Employee Spotlight: Keith Gednalske
Keith Gednalske is a foreman. He has worked for KEC for nearly 26 years.
What made you interested in line work? How did you train to prepare for work in this field? I saw a utility crew working one day and thought it looked cool. I went to Avista’s pre-apprentice line school and after got a job at KEC as a temporary groundman. From there I was hired for a permanent position as an apprentice lineman and then moved through the ranks.
After the January 2021 windstorm members sometimes ask how crews prepare for storms in the forecast. Could you fill us in? Generally, we are always ready for a storm. We keep our trucks stocked and fueled up. We do take some time before a storm to ensure we have the appropriate clothing for the elements and it’s all dry from the day before. This includes warm coats, gloves, rain gear, hard hats and more. All of our work is organized with iPads, so we make sure our iPads are charged and ready to go.
What was your experience with the January storm? It was definitely a bad storm, but my experience with the Ice Storm in 1996 was worse. I think this was comparable to 2015. My crew was one of 16 working to restore power. Initially, all the crews worked for 24 hours straight. Then we moved to 16 hours on, eight hours off with the majority of crews working during daylight hours, which is safer and more productive. We still had some crews available during the night for emergencies. Various KEC employees brought us meals so we didn’t have to leave the job site to eat.
Tell us about some of the challenges crews faced when restoring power during the windstorm outages. The biggest challenge was in the first several hours of the storm when the wind was still blowing. It’s difficult to make progress when trees are still coming down as we are working. In some cases, we had to cut our way into roads and then cut our way out. Members were also unable to access the roads or get out of their neighborhoods. Early in the storm we had to focus on cutting trees, de-energizing lines and making it safe for emergency crews to access areas. Safety of the crew and public is the most important.
How do the crews decide where to restore power first during a storm? During a storm, crews work to restore power to the greatest number of members in the shortest time possible. In this case, we would start at the substation first. Then we’d patrol three-phase lines and then single phase. We often get out of our trucks to patrol lines. Sometimes that means walking long distances in the snow or rain. Sometimes it means dragging a power pole into an area with a backhoe when a line truck won’t fit. After assessing the damage, we make repairs to restore power to all the individual members off the main distribution line. It doesn’t do any good to repair a single tap or individual member’s line when the three-phase line feeding it is down.
Due to the severity of the storm, KEC will be eligible to initiate a claim under the FEMA Public Assistance Program in the future with state and federal support. How were you involved in this process? After the storms in 2015, we are more aware of what we need to do to prepare for a FEMA claim. We took a lot of photos to document the damage. Foremen stayed in close touch with the field engineering technician team so they could start engineering new poles right away. Once the poles were engineered, the materials needed to complete the work were sent to our warehouse department where they would help the crew collect everything needed to rebuild the poles. My crew was assigned to the Cougar Gulch area during the windstorms. We had 4-5 broken poles in that area alone and it can take up to 10 hours to repair a broken pole. The photo to the left will give you an idea of the damage we repaired during the storm.
What is the best part of your job? To me, it’s not a job. When you enjoy what you do it’s not like going to work. Bottom line: KEC takes care of us. It’s a great company to work for and we have a great crew.