LIPA contract crewman from across the country have found a temporary home in Northport as they join a massive effort to get Long Island back on the grid after Hurricane Sandy.
Bruce Barnes is among the 26 electrical line workers from Nevada and Canada staying in a makeshift dorm at the Northport Fire House, with another 13 from South Dakota across the street in the American Legion. They are among the over 8,000 out of state line workers called upon to assist LIPA.
"Northport has been a wonderful host for us and we're very appreciative," Barnes, a Las Vegas native, said Friday. "Just to think that they've opened up what is really their home."
He and his crew of 20 arrived at JFK airport Monday morning accompanied by 13 utility trucks flown in massive C-5 and C-17 military aircraft. It was the farthest most of the crewmen had been on a mutual assistance trip, and they were raring to go.
"The hard linemen, they live for this sort of thing," said Barnes. "They want to help people."
The crews received an icy welcome from the Nor'Easter that brought blustery cold wind and snow, though they kept working right on through. Since then it's been a steady grind from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
The priority is to get the most amount of customers back on the grid at one time, explained Barnes, but as more customers come on the challenge becomes trying to find the pockets of one or two homes without power.
"It's kind of like looking for the needle in the haystack," he said. "You have to physically check each one of them. We go from one end of the circuit to the other along every block. It could be a mile or two through a neighborhood."
The Emergency Management Coordinator for the group, Barnes is in charge of transportation, housing, and eating arrangements as well as safety. It's been a particular challenge finding a place to make three square meals for 20 people each day, he said, though he's managed to get by with help from local businesses such as Copenhagen Bakery and Maroni's.
Another challenge the crew faces is getting gas. LIPA's pumps are not immune to long lines, and, just like for the rest of us Long Islander's, the wait is long.
"You can imagine that there are 7,800 linemen from all over the US here right now," he said. "So when we get ready to get gas there are a lot of people in trucks already there."
LIPA predicts that most work will be done by Tuesday, said Barnes, at which time he and his crew can head home. Until then, they are enjoying their home-away-from-home at the Northport Fire Department.
"People want me to tell them horror stories like the guys who were staying in tents that blew away during the Nor'Easter. The worst thing about staying here are the alarms and the snoring from a room full of men," he said. "It's nothing compared to what all those people without power are going through!"
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