Utility lineworkers use hot sticks to engage safely with live power lines. But Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative’s Werner Neubauer knows from 18 years of experience that the 8-foot fiberglass poles also come in handy during animal rescues.
The foreman at the Willcox, Arizona-based co-op recently used the tool to coax a young male bear down a power pole on a highway in remote Cochise County.
Neubauer learned about the wayward bear June 7 from two employees and set out in a bucket truck to investigate with line apprentice Efren Gallego. They found the bear atop a 40-foot pole, draped between the cross arm and the cross-arm braces, his paws resting on the pole’s neutral conductor.
“When we got there, we saw that the bear was in a dangerous spot,” said Neubauer. “He could have been electrocuted pretty easy. His head was right by an energized, 7,200-volt phase. If he touched it, he would have been dead.”
Immediately, both men de-energized the line at the primary breaker located down the road. Then they got to work. Gallego stayed on the road and Neubauer—with his hot stick—went up in the bucket.
That’s when the bear engaged in a little game of peekaboo.
“When I was going up towards him, he tucked his face under his front arm and covered his eyes and wasn’t looking at me like he was trying to hide from me,” said Neubauer. “It was kind of funny.”
Games aside, Neubauer began talking to the bear and used the stick to gently nudge the animal down the pole.
“He wasn’t very cooperative at first, and he was probably getting irritated with me. But, after a few minutes, I was able to get him out from between the cross arm and the cross-arm braces. Once he got out of that spot, he climbed down the pole on his own and then ran off.”
Neubauer has saved other animals stuck on top of power poles, such as raccoons and cats. A few months ago, he retrieved a bobcat using the hot stick.
“I couldn’t get it to climb down, so I actually made up a pole snare type of deal and got it around that bobcat’s waist to keep it away from me. He wasn’t very happy about it. I took it to the ground and then released it. That wasn’t an option with a 100-pound bear!”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.