When a call comes in about the top of a pole on fire that carries 115,000 volts between two of our substations, it’s not good. Not good at all!! Yet it does make for a good...
A Day With A Lineman
#10 Burnt The Top Off
It wasn’t the first “good rain” of the year but we had a good amount of rain fall all morning. Then the call came in around 8am about a pole on fire along highway 124 and there was a fireman standing by at the location.
Welp, time to top off the coffee, throw on my FR clothes, slap on my boots and head out the door. I guess coffee is gonna have to tide me over for a bit, I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet for the love of Pete... who’s Pete anyway??? Oh well when duty calls I guess.
On my way to the pole fire I contacted another lineman that had just shown up. He said the pole top burnt off and we lost 2 substations. I knew it!! I had a feeling the pole fire was going to burn the top off of our 115,000 volt transmission pole.
The 75 lb insulator was too much for this burning pole to handle. That plus the weight of the wire which is about as big around as my thumb. That is a good amount of weigh suspended 3 feet off the pole at the end of the insulator.
When the pole top broke off, the top phase fell and contacted the bottom phase tripping a circuit breaker owned by Bonneville Power Administration. Of course they contacted us wondering what the hell is going on. Because their line feeds other substations in the area.
The top of the pole is still on fire, the wind is blowing and the broken top is floating in the air burning also. Hopefully the rain is enough to keep the pole from burning far enough down to have the other insulator break another section of the pole off. That insulator would surely hit the ground and sling shot back in the air. Being next to the highway this has the possibility to be very bad.
After isolating this 4-5 mile stretch of transmission line from the rest of the grid and the feed from Bonneville, Bonneville can energize their line to one of our substations. The other substation effected is going to remain off until the pole replaced. Now we could spend a few hours running all over the place putting the load from this substation onto the two other substations, but it would only take us 3-4 hours to replace the pole. So to us it wasn’t worth it to save an hour or so of outage time.
In the amount of time it took to isolate this 115kv line, the wind picked up a little more. Increasing how fast the fire was burning this pole. We made it back just in time. The next phase was nearly ready to break off another section of the pole. We flew our little buckets up in the air and using an Indian Can we sprayed the top of the pole down with water. The wind wasn’t helping us at all.
With our protective grounds on the line and the insulator secured so it won’t break the pole off and kill someone, reinforcements showed up with a pole. Time to get a hole dug and pole framed up. It’s time to do work!
Taking a look at the pole top we can see what happened. The insulator failed causing the electricity to track down the pole.
Eventually all this tracking started the pole on fire. With the wind blowing the pole burnt pretty fast. When the top fell off and contacted the other phase it left some nice marks on the insulator. The fireman was actually sitting there in his truck when it happened and said it was loud. Lol
Now the pole is framed up and it is time to get this pole in the ground. This 65 foot pole goes right up between the grounded phases and set down into the 8-1/2 foot deep hole.
Now all that is left is to get our apprentice up this transmission pole so he can do some transmission work for the first time. He was all excited, it was pretty funny.
Well that isn’t all that is left, we still have to transfer the wire to the new pole and get the old pole outta there!! Using the material handler on the 95 foot bucket makes transferring this wire easy. Being the Foreman on this job, I kept a eye out for possible hazards and use my experience to teach these younger guys a thing or two about transmission work.
Before we cleaned up the mess, we needed to get this line energized and the customers back on. That’s the name of the game, get those lights on ASAP.
I notify Bonneville that our work is complete and we are going to be putting our substation and a couple river pumping stations back on. I just need to verify that everything is good on their end. 4 - 115,000 volt manually operated switches later and all power is restored.
After fixing a couple other small outages on the way home it was time to call it a day. 10 hours later...
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I would much rather
Be in the air...