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Electric experts help reconnect East Coast

Tim Wiste (left) and Dan Treichel returned home about a week before Thanksgiving from a trip to help East Coast electric workers restore power to storm victims. <i>Submitted photo</i>

Two of River Falls' electric linemen traveled from western Wisconsin first to Pennsylvania then to New Jersey to help restore electricity after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the upper East Coast just before Halloween.

Local linemen Tim Wiste and Dan Treichel agreed to "be the ones" to join about 20,000 other out-of-state helpers after the extensive and worse-than-predicted storm damage left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity and other necessities.

The destruction prompted national electric groups to make the rare request for help from outside the region, including about a dozen teams from western Wisconsin.

Wiste and Treichel departed Nov. 1, driving a River Falls utility truck 18 hours in two days before arriving in Tannersville, Penn.

Wiste said work began immediately to help Pennsylvania Power and Light to rebuild power lines along narrow roads in heavily wooded areas of the Pocono Mountains.

Wiste said they didn't know what each day would bring, "Work began most mornings at the break of dawn and often went into the dark of the night, depending on the job tasks assigned that day."

Each host utility provided leadership, and supervisory personnel with the Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin (MEUW) also assisting the groups. The linemen say the workers organized staging areas well, dispatched crews efficiently and had an ample supply of materials.

After crews restored power in Tannersville, Wiste and Treichel continued east to Stroudsburg, Penn., to help the Metropolitan-Edison power company. The men's last stop was in Jersey Central Power & Light near the Livingston-Newport area of the state.

The men say in some areas, crews had implemented temporary, backup generation and were working to restore power permanently.

Wiste said residents, some without power for nearly two weeks, were "extremely appreciative and generous," especially when learning how far some of the linemen had traveled to help.

"No matter how busy we are," said Wiste, "we should respond when mutual aid is requested, just as we would want assistance if ever put in a similar situation."

He said the weather was "perfect" for the duration of the trip -- sunny and in the 40s. The two stayed in area hotels, which they say were full.

Asked what damage they observed, they said downed power lines and felled trees. Wiste said the destruction looked similar to what straight-line winds bring.

He said, "We didn't go where the worse damage was out at Long Island or the Jersey Shore."

The local utility workers didn't notice much difference between local and East Coast techniques.

Mutual aid

Asked how mutual aid works, both Utilities General Manager Carl Gaulke and Electrical Operations Superintendent Charles Beranek provide explanation.

Simply put, the mutual-aid agreement is a binding document saying help will be sent when the need arises. Whatever utility requests the help pays for labor, truck time and all other trip-related expenses.

The local utility belongs to the MEUW, the entity that makes the mutual-aid agreement.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established the rule that there must be such a written agreement in place before a disaster or emergency happens in order for the agency to reimburse the affected utility for mutual-aid costs.

Beranek, Gaulke, Treichel and Wiste have all said that providing the assistance was the right thing to do and something River Falls would appreciate if ever faced with similar circumstances.

"Over the nine-plus years working at River Falls Municipal Utilities, this was by far the most beneficial thing I have ever been a part of," Treichel said. "I really wish others from our utility could have the same opportunity at some point -- it really puts things in perspective."

Utility General Manager Carl Gaulke said nobody ever wants to experience a disaster, but the utility is "proud" of Dan and Tim for helping restore service.