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One of Jackson EMC’s linemen

Wood Walking

In scorching heat and arctic blasts, linemen suit up from head to toe, protecting themselves in the unlikely event one of those wires might be live. The voltage running through power lines can create an electric arc about four times as hot as the sun’s surface. And the human body is one of the best conductors. Burns from these arcs can be fatal – even from several feet away.

“That adds so much to the work: the danger,” said Tim Sweat, a journeyman lineman with 35 years of experience who is now JEMC senior director of job training and safety.

Every action on the line is dictated by a strict set of rules designed to keep workers safe. He said it takes seven years for someone to move through the ranks from apprentice to journeyman. “The goal is for everyone to get back home safe.”

To ensure they get home safely, Sweat says he looks for applicants who are dependable, trustworthy and have a strong work ethic.

“A lineman’s mentality is to get the lights back on, and safety rules can slow them down. It takes discipline to put those features in place and you have to be disciplined to be safe on this job,” he said. “At the end of the day you are absolutely exhausted; covered in dirt and sweat. It’s a demanding job, but the satisfaction and reward is there every day.”