2020 will certainly go down in history as one of the most challenging – filled with hardships, heartbreak and stress.
But, through the trials, everyday heroes have emerged.
Doctors, nurses and first responders caring for those who are sick. Volunteers who have stepped up to shop for friends, loved ones or an elderly neighbor concerned about COVID-19. Grocery store clerks, delivery drivers and others who have been there for all of us when we need them most. And teachers navigating the challenge of remote education, hybrid schedules and more so that our children can continue to learn.
We’re so thankful for these everyday heroes.
And this year, we’re grateful for the more than 12,000 dedicated men and women within our own ranks at PPL, those who rise to the challenge each day to deliver peace of mind and keep power and gas flowing safely and reliably when our customers and communities need it most. They’re dedicated, driven and resilient, and at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they quickly adapted to new ways of working to keep the lights on.
Here are just a few of their stories.
Henry Compton – Gas Trouble technician, Louisville Gas and Electric
Gas Trouble Technician Henry Compton is a first responder for natural gas emergencies — internal and external gas leaks, broken mains, fire-related turn-offs and other incidents. Responding quickly is key to protecting all parties involved. The coronavirus, however, has added an extra layer of safety, time and effort to his job. Before entering a COVID-19 environment, Compton must quickly and meticulously don Level 2 personal protective equipment (PPE) — a full-body Tyvek suit, respirator, gloves, safety glasses, face shield and shoe covers.
“When I find out [from the customer service representative] the customer has tested positive, I suit up,” said Compton. “It takes about five minutes. I have to put each piece on in the right order and ensure it’s properly sealed for full protection. The equipment is hot, and it is hard to breathe and communicate. And my range of motion is limited because I can’t rip the suit. I look like an astronaut, which has an interesting impact on customers. It was especially difficult to explain to one couple who was hearing-impaired. We finally used hand-written Post-it Notes, and I carefully disposed of those.”
Compton also has to methodically remove and dispose of his PPE in sequence to prevent cross-contamination. He also sanitizes all tools with a bleach-like substance.
“It takes a little extra time to respond to situations when you have to wear this level of PPE,” said Compton. “But I have to do it right. If I can’t protect myself, I cannot protect the customers.”
Tony Kopec and Ron Beitler – journeymen linemen, PPL Electric Utilities
Journeymen Linemen Tony Kopec and Ron Beitler have a critical job – safely powering lives. When coronavirus cases first began increasing in the northeast region of the U.S., the company’s top priority was keeping workers and customers safe.
“We were quick to change the way we worked to keep ourselves and our customers safe,” Kopec said. “We began meeting in small groups. We also added additional measures, like remote reporting to substations, spacing crews out in the storage yard, and providing hand sanitizer and masks to the crews. Our call-out roster was even changed to further prevent commingling of work groups.”
The additional pressure for the lineworkers’ critical service did not go unnoticed. Hospitals were counting on PPL Electric’s power supply to operate ventilators, and stay-at-home orders meant residents were more dependent than ever on their home electricity around the clock.
“There has been an almost overt drive to keep power on,” said Kopec. “We’re really trying to think outside the box to minimize any inconvenience to customers while we’re maintaining and making improvements to the system.”
Throughout these uncertain times and challenges to their working environment, Kopec and Beitler stayed centered on the one thing that has not changed – their mission as linemen to serve customers as safely and quickly as possible.
“Our mission has not changed. Our dedication has not waned. We, as linemen, all take a great deal of pride in what we do. We all pull together to provide what is the quintessential service to customers. We power their lives,” said Beitler.
Fanika Simmons – service technician helper, Louisville Gas and Electric
As a service technician helper in Customer Services, Fanika Simmons enters customers’ homes and businesses for a variety of reasons. She reads and exchanges meters and conducts natural gas service disconnects, reconnects and safety checks for customers who are moving into and out of residences. COVID-19, however, has hampered the favorite part of her job.
“I love working with customers,” said Simmons. “Most are very friendly. When I go into their homes, the kids are excited to see me, and people want to talk. It’s an opportunity to build relationships for LG&E and KU and put a face with the company.”
Those interactions, however, have been hindered by the need for coronavirus protection. In addition to routine personal protective equipment (PPE) — hard hat, gloves and safety glasses — Simmons now has an arsenal of extra gear to wear, depending on the situation. It includes N-95 and surgical-type masks, face shields, Nitrile gloves and Level 2 PPE — a full-body Tyvek suit and more — should she need it.
“It’s really difficult to have a positive interaction when you have to repeat yourself multiple times about why you are there through a mask or shield. But most people are patient and understand my challenge,” she said. “I’m blessed to work for a company that emphasizes safety so much.”
Despite the challenges faced by our fieldworkers, they have powered on – and they’ve continued to power the lives of our customers. And for that, we say thanks.