Carol Grozier was at home as heavy rain from Hurricane Irma began pelting Orange Springs, Florida, last September. When hurricane-force winds knocked out electric service to 90 percent of Clay Electric Cooperative’s members, she was in the dark, her appliances were disabled, and her mobile devices stopped recharging.
Grozier, 74, uses an oxygen concentrator, and as her Keystone Heights, Florida-based co-op geared up for the massive task of restoring service to 150,000 of its meters, her worried daughter was more than 400 miles away.
“She had quite a bit of damage from this storm,” said Salina C. Jenkins, 49, a member services representative at Baldwin Electric Membership Corp., in Summerdale, Alabama. Her mother and an aunt remained in their home, but “we were on day three and she still didn’t have power,” said Jenkins.
Temperatures climbed into the 90s, and with all the rain and flooding caused by the hurricane, escaping oppressive humidity was impossible.
“My mom couldn’t breathe,” Jenkins recalled.
Baldwin EMC was one of several electric cooperatives in more than six states initially contacted by Clay Electric Cooperative for mutual aid assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
“We had 47 staffers in the initial wave of crews dispatched to help Clay Electric. They were on the road less than 12 hours after the storm hit,” said Jody Taylor, Baldwin EMC’s vice president of operations.
Within days, co-op crews from 11 states were working across Clay Electric’s service territory. Activity was focused where access was not impeded by hurricane debris or flooding and where crews could restore power for the most members possible. Sixteen-hour shifts were in full swing Sept. 12, even as co-op crews continued to arrive in Florida to aid with power restoration.
But Jenkins was understandably concerned about her mom. Grozier’s home was near the Ocala National Forest, a sparsely populated area near the end of co-op lines.
“I heard how concerned [Jenkins] was about her mother,” said Taylor. “So I checked our vehicle location system to see if we had anyone in the area. We did have a crew not too far away, but with the weak cell service it took multiple tries to reach them.”
Concluding a double shift, Baldwin EMC crew chiefs Kevin Dorman and Louis Ruffin detoured their service truck to Grozier’s home before a mandatory rest break. While they couldn’t restore her electricity, the makings of a quick fix were available on their service truck.
“We carry generators on our vehicles as standard equipment on mutual aid assignments so we can be self-sufficient when power is not available,” said Dorman. “We called Jody to see if we could let her use it.”
Taylor authorized the crew to temporarily loan the generator to Jenkins’ mom.
“Once it was hooked up, she had access to lights, and enough power to run her oxygen concentrator and some other household electronics,” Taylor said, adding that Grozier was able to use the generator until all Clay Electric members in Florida’s Marion County had power restored five days later.
Dorman, Ruffin and Taylor were among four Baldwin EMC employees receiving the co-op’s Touchstone Energy® Power and Hope awards for outstanding service recently. The fourth recipient was Ray Bishop, the co-op’s facilities and maintenance specialist, who was recognized for helping a stranger in medical distress in the co-op’s parking lot.
Since the launch of the Power and Hope awards program in 2007, 22 Baldwin EMC employees have received the honor.
“We can train anybody on what to do in case of an emergency,” said Mark Ingram, the co-op’s vice president of corporate services, “but it takes a special person to be able to take that knowledge and actually use it.”
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.