It's a little more than 850 miles and a 14-hour drive from the Chattanooga, Tenn., headquarters of Service Electric Co. to Long Island. And after traveling into the wee hours of Monday, workers for the electrical contractor swung right into action, helping LIPA reconnect many of its powerless customers.
Since Saturday, when a nor'easter left about 263,000 customers without power, out-of-state crews like those from Service Electric have been providing LIPA with a helping hand. The utility has an out-of-state workforce of nearly 2,000, including crews from Canada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island, spokesman Mark Gross said.
"Our trucks have been getting out of here around 6, 6:30 in the morning, and we generally don't get back till 9 or 10 at night," Lee Campbell, a Service Electric job supervisor, said predawn Wednesday in the parking lot of the Long Island/Huntington Hilton in Melville, where his crew is staying.
"It's mostly trees down on lines," said Jesse Warrick, 36, a crew member from Shelbyville, Tenn.
Miguel Gagnon's crew from New Brunswick, Canada, spent Wednesday morning hand digging a hole for a replacement utility pole on County Road 111 in Eastport. Gagnon, owner of Gagnon Construction Inc., drove here with a crew of 10 trucks and 23 men Sunday night, and started work Monday morning. Using shovels instead of the large auger they brought was necessary because there isn't time to check for buried gas and electric lines.
Most jobs east of the Nassau County line at this point are cleanup work that doesn't involve power outages. Gagnon expects to be home in New Brunswick by the weekend. "Probably tomorrow we'll be finished," said Gagnon, whose crew has covered primarily East End work.
Long days are common for crews of Service Electric, an industrial and commercial contractor specializing in restoring power to areas slapped by treacherous weather.
Some of its crew worked in and around New Orleans to restore service after Hurricane Katrina's violent visit in 2005. But several crew members said their worst storm experience was in and around Paducah, Ky., last February, when ice-coated power lines snapped and left nearly 700,000 Kentucky customers without power.
Compared to that, the job on Long Island was relatively routine, workers said.
Service Electric has 16 crews - 86 workers - operating bucket trucks and pole-setting trucks mainly in Massapequa, Massapequa Park and Bellmore, said Campbell, 43, of Dellrose, Tenn.
Campbell said his crews seemed to have made a lot of progress. "Around here, when you restore power to a city block, that's a lot of people," he said. "That was nice to see."
Warning to consumers
The state Consumer Protection Board and Emergency Management Office are warning homeowners to be aware of unscrupulous contractors who use aggressive sales tactics to offer their services to storm victims, many of whom may be anxious to have their homes restored after bad weather strikes.
The agency advises consumers to:
Use reputable local contractors and avoid hiring people who show up at the door offering an array of services because legitimate contractors use other methods of finding clients.
Ask for and check references, proof of insurance and written estimates for work to be done. If you live in an area that licenses contractors, check with the consumer protection agency to see the contractor's credentials and track record.
Resist sales pressure to sign an agreement right away but do get a written contract that specifies the services and the price. Sign no contracts with blank spaces and do not pay in advance.
Pay by credit card, if possible, or by check. But never pay in cash.
ZACHARY R. DOWDY