His teammates hit “go” on the stopwatch and Rafael “Geo” Minjarez straps on 40 pounds of gear, jams the sharp steel gaffs on his boots into the wooden pole and scrambles up to mock-rescue a 185-pound mannequin dangling 40 feet above the ground.
When he lands safely back on the ground, the stopwatch reads 1 minute, 51 seconds. He’s earned a round of “whoops” from the team for his first practice run of the day.
An apprentice lineman, Minjarez is training for the International Lineman’s Rodeo competition in Kansas later this month, where he and another four-member team of journeyman linemen will represent TEP – continuing a tradition that extends more than two decades.
The team has completed weekly practice runs for the past few months leading up to the contest, which will pit them against roughly 200 other teams.
The contest is designed to showcase both skill and safety. Points are deducted for mistakes – a slip on the way up, a dropped piece of equipment – that could be dangerous when repairing lines operating at up to 500 kilovolts.
Precision is paramount in a challenging job that can get that much more difficult when responding to downed lines in the dark or in slashing rain and swirling wind.
“There’s a huge amount of pride that goes into this trade,” said Tom Kaminski, Supervisor of Line Construction at TEP, who will be attending the Rodeo this year as a judge. “And there’s a huge amount of pride that goes into representing our company and its core values at this event.”
While TEP traditionally places well, and while the teams are competitive, team members agreed the important takeaway is less about winning and more about the focus on safety. In addition to the competition, participants will spend two days immersed in safety developments in the industry, from new tools to best practices.
Andy Williams, who competed as an apprentice in 2011 and is going this year as a journeyman lineman, said it’s a great opportunity for team-building. “When you’re on a job, you are your brother’s keeper. These guys are my family, so we watch each other’s backs.”
Journeyman Lineman Oren Patchell can get up and down a pole in 30 seconds. He makes the physically demanding feat look effortless now after years of experience, but it belies the sore hands and tired legs from his early days learning the job.
“The competition is a reminder that I’m continuing more than 100 years of tradition in this occupation,” he said. “And it’s also a reminder that I’m part of a larger family. It’s a great opportunity to experience camaraderie with my brothers and sisters who do this work from all over the country and all over the world.”
Also competing in the 2019 International Lineman Rodeo:
From Lake Havasu City
- Allan Bell, Working Foreman, participating as a judge
- Josh Cowan, Apprentice Lineman, Apprentice Team
- Austin Sweet, Apprentice Lineman, Apprentice Team
- Tom Eggert, T&D Supervisor, participating as a judge
- Robert Kirby, Journeyman Lineman, participating as a judge
- John Nicoletti, Safety Rover/Lead, Lineman Team
- Stuart Sprunt, Working Foreman, Lineman Team
- Josh Martinez, Journeyman Lineman, Lineman Team
- Jesse Smith, Apprentice Lineman, Apprentice Team
- Dylan Nicoletti, Apprentice Lineman, Apprentice Team