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Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo teaches safety and skills

Annual competition recognizes the best of the best lineworkers

Like the huddle before a football play, electric cooperative lineworkers from Clark Energy Cooperative, headquartered in Winchester, stood shoulder to shoulder, their arms draped over and through each other. A prayer, a pep talk, then to the poles at the Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo.

On the surface, the annual event is a competition among line technicians from electric cooperatives across Kentucky. And it is, indeed, a serious competition showcasing the skills of the profession, from running new electric lines to de-energizing a capacitor. The “hurt man rescue” focuses on following the correct procedures in the event someone needs to be rescued after coming into contact with a live wire.

Yet, as safety equipment and standards constantly evolve, the rodeo has also become an important opportunity for co-op lineworkers to share valuable lessons, practices and experiences with each other.

“It’s fun just getting to go out there and see how other guys do things differently in the field than what you’re used to doing,” says Chris Fuller, a lineman at West Kentucky RECC, Mayfield, which hosted the rodeo in September at the Murray-Calloway County Fairgrounds.

“When you go to a rodeo, you see different tools, different ways of doing things,” says Fuller. “It’s kind of neat going back home to be able to show other guys what you learned at the rodeo.”

Tim Hembree, a journeyman lineman from Blue Grass Energy, placed in the top three in eight categories at the 14th Annual Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo. Photo: Thom Whittinghill

“You still climb up and climb down, but the equipment and methods change all the time,” explains Clarence Greene, who heads the Safety and Loss Prevention team at the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives. “The rodeo is an unparalleled way for lineworkers to learn from each other, challenge each other and ultimately work more safely and efficiently back home.”

Greene says linemen know and trust each other, which puts them in a much better position when they respond to emergency situations together.

“I like the camaraderie,” says Jon Tillery, a lineman at Jackson Energy Cooperative based in McKee. “It’s all focused around safety, advanced training, things we do every day. Safety, first and foremost. There’s a lot of emphasis put on that. And we also build relationships so that when storms occur in state, we can be ready when first called, we can get there, help the members, try to get them on as soon as possible.”

See the list of all the winners.

More than 125 linemen from 17 Kentucky electric cooperatives, making up 31 teams, competed in the 2018 rodeo. Linemen from Blue Grass Energy Cooperative, based in Nicholasville, swept the overall individual journeymen category. The co-op also claimed first place in the overall team category. Tim Hembree, a journeyman lineworker from Blue Grass, was the top individual, placing in the top three in eight categories.

Next year’s rodeo will be hosted by Nolin RECC in Elizabethtown. One of its veteran lineworkers, Randy Meredith, says it’s important for line technicians of all ages to participate. 

“I like seeing our young guys get involved,” Meredith says. “They’ve improved in safety, they’ve improved their skill set because they know they have to do it safely at the rodeo. And, they apply that in the everyday work. So, it’s a win-win situation.”

And, it’s “nerve-wracking,” says Jason Isaacs, a Blue Grass Energy lineworker. “It’s my first time. A great family experience. It’s what the co-ops are all about.”

“The main thing with teamwork is communication. If you ain’t out here having fun, it’s not even worth coming,” says Steven Burton, a lineworker with Grayson RECC. “You get to meet people from all across the state and everybody’s your friend out here. Everybody’s looking out for one another and trying to help each other out. It’s a really good camaraderie amongst the guys. It’s like a brotherhood.”

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