“You can tell people get tired, especially after the two ice storms,” said WNH line supervisor Jason Thompson. “You’re working 14-16 hour days every day, and your eight-or-so hours off aren’t all sleeping.”
So what made so many workers volunteer to help the on-call staff? “We all take pride in what we do. When you’re out, even at Christmas, most of the guys realize that even if they had power, we want to get power for the people that don’t.”
Such is the spirit needed as the coldest winter in recent memory stretches into March. “We are Canadians, we’re used to it, but this winter has been abnormally colder and a little bit longer than anticipated,” said Jeff Quint, manager of conservation and energy management. He added that the extreme cold has been tough on both the people and the equipment.
“Many of our trucks use hydraulic oil to move the cylinders that raise and lower our work platforms and out cranes, so the extreme cold has thickened that oil sometimes to the point where the cylinders struggle to operate and function properly,” he explained.
“This has slowed down the work process and has created additional maintenance for us on some of the equipment this year – so much so that we’re actually researching auxiliary heaters for the hydraulic oil systems to reduce the risk of this problem happening in extreme cold in the future.”
While Ontario’s power usage peaks in the summer, Waterloo North Hydro has seen larger-than-normal numbers this winter season. And no wonder: with the temperature reaching a record low of -30.6°C on February 12, Waterloo North Hydro has had to come up with creative ways to keep workers out of the cold. Extra training sessions were scheduled from January to March, with some projects put off to later dates.
“It does allow us to complete the necessary safety and technical training for our staff, so it doesn’t harm us,” said Quint. “It may create opportunities where, if the weather’s better, they’re going to have better working conditions anyway. … We’re getting a lot of the training out of the way, and at the same time making sure our staff are taken care of. It should free up some time later in the year when the weather’s nice.”
In addition to the two high-profile ice storms, Waterloo Region was also struck by a windstorm in July. Most houses had their power back within 48 hours of the December storm (quite unlike certain other Ontario municipalities), and Quint says the experience has made the outdoor and indoor workers stronger.
“We’ve had a lot of experience with storms, and our team was really well prepared for the December storm because of what we knew. We had a number of employees on call and prepared, and we had a number of employees who actually forewent personal holidays and family events to work in the storm.
“I would say the spirit was very high. The workers thrive in that kind of atmosphere at times. They’re used to it, and prepared for it. I think prolonged exposure would ware them down, but the response what overwhelming in terms of the amount of volunteers who wanted to work.”
He added, “People want to put forth the effort, they want to be part of that team, they want to be part of the restoration.”