Florida’s heat is the main enemy for Long Island utility workers restoring power near Tampa, where the wildlife — at least so far — has been elusive and locals exceptionally grateful.
“Even some of them we’ve come across who haven’t had power for almost a week now, nobody’s been cross with us,” Michael McLaughlin, a PSEG Long Island supervisor from the Riverhead yard, said by telephone.
After all, his crew reached Florida on Thursday after driving 1,200 miles in three days to aid people whose homes and businesses were hammered by Hurricane Irma last week.
“They keep coming up to us, offering us water, offering us bag lunches, and [people] were giving us the thumbs up as we were driving down, just thanking us for doing what we do,” said Bill Bousson, a foreman from the Bridgehampton yard.
This PSEG crew is among the more than 460 employees and contractors the firm sent to help Florida utilities.
The Tampa utility they are assisting has the same kinds of systems as PSEG. So much of the work — clearing trees and other debris from the lines and setting poles — is highly familiar.
And, McLaughlin said, the local utility strings its lines along highways, so they can use bucket trucks instead of having to climb backyard poles.
The weather, however, mirrors a Long Island July heat wave.
“The work is what we’re used to but it’s hot down here, during the prime time of the day, and the only thing we can do is slow down, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” McLaughlin said.
Consider their protective, fire-retardant garb: heavy boots, thick jeans, long sleeve shirts, rubber gloves with sleeves, hard hats, and safety glasses.
“That will drain the water out of you pretty quick,” said James Waltel, a power lineman from the Bridgehampton yard.
So will setting a pole in sandy soil close to a beach, which means the water rushes in, much like it does in the Hamptons.
There are a few notable differences from the Island.
Palm trees, it turns out, are a dense wood, an important quality when they have to be cleared from tangled wires.
“I’ve never cut one before . . . it’s different than an oak tree,” said Bousson.
Then there are Florida’s multi-legged creatures.
Fortunately, the mosquitoes have been at least tolerable, perhaps due to the bug spray.
Nor have the spiders and ants the crew had heard about proved nettlesome. Still, Waltel jested, “The guys are all paranoid about alligators.”