Unitil lineworker David Voisine still remembers that Christmas Day when he was sent out to restore power to a home where an anxious family was waiting in the dark, fearing their biggest holiday of the year could very well be ruined.
The outage couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“While we were there the family was in the window watching us work and there were these two little girls. We did our work and they were really happy. They actually said, ‘Thank you for saving our Christmas’ and they made a card while we were working and came out with it. It was a cool experience. They really appreciated it,” Voisine said.
For Voisine, receiving that “Thank You” card from the young girls was a moment he’ll never forget. “Those things go a long way. It’s hard to be away from my family, but when you know that you’re helping other families and you’re making their day, it’s worth it,” he said.
The encounter with that grateful family is a reminder of just how rewarding electrical line work can be for employees like Voisine, who is among the more than 100,000 lineworkers in the United States whose dedication to the profession will be celebrated on National Lineworker Appreciation Day on April 18.
“The role that lineworkers play in keeping our homes, businesses and communities powered in good weather and bad cannot be overstated. They must always be ready to respond, often braving the elements while working as quickly and safely as they can to bring the lights back on during challenging conditions,” said Unitil External Affairs Manager Alec O’Meara. “We appreciate the work that our lineworkers do and we know that our customers do as well.”
This year marks 10 years since Congress established National Lineworker Appreciation Day every April 18. This special day of recognition was created in the wake of Superstorm Sandy to recognize the contributions of these brave men and women who protect public safety and keep the electricity flowing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – even during catastrophic events.
Becoming a lineworker was a career path that Voisine never envisioned for himself while growing up in the Manchester, N.H., area and tagging along with his dad, who owned a paving and excavation company. As a kid, he always enjoyed riding in dump trucks and figured he’d one day join the family business.
“I thought I’d be doing that my whole life, but I had a family friend down the road from us who was involved in line work,” said Voisine, who works out of Unitil’s electric operations facility in Exeter, N.H.
It was that friend who changed Voisine’s mind and put him on the path toward a career as a lineworker. He recalled how he began to take an interest in the profession while the friend was performing some work at his parents’ house. A few months later, the friend asked if Voisine would be interested in working with his crew, which was employed by a utility contractor. Voisine decided to take him up on the offer and began an apprenticeship with the contractor at the age of 21. He was still an apprentice and new to the job when Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012 and he was sent to Long Island, N.Y., to help restore power.
“That was quite an experience,” said Voisine, who’s spent 12 years in the utility industry – nearly six of those as a Unitil employee who has worked two stints in the company’s Massachusetts and New Hampshire service territories.
It is following storm outages when Unitil’s Todd Gauvin also feels the most appreciated. “The vast majority of our customers are so grateful when power is restored following a storm; it provides a great deal of satisfaction,” he said. Gauvin, who has been with the company for 12 years, said that he and his colleagues really enjoy the work because power is so central to everyday living. Like Voisine, he hadn’t planned on getting into the industry, but it was happenstance that led him to a career as a lineworker. The Fitchburg, Mass., native said it was a conversation with a coworker’s roommate and an economic downturn that plugged him into the utility business. He was finishing up his computer science degree at Fitchburg State University when the dotcom meltdown hit the industry, portending a bleak job market.
Gauvin was working fulltime at a warehouse when a coworker’s roommate shared with him that he just graduated from an apprenticeship program to become a lineworker. “It seemed like a great career option,” Gauvin said. He signed up for the same program through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which prepares apprentices to become a journeyman lineworker.
After taking an aptitude test, IBEW set Gauvin up with paid on-the-job training, at-home study, and classroom instruction, which took about 7,000 hours over 3 ½ years to complete. “My training was with a third-party independent contractor that specialized in building new construction electrical systems for a large regional utility company,” Gauvin said. He ended up staying with the company for 10 years before joining Unitil. Gauvin also added that he was able to complete the program in less time due to accruing so many hours during the five weeks spent in New Orleans restoring power after Hurricane Katrina.
“It is rewarding and I definitely enjoy the work, especially being outdoors on most days,” Gauvin said. “It can also be challenging on cold days or when we must go out late at night or weekends, but there is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from keeping the power flowing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
While he’s found linework to be a fulfilling career and one that has given him opportunities to see other regions while assisting with power restoration following major storms, Voisine admits that the job can also be challenging, especially for those with families at home. His children are 9 and 11 and he knows how tough it can be when he misses special moments with family.
“But that’s part of the job,” he said. “There have been times when I haven’t had power at my house, but I’m still here because that’s the job. People are appreciative when they see us and happy that we’re there.”