By Eric Petermann
Lineworkers representing 13 electric utilities from Arizona and New Mexico participated in a 2-day rodeo in November, hosted by Sulphur Springs Electric Cooperative (SSVEC) at its Benson maintenance and construction yard.
“Employers everywhere are experiencing the challenge of finding and retaining people, and electric utilities are certainly not immune to that challenge,” says SSVEC CEO Jason Bowling. “That makes this event all the more important. Lineworker rodeos bring regional utilities together to highlight and celebrate the incredible skill of our lineworkers. We are happy to host this event to provide training, raise awareness about the lineworker trade, and give our people an opportunity to have some fun and network with peers.”
Apprentice lineworkers were scored in 3 contests and a written exam. Lineworkers completed an obstacle course, rescued a mannequin from the top of a power pole and participated in a mystery event under the watchful eye of judges.
Top finishers featured 2 apprentices representing Electric District 3, a utility based in Maricopa. Tyler Russell finished first and Sean Scarlato was second. Navopache Electric Cooperative lineworker Garrett Linn took third.
Top team winners were also from Electric District 3. Sean and Tyler were the top point earners in the team competition, recording the best overall time on 2 contests. The team event featured 1 apprentice and an experienced journeyman lineworker changing out a transformer from a bucket truck and replacing a crossarm atop a power pole.
Sean and Tyler had the fastest overall time, followed by the team of apprentice Brian Wiitanen of Navopache and journeyman Nate Purden of ED3. The SSVEC team of Shawn Cooke and Adolfo Marmolejo finished third in the team competition.
Individual event winners were Sawyer McDonald, an SSVEC apprentice lineworker based in Willcox, who recorded the fastest time in the Hurtman Rescue competition.
In the team event, Sawyer and fellow SSVEC lineworker Gabe Ornelas recorded the fastest time in the crossarm change event. It was the first rodeo competition hosted by SSVEC since 2018, due to the pandemic’s impact on all operations for several years.
“We’re very pleased with the number of linemen who are participating and delighted that we generated interest from so many electric cooperatives and utilities,” says SSVEC Safety and Training Manager Steve Garate. “The intent of this 2-day event is to offer an educational opportunity and still have some fun with the competitions.”
Top-scoring lineworkers were honored with award plaques at a banquet held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars lodge in Benson.
The next morning, apprentices attended trainings on transformer connections, grounding, and regulators and reclosers.
Participating utilities included Trico Electric Cooperative; Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority; Arizona G&T Cooperatives, Graham County Electric Cooperative; Columbus Electric Cooperative; Mohave Electric Cooperative; Tohono O’odham Utility Authority; Electric District 3; Electric District 2; Navopache Electric Cooperative; City of Safford Municipal Electric; and SSVEC.