The Roaring River in Jackson County lived up to its name following the downpours from a stalled weather system over Middle Tennessee last week.
Upper Cumberland EMC’s power lines cross the river at several points. Usually, they aren’t a problem to service, but when UCEMC Linemen Darren Birdwell, Donny Garrison, Danny Jones, and Apprentice Groundsman Payton Boles ventured out to investigate outages in the area on Thursday night, the crew discovered something they didn’t expect.
“The river is normally 50-60 feet wide, but Thursday night, the crew found that it was over the banks and approximately 600 feet wide,” says Gainesboro District Manager Billy Mahaney. “We didn’t want to take a chance on our linemen getting hurt or drowned, so we held off overnight in hopes that the water would recede.”
The river was still overflowing and raging by Friday morning but had diminished to around 150 feet wide. The crew knew that safe options were limited for getting the new line across the river.
The challenge stumped even Darren Birdwell – an avid baseball enthusiast with a good throwing arm. “We considered tieing the wire to a string and attaching the string to a ball that we could throw across to Payton and Danny on the other side, but the gap was too wide,” says Birdwell. “We figured a bow with a string attached to an arrow couldn’t shoot the line high enough for the wire to stay out of the water.”
“The river was still really wild,” explained Mahaney. “To rely on these conventional methods for getting this line across the river would jeopardize our men’s lives, and that’s a risk we weren’t going to take.”
The crew was not going to take a chance, but they weren’t giving up, either. They called on Mickey Smith and Patrick Martin of the Jackson County EMS water rescue squad to hash out alternatives. It’s better to have these guys on hand before you need them.
Smith and Martin arrived with a couple of equipment selections. One was a ball and a parachute device that only Nolan Ryan could throw across. The other was a device never tried by our crews for such a feat – a drone.
The possibility was intriguing, but could the drone get the string and wire high enough to stay out of the water? A miscalculation by the drone pilot could send wire and drone sailing down to the Cumberland River never to be found, but they had to try something.
The UCEMC crew tied a light string to the drone and attached the string to the new strand of wire needed to reconnect the power.
On cue, the experienced pilots took the drone straight up, crossed the violent river still running rampant, and set the device down in front of UCEMC Apprentice Patrick Boles, shown here, waiting on the other embankment. It was quite an experience for the Lineman-in-training, who has only been on the job since December. “I knew we would get the line across one way or another,” says Boles. “But I knew the most challenging work was still ahead as we connected the line.”
Once the crew hand-pulled the wire across the river, the intricate work of restoring power began thanks to some unlikely technology and the teamwork of our colleagues in the community – The Jackson County EMS Water Rescue Squad.