OUC’s 2023 FMEA competition team includes, back row from left, Steven Ramos, Line Tech I; Billy Bauknight, Line Tech I; Russell Osborne, Line Tech II; Patrick Gullotti, Line Tech II; Hunter Newman, Line Tech II; Austin Nettles, Line Tech II; James Alexander, Sr. Technical Trainer; team foreman Richard Boley, Lead Line Tech; Mike Atout, Line Tech I; Bryan Walsh, Sr. Technical Trainer; Austin Houk, Line Tech II; Nelson Rodriguez, Distribution Operator; Zac Rochester, Line Tech II; Nick Rawlings, Line Tech II; Matt Coakley, Line Tech II; and John Russell, Trouble Tech. All but Alexander and Boley are members of journeyman teams. Front from left are apprentices William Englert, Line Tech II; Garrett Accomando, Line Tech III; Mitchell West, Line Tech III; Trever Taylor, Line Tech III; Evan Englert, Line Tech II; Holton Stough, Line Tech II; Zach Colgan, Line Tech III; and Elijah Venn, Line Tech III. (Journeyman team member Mark Fisher, Line Tech II, was unavailable.)

Bigger might be better, but speed, precision, and, above all else, safety will combine to win trophies when OUC fields its largest team of competitors ever in the upcoming Florida Municipal Electric Association’s (FMEA) Lineman Competition.

Made up of five, three-member journeyman squads and eight apprentices entered as individuals, the 23-member team will be competing for trophies and hometown pride as OUC hosts the March 4 event on a field near the Marriott Orlando Airport Lakeside in Orlando. The event begins at 7:30 a.m. and is free and open to the public. FMEA estimates that 100 apprentices, 25 three-member journeyman teams, plus an alternate, from 13 utilities will compete under the critical gaze of 50 judges.

This year’s competition provides OUC with an opportunity to kick off celebrations commemorating its 100th anniversary, which is officially in June.

Established in 2001, the Lineman Competition showcases pole climbing, a traditional job skill that’s still necessary but less relied upon as line techs nowadays mostly ascend in bucket trucks. Still, each event simulates challenges line techs face in the real world, except they won’t be working with energized lines.

Specifications for four apprentice events and all five of the journeyman team events are known beforehand, including the competition opening “Mutual Aid Event.” In this event, line techs from different utilities will form three-person teams and work together to safely complete a task in the fastest time and with the fewest faults, or “gigs.” Apprentices also face two other challenges, the “Mystery Event,” the details of which they don’t find out until the day before the competition, and a written exam.

Journeyman team members Austin Houk (left) and Zach Rochester, both Line Tech IIs, practice for the FMEA Lineman Competition’s ‘Top Circuit 4kV Crossarm Change Out’ event.

In his seventh year as OUC’s competition team foreman, Richard Boley, Lead Line Technician, doesn’t put much stock into homefield advantage. The lineworkers who complete their events with the fewest points deducted in the fastest times take home trophies. It’s that simple.

“It all comes down to preparation and execution,” he says. “We have been training really hard for this competition. Being the home team, we want to shine.”

To bring out the glow in the team, Boley and James Alexander, Sr. Technical Trainer, are conducting practice sessions every Thursday at the OUC Pershing Operations Center’s line tech training yard.

Matt Coakley, Line Technician II, was last year’s competition star for OUC. He won trophies for Overall Apprentice and for placing first in the written exam and third in the Mystery Event at the FMEA competition. He also placed third in the Overall Apprentice competition at the 2022 national competition sponsored by the American Public Power Association.

Now in his fifth year as a line tech, Coakley finds himself in an unfamiliar position as a member of a journeyman team.

“It’s 100% different from being an individual competitor. I not only have to watch what I’m doing, but I have to know what the other guy up on the pole with me is doing at the same time. We have to be in sync with each other and our groundman,” he says. The groundman coaches his pole-mounted teammates and raises tools and equipment to them using a handline.

Trever Taylor, Line Tech III, says competition training will help prepare him for moving up to line tech II.

First-time competitor Trever Taylor, Line Tech III, sees the competition as an opportunity to improve his skills and prepare him for moving up to the next level, line tech II.

“A lot of stuff I’m doing here I don’t get to see in the field, so this is really good training. And I can bounce ideas off of other guys,” he says.

While Taylor and his teammates train, Chris Taylor (no relation), Construction & Maintenance Manager, serves as OUC’s project director for the FMEA Lineman Competition. Each week, Taylor leads a Commission-wide committee of employees from Operations, Emerging Technology, Creative Services, Communications, Community Engagement, Facilities, Safety, and Well Being that is working to ensure the event is ready for competitors and spectators alike. The competition site will include 101 utility poles, children’s play area, food trucks, stage, and tents. Other competing utilities will contribute equipment and help with the field setup.