Line Workers and Pilots Partner in Mid-Air to Service LADWP Transmission Lines

By Paola Adler

LADWP line workers have traditionally served as the stewards of the Department’s overhead transmission lines, some of which span hundreds of miles. Thanks to a new program, five foremen and 27 line patrol mechanics will start working with a new partner – five pilots from LADWP’s Fleet Services Division. The LADWP Overhead Transmission Human External Cargo (HEC) Program officially certified all 37 participants on January 24, 2019 after three months of training procedures.

Helicopters and pilots assisting with overhead power transmission work is not new to the Department, as they are currently used for visual inspections, patrols and to transport tools to job sites and towers (known as short haul). With the new program, however, helicopters will be able to carry line workers from the ground onto a transmission structure or wire using an external line descending below the aircraft. Incorporating this practice helps line workers access hard to reach areas and creates a safer work environment by reducing climbing, increasing productivity.

Line workers use head and hand signals to communicate with pilots. (Photo by Chris Corsmeier)

“There are so many benefits for our transmission workers,” said Metro Patrol Area Foreman Jim Schultz, a program participant. “It greatly reduces the time needed to position our crews, which generally reduces risk. Fatigue is minimized by eliminating the need to climb towers with mandated climbing restrictions, and we also gain access to tower locations that have been inaccessible due to weather and environmental issues.”

This practice is common at many other utilities. LADWP’s combination of in-house staff and resources, experience with helicopter transmission work and relationships with other utilities allowed the Department to create a program efficiently and cost-effectively in just three years. In addition to the Overhead Transmission and Fleet Services Aviation teams, the program was developed in partnership with Power System Safety, IBEW Local 18 and the Joint Training and Joint Safety Institutes.

Participants completed their certification with help from external trainers from Air Rescue Systems. From November 2018 through January 2019, employees from different job classifications learned to collaborate together through classroom sessions and practical exercises on transmission towers at the Truesdale Training Center. Training included helicopter safety, short haul procedures and work practices, and “up and out” tower rescue operations.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to train alongside our line workers to build teamwork, trust and morale. The training helped us create synergy on the job and improve safety while relying on each other to conduct precision work without errors,” said Jeff Goldman, a participating LADWP helicopter pilot. “The Department is constantly evolving; it is very fulfilling to contribute to that evolution.”

The 37 employees participating in the new program included 4 pilots, 1 chief pilot, 5 foremen and 27 line patrol mechanics. (Photo by Skip Robinson)




Tapping Into Excellence

Water System Employees Take Part in Annual Competition

By Albert Rodriguez

It was non-stop action as the best-of-the-best in LADWP’s Water System showcased their skills and talents during the exciting 9th Annual Sylmar WEST Tap Off competition on February 20.  The annual competition brought in teams of water utility workers from LADWP’s Water Distribution Division district yards and other local water utilities to show off their skill in various water-related events.

Teams squared off in colorfully named, but technically difficult events, such as Pipe Tapping, Hydrant Hysteria, Hot Flare and Meter Madness. This year’s Tap-off event also featured a Safety Fair put on by Water Distribution Division Safety with vendors and water utility product exhibitions

The main Pipe Tappers competition entails a three-person crew drilling a hole and installing a valve into pressurized cement-lined, ductile iron pipe using a heavy, hand-cranked tapping machine. Copper service lines are then quickly attached and run to a service meter all in about two minutes all while avoiding leaks as much as possible. The winning LADWP team this year was the “LA Tappers” of Trunk Line Construction  featuring Jose Campos, Sr. Water Utility Worker; Mark Winkler, Water Utility Worker; Nick Castruita, Water Utility Supervisor and Coach Joey A. Castruita Jr. Water Utility Supervisor.

“We normally would use modern pneumatic machines, but if those go down out in the field, it’s important to maintain these skills,” said Tommy Gibbs, Water Utility Supervisor, Central District. “The competition brings us together. It’s good training and great for moral.”

The Hydrant Hysteria competition entails assembling a fire hydrant that is broken down into separate components and re-assembled as quickly as possible. The winning team was “Western Hydro Kings” from Western District comprised of Luis E. Zamudio, Water Utility Worker – Christopher Torres, Maintenance Construction Helper and Coach Cesar Barragan, Sr. Water Utility Worker.

The Meter Madness competition featured water utility workers putting together a water service meter from a bucket of parts. Winner of this event was Angus L. Hall, Maintenance Construction Helper of Western District.

In the Hot Flare competition, participants must skillfully remove a water meter from a pressurized water service line, cut the pipe, hammer in a new valve, shut it off and then install a new water meter, all while icy-cold water is splashing around. Their movements must be efficient and precise in order to minimize water loss and install a properly functioning meter. The winner of Hot Flare this year was Alan S. Verdi Maintenance Construction Helper and Justice Baldwin Water Utility Worker of West Valley District.

Justice Baldwin flares copper as he strikes an opening into a copper pipe.

“It’s important that our crews stay at the top of their skill set with events like this, especially during leak season,” said Donald Williams, Western District Superintendent. “Colder weather and colder water coming into the distribution system along with older infrastructure can keep our crews really busy during this time of year.”

The LA Tappers went on take first place at the regional competition in Sacramento on March 27th vaulting them to the AWWA ACE19 national competition in Denver, CO June 10-12. LA Tappers were in the lead for most of qualifying rounds until being bumped out of finals in the last afternoon session by Birmingham, Alabama Water Works “Bama Boys” who went on to take 1st place. Undaunted, LA Tappers hope to return next year for what promises to be another tough, but exciting competition.