IBEW members worked around the clock to restore power to Atlantic Canada after Hurricane Fiona battered the region in late September.
“This storm surpassed anything I’ve ever experienced,” said St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Local 1620 Business Manager Don Murphy.
While Fiona was technically a post-tropical storm when it made landfall in the maritime region, it still hit with the intensity of a Category 2 hurricane, causing heavy rain, fierce winds and a destructive storm surge. It also knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people and felled countless trees.
Local 1620 members worked night and day from Codroy Valley to Rose Blanche and Port aux Basques in southwestern Newfoundland, where residents dealt with extreme wind, flying debris and sea water that washed ashore, sweeping roads, houses and even an apartment building out to sea.
“The loss is unfathomable. We dealt with whole lines washing away, buildings getting swept away beside us, customers in shock and town workers overwhelmed,” Murphy said. “Still, I think everybody did an excellent job under the circumstances.”
Local 1620 members worked long hours splicing conductors to restore power, performing emergency switching, isolating washed-out lines and removing live wires from the roads so people could evacuate from the tidal surge.
Crews were also hard at work further south in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia where Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 member Mark Maillard worked. The powerline technician started at home in New Brunswick then moved up to Nova Scotia to help with efforts there, where even the military was brought in to help.
“When we got to Nova Scotia it was different. It was pretty bad,” said Maillard who also serves on Local 37’s executive board. “There were a lot of customers with power out.”
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Local 1928 powerline technicians worked in various locations, including hard-hit Prince Edward Island. They were responsible for primary and secondary line restoration, pole and transformer replacement, disconnecting services that required customer repair, tree removal, reconnecting services post-repair as well as emergency disconnection at the direction of police and firefighters. Non-powerline technicians performed feeder and damage inspections, assisted with customer care due to extremely high call volume, relocated supplies across depots and provided 911 dispatch assistance.
“Fiona simply did not compare to previous storms,” said Local 1928 Business Manager Jim Sponagle of the storm that’s been called the largest hurricane in Canadian history.
Maillard says they spent a lot of their 16-hour days dealing with fallen trees, including some on fire. Once they were able to get the main power on, they were then able to move on to single customers, some of who went without power for a week or longer.
“We were like a whole caravan, tackling outages,” Maillard said. IBEW utility crews helped restore power in late September after Hurricane Fiona made landfall, causing historic levels of damage across Atlantic Canada.
Among the caravan were tree trimmers from Quebec who only spoke French. Fortunately, Maillard knows a little of the language, so they were able to communicate and make sure everything was done correctly and safely.
“They were excellent,” he said. “They made it look easy.”
Maillard noted that it was very much a group effort, from the tree trimmers to the traffic controllers to customer service representatives all pitching in.
“It was a team effort for sure,” he said.
Maillard said the effort was well run and that customers were largely thankful to see them, like the man who approached them at a gas station to give them $100 in Tim Horton’s gift cards.
“I don’t know of any other job where that happens,” he said. “It’s really something to get that kind of reception.”
There was also the woman on a farm who had been without power for two weeks.
“She had chickens and goats running around, and a rooster in her arms that she was holding like a cat,” Maillard said. “Then the lights came on and she was almost in tears because now she could cook a Thanksgiving dinner. The work you do has an impact on people. And only so many of us can do it. I take a lot of pride in that.”