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West Valley City Journal

Electric cowboys, aka linemen, test skills in their own rodeo

Jul 01, 2022 11:58AM ● By Darrell Kirby

By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]

There were no livestock or cowboys around, but West Valley City was home to a rodeo in June.

After a two-year break because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Utah Lineman’s Rodeo resumed in June at a site on the city’s west side.

A row of utility poles with non-live power lines and transformers served as the arena in which 200 journeymen linemen from utilities and other electrical companies across the West demonstrated their skills, speed, and safety in climbing, working on, and descending the poles as part of the process of keeping the electricity flowing to homes and businesses.

A couple of days before the rodeo, a team of national champion linemen from Rocky Mountain Power demonstrated the “hurt man” pole rescue for the media—an exercise in which a lineman gears up, quickly ascends a power pole, and safely secures and lowers a 250-pound mannequin that imitates an injured colleague. “It’s about speed and agility to get up there and get them lowered to safety so they can have medical care,” said Rocky Mountain Power spokeswoman Tiffany Erickson.

Linemen emergencies can include electrocution, equipment malfunctions, falls or sudden medical issues. “I would say 90% of the time it’s electrocutions,” said 16-year veteran lineman Justin Halloran.

The RMP team that performed the mock rescue is good at what it does, having won national competitions five consecutive years. “They’re the best of the best in the U.S.,” Erickson said.

The training to be a lineman is ongoing, starting with a four-year apprenticeship to become journeyman and then constant professional development to keep up with the rigors of the job. “It’s a very physical and demanding job. The level of professionalism has to be on point because it’s very dangerous,” Erickson added.

Chance Nelson is an 18-year veteran lineman for Rocky Mountain Power and a member of the utility’s rescue team. “You’re constantly trying to learn the tricks of the trade, trying to watch out for your brothers,” he said following a demonstration in which he climbed a 100-foot pole and lowered the simulated injured lineman to the help that waited on the ground—all in less than 90 seconds. “We’re always looking over our backs, watching our brothers’ backs,” he added.

RMP will advance its top two veteran lineman teams and top four apprentice linemen to a regional rodeo in Portland, Oregon in July and then the big international competition in Overland Park, Kansas in October.

The Utah Lineman’s Rodeo also raised funds for the University of Utah Burn Center.