Delaware News

Trending upward: Power Line Rodeo test skills

Delaware Area Career Center's future power-line technicians challenge peers in this week's competition

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Delaware Area Career Center senior Grant VanHoose climbs a utility pole last Thursday, April 24, during practice for the Power Line Rodeo. The event, which had been set for Friday, May 2, was canceled earlier this week.

It's normal for students to deal with anxiety before a big test.

It's unusual for that test to occur 40 feet off the ground.

Olivia Hilderbrant, a student in the Delaware Area Career Center's power-line technician program, said that nervousness went away quickly as she practiced climbing. The feelings of anxiety were replaced by exhilaration as she progressed through the program, she said.

"At the beginning, we got up 10 feet and it was pretty scary," she said. "Once you hit 40, it's like your fear is gone."

Hilderbrant and her classmates will face a new test this week when the career center's north campus hosts the Power Line Rodeo for the first time. DACC students will compete Friday, May 2, against students from the Tri-County Career Center in Nelsonville and the Mid-East Career Center in Zanesville.

Weather permitting, the schools will compete in two events starting at 8:30 a.m., instructor Mike Lewis said.

The first event will be a "hurt-man rescue" in which students work to get a dummy safely from a utility pole to the ground.

"It could be an electrical accident; it could be a seizure ... whatever the reason, you're going to rescue that person and they have to do it within a four-minute time frame," Lewis said.

The second event will be a mystery challenge involving other skills the students practice daily on utility poles.

While students learn all of the basics at DACC, they will not work around energized lines until they leave the school and work in the industry as an apprentice.

Lewis said students will be judged on their safety, speed and skill by retired linemen.

"I'm hoping that (the students) learn that this is a job, but it can also be fun," Lewis said.

The rodeo also will give students a chance to network with potential employers. Representatives from companies such as American Electric Power, Consolidated Electric and Westerville Municipal Electric have been invited to attend and meet the program's students.

Mason Hill, a senior at Delaware Hayes High School, competed at last year's rodeo in Nelsonville. He said he thinks his class, like a sports team, will have an advantage by hosting the event on home turf.

"It's a lot different from our poles to theirs," he said. "It's just a different setup."

Hill said he originally was set on training to be a diesel mechanic, but seeing students working on power lines during a sophomore-year visit to DACC changed his mind.

"I just got in it because they got to climb up 40 feet in the air, and I thought that was pretty cool," he said. "I didn't get in it for the money -- I found out you make a lot of money after I got in it."

Lewis said power-line technicians can make a decent living, especially if they're willing to travel. He said apprentice linemen start at $17 to $18 per hour, while experienced workers can make between $37 and $40 per hour.

Hilderbrant, a junior at Olentangy High School, said the chance to earn a good living is great, but it's not the best part of the job.

"I like the idea of being outside and active -- constantly doing something," she said.

Lewis said he's looking for students who love being outdoors and are not afraid of heights. He said students with an athletic or manual-labor background also make good power-line technicians.

"We're looking for stamina to do this job," he said. "It takes a lot of strength."

Lewis should know what makes a good technician. He worked at AEP for 35 years, including 10 years as an instructor in the company's adult-training program.

The career center sought out Lewis to start up its power-line technician program three years ago. Sixteen students now are involved in the program, which serves students in the Big Walnut, Buckeye Valley, Delaware, Olentangy, Westerville and Worthington school districts.

Lewis said five of the program's first seven graduates now work in the utility industry.

Hill said he's grown up a lot through his work in the power-line technician program. He said students constantly have to work with their teammates to maintain a safe work environment.

"Here you learn a lot of team-building skills and how to work well with others," he said.

Hilderbrant agreed, noting her fellow students are always watching out for her.

"I love the fact that it's like a brotherhood and sisterhood," she said. "It's one big family."

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