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Going a long way to lend a hand: BPU lineworkers help in Florida

Brad Olson (from left), Tyler Malloy and Dylan Ferrari of Brainerd Public Utilities pose together after traveling to Florida in September to assist with Hurricane Irma response. (Steve Kohls / Forum News Service)

BRAINERD — Three lineworkers from Brainerd Public Utilities in September helped turn the lights back on for Floridians rocked by Hurricane Irma.

Brad Olson, Tyler Malloy and Dylan Ferrari joined a group of 44 Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association workers who made the long drive down to Florida.

Olson has worked for BPU for 16 years and this was his first time responding to a request for aid outside of Minnesota. It was hot and humid in Florida, he said, but it felt good to help those affected by the hurricane.

"They were really appreciative, really glad we were there helping them," Olson said. "Felt good knowing we were there helping them."

Olson would prefer to work in the wake of a hurricane as opposed to in the wake of a tornado, he said. After a tornado, trees are twisted up, he said, as opposed to after a hurricane, when everything is downed in the same direction.

Malloy has been with BPU for a little more than a year. He likes being a lineworker because he gets to help people by providing power for them. It was a big difference working in the Florida climate, he said, and adapting to how things are done differently. He also had to adapt to the different accents of workers from Florida, Puerto Rico and Jamaica.

"That was half the battle, trying to understand them," Malloy said.

Dylan Ferrari has been working for BPU for a little more than 2 years. There were long hours in Florida, he said, but he had a good time and enjoyed helping people. It was nice to mingle with southern workers, he said, and learn a little more about how they do things.

"It was pretty nice sharing different things we do," Ferrari said.

There were iguanas everywhere in Florida, Malloy said, but they thankfully kept away from the workers.

"But you don't want to make them mad," Malloy said.

Workers were also told to watch out for snakes and Africanized honey bees.

"'They'll chase you for 5 miles,' they said," Malloy said.

The BPU workers left Brainerd Sept. 8 and drove down to Rochester, Minn., to meet up with the rest of the group. From there, they made the long drive to Florida, which clocked in at more than 30 hours. They spent two days working in Kissimmee, Fla., before moving on to Lake Worth, Fla., where they worked for five to six days. They were released at 5 p.m. on their last day, so they got to spend two hours at the beach before starting the long drive home the next morning.

Olson has already volunteered to head to Puerto Rico to help the island recover after Hurricane Maria, he said, if the group is needed. For now, MMUA is trying to coordinate the response, he said, which is made tougher by the inability to bring utility equipment to the island.

"I'd be ready to go, if they'd let us," Olson said.

There were 15 different municipal utility providers represented in the group that went to Florida. The BPU workers knew a few of the other Minnesota workers, Olson said, which was nice.

Tim Holmes, Brainerd fire chief, also spent two weeks in Florida assisting with the emergency management response to Hurricane Irma. Holmes was part of the 16-member Minnesota All Hazards Incident Management Team, which includes fire chiefs, emergency managers and fire service personnel with advanced incident management training.

In a monthly written report to the Brainerd City Council, Holmes said the experience was humbling and educational. The team set up six points of distribution for food, water and ice throughout the Florida Keys and distributed food to more than 50,000 people.

"I really feel we made a positive impact during our time there," Holmes wrote. "We were able to work with a lot of great people to accomplish this. I was able to bring back a lot of ideas and points to better our emergency response."

Spenser Bickett

Spenser Bickett covers the Brainerd City Council and education. A native of the Twin Cities, Bickett attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he majored in journalism with a minor in political science. After graduation, he worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer before coming to Brainerd.

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