As a PG&E troubleman, 16-year IBEW 1245 member Justin Biondini knows that no two days are alike. But the call he received on July 21 to respond to a power outage was anything but typical.
Biondini covers a large service territory that includes his hometown of Fortuna, which is a rural area with a population of just under 12,000. When Biondini gets a call, depending on the distance, it may take him some time to respond. So when he showed up at this customer’s home, they were surprised to see him so soon. To Biondini, that’s just what he and his brothers and sisters do.
As Biondini said, “I grew up here, so a lot of times people know me. You want to provide good service, that’s what people are paying for.”
Biondini talked to the property owners, telling them he would patrol the line and get the issue fixed. And if he couldn’t fix it himself, he would call a crew to get it fixed.
With that, Biondini headed out from the house. The property was large, with houses scattered on mountainous terrain. He drove a half mile down the road when he noticed a fire up the hill.
With California’s string of devastating wildfires recently, any fire, no matter how big or small poses a serious risk, particularly in areas of dense brush and vegetation.
Biondini immediately stopped the truck, grabbed his fire extinguisher and headed quickly toward the fire. These attempts did nothing to quell the flames, and he noticed the fire was starting to grow into the vegetation. Biondini returned to the truck, where he also carries a water can pump extinguisher. Armed with this, he went back and sprayed down as much vegetation as he could, emptying the water can.
Biondini jumped back in the truck and headed down the hill toward the house. His truck being too heavy to make it down the customer’s driveway, he parked as close as he could and ran to their house with the can. Biondini told them about the fire and instructed them to call the fire department.
But Biondini wasn’t done.
“I asked them for more water,” he said. “Lot of rural areas have water tanks and store water for firefighting. The property owner filled up my can, and his brother who owns a water truck happened to be there.”
It was a fortunate coincidence. Biondini dispatched the water truck, telling the driver to look for his truck up the road, and he went back up the hill toward the fire. It was challenging conditions: hot and muggy, and very steep ground.
His instinct was to keep the surrounding vegetation wet. The property owner came down on his four-wheeler with buckets of water and worked with Biondini to keep the fire down. When the water truck came, Biondini ran to meet him and dragged the hose up to the fire. Soon after, a spotter plane came, then a helicopter and a fire truck.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t too breezy, but if the wind had been strong it would have really taken off,” Biondini explains.
“Every day is different — you never know what you’re going to get, any time of the day or night,” Biondini said. “My daily duties might be disconnecting meter panels for electricians, troubleshooting electrical issues for a homeowner, or if someone hits a pole, I need to go make it safe for the public and get the roads back up and running.”
Now, Biondini can add amateur firefighting to the list.
With word of the fire spreading through the small community, neighbors began showing up, wanting to help. Fortunately, the fire had been contained before spreading and catching dense nearby brush.
But Biondini didn’t think his work was done just because the fire was out. Later that night, he went back to see what he could do to get as many people energized as possible.
“All the training that we get is priceless. A lot of things that I’ve learned working here I’ve applied to my normal life at home, like being in a lot of stressful situations—storms, other big events,” said Biondini. “It helps you stay calm, and I think it helped me stay calm that day. I’m not saying someone else wouldn’t have done the same, but my training and experience prepared me.”
The customer was so grateful that he wrote in to a local blog to commend Biondini, whom he dubbed “Justin the Hero.”
“Without Justin’s bravery to rush up that burning hillside again and again, much would have been lost!” the customer wrote in a letter on The Redheaded Blackbelt. “When I look out my windows into the lovely view that is the Humboldt County forest, I have one man to thank and truly call a HERO, a PG&E technician named Justin.”
This isn’t the first time that Biondini has gone above and beyond on the job. Eleven years ago, as an apprentice, Biondini helped rescue someone who had been stranded in a snowstorm.
Biondini summed it up best when he said, “I’m a troubleman, when you get those calls you head out to find out why.”
And as Biondini demonstrated, IBEW workers get the job done.