14 	 March 2014
BBelow the surface of the ocean or high
above the ground, Patrick Bieg...
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Colorado country life march 2014 line tech article page 15


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Colorado country life march 2014 line tech article page 15

  1. 1. 14 March 2014 [industry] BBelow the surface of the ocean or high above the ground, Patrick Biegel likes a little adventure in the workplace. “I’m not really an office person. I can’t stay inside all day,” Biegel said. Biegel, 25, spent six years as an underwater welder in the Gulf of Mexico. He left that in 2011 to work at a Colorado Springs bar and save money for line school, a training program for electrical lineworkers. He showed what he learned in the 15-week program at a recent “rodeo” that featured 20 graduat- ing students performing skills they’ll need on the job, while more than three stories off the ground. All the gradu- ates of the Trinidad State Junior College Rocky Mountain Line School spent at least 400 hours in the classroom and another 100 hours on a pole, up to 35 feet above earth. Adding to the pressure was a group of professional observers, looking for new employees. “The last class, I think we got three out of there. And the one before that, I think we got two,” said Stan Plutt from Colorado Powerline in Castle Rock. At the “pole farm” at Pikes Peak Community College, instruc- tor Dave King oversees a program that is now five years old and runs under the authority of Trinidad State. Trinidad State also operates a line technician program in Trinidad. Graduates come away with 50 skills critical to electrical lineworkers, and they are trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid, highway safety and the operation of large trucks. Hanging from poles all day, often in bad weather, is demand- ing work. “Some guys and gals just aren’t made for this,” King said. “This is really a tough job; (there are) a lot of hazards out there and we have to watch each other’s backs and make sure everyone goes home safe.” Students come out of this program with a realistic idea of what they’ll be doing each day. Before moving to Colorado, Biegel specialized in underwater demolition on obsolete oil platforms. His job included cutting steel underwater. Though only in his early 20s, Biegel knew it couldn’t last. “Diving to those deep depths every day, it takes a toll on your body,” he said. “It messes up your joints, your spine. You can get air embolisms, bubbles in your blood.” Now Biegel is fully committed to becoming an electrical lineman. “I love it. It’s just kind of what I like to do. Similar danger levels, I guess.” The demand for electrical lineworkers is strong as baby boom- ers retire and the nation’s energy grid grows. Down the line … Today, Biegel works primarily on underground wiring for new home construction for Colorado Powerline in the Castle Rock area. He started at $16 an hour and was given a raise after he hit the 90-day mark. He said his training at Trinidad State pushed him up the ladder in his field. “They actually do hire guys that don’t go to school,” Biegel said, “but they don’t hire them for nearly as much money, and they take about six months to fully understand what’s going on.” Comparing his new job with his old one, Biegel gave the nod to electrical line work. “I feel it’s a lot safer. I mean it is danger- ous, but every time I went under the water, I risked not coming back up. It’s safer, you get to go home every day, I get to have a life, and I get paid well.” In December 2013, another class graduated from Rocky Mountain Line School. This time, the rodeo featured another challenge. Colorado was in the grip of a weeklong arctic blast. Snow flurries threatened and the thermometer hovered between 5 and 10 degrees. But since these conditions are part of the life of a line technician, the show went on. The class of 22 climbed into the milky sky without hesitation. “Most schools probably wouldn’t have graduation on a day like this,” said T.J. Tompkins, a student from La Junta. “These guys want to, to get us used to the real thing.” Greg Boyce is the director of marketing and communications at Trini- dad State Junior College. POLES APARTBY GREG BOYCE Patrick Biegel (right) works with climbing partner Levi Thaute at a line tech rodeo at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs. Graduates from Rocky Mountain Line School demonstrate their skills on graduation day, April 26, 2013. A lone student braves bitter cold at a line technician demon- stration in Colorado Springs on December 6, 2013.