A Day in the Life of a Lineworker

Recognized as one of the most dangerous professions in the United States, lineworkers are known for their strong physical endurance, mental toughness and undeniable spirit of camaraderie. Every day, more than 117,000 of these skilled professionals help deliver electrical power from generating stations into homes, businesses and other facilities.

Being a lineworker is a physically demanding job—partly because of the tasks at hand and partly due to the exposure of weather conditions (e.g. rain, snow, extreme heat). One job might require climbing a 100-foot pole while the next might demand installation and repair work in 40 mph wind gusts. From construction and troubleshooting to transmission/distribution and the maintenance of electrical power systems, it’s no wonder lineworkers are often referred to as the heart of a utility.

We couldn’t let National Lineworker Appreciation Day slip by without shining a spotlight on one of our crews. Enter Crew Chief Vinod Kumar and his team. Working together for two years, it’s obvious the group enjoys each other’s company just as much as they enjoy their jobs. We sat down with the group to get a glimpse of what a day on the job looks like and what they value most about their roles.

L-R: Vinod Kumar, Fred Bolar, Cole Dennett, Jeff Anderson
(not pictured Pre-Apprentice Lineworker Ryan Shoeneman)


Can you walk us through a timeline of a “typical” day at work, from morning to end?

Vinod Kumar: “Overhead line crews begin the day at 7:45 a.m. Every day begins with our safety stand down. This involves all crew members from every crew on the dock and our supervisors. Crews are updated with information they need to know from the previous day. We’ll also share updates like classes or safety training. After that, the Crew Chief discusses the job(s) for the day with their crew. Afterward, we’ll order any material that is needed from the warehouse (if we don’t already have it). Once everything is compiled, we leave the dock for the job site and take our coffee break on the way. When we arrive, we make the work site safe by displaying any required signage that informs the public there is work being done in the immediate area. Before anyone leaves the ground to start work, we’ll discuss the job one last time in what we call a ‘tailgate meeting’ which informs all crew members of potential hazards and ensures that everyone is on the same page. Safety is the most important part of our job! We normally stop at 11:45 to take our lunch. However, there are times when we must work through our lunch (usually if there is an outage to customers). Once the job is complete, we’ll get back to the shop to unload the material, clean up, and go home at 4:15 p.m.”

You mentioned an overhead crew—can you please explain what that means?

VK: “City Light has two types of line crews—overhead and underground. I’m an overhead crew chief. Our crew works on the powerlines that are installed above ground or overhead as we call it. Anything involving the lines overhead is attended to by our crews. Some places have powerlines underground. That’s the work of our underground crews. There are also some instances where a single pole will have both overhead customers and underground customers.”

Tell us about your customers. Who do you serve?

VK: “We serve the rate payers in the City of Seattle. That includes companies like Boeing and Nucor Steel all the way to a tiny house. If a business or residence is in City Light’s service territory and they have power, they’re our customer. We also have internal customers like the warehouse, engineers, customer service, etc.”

Can you describe the culture of the lineworker environment? Can you share what it’s like to be part of the team and what that means?

 Jeff Anderson: “We’re fortunate our crew gets along so well. We enjoy ourselves when we come to work. Because the work is dangerous, I feel like there’s more of a personal connection—it’s a camaraderie. We’re more than just co-workers, and I think that contributes to us having more fun on the job and hanging out together outside of work. I care about what’s going on with these guys.”

Cole Dennett: “We all have each other’s back and help one another. There might be something I don’t know as well as Jeff or Fred, and that’s ok because I rely on them for that information. In turn, they rely on me for what I know.”

Ryan Shoeneman: “When I started, everyone said that this would be my second family. We work a lot of long hours. Sometimes we spend more time with our crews than at home which builds camaraderie. One second you’re talking about a job, and the next, you’re talking about how your kid started walking. I mean, we’re going to each other’s weddings…spending time outside of work together…”

JA: “I agree. I’ve gone on vacations with people that I work with.”

CD: “Yeah. You went to my wedding and that was ten hours away.”

JA: “Yes, I did. I drove ten hours to get to his wedding and then flew to Mexico with another guy I work with after that. Family is probably a fair word to use when describing our relationships.”

Are there any special rules or sayings that your crew abides by?

VK: “Safety is the slogan for everybody. If you’re doing dangerous work, everyone must take care of each other. Sometimes it’s a very pressurized job and we must get it done safely in a timely manner.”

What are the skills needed to perform this line of work?

CD: “On-the-job experience will come with time, but I think one thing to consider for someone coming in off the street is their level of physical endurance. Sometimes we’re working 24-48 hours. If you don’t have the physical endurance to do this job, it’s not only going to wear you out mentally, but physically. If you’re not in it, you can get hurt easily. It’s not a ten-pound crossarm, it’s a 110-pound crossarm, and you don’t want to drop that 40 or 50 feet.”

JA: “The ability to keep calm under pressure is very important. Things won’t always go as planned and what we’re working with is dangerous. If you find yourself in a position that isn’t exactly how you wanted it to go and you can’t keep calm and work yourself out of that situation in a safe manner, that’s when people get hurt. I think almost more so than being able to do the job in a perfect condition, you need to be able to do the job in the imperfect condition—in the worst scenario, you need to be able to perform at your best.”

FB: “You also, for lack of a better word, must have a little crazy in you. We do stuff that isn’t normal. No one wants to climb up a pole anywhere from 50-100 feet. It’s unnatural. You can always fall off a pole, or once you get to the top of it, you’re dealing with electricity. Normally as a kid, you’re taught to stay away from electricity. So, it’s good to have that adventurous quality and mentality to do this work.”

What keeps you motivated coming to work each day? Aside from your crew, why do you enjoy this job? Why is it important? What does it mean to you?

CD: “I’m not in an office. I’m outside every day. That’s what I like about it. On the worst days, yeah, I want to be inside, but on the sunny days, you can stop…say…near Lake Washington and see the reflection of all mountains with Rainier in the background. Or you stop by the Sound and watch the ferries go by…it’s just beautiful landscape. Especially when you get above on the hilltop. Jeff’s always taking panoramic photos.”

JA: “There’s gratification from taking a storm call when the power is out and it’s cold outside. There’s definite satisfaction to hear someone yell ‘Thank you’ from the window after the lights come back on. I also like doing something where I can see what I accomplished. From a young age, I always knew that I didn’t want to attend a four-year college because I wanted to put stuff together with my hands. When I leave work every day, I can look back and see what I accomplished. It’s not just moving a stack of paper across my desk—I put something together and now it’s functioning and serving a purpose.”

What advice would you give someone seeking this line of work?

RS: “I think it was good for me to start at the bottom and work my way up from being a laborer. It was good to see all the different areas and careers that City Light had to offer. To me, the line worker position was most appealing, but I didn’t just come off the street and say ‘I want to be a lineman.’ I feel like I had a little bit of head start…being familiar with the area…with some of the tools…the groundwork. Being a material supplier, made me feel better about getting into the apprenticeship program. I felt comfortable and had more knowledge under my belt before I jumped in. If you didn’t go to lineman college, I would say get an entry level position.”

JA: “My advice is to make sure it’s something you want to do. Do a little research before you jump in because it’s not for everyone. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it’s bad. You mentally need to be in place where you can deal with the bad. When apprentices come through, we’ll teach them how to do the job—it’s a learned skill—but you can’t teach someone to have the right attitude.”

VK: “Patience is also important.”

CD: “It’s a full-time job with four years of work and school. It doesn’t get easier as you progress. There’s more pressure and the job gets more dangerous. When you’re up in the air with somebody else, you’re relying on each other to stay safe. So, that’s an added pressure on top of schoolwork and attending class. Many people don’t realize that there’s school on top of a full-time job so just be prepared for that. Long nights.”

CD: “You’ve also got to learn to swallow your pride and get rid of the ‘I know this’ and ‘I know that’ attitude. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way to the top.”

RS: “Flexibility is also important. It was easier when I was a single man, coming in without a family—I could take a call out whenever I wanted. Now, I’m married and have a son and, well, it’s not so easy anymore. Going to school a couple nights a week and then getting called back in, it’s like ‘Honey, can I work this weekend?’ Thankfully, I have a loving wife that supports my career, but there is give and take. It’s hard to find that good balance between family and work. You can’t make everyone happy so you must learn to pick your battles and be flexible.”

Thank you to all our crews for the incredible work and heart that’s poured into each job 365 days a year!

Seattle City (spot)Light: John “Mark” McGee

For the past seven years, Mark McGee has dished out happy smiles and full stomachs as cook at the Gorge Inn at City Light’s Skagit project. A retired Navy Air Traffic Controller, Mark was in the service for 22 years. In fact, it was his assignment to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island that made him want to stay in Washington state.

Today, Mark resides in Newhalem with his wife where they’ve lived since 2007. Together, they enjoy life in the mountains which consists of outdoor adventures like backpacking and car camping. They also share a great love for—you guessed it—cooking.

  John “Mark” McGee at the Gorge Inn

“I like exploring the back country. This area (Skagit) is a perfect jumping off point for that. As soon as you leave the trailhead, you’re pretty much on your own. My wife and I go out together. It’s fantastic,” said Mark. “I’ve hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Highway 20 to Hart’s Pass which is just drop dead gorgeous. There’s a place up there called Snowy Lakes which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I still can’t believe it’s not a part of a national park. I also enjoy Panther Creek.”

“I’ve always cooked. My mom taught me. When I retired from the Navy, I enrolled at Skagit Valley College. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I interviewed with the head of the culinary department and decided to change my major to culinary arts. My very first course was baking, and I had never baked a lick in my life. Baking is a science—in cooking you use recipes, but in baking you use formulas. I just fell in love with it and got my degree in culinary arts in hospitality management.”

“One recipe I learned from my mom was Maryland fried chicken. I still make it a couple times a year. My wife and I have fun cooking together. She makes a good gumbo. I love to cook Italian food like prawns Puttanesca or a nice Arrabiata sauce. In a way, cooking is like air traffic control in that there’s instant gratification. On the other hand, there’s also instant knowledge of making a mistake or knowing that someone hates your food. So, there’s instant feedback, good or bad, which I like.”

“I’m a classically French-trained chef. I’ve worked in fine dining, and I think when retirement comes, that I’d like a part-time job in a fine dining restaurant. That would be fun—to just focus on the food. The Herb Farm in Woodinville is a fantastic fine dining experience. Loulay is also excellent.”

“Here, we’re famous for the Dam Good Chicken Dinner. People love it. The menu’s been updated with a nice green salad and fresh green beans, but the chicken recipe is exactly the same. The recipe has to be from the 1930s—coming up on 100 years!”

“We especially like to take care of the line crews. They work hard…10, 12, sometimes 14 hours a day. The last thing they want to think about is cooking. They always support us. When the crews come up, they’re first in line and first in our hearts. We get to know them very well. They’re great folks. We’re like a family up here.”

“I’d also like to acknowledge my co-workers; Debbie Martin, Cindy Aldridge and Tara Benjamin. Without their support and help the Gorge Inn could not function as effectively it does. The Skagit cookhouses now and in the past, are not and could never be a one person show. It’s all about team effort.”

Thank you, Mark, for your service to our country and for all that you do to feed our appetites!

Seattle City (spot)Light: Jerry Koenig

For Jerry Koenig, it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when” an emergency will strike. As City Light’s Emergency Management Strategic Advisor, Jerry oversees the utility’s emergency management program.

Jerry grew up in Eugene, Oregon. He served 20 years in the United States Air Force under the fire department before being trained for emergency management. He received a degree in Fire Service Administration from Western Oregon University and lives in Mill Creek with his wife of 31 years.

Emergency Management Strategic Advisor Jerry Koenig

“Of all the places I’ve lived, I would say that Alaska has been my favorite. It’s awesome and has so much going on—even in the winter. There’s the Iditarod, the Fur Rondy. When we lived there, we spent a lot of time getting out in the woods…hiking…camping…my son and I even did a 20-mile hike together. It’s just an incredible place.”

“I’m really into history and genealogy. I’ve been researching my family since I was my teenager. I talk a lot with second and third cousins all over the country. I also spend a lot of time at the Central Library which has an excellent genealogy library. If I have some time on my lunch, I’ll disappear and head there. I read and do a lot of research in my downtime.”

“In terms of preparedness, the responsibility for taking care of yourself and your family is on each of us individually. One thing I used to teach the Boy Scouts was that if you’re comfortable, you’re doing it right. If you’re warm, dry, fed and unhurt, you’re doing everything right. It’s the same thing in a disaster. If you’re comfortable, you’re doing it right. If you’ve got a problem because you don’t have power or food, well, that’s something that you need to think through ahead of time. Have an earthquake kit, have plenty of food…plan for water and bathroom facilities which are always going to be a big problem. Are you prepared to live on your own without leaving your house for three days? Seven days?” (FYI: seattle.gov/emergency and ready.gov are excellent resources for emergency preparedness).

“One of my favorite initiatives that I help implement is the utility’s training program for emergency responders. It’s to the point now that, when we have an activation, I don’t tell anyone what to do. Our team goes right into motion, and it’s fantastic to watch. I’m proud of the experience and strength of our team.”

“City Light has amazing people with amazing stories and amazing capabilities. I’ve told people for years—I even told my son this when he graduated from college—it’s not about what you do. It’s about who you’re working with, and if you enjoy the people you’re working with, it doesn’t matter what you do. “

Thank you, Jerry, for your service to our country and for being a part of City Light the past eight years.


Seattle City spot(Light): Shanna Crutchfield

Shanna Crutchfield always knew she would live in Seattle. Upon graduating high school, she moved from Louisiana to join (as she says) “the majestic mountains and beautiful natural landscape” of Washington state. Last year, Shanna celebrated 30 years of service with the city of Seattle, an achievement recognized by the Mayor’s office. What made the moment extremely special was that Shanna received the award alongside her sister, whose 30-year career at the Seattle Police Department was also honored. Shanna also has another sister who retired from Seattle Public Utility a few years ago.

For years, Shanna was City Light’s program manager for the Race and Social Justice Initiative, but she joined City Light in 1988 as an administrative specialist. Her career spanned various positions, including her home base at South Service Center where she was the executive assistant to the director and at the Seattle Municipal Tower (SMT), where she served as a liaison to the law department. She’s also impacted the organization within the personnel department, developing new initiatives and supervising employee training. Shanna has worked in every business unit of the utility, and through her training programs, she’s interacted with every employee—two feats not many can claim.

Shanna’s dedication to serve others shines. It’s a mission that drives her very being, extending into her West Seattle home, where she’s hosted more than 40 international students. This motivation is also seen in her favorite quote, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.”

In this week’s (spot)light, Shanna shares her career at City Light and how it’s helped light the path to her next chapter in life…retirement.

(L-R) Shanna Crutchfield with Mayor Ed Murray, and her sister Melba Ayco at Mayor’s Award ceremony last year

“The Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) is important. We’re here to provide the best customer service experience and to do that, we must be intentional in making sure that we’re addressing the needs of every customer…that no matter where they live, what they look like, or what their economic status is, that if we want to live out the mission and vision of this utility, then we must be committed to RSJI,” Shanna said.

“That’s what makes it important for me. I know that there are certain communities of people, certain neighborhoods, who at times feel like they’re forgotten. For a government agency, I think that must be a core value…that we’re here to serve and that what you look like and what you have access to, should not be a barrier to that service.“

“RSJI also recognizes workforce equity and access to education. Coming to Seattle, I immediately jumped into the workplace. Pursuing college wasn’t an option. To see how I progressed in the organization, without having a 4-year degree, is a prime example of equivalency. I made an investment in City Light and they made an investment in me.”

“My favorite thing about City Light is the people. When I see the lights on the streets, I think about the people who do this work. That tangible light represents the commitment from our employees, and that commitment benefits all, no matter who you are. The people here take pride in providing a service to the public. And because I spend a lot of time with employees in training rooms, I get to see that, I get to hear that.”

“I have two children who live in Houston. That’s one of my future goals…to move to Texas to be closer to them. I also have twin granddaughters, and that really excites me. That’s another piece to my job…when I do this work, and think of other people doing this work, I know it’s going to make better outcomes for their future.”

“I had no idea when I started that I would be here this long. The city provides such growth opportunities. There are so many different departments, and for me at City Light, because of all the movement, all the special projects and opportunities that I’ve worked on, it has been an amazing career.”

***Shanna’s last day at City Light is Friday, March 3. Shanna, thank you for your unwavering service to the City of Seattle. Congratulations on such a fulfilling career and best wishes for a wonderful retirement!