Crew mourns lineman’s death

Columbia lineman remembered for going above and beyond.
Sunday, June 12, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:08 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Steve Ebert had a reputation among Columbia linemen as a man who couldn’t say no.

So when the city of Independence asked Thursday if Columbia could send a crew to help repair its power system in the wake of a Wednesday storm, it was no surprise that Ebert was among those who answered the call.

“He was always the one to render help,” George Hessenbruch, electric distribution coordinator and a 33-year veteran of the Water and Light Department, said Saturday. “If we needed help after hours … you could always call him. He never refused a call and was always willing to volunteer to go somewhere else.”

Ebert, one of 11 Water and Light employees dispatched to Independence on Thursday, died Friday morning while helping replace a light pole. He was reaching into the storage bin of a utility truck when the truck’s boom came into contact with a 13,000-volt wire, according to a Water and Light news release.

Ebert, 33, is survived by his wife, Vicki, and three children, Kevin, 7, Erik, 5, and Ashlyn, 1. The Steve Ebert Memorial Fund has been established at Boone County National Bank. Donors can send contributions to the bank or to the Water and Light Department. Proceeds will support the


Columbia apprentice lineman Chuck Schouten was also hurt in the accident and admitted to Independence Regional Health Center. He returned home Friday.

The accident happened at 8:50 a.m. as Ebert’s crew was preparing to move a live wire from a damaged pole to a new one.

“It’s a normal practice to be working on an energized circuit because citizens don’t like their power turned off,” Independence Power and Light Director George Morrow said.

Hessenbruch said that the job was routine — “It’s what we’ve done 100 times” — and that the task came very early in Ebert’s shift. He said the loss has been hard on Columbia’s team of 72 electric distribution workers.

“There were a lot of guys that were really hurting last night,” Hessenbruch said, describing the mood as quiet and somber as co-workers gathered to console each other Friday. A city counselor spoke with the linemen as a group and individually.

Hessenbruch said the tragedy probably will draw the crew even closer.

“I think we’re awful, awful close already,” he said. “Everyday when you’re on a pole and you’re working with someone else, you have to have a tremendous amount of trust and a tremendous amount of respect for the people you work with, and we have that.”

Ebert had worked at Water and Light since 1993, first as a temporary laborer, then as a meter reader. He was promoted to apprentice lineman in 1994.

Fellow lineman Steve Casteel was an apprentice with Ebert, whom he called “a good lineman, a good person overall.’”

“He’d do anything for you, just one of those caring people that really wanted to help out,” he said.

Casteel said Ebert was sharp on the job. “He was very careful what he did. He did everything according to the way we were told to do it and taught to do it.”

Hessenbruch described Ebert as a “great father” and a “great husband.”

He liked to play cards with colleagues around a poker table in his basement, Casteel said. He also enjoyed lineman rodeos, in which power crews from around the nation and world test their skills in job-related events such as pole climbing and crossover changes. Ebert had recently competed in Kansas City and Memphis.

“That just shows me how much pride he took in his job, that he took it on his own outside his job to practice,” Hessenbruch said.

Hessenbruch said Columbia’s power crew is among the best in the nation. Linemen undergo four years of apprentice training, and many attend two years of trade school before that.

“We do a tremendous amount of work hot, meaning the lines are energized,” Hessenbruch said, explaining that the city strives to maintain service to customers whenever possible.

“Our crewmen have been recruited across the country because of the caliber of workers they are,” he said. “Our best customer service is being taken for granted, and people don’t realize what’s behind it when they go flip the light switch and turn on the light in the kitchen.”

Both City Manager Ray Beck and Water and Light Director Dan Dasho extended condolences to Ebert’s family, friends and co-workers.

“Steve Ebert lost his life going beyond the normal call of duty; he was helping another community in its time of need. It is a sad day at Columbia Water and Light,” Dasho said.

Ebert was the first Water and Light Department employee killed on the job since Charles Pollack died in 1954 while repairing lights on a baseball field.

Missourian staff contributed to this report.

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