Closed Circuit

By Jen Neville
Photos by Daren Boyd

In March, more than 25 linemen and communication technicians spent one week in a winter survival course, practicing survival skills with only the tools and equipment that they would have with them while patrolling power lines or otherwise working in the field.

“COVID-19 had put a hold on many things over the past two years, but the need for essential training, like winter survival and a few others, was paramount,” said Operations and Maintenance Specialist Daren Boyd, who organized the sessions. “We accomplished this training as soon as we were authorized to do so, and even then we had to cancel the original dates due to a positive test by one of the trainers the weekend before the training was scheduled to happen.”

He went on to explain that rescheduling was not as simple as it may seem; it required participants to cancel and remake hotel reservations, adjust their work schedules and rearrange their own plans to facilitate the later date. Fortunately, they were able to do so, and they regrouped two weeks later to participate in the training.

“Planning around COVID-19 is something we are going to have to overcome with perseverance and determination while respecting the significance that it has on each one of us, likely for years to come,” Boyd continued.

The attendees participated in several class-oriented instructional overviews before heading out to the snowy terrain. The course is critical for Rocky Mountain linemen and communication technicians who are required to respond to onsite or on-line emergencies and will potentially face inclement winter weather conditions while doing so.

“Going into this survival course, I already had respect for the wilderness and conditions that may exist,” said Foreman II Jonathan Pearce, “but this course took it to a higher level of understanding of what could happen when performing winter operations. Being isolated on a remote 11,000-foot mountaintop and in extreme wet and cold temperatures, anxiety can quickly set in.”

He emphasized that learning new skills and applying them in training can end up making a big difference in practice.

“It allows one to quickly assess what to do to maximize survivability,” he explained.

Participants learned about cold-weather survival, avalanche awareness, maneuvering outdoor winter vehicles and navigation with a map and compass or GPS. These lessons were designed to help them understand how to survive winter conditions, as encouraged by WAPA’s Power System Maintenance Manual and Power System Safety Manual.

“With different scenarios that winter conditions can present, it’s important to learn to properly plan, have survival gear and equipment on hand and keep up on essential training,” said Pearce. “Those practices are a foundation for safety and they help us to carry out all tasks that may arise during winter conditions.”

Participants also practiced the safe operation and emergency repairs of snowcats and either snowmobiles or utility vehicles, depending on what type of equipment they generally use. 

“Learning proper driving skills for snowcat and snowmobile operations, emergency maintenance techniques such as drive-belt replacement on older machines and snow-cave building for potential overnight stays in winter environments are invaluable skills to help us meet mission objectives,” Pearce added.

In total, RM hosted three sessions of the winter survival course, two in Montrose, Colorado, and one in Evanston, Wyoming. 

Note: The author is a management analyst.

Participants setting up makeshift shelter

Participants practice setting up a makeshift shelter as part of their winter survival training.

Lineman Tyler Delay practices firestarting

Lineman Tyler Delay practices starting a fire in the snow as part of winter survival training.

Last modified on March 5th, 2024