By Tracie Witter, PPL Regional Affairs Director
Everything I thought about the quality of the workforce at PPL Electric Utilities was reinforced when I was in Puerto Rico a few weeks ago. Our team is committed, talented, and caring. Thirty-seven linemen and support workers left their families and spent 30 straight days working long hours to help restore power to the Caguas region of this beautiful island. Equally as important, I also learned more about the people of Puerto Rico and their values of patience, generosity, and kindness.
For those of you who may not be aware, shortly before the holidays, PPL received a request from Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group, to join 17 other investor-owned utility companies in Puerto Rico to help restore power. I was asked to join them for a week, along with a professional photographer, to record their experiences, since this was a unique storm restoration event for our company. We have participated in past storm assistance efforts in the continental United States, such as in Florida after Hurricane Irma, but this was the first time we ever left the mainland.
When I arrived, I immediately learned that the conditions in Puerto Rico are challenging. Narrow roads and thick vegetation made power restoration work difficult. Many times our crew had to cut through the vegetation to do their work. A lineman told me about one man who showed up one day with his machete to help, and then on the following day, came back with a team of friends and their machetes to continue their work. Not only did this make our work more efficient, but it also demonstrated the kindness and eagerness of the people of Puerto Rico.
Beyond their efforts to help, the people of Puerto Rico are extremely generous, considering the difficulties they have faced being without electricity for months. During my first day, around lunchtime, I was in a neighborhood with our crews from the Lancaster/Harrisburg region. A car drove up the hill, and a young couple hopped out of the car. They started placing food on the tailgate of one of the bucket trucks. I asked the guys where they ordered takeout from, and they all started laughing. This was a local resident of the neighborhood who made them lunch.
Generosity like this happened every day I was there.
The second day, a woman named Janet came with a coffee carafe. I later learned she was taking care of a bedridden husband and used her generator to make our team the coffee. On another day, a ten-year-old girl brought us cold drinks with ice in them. She used her generator to make our ice.
Many of our bucket trucks were on one-lane roads. The residents would patiently park their cars along the road and wait for our work to be done — sometimes for hours. No one honked a horn, no one complained — rather, they spoke about how grateful they were to have our teams there. Our team members were called heroes and angels.
Throughout the week, I heard our linemen talk about how they have the best profession in the world. They talked about using their skills to help others who truly needed it. Sure, they missed their families, but they also knew they were a part of something bigger by going to Puerto Rico and using their talents to help restore power to the island.
As much as their work benefited the people there, they quickly added that their own rewards were great too — they learned the valuable life lessons of patience, kindness, and generosity, as did I. Thank you, PPL, and thank you, Puerto Rico, for giving me this experience.
Photo: Paul Hertz, Frackville Service Center, Tracie Witter, PPL Regional Affairs Director and Walt Breiner, Panther Valley Service Center in Puerto Rico.