OUC’s lineman rodeo team, back row from left: Nelson Rodriguez, Distribution Operator; Zach Rochester, Line Tech II; Russ Osborne, Line Tech II; Matt Coakley, Line Tech II; John Russell, Trouble Tech; Zach Colgan, Line Tech III; and Evan Englert, Line Tech III; front row from left: Austin Houk, Line Tech II; Chris Hosier, Distribution Operator; James Alexander, Sr. Technical Trainer; Richard Boley, Lead Line Tech; and Mark Fisher, Line Tech II 

When the 2022 Florida Lineman Competition gets underway in Fort Pierce on Feb. 26, the OUC team’s quest to bring home its first overall trophy since 2012 will be determined by speed, close attention to details and, of course, safety.

The group of three, three-member journeyman teams and four apprentices have been preparing since December for the state rodeo, as the competition is known. Led by team foreman Richard Boley, Lead Line Technician, the competitors – all volunteers – practice one day per week at the Pershing training yard. Boley plans to up the training schedule to every day the week leading up to the rodeo.

Boley has been a member of OUC’s team since 2001, competing in state, national and international rodeos up until 2015 when he moved into the foreman role. He also serves as the chief judge of the 2022 rodeo’s “12kV Running Angle Poly Bell Change Out” journeyman competition.

“The rodeo is physically demanding,” he said. “To prepare for it, you have to train as any athlete would for a big game. It’s not enough that you are in good physical shape, but you have to be mentally prepared to handle multiple skills in seconds while being timed and judged. And safety is the most important part of everything you do.”

Team foreman Richard Boley (center), Lead Line Tech, coaches apprentice competitors Zach Colgan (left) and Evan Englert, both Line Tech III’s.

Sponsored by the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA), the rodeo brings together lineworkers from across the state for fierce but friendly competition. FMEA expects 11 public utilities to send 75 apprentices, 20 three-member journeyman teams, plus an alternate, and 40 judges to this year’s event.

The rodeo features five events for journeyman teams and six events, including a written exam, for apprentices. In a nod to the traditional view of line work, competitors don climbing gaffs on their boots and safety harnesses for ascending utility poles to carry out their tasks, such as changing out a transformer or cross arm. Each event specifies voltage linemen would encounter in a similar real-life situation.

Every year, competitors are faced with new tests of speed, skill, agility and knowledge, so successes in past rodeos aren’t the best indicator of future results. The one constant of the rodeo is the main event, the “hurtman rescue.” Journeymen and apprentices compete in separate hurtman events.

Each event is on the clock and judged according to its highly detailed specifications, with points deducted for faults, which are called “gigs.” Judges “gig” competitors for missteps. Click here for details on journeyman events and here for the specifications apprentices must follow.

For apprentice competitor Evan Englert, Line Technician III, the rodeo presents a chance to get experience with a skill set that he would learn later in the career progression of a lineman.

“This gives me the opportunity to get overhead line experience,” he said. “We [line tech III’s] do a lot of underground work. This is a good learning experience for me.”

While winning individual trophies and the overall team trophy are goals, Boley and James Alexander, Sr. Technical Trainer, said education and camaraderie are the greatest rewards that come from competing in the rodeo.

“We learn from other utilities and they learn something new from us,” said Alexander, who as master judge of the FMEA rodeo helps organize and run the entire event. “This is a brotherhood, and we all help each other out, like when a storm hits. We still want to win trophies and bragging rights, but the rodeo is really a fun and friendly competition.”

Journeyman team members Bill Bauknight (left), Line Tech I, and Mark Fisher, Line Tech II, practice “insulator change-out” at Pershing training yard.