a woodworker and is learning to cook. Those activities are diversions, however, from his work. “I think it is a noble profession,” he says, referring to his job. “We do good work for the right reasons.”

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.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Apr 21, 2022

Brandon - thanks for all that you do to help keep the lights on!  Love the interview - great story. 

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