COLUMBIA — Thirteen linemen were recognized Monday morning for restoring power to thousands after Hurricane Sandy caused power outages in affected areas
The Columbia Water and Light Department hosted an appreciation luncheon for the linemen who served on the East Coast restoring electric service to communities hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Tony Cunningham, the manager of electric distribution, organized the luncheon on behalf of the city Water and Light Department.
"We’ve never done this before, and we want to show them how much we appreciate them," Cunningham said.
With 13 workers gone, the rest of the Electric Distribution division had to cover more work, but it was business as usual in Columbia even with some people missing, Cunningham said. The luncheon was also to thank those who picked up the slack.
"These guys were gone for over two weeks to serve others, but the flip side of that is that the others had to cover their duties, so we want to just thank all of them for their dedication," Connie Kacprowicz, communications and marketing supervisor for Columbia Water and Light, said.
Twelve linemen were deployed to Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 29 where they spent eight days restoring power. A thirteenth volunteer joined the group after a week before the linemen moved on to Green Ponds and Rockaway, N.J.
The linemen returned on Nov. 14, after 17 days of working long hours in dangerous conditions.
"There were lots of poles and things knocked over, and you never knew if they were energized or not," said Andrew Smith, one of the linemen who volunteered on the trip.
Smith said the last time he was out serving was six years ago to provide relief to people in the Missouri town of Lamar, but that destruction wasn’t comparable to what the group saw on the East Coast.
"Keeping everyone safe was my biggest challenge," Kevin Thornton, the senior supervisor on the trip, said. "I felt that was my No. 1 priority."
The linemen like going to help provide relief, but they have to make sacrifices when they do, often missing out on certain experiences they were looking forward to.
"The hardest part about being gone is the things you miss," said Thornton, who missed a family reunion. Others missed a daughter’s first date and a son’s first football game.
Missing out on experiences and working in devastated areas wasn’t enough to keep the group’s spirit down while they were working. The linemen enjoy going to help others. Turning on lights for people who need it helped them realize the importance of their service, Thornton said.
"I put myself on the volunteer list and then I was asked to go, and I was more than willing," Smith said. "I think it’s fun, and I enjoy helping people."
Despite the satisfaction the linemen get from helping others, coming home is always a relief, Thornton said.
"It’s always good to get home," he said. "It means that it’s finally time to take a breath and relax."