Convoy carrying 11 line techs and a fleet mechanic heads to Lafayette, La., to help with Hurricane Laura recovery efforts.

Imagine packing for a road trip not knowing if you’ll have a place to stay once you reach your destination, how long you’ll stay there, and whether you’ll be able to get cell service and a decent meal. That pretty much sums up the trip 12 OUC employees embarked on Thursday (Aug. 27) as they began an 800-mile drive to Lafayette, La., where they’ll work on power restoration in the wake of Hurricane Laura.

Made up of a line supervisor, 10 line techs, and a fleet mechanic, the team rolled out of OUC’s Pershing campus in 11 trucks only hours after Laura had struck western Louisiana’s Gulf Coastline as a Category 4 storm. The convoy was expected to reach Gulfport, Miss., on the first day of the trip and arrive in Lafayette early Friday.

What awaits them once they get there was anybody’s guess.

“You never know going into these things what you’ll be dealing with,” said Spencer Barnes, who as Line Supervisor oversees the deployment. “It could be total devastation or much less. Our job is to do whatever needs to be done to help restore power and bring a sense of normalcy back to the people’s lives. We will go wherever we’re told to go without complaint.”

As for hotel accommodations, meals, mobile phone service and access to a laundry to wash uniforms, Barnes and his guys can only hope for the best.

“We may have to sleep in our trucks,” said Jeff Cockcroft, Lead Line Tech of a five-man crew and a veteran of six mutual aid trips, including an 18-day deployment in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy slammed the Northeast.

OUC sent the team of volunteers to lend support to Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) in keeping with a mutual aid agreement that calls on municipal utilities to help each other in times of emergencies. LUS has more than 65,000 retail customers and over 955 miles of primary distribution line. Laura’s impact on LUS’s grid wasn’t immediately known, but Louisiana Gov. Bel Edwards said about 600,000 service locations were without power across the state.

“Mutual aid is so important,” said Clint Bullock, General Manager & CEO, as he visited with crew members at Pershing. “The reason we’re doing this is because we have needed mutual aid here in Orlando and Central Florida, and now it’s our time to return the favor.”

Bullock and Barnes stressed safety as a priority and urged team members to follow COVID-19 precautions as best as they can while in the field.

The coronavirus “has created an extra challenge for all of us,” said Bullock. “While we train for storms year round, the last couple months all we’ve been focused on is COVID. How do we address recovery arrangements with COVID? Things will be a little bit slower in the field. But we are focused on safety first for our employees.”

The prospect of working 16-hour days in post-hurricane humidity while wearing fire-retardant clothing, hard hats, boots and thick, insulated linemen gloves, didn’t seem to faze any of the line techs. After all, they have to wear protective gear regardless of weather conditions.

“It’s hard work, but at the end of the day when you start seeing lights come on at night knowing that’s what you were working on the whole day, it’s really rewarding,” said Rick Bloom, who volunteered with his brother, Roy, both Line Tech 1s. “It’s really an honor to help people.”

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These 12 OUC employees volunteered to travel to Lafayette, La., to help restore power to communities impacted by Hurricane Laura. From left: Dewey Harvey, Lead Line Tech; Darrell Gay, Line Tech 2; Ricky Parks, Line Tech 2; Alfred Jones, Fleet Mechanic; Matt Coakley, Line Tech 2; Spencer Barnes, Line Supervisor; Roy Bloom, Line Tech 1; Mitch Coakley, Line Tech 2; Rick Bloom, Line Tech 1; Shawn Wall, Line Tech 2; Pat Gulotti, Line Tech 2; and Jeff Cockcroft, Lead Line Tech