Restoring power in 16-hour shifts

Storm damage: BGE crews endure long hours and occasionally irate customers to get electricity back into thousands of homes darkened by Floyd.

September 22, 1999|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

With nearly 26,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers still without power six days after Hurricane Floyd, some crew members say their 16-hour workdays are exhausting, yet effective.

Earlier yesterday, nearly 41,000 customers were without power.

By last night, 6,400 customers were still without power in Baltimore County; 4,900 in Baltimore City, 5,900 in Anne Arundel County; 8,400 in Harford County; 200 in Howard County; and 17 in Carroll County.

BGE says it expects to have all power restored in the area by tomorrow.

The shifts are staggered so that at any time about 600 BGE crew members are working to restore power. BGE also has added 272 visiting crews from six states, said BGE spokeswoman Rose Muhlhausen.

"We have real small pockets of scattered customers without power," she said. "We may have an instance where there are three poles down affecting 30 customers. Well, crews may spend half a day working on those three poles."

Crew members are generally received well when they go into communities, they say. Sometimes they are offered something to drink. Other times, they are the object of rude comments.

"During the first couple of days [without power], customers were a little testy," said Lenny Ciotta, an overhead mechanic who worked yesterday with five other BGE crew members to repair a utility pole broken by a fallen tree along Northern Parkway in Northwest Baltimore.

"They expect their power to be on within six hours, but when it takes more than 24 hours, they are concerned about their food spoiling and about buying dry ice," he said.

"By now, their food has spoiled and they're just glad to see us," Ciotta said. "When people are without power for days, we really feel for them and we keep on going."

Tracy Smith, who worked in Northeast Baltimore with three other BGE crew members for about 90 minutes to restore power to two houses on Montebello Terrace, said he hadn't encountered one rude customer.

His crew was cheered after restoring power in a Park Heights neighborhood Monday. "Other places just offer us something to drink sometimes," Smith said.

Roy Cragway Sr., who with his neighbor were the last on Montebello Terrace to get their power restored, wasn't rude, but he wasn't happy with BGE.

Cragway said his home lost its power at 2: 45 p.m. Thursday. The rest of his neighborhood had power restored Saturday.

He said a BGE worker told him that day they would return that afternoon to replace the transformer above his home. They didn't return until yesterday, Cragway said.

"This makes my day. It really does, but I don't think BGE is honest," said Cragway, who turned 71 yesterday.

"I called them every day, sometimes a few times a day, and they always gave me standard, pat answers. I felt like I was being penalized for three days," he said.

After two BGE crews were done on Montebello Terrace, they called into a BGE service center and were dispatched to East Cold Spring Lane.

"We won't go home until whenever, and everyone gets tired, but we're in pretty good shape," said Bob Houck, a BGE overhead crew leader.

He said that, despite the long hours and sometimes bitter customers, morale among workers is intact.

Crew members are paid extensive overtime. For their entire 16-hour shift, they receive time-and-a-half in what the company calls "extraordinary event pay," Muhlhausen said.

But sometimes, Ciotta said, the money isn't enough. "After so many hours, it doesn't matter, really," he said. "I'd rather be working a regular shift."

Pub Date: 9/22/99

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