Depending on the job, obviously climbing would be one of the risks. I climb poles and I work on energized conductors. There are a lot of poles that are in what we call easements—they're behind houses and you can't get a truck or any equipment to it—so you would have to climb that pole to fix or replace any equipment. Another risk would be traffic. You can't control the folks who are behind the wheel when you are on the side of the road working. I'd like to think that everyone's paying attention when they're driving down the highway and they see our signs, but we've had some drivers that aren't paying attention and some of our sister corporations have had fatalities because of it. That's a huge safety factor when you're setting up your job with your crew for the day and when you're working. You're constantly thinking about where's my boom, is it out in the center of traffic, is it going to get hit by a semi if it goes by, and is it up high enough?
Green: What would you say are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job?
Miller: The most challenging day at work I've ever experienced is when a gentleman died in the backyard [while I was working], and I resuscitated him with CPR that [the company] trained me to do. We had just gotten 26 inches of snow in Indiana, and we showed up at a residence where they were having power issues. They had an underground service feeding this house, and we went to test that underground equipment to find the fault. There's another utility service that locates wires that are in the ground. A gentleman was at that job site that morning to locate for his company. I told him we were going to go to the truck, and when I came back Dave's face down in the snow.
I yelled for him, but there was no response, so I dropped the shovels and ran over to him and flipped him over. He was totally lifeless. Locators carry a stick that has a paint can at the bottom of it, and when he landed it was spraying up into his nose and mouth. I had just been trained in CPR three weeks prior to this day. At that time, I began doing chest compressions and as I pushed on him he kept going down in the snow. I performed CPR for 8 minutes and 18 seconds.
He's alive and well today. That's the first instance here in the Fort Wayne service territory that a lineman has saved somebody else's life.
Green: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
Miller: Seeing smiles on customer's faces that we deal with every day. People come out, we're doing storm restoration or a little thunderstorm goes through and they're out of power and here comes the linemen. Lights are going and they show up. They are some of the most thankful and grateful individuals I have ever met in my life.
Green: Are storms and blackouts the most hectic times for you?
Miller: Yes, because it's usually after hours. You already work a regular 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift, and if a storm rolls in at 5 p.m., you could get called in and work all night. There is a rotating list, and they go down the list until they get the amount of individuals that they need to cover a call. In my first six months as an employee, Fort Wayne, Indiana, had a terrible ice storm. It was the coldest I have ever been in my life—below zero temperatures. There were thousands of people out of power. We worked for was two weeks, 16 hours a day. Community members could be freezing in their home.
Green: How is your work tied to your identity?
Miller: My work is tied to my identity because I love public service. When you see someone that you don't know, and you know in your heart that they can't do what you're doing. They’re helpless if you don’t show up.
This interview is a part of a series about the lives and experiences of members of the American workforce, which includes conversations with a trash collector, a park ranger, and a paramedic.