School Might be the Ultimate Lineman’s Tool

BY Kathleen Davis, senior editor

Arkansas State University-Newport (ASUN) and the electric cooperatives of Arkansas have teamed up to offer linemen–and potential linemen–the chance to become certified. Duane Doyle, division chair for occupational studies at ASUN, and Clay Fulton and Kenny Browning, instructors for the program, spoke about the certificate course work, training and classic pole climbing.

History and Priorities

As Doyle described it, the High Voltage Lineman Technology Technical Certification program got its start in 2001 and 2002. The university players and the state cooperatives (co-ops) got together to discuss the growing void of qualified, good linemen. They set up a committee, created an advisory board and discussed the problems.

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“Rural co-op managers came to us and pitched us the issue: That there was a drastic need in the state,” Doyle said. “Experienced technicians were aging and being replaced, in large numbers with technicians who had little experience or skill in the area.”

While the people who might mentor these new technicians in an on-the-job program might be fabulous, it’s possible that one or two might not be so good, showing short-cuts and skimping on safety, which is unacceptable to Doyle.

“Everything we do here (at ASUN) has safety wrapped in it. Safety is our No. 1 priority, and safety is the main impetus for this program,” he said.

Three major themes with the ASUN High Voltage Lineman Technology Technical Certification program exist: safety, community and time savings.

Doyle noted safety first. It is, as he said, obviously the most important. The idea of community is second. Doyle, Fulton and Browning all noted that a sense of cooperation develops when students who know each other in school and who now work at different co-ops in the state come together for emergencies. Because they already have history, a built-in social network–and a built-in drive to help each other pick up, dust off and put things back together–often already exists.

Fulton couched the third benefit, time savings, in unique terms. He said he joined the program because it was an opportunity to start at ground zero and build up the right courses and testing required. He also said that the ASUN program gives co-ops a jumpstart with their technicians.

“If a lineman asks one of my students to fetch a certain tool from the truck, I want my student to ask, “ËœWhere in the truck?’ not “ËœWhat is that?’ and “ËœWhat does it look like?’ and “ËœWhat is that for?’ Graduates here are a step ahead in that arena. They don’t know everything, it’s true, but they are a few steps ahead than entry-level, on-the-job trainees,” Fulton said.

“We’re not making journeymen,” Browning added. “But we are making good, basic-level technicians.”

Growth and Projections

The business of making good, basic-level technicians is booming. Fulton and Browning said that the program averages 15 to 20 students a year. They expect to expand to 30 next year. (Students receive certification after one year–fall and spring coursework with a summer internship.)

Most students are sponsored by Arkansas co-ops; the co-ops pay for the students’ certifications in exchange for internship periods (although all three men said that no student is guaranteed that internship will lead to a job). Seventeen co-ops operate in the state of Arkansas, therefore, 17 sponsorships are available each year. Some years, one co-op or another–or even several–won’t need a sponsorship. For that reason, several sponsorships might be linked to a single co-op or a few empty spots may exist. The number of sponsorships and students varies each year depending on the co-ops’ needs.

A few opportunities exist each year for some out-of-state students or a few individuals who are what the three ASUN representatives term “self-pays”–those willing to pay their own tuition.

This year, Doyle, Fulton and Browning said that 60 individuals applied for the 13 available slots. With so many applicants applying for so few slots, a thorough selection process is necessary. The standard ways all colleges select students–high school grades, ACT scores, etc–are part of the process. The selection committee also looks at life experiences. In addition, all applicants are required to take a few hands-on tests (such as climbing a skinny, tall lineman’s pole) before classes begin.

The old concept that linemen are uneducated guys who climb high and string wires together is dated, according to the ASUN representatives.

“This program requires a lot of math, a lot of computer work and good communications skills,” Doyle said when discussing their criteria for judging a student. “We want them to be prepared for all of that.

“Lineman is not the same job that it was 10 to 15 years ago. These students must know that and be aware of it.”

With all this judging of criteria and skills, ASUN faculty may still ask a prospective student to climb a pole in the preliminary testing period. Math, computer and communications skills aside, they still want to know if an applicant is scared of heights.

Given how ASUN’s program is expanding, climbing a pole may lead to climbing the career ladder in an Arkansas co-op. Doyle, Fulton and Browning said that ASUN has an expanded offering of an associate’s of applied science in general technology (with emphasis in high voltage) that’s just getting into focus with seven graduates of the certification working toward that degree. In addition, a sister campus offers a similar bachelor’s of applied science degree. It seems that ASUN’s technical certificate is just the start of the climb. While its completion isn’t a requirement to be a lineman at any co-op, as Doyle said, certification is a “distinguishing characteristic” among co-op technicians that says “I’m well-trained; I know the score; and I’m ready, willing and more than able to meet the work challenge.”

On the net: ANSU’s certification site:

Choice Lineman Tools Emphasize Safety

This month, Kellie Sandrick, Utility Products magazine’s managing editor, chose her favorite tools that make a lineman’s life easier. Most of them revolve around the issue of safety, always a dominant factor in the field.

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Arc Flash Kit: DBI-SALA, a Capital Safety brand, introduced the Arc Flash Kit as a packaged compliance kit for those needing fall protection in arc flash environments. The kit includes a Delta II Arc Flash Full Body Harness and an EZ-Stop II Arc Flash Shock Absorbing Lanyard. Both meet ASTM F887-05, ANSI Z359.1 and OSHA standards. The Delta No-Tangle design maintains the shape of the harness, making it easier to put on. The harness is made of 7000 pound nylon webbing and features pass-thru buckles and a dorsal web loop. Both kit components are housed in a traveling bag to make transport easier and more convenient.

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Fuse Tool: HD Electric Co.’s NEW FT-1 fuse tool assists in the removal and installation of most cutout type overhead fuse links. The fuse tool has a 7-inch fuse receiver that provides increased safety and greater control by keeping the fuse link securely in place during removal and installation. The built-in switch hook is then used to close in the fuse link. By using the fuse tool, line crews are able to quickly and safely remove and install most cutout type overhead fuse links found in overhead distribution systems.

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Pole Puller: The pole puller features an ultra light weight cylinder with swivel assembly.

The base plate has the lowest possible center of gravity minimizing tipping and prevents chain roll-up and slippage. For easy storage this product also offers a case, The Cage, which helps protect your pole puller during transportation. Product features include a light weight cylinder (57 pounds), lifting capacity at 50,120 pounds, a unique swivel chain and hook assembly (36 pounds), a swivel fabricated with high yield strength steel in excess of 100,000 psi, and a hook assembly manufactured with all stainless steel components.

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Wire-cutting Pliers: Williams now offers a unique range of hard wire cutting pliers designed to cut solid hard wires with ease, and without damaging the cutting surfaces. Available in 7-inch and 8-inch diagonal cutting and 8-inch and 9-inch lineman’s styles, these are the pliers to use when you are working with any hard wire. All models feature high-leverage jaws for extra cutting power, and the lineman’s versions boast cross-cut teeth for extra gripping power. They are equipped with return springs to reduce operator hand fatigue and cutting edges that are induction hardened and precisely ground.

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Rig Technology: On November 11, 2008, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued U.S. patent No. 7,448,832 B2 to Linecat’s inventor Nathan Bunting. Linecat, which claims to be “four rigs in one,” is designed to complete a project from start to finish, eliminating the need for additional equipment, and reducing costly down time. Linecat can help construct roads, remove and set poles, dig holes and set lines.

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Hotline tools: Located in Belo Horizonte Brazil, Ritz (formally known as Ritz DoBrasil) produces hundreds of products related to the live-line maintenance of electric utility lines. The Ritz offering includes transmission tools up to 800 kV, substation maintenance tools, distribution hotline tools and even tools for maintaining energized secondary voltages. Ritz has teamed up with Jim Rauckman to form American Hotline, LLC, in the United States.

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