First responders get a lot of credit for helping out other agencies in their time of need, and they should. Dozens of Bay Area firefighters risked their lives to help battle the Carr Fire that burned nearly 230,000 acres in Shasta County last July. It killed eight people, including three firefighters and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
While the fire crews were on the front lines, close behind them were the people tasked with restoring some small sense of normalcy to the victims. Among those people, were crewmembers from Silicon Valley Power.
While the fire was still burning out of control, the agency sent 10 people to Shasta County to help Redding Electric rebuild the damaged electric distribution system. This past month, Silicon Valley Power was awarded a Mutual Aid Commendation from the American Public Power Association for its work.
“A lot of times, when events like this happen, PG&E will put out requests, but usually, if it’s like a winter storm, we have the same issues. We’re a small organization so we have a hard time sending people,” said Kevin Kolnowski, Silicon Valley Power’s Electric Utility Chief Operating Officer. “This one, since it was so isolated and there was no threat for us here, we talked internally and we decided we could afford to have a crew of ten people go up there.”
The crew left on a Sunday and spent nearly 13 days in the area. They worked more than 16 hours a day.
“They [were] in areas where the fire had already come through,” said Kolnowski. “They were in several areas [where] residents were just getting let back in. They saw these people that were just coming home to their devastated house. It really was an emotional situation for our guys.”
While the crews weren’t working in active fire areas, the smoke was still so strong they had to wear proper breathing gear. They also had to deal with near 100-degree weather. Despite the conditions, the crews were prepared to go back out when the Camp Fire sparked in Butte County in November.
“When the Camp Fire took place, we talked about it but we weren’t able to support the Camp Fire at that time,” said Kolnowski. “I would say a majority of them were willing and ready to go again. It was [the Carr Fire] a very positive experience for them.”
Kolnowski said not only did crews get to help the victims of the Carr Fire, they learned some valuable skills along the way. A majority of the crewmembers that Silicon Valley Power sent to Shasta County were apprentices. The work gave them a chance to work on systems the City of Santa Clara doesn’t normally use.
Crewmembers were tasked with installing 85- and 90-foot utility poles in the area, ones much taller than the ones used in Santa Clara. They also worked with 115kV transmission lines, something almost twice as strong as the 60kV lines they normally work on in Santa Clara.