As part of IBEW Local 1245’s ongoing “Linemen Without Borders” initiative, the union once again sent a team of five members on a training mission to the small South American country of Suriname earlier this year (as reported in the previous edition of Utility Reporter). The trip was organized by Brady Hansen’s Suriname American Brotherhood Initiative. Prior to this initiative, the workers in Suriname had extremely limited resources, antiquated equipment, and little knowledge of safe work practices. The goal of these trips is to help further train these overseas linemen about safe working conditions and the best practices that enable our members to stay out of harm’s way in this dangerous industry.
During the quarterly Advisory Council meeting in Reno, the Local 1245 members who joined this most recent expedition shared their sentiments and memorable moments from the trip. PG&E Lineman Andrew West opened up the presentation with a short documentary-style video that he filmed while he was in Suriname (the video can be found online at https://youtu.be/EBn9H6c-xLs). West then told the Advisory Council about the really difference that the program has made for the Surinamese linemen, and how much the experience impacted him.
“You can really see there’s been a lot of improvement down there… it’s like night and day. The thing that struck me the most was how eager they are to learn. The interactions we had with them and the questions they were asking shows that they’re understanding,” said West. “It’s exciting to see them getting brought up to the standards of safe working conditions that we have here and often take for granted. It made me really appreciate the work that the IBEW has done for the past 130 years.”
“I love this union, and I’ve always been proud to be a part of it, but being down there brought that to a new level for me,” West continued. “It was rad to see our union contribute to something that really doesn’t do anything for us – it’s not like we’re gaining something from this. But we’re doing it, because it’s the right thing to do. And that kind of brotherhood is really powerful.”
NV Energy Lineman Samson Wilson was among the first group of linemen from Local 1245 who traveled to Suriname back in 2015. He had the opportunity to return to Suriname this year, and he explained to the Advisory Council how the team had opted for a different approach this time. During that initial trip, most of the time was spent in the classroom, but this time around, the IBEW members spent several days joining the Surinamese crews as they worked out in the field. He believes that this tactic allowed them to bond with the crews, and as a result, the Surinamese were more receptive to the information that the IBEW trainers had to share in the classroom. He also observed how his own ability to lead by example set a new standard of safety among the crews.
“This is a phenomenal program and I’m proud to be a part of it,” said Wilson. “Thank you to the Executive Board and to Tom for your vision … and for continuing that vision, not just in Suriname, but in other places. [This initiative] is growing, and we are that example to others.”
PG&E Lineman Cloudell Douglas was thrilled to have been chosen to go on this year’s trip. After he saw Brady Hansen’s original presentation about the linemen’s conditions in Suriname, Douglas knew he wanted to get involved. Last year, he spent a large amount of time and effort collecting legacy tools from yards all across the Bay Area to donate to the crews in Suriname. And when he finally got a chance to go down himself this year, he was moved to see how valuable those tools are to them.
“My experience down in Suriname was phenomenal,” Douglas told the Advisory Council. “Going there and getting to see everything that I saw, it was just remarkable. I’d like to tell 1245 leadership thank you for having the courage to go out and be a part of this. Thanks to Tom, and the E-Board, and our membership – because if it wasn’t for our dues, we wouldn’t be able to have a trip like this. I applaud you and hope [the union] will keep doing the programs like this.”
The delegation also included one non-Lineman named John Wilson, who works as a fleet mechanic at NV Energy. He was invited to join the group this year because the Surinamese have been having a lot of trouble getting parts and equipment to maintain and repair their fleet vehicles, most of which come from the United States. He worked with them to open up lines of communications the various manufacturers, so that they could more readily get the parts and information they needed to keep their fleet up and running.
“I got to bond with all the mechanics, and now I have 30 new Suriname brothers down there,” he told the Advisory Council. “It was educational for me to see how another country’s utility does it, and I was highly impressed.”
“This trip was a transformative event for these members. They left a lot there – knowledge, skills, tools and equipment — but I think they came back with more than they left,” said IBEW 1245 Business Manager Dalzell. “This is what [IBEW Founder] Henry Miller would be telling us to do, if he were alive today.”