Back row from left, Richard Boley, Lead Line Tech and team foreman; Chase Englert, Line Tech II, with 1st place trophy in written test; Evan Englert (no relation), Line Tech II, with 2nd place trophy in written test and 1st place trophy in Hurtman Rescue event; Garrett Accomando, Line Tech III, with 1st place trophy in H-Frame Crossover; and James Alexander, Sr. Technical Trainer and Master Judge of the FMEA Lineman Competition. Front row from left, mixed-competitor Mutual Aid event trophy winners Zac Rochester, Line Tech II, 1st place; Austin Nettles, Line Tech II, 2nd; and Eli Venn, Line Tech III, 3rd.

Seven was the lucky number for OUC’s team of line technicians as it made a strong showing in the 2023 Florida Municipal Electric Association’s Lineman Competition (FMEA) in Orlando on March 4. Six teammates – two journeyman competitors and four apprentices – snagged seven trophies overall, including first, second and third places in the mixed-competitor Mutual Aid event.

The impressive trophy haul is one of OUC’s best performances since the annual event began in 2001, and it marked an auspicious start to OUC’s centennial celebration.

OUC kicked off its centennial celebration at the FMEA Lineman Competition.

“Preparation and a lot of practice paid off, especially for our apprentices. I’m really proud of how well we did in the Mutual Aid event, winning the top three trophies,” said team foreman Richard Boley, Lead Line Tech. “This was our best showing in a long time.”

Hosted by OUC, the Lineman Competition brought together teams from 12 FMEA-member utilities for a day of friendly but intense competition while temperatures crept into the low 90s. In all, 21, three-member journeyman teams and 77 individual apprentices – 140 lineworkers in all – put their skills, quickness and awareness of safety to the test while lugging about 20 pounds of gear as they climbed 40-foot utility poles to complete their tasks.

With stopwatches in hand, judges scrutinized competitors’ every move, with points deducted for “gigs” (faults), in four journeyman team and four individual apprentice events, plus the mixed-competitor Mutual Aid event. Apprentices, line techs with four years or less of experience, also took a written test. The results of their efforts were revealed later at an awards banquet held at the Marriott Orlando Airport Lakeside near the competition field.

OUC’s Zac Rochester (Center), Line Tech II, teamed up with Josh Cooper (left) of Ocala Electric Utility and Kaleb Hollingsworth of Clay Electric Cooperative to win the Mutual Aid event.

Competing as journeymen, Zac Rochester and Austin Nettles, both Line Tech IIs, claimed first- and second-place trophies, respectively, in the Mutual Aid event, while Eli Venn, Line Tech III, scored a third-place trophy as the apprentice member on his team. Each was paired with two line techs from other utilities in a contest meant to simulate power restoration work they would face while helping mutual aid partners recover from a devastating incident like a hurricane. The top three teams also won a complete set of hand tools from Mutual Aid event sponsor Milwaukee Tools.

In his opening remarks at the awards ceremony, Clint Bullock (above), General Manager & CEO of OUC, remarked on the critical role mutual aid plays among municipal utilities: “In emergency situations, such as the one we experienced when Hurricane Ian impacted OUC’s service territory in September, mutual aid is the difference maker in the time it takes to restore power to customers. . . . It’s so reassuring knowing that we have each other’s backs.”

Like Venn, fellow apprentices Garrett Accomando, Line Tech III, and Chase Englert, Line Tech II, scored trophies as first-time Competition contestants. Accomando placed first in the H-Frame Crossover while Englert took the top prize in the written test. The H-Frame Crossover (below) is an exercise of speed and agility, with a competitor ascending a utility pole, crossing a 10-foot beam to the other utility pole while secured to an overhead guy wire, then descending to the ground. Accomando’s time of 1:11:10 was nearly eight seconds faster than his closest competitor, and he received no deductions.

Meanwhile, fellow apprentice Evan Englert (no relation to Chase), Line Tech II, came in second on the written test and took first in the Hurtman Rescue, a simulated exercise of safely lowering an injured lineman (in this case a mannequin) from a utility pole.

The Lineman Competition took place on a field (above) with 101 utility poles set up to emulate what line techs see every day in their service territories. Some were outfitted with transformers, others with crossarms, and all were connected by non-energized wire. Crews from several competing utilities, including OUC, helped prepare the field under the supervision of Boley and James Alexander, Sr. Technical Trainer and four-time Master Judge of the FMEA event. Alexander and Boley also were responsible for entire run of the show, including the setup of a big top-style tent, vendor booths, electric vehicles, solar panel display, Tiny Green Home, food trucks, opening ceremonies stage and children’s activities area.

Amy Zubaly (center), FMEA’s Executive Director, presents Richard Boley (left), Lead Line Tech and OUC team foreman, and James Alexander, Sr. Technical Trainer and Master Judge of the Lineman Competition, with a token of appreciation for their help with making the event a success.

Bullock thanked Boley, James and Chris Taylor, who as Manager of Construction & Maintenance took on the role of project director of site setup, as well as “teams of employees and volunteers” for making the event a great experience for competitors and spectators alike.

OUC’s trophy-winning line techs will travel to Kansas City, Kan., to compete in the American Public Power Association’s Lineworkers Rodeo, also known as the Nationals, on April 1.