An Interview with a Lifelong Lineman


            Line work is considered one of the most dangerous and challanging jobs in the electrical industry, with some arguing it could possibly be one of the most hazardous jobs in America. It involves great heights, high voltage, acts of nature, and elements of total uncertainty incomparable to most careers. Wind, lightning, heat and cold; linemen are exposed to the full spectrum of what Mother Nature has to offer, and that’s before they deploy their expertise repairing and maintaining the infrastructure we depend on.   


             They make up a subset of the most-essential workers: those who put their lives on the line so we may rely on our power to stay on, our food to stay fresh, and our homes to stay livable. The importance of their work cannot be overstated. To further illuminate this, we interviewed a lifelong lineman to get his insight on what these fearless men and women face daily.




             Jack Brown hails from southwestern Tennessee, his initiation into the field of line work began in 1990. He established his career as a journeyman in line work at Memphis Light, Gas, and Water. Brown spent 25 years there, retiring from MLGW as a crew leader. He chose to rejoin his peers after retirement at Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, serving eleven counties all over west Tennessee. When asked why he chose this difficult and often unpredictable career path, he cited that the challenges of learning a new and indispensable skillset appealed greatly to him.  The opportunity for continuous improvement and advancement to the highest level of expertise became an aspiration for him throughout his career.


            An adventurer at heart, Brown loved the mobility the work offered him, coupled with the fact he was empowered as a public servant. Raised in a household of generational tradesmen he understood that he would be part of an elite group of first responders—those called upon to operate specifically when disaster struck. He has kept busy not only with assignments fixing damage during and after adverse events, but also participating in lineman competitions, rescue trainings, and rigorous ongoing safety certifications. While the challenge was a considerable factor in determining his career path, he also factored in the compensation and benefits into his decision, as providing for his family’s future was of utmost importance to him.




"With only rubber gloves separating you from a energized line with a 23,000 volt charge, you are perched on an insulated aerial platform, hanging forty-five feet above the ground."



            When asked why line work is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in America, Brown responded “with only rubber gloves separating you from a energized line with a 23,000 volt charge, you are perched on an insulated aerial platform, hanging forty-five feet above the ground. Sometimes you’re required to climb those forty-odd feet using only your climbing gaffs and belt, all while exposed to the elements—anything ranging from a scorching hot summer day, to the torrential rains and high winds that occur during a hurricane.”


Brown elaborated that one of the most important safety measures is working as a team: one relies on their crew for support and to keep each other safe. Checking and double-checking PPE personally and within the group is essential, as nobody wants to discover a hole in their glove while working around an energized circuit. To add even more danger to the mix, much of the work is performed in high-traffic areas – after all, electrical lines typically run along surface roads. This requires the proper high-visibility and reflective clothing to maintain a safe work environment, along with the usual hard hat, glasses, and specialty insulated gloves.


            With safety at its forefront, line workers are required to participate in monthly safety meetings as well as yearly certifications, such as hurt-man rescue. Hurt-man rescue is the practice of rescuing a 200-lb mannequin that is suspended 40+ feet in the air, meant to represent an unconscious climber. It’s a timed initiative, in which the participants are expected to execute the rescue in under 4 minutes.


Offering aid as a first responder is one of the primary functions of a line worker. Restoring resources after a natural disaster or catastrophic storm is their duty, and they may even work through a storm or other adverse conditions if it’s in their local area. Otherwise, they travel to affected areas post-storm or disaster to repair infrastructure as needed.





Brown cites a particular memory in which he was shipped out to provide aid during a natural disaster: prior to Hurricane Florence in 2018, his team arrived well before the storm hit. They witnessed firsthand the damage occurring beginning to end. He described the occasion as being totally surreal and quite frightening as they rushed to shelter while the worst of the storm hit.


            As if the sense of duty and responsibility were not enough to motivate him, he describes other positive aspects of a career as a lineman. “I enjoy the ever-changing environment, mentoring others, and seeing the progress of the industry as a whole.” It is for all these reasons he still loves his career after thirty years in the field.


            Career highlights for Brown include a lengthy tenure and retirement from one company, followed by the opportunity to experience another post-retirement. He also won the National Lineman Climbing Competition in 2005. One of his favorite memories was being a public spokesperson for the trades at local schools’ career days. He has continued to work with apprentice linemen and describes the work to prospects as “very challenging, yet rewarding." Brown says the career path may be for you if you “refuse to give up when it gets tough.”





“Remember that it takes time to restore your power, have grace and practice empathy with the line workers.”



            When asked what he’d like the public to know about line work, he stated, “remember that it takes time to restore your power, have grace and practice empathy with the line workers.” He continued by mentioning if everyone were to fully comprehend what a logistical challenge it is to restore power—especially in an emergency context—they'd understand the value of patience in these situations. The challenges these brave men and women face should greatly increase our empathy for them and further appreciate the highly-skilled effort they put in.  We should also take into consideration the amount of time it may take to do the job right, especially in those dangerous circumstances—so it’s important to stay patient and not panic. Even though we may never see first-hand what people like Brown do, we reap the benefits of their work every single day.



We truly appreciated the opportunity to sit down with Jack and discuss the ins and outs of a career in line work, in addition to the unique experiences he's had as one. If you have an anecdote, story, or even tall-tale you'd like to share about this daring career, please drop a comment below.