Ice Storm of ’96

I had been in business for myself for just a few years when the Spokane area received the blessings of Ice Storm.  The storm was so eventful, that today it is just referred to as Ice Storm, indicating there is nothing with which to confuse it.

The storm had coated the overhead lines and made them so heavy the power poles broke off up and down the roads out in The Valley.  Trees came down on top of the power lines and knocked many of them down.  Services were pulled off of the walls of houses and laid down in the yards.  Many times the meters stayed intact and the power lines remained energized.

The storm was hardly over and we were out in the field looking at needed repair work.  When we walked across the yards the grass was coated in ice.  It felt like we were walking on peanut shells.

The Utility companies were recommending electrical contractors for the repair work, and AdenBecks was on the list.  This was a very nice validation of our work quality, as we were just a small shop with two journeymen and two apprentices.  It gave us plenty of work for many months.  In fact we completed the last repair about one year later.  That particular residence had not had their power lines or service destroyed.  However the lines were resting on their roof so repairs were necessary, just not an emergency.

We had equipped ourselves with current detectors that would tell us which lines were energized.  We could lay the tip of the detector against the outside of the wire.  On high voltage lines the detector signaled power just by getting close to the wire.

We heard of one man that was killed by walking across the wire on the ground.  It didn’t take us long to make a habit of carrying the detectors in our hand when we went where the lines were down.

One person called us to say they couldn’t go to work because the power lines were draped across their driveway about eye level.  Their car was in the garage and they didn’t know what to do.  When I arrived I looked from across the road and thought to myself; “Those are telephone wires.”

I was gauging my determination on the apparent size of the wire.  I walked over and grasped the wire with my hand and broke off some of the ice.  Ooops.  The ice on the wire had only made them appear to be telephone lines.  Instead they were the high voltage lines.  They were also de-energized.

I propped the lines up with some 2x4s and the residents drove their car out under the lines.  I removed the 2x4s and advised them to park in the street until the power company got things straightened out.

I could have ended my career right then and there because of a lack of caution.

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