Look Ma! Barehands!
By: Paul Power
When I was asked to attend a training session and write a story on barehand transmission repair an image of a superhero grabbing a livewire with his bare hands and miraculously moving and repairing a high voltage line with no protection instantly came to mind.
For someone with little “in the field” experience, I soon discovered my image was wrong.
Barehand refers to the ability to repair or modify live transmission wires without having to interrupt service to clients. Barehand involves completing work without having to shut off power by using such devices as barehand bucket trucks, in which work is executed from an insulated fiberglass bucket, and hot poles, along with working directly on the tower by grounding yourself.
At approximately 7:00 am on Monday, March 13, 2006, a dozen trainees gathered in the conference room at AltaLink’s FootHills offices to begin their seventh day of a twelve day training session in barehand. Over the past week, the twelve men have divided their time learning skills and approaches in the classroom and then utilizing those skills on the field with actual repair work.
Sitting at the front of the classroom, and leading the training are two top notch experts in the area of barehand. AltaLink has brought in Dan O’Connell from Quanta, the largest contractor in the United States to do livewire work. Along with Dan is Fred Hogman, an electrical contractor from Allteck which is the Canadian subsidiary of Quanta, headquartered in British Columbia.
Fred Hogman, who has been reviewing documents and work plans for most of the early morning, takes a break to speak with me. His enthusiasm for the training and working with AltaLink is evident.
“The relationship we have with AltaLink is phenomenal,” says Fred. “We offer our expertise and in turn AltaLink provides us with physical sites for on-the-field work. Along with workers from AltaLink we have also brought in a few workers from the United States to participate in the training. The trainees have also been great since they all demonstrate impressive experience in pole work.”
The history between AltaLink and Quanta is a long and successful one. “Fred and Dan are true pioneers in their profession,” says Norbert Kilroe, AltaLink’s Transmission Assistant and one of the leaders in the training. “They don’t have the same regulations and guidelines in the U.S. as we have here in Alberta, so they have been allowed the freedom to develop innovative solutions and approaches that have benefitted AltaLink. For example, Dan was one of the key players in the development and use of the robotic arm for repairs and maintenance.”
At approximately 8:00 am, the training room begins to buzz as Jim Hill writes today’s tasks on the board. Jim, along with Ted Graham, is training to become a Barehands trainer himself.. Today, trainees will be changing out two wire bundles at Crossfield, using barehand procedures. Bascially this is replacing two wires with one wire of higher voltage. The men are quickly divided up into two work crews and will separate to complete the task at two different sites in Crossfield.
The groups quickly huddle to discuss their work plan and complete a “Work Procedure for Bare-Hand Job” Form. This is a critical element in the entire project. It’s at this time such specifics as required equipment and tools are identified as well as any potential hazards. A job plan is also developed and documented to clarify procedure to crew and supervisors as well as calculations for weights and forces. Through the discussion such phrases can be heard bouncing around the room;
“…use a handline or use a bucket…”
“…as soon as that jumper comes out, bolt it…”
“…we have to take a jumper plate.”
What results is a carefully orchestrated plan that outlines all crew members’ responsibilities, ensuring work on site follows through like a well coordinated dance routine.
While the crews develop their work plans Jim Hill looks on. He and Ted Graham are both being observed by the folks from Quontas as part of their training to be certified as Barehand Trainers.
“We have to put in 120 hours of training to be certified as a trainer,” Jim says as he breaks away from the groups for a moment. “There is a real need for Bare-Hand trainers. It’s an ever increasing skills demand.”
Jim will fill a particular need by AltaLink. The company currently does not have any in-house training for Bare-Hand. Once he and Ted are certified, AltaLink will become self sufficient in offering Bare-Hand training. It’s a smart move for the company when looking to the future.
“Bare-Hand procedures have been around since the 1960s,” says Jim. “But these days it has become more common and necessary as more demands continue to be placed on the system. People don’t like any disruption in their service.”
Norbert agrees with Jim that Bare-Hand procedures are and will continue to be an increasing staple in transmission repair.
“We have experienced a major increase in those connecting to the grid over the past few years,” explains Norbert. “Interrupting service for repairs and maintenance is becoming more and more difficult. With the Bare-Hand procedures we can work on live-wires and not disrupt service to our clients. This is a major benefit since more than any other time in our province’s history, a large number of clients are majorly effected anytime we have to interrupt service for a procedure.”
At 9:30 am the work plans have been completed and crews prepare to head out to the site. Trucks are loaded with the identified equipment and tools. Today, this includes two bucket trucks certified to 500kV and can reach 73 feet. By 10:30 am crews have finished loading and travel to Crossfield, about 45 minutes outside Calgary.
At noon crews are on site and ready to work. The planning and discussions which took place in the classroom all come into play as work begins with a tailboard meeting. This meeting helps in confirming agreed upon procedures and workers’ responsibilities.
By 1:00 crew members have begun to ascend the tower. Two men scale the tower while teams of two are lifted to the area to be worked on by bucket trucks. It may seem like a simple job to replace a wire but that is far from the case.
The crews must take a number of necessary steps if the job is going to be done right and safely. Wires are tested for their voltage and how much power loss is taking place with hot sticks. An open field becomes a playing ground for mathematicians as voltage levels, phase to ground clearances, phase to phase clearances and boom test results are completed.
Over the course of approximately seven hours crews work to change out two wire bundles while never interrupting service by cutting off power. Instead temporary lines are installed to continue the flow of power while the permanent lines are disconnected and replaced. The procedure is like a well oiled machine with workers stationing themselves on top of the tower while others rise in the bucket trucks transporting equipment and tools. Those not up in the air remain on ground monitoring voltage levels and grounding equipment and work areas to ensure safety remains a priority.
But, as with any good story, there is a plot twist. As the sun began to set and a chill fell over the open field, workers discovered an unforeseen problem. There was incompatibility between the connection points on the compression fittings. The bolt patterns were sufficiently different and modifications could not be made in the field to finish the job.
Workers would have to bring the old connector plate to the shop at Foothills Substation and build an adapter plate that would allow them to connect the jumpers. Workers will return to the site the next day to complete their task.
All par for the course as day seven of the twelve day training session comes to an end.