Customers thank linemen at Coastal Electric Cooperative - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Customers thank linemen at Coastal Electric Cooperative

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

Storms like Irma jolt local power crews into a whole different kind of action.

The poles and lines and structures that have been keeping customers in the light come under attack by water, winds and most destructively, trees. And the linesmen who have spent the last 10-months in maintenance mode, respond to a whole new calling.

But after this storm, something unusual caught our eye - between the flash of transformer fuses and the crack of falling limbs. It was the buzz of gratitude.

363 days a year most power customers have no meaningful contact with their electric utility, say with the exception of once a month, and usually by mail. It's those two other days, one when the power goes off, the other when the power comes back on that the provider finds out what those customers are really thinking.

Tropical Storm Irma's Sunday night arrival gave the men and women of Coastal Electric Cooperative the chance once again to either shine or fizzle in the face of catastrophe. 

"At 1:30 we knew that we had 17,200 customers out, out of 18,500," said Frank Fettes, Coastal Electric Engineer. "So, that's 93-percent of our system is offline."

Every one of Coastal's 30 linemen and another 25 brought in from a Kentucky cooperative started working Monday afternoon, before Irma had moved on to the next victim. 

And within 24-hours, the outages dropped from 17,200 to just 1,400. 

"When you live in your community, you serve your community, and you frequent your community, you just know where everything is," said Fettes. 

While these linemen are cleaning up some of the smaller issues across Bryan, McIntosh and Liberty counties, there is literally a social media party going on among the electric co-op's customers.

Within the first few hours of recovery, Coastal Electric's Facebook page was lit up with the accolades of home and business owners who barely felt the effects of the storm thanks to power restored before the butter could soften.

In the Coop's conference room, a wall filled with photos and posts so the staff could see the impact they've had. One of them a snapshot of Clint Durrence's crew. Of course, he was back out today, climbing trees, swapping fuses and triple checking the lines.

"We grew up with most of these people," said Clint Durrence, Lineman. "We live with these people." 

David: "Yeah. How does that change your approach to what you do?" 

Clint: "It gives us the satisfaction of knowing we help our own."

The pictures and praise have not stopped since Irma's attempt to make a more lasting mess here. And neither have the expectations of the customers who hold these local linemen to such a high standard.

"They're great," said Bianca Croft, Power Customer. "They are great."  

David: "What is about them that makes them great? Because most people don't look at their utility company and say they're great." 

Bianca: "Right. I think it's their commitment to the community. These guys are local. They bring in out of state guys to help out. They're fast at responding. They work long hours. They're just dedicated. They're dedicated to getting their community back up and running,"

Even in the farthest reaches of rural Georgia, power is a precious commodity. Customers may take that for granted when the lamps are lit.

But the expectations among paying customers out here are no different than in the largest of cities when it comes to getting plugged back into life before the storm.

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