How Many Electrical Utility Workers Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb

photo of John Michael Pierobon By: John Michael Pierobon

I live in a house, on a quiet street in Fort Lauderdale. So when a diesel truck drives down the street it makes noise, especially when there is no electricity to generate other noises that emanate from electrical appliances.

Hurricane Wilma hit south Florida on Monday, October 24, 2005. The storm knocked out power to millions of people. I notified Florida Power & Light (FPL) within minutes of losing power that Monday morning. Although I was among the first to notify FPL of my power outage, I had no illusion that I would be among the first to get electrical power restored, especially since it took FPL five days to restore my electrical power after hurricane Katrina.

An entire week went by before I saw or heard the sound of an electrical utility truck. But, on October 31, I saw an FPL truck drive pass my house, up and down my street three times. I was out there clapping as they drove by. When you live without electricity for a week and you hear that sound, you get excited because you think you are going to get your power restored.

By Halloween, power had been restored on my street, but only up to two houses from me. Many of my neighbors are seasonal residents. They had their power restored, but they were not home. Consequently, I had to listen to a house alarm going off all night long.

I could not understand why electricity stopped flowing just fifty feet from my house.

I got the answer on Wednesday, November 2, when I noticed two diesel trucks from Ontario Hydro two blocks from my house. So, I went up to talk with one of the electrical workers from Ontario Hydro. He was a friendly guy. He showed me his map of the neighborhood, and where he had marked the location of the open transformer, which was across the street from my house. I asked why he could not fix it, and he said that his crew of four were only doing "minor repairs".

That night power was restored to the northern half of my neighborhood. All of the houses on the next block had power, but I was still in the dark.

Friday afternoon, November 4, two FPL employees show up. You could tell they were tired. FPL had rented the bucket truck from Alabama, hence the Alabama license plates. They inspect my line and tell me they cannot fix it because they do not have the right equipment. One of them gets his cellular telephone out and calls and speaks with Michelle at FPL. He tells her that they need 200 feet of cable. He kindly asks on my behalf when someone would be out fix the problem. He tells me "tomorrow". He also describes the problem as "no big deal" and it could be fixed "in a half hour".

The following night two big FPL trucks arrived, with two FPL employees in each truck. One gets out of the truck with his flashlight while the others sit. He says they cannot do the job, and they drive off in a hurry.

Sunday morning, November 6, I spot another FPL truck. I tell the drive about the problem with my line, and he tells me that he "wrote it down". Five days earlier, the Canadians had written it down.

A few minutes later several Ontario Hydro trucks appear in the neighborhood to restore power to the nearby building just a block away. In talking with them, I find out I am not on their work schedule. So close, yet still without power.

Monday, November 7, as I was returning from my daily trip to the grocery store where I use the express lane to pay for my lunch and dinner because I have no refrigeration, I see an FPL truck parked across the street from my house. By the time I put my food away, the FPL truck is gone.

At lunch time a crew of four Haitians in two big orange trucks come to trim one branch away from the line across the street. They tell me there is a crew of utility workers working at the end of the street, some five blocks away.

I walk down there and I see four trucks and a crew putting in a new electrical pole. I started talking with them, and I find out they are from West Virginia. I tell them I have no electricity.

In the afternoon another FPL truck shows up. In talking to the utility worker in truck he says that he is only there to make sure the tree trimmers would not get electrocuted.

By the end of the afternoon, but before dusk, I see one of the guys from West Virginia driving by with a new transformer in the back of the truck. His name is J. D. and he tells me that he would talk with FPL to see about letting his crew come over to fix my line. I could tell J. D. really cared.

Tuesday morning, J. D. and his crew were there working on my line. Turns out there was nothing wrong with the transformer, 200 feet of cable were not needed, and in one hour they had it all done. Actually, it was Kollum, who was in the bucket doing all the work. But, I do have to thank J. D., Jeremy, Kollum, and the rest of the crew from West Virginia for actually restoring power to my house.

Wednesday, November 9, a supervisor from Ontario Hydro drives up in his truck to fix a "dead zone" and shows it to me on the map. He is a nice guy who is looking forward to going back to Ontario and going hunting. I tell him the dead zone was fixed the day before.

Thursday, November 10, three trucks from Cinergy slowly drive down the street to see if the problem is fixed. Later in the morning two trucks from Michigan stop. I tell them the problem is fixed, and they respond "that is good to know", yet they do get out of their truck and carefully check things out.

Thursday afternoon two FPL trucks show up. One is blocking my drive way. Two utility workers, both smoking cigarettes, appear at my door. They are here to fix an "open neutral". I told them the problem was fixed two days ago, and they say they only heard about the problem two days ago.

I do appreciate the fact that FPL did enlist help from 33 states plus Canada. However, power would have been restored sooner with a lot less effort and cost if FPL had better coordination and better communication, because it took one crew to drive by the problem three times, one crew to write it down, two crews to come look at the problem, another crew to write it down again, another crew make to sure the tree trimmers would not be electrocuted, another crew to trim one branch, another crew to do the work, and four crews to check to make sure the job was done. In total twelve crews were involved, yet it only took only one electrical utility worker to change the proverbial light bulb.

John Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
John Michael may be reached by sending electronic mail to

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