Armour lineman helps after Superstorm SandyMan traveled with group that aided in restoring Long Island’s power.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
ARMOUR — After receiving help from fellow power companies during several ice storms in the area, Jarret Bialas thought it was only fair to help restore power on the East Coast after Superstorm Sandy late last year.
Bialas, a journeyman lineman for NorthWestern Energy in Armour, said when the call for volunteers came in, he immediately responded.
“Every power company has had problems like this, and I know how important it is to get volunteers to go,” he said. “It can be miserable for a local power company. Without help, it takes longer to get customers back on.”
He’s worked to get power back on in South Dakota during at least 15 ice storms in his career, he said.
Bialas traveled with seven other NorthWestern employees to Long Island — Corey Hieb, Dennis Varilek, Cody Wells and Jim Jungemann, all from Huron; and Corey Kramer, Mike Baumgarn and Rustin Schone, all from Aberdeen.
They left Nov. 3 and made it to Long Island Nov. 5. After a day of being briefed on the situation and safety rules, Bialas’ group started restoring power Nov. 6.
The group mostly worked in Greenlawn, Long Island, which is 40 miles from New York City on the north shore of the island. A tree-trimming crew traveled with Bialas’ group to speed up the process.
“It was really slow work,” Bialas said. “We traveled in caravans of 10 to 12 vehicles. The tree-trimming crews helped.”
Upon arrival, Bialas’ group stayed in Federal Emergency Management Agency tents for two nights. A storm Nov. 7 blew over one of the tents, so one of the local leaders was generous enough to allow the group to stay at a nearby power plant, where he worked.
“Then we got air mattresses,” Bialas said. “It was a lot warmer and we had showers, so we were thankful for that.”
The group put in 16- to 18-hour days. Bialas said they had some down time, usually spent waiting in line for gas or in traffic.
Despite the frustrations of moving slowly and dealing with irritated people, Bialas said the hospitality and thankfulness stood out.
“The customers we were attempting to get on at the time were very helpful,” he said. “They offered us time in their houses to go to the bathroom, sit down and eat. They offered us food, coffee, rolls.”
He said similar situations he’s had in South Dakota have been the same. The majority of customers are just happy to have someone restore their power and want to give back.
The group members left in good spirits, having helped as many as they could during their eight-day trip. Bialas was particularly impressed by the officials who coordinated the nearly 5,000 volunteers on Long Island.
“I can’t imagine how they got all those workers organized,” Bialas said.