Hydro crews closing in on the final home that will get power restored: biggest problem they have had in decades.

December 28, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  Gerry Smallegange probably didn’t sleep all that well Friday night.  The weather people are predicting winds of 20 kmh – which in the world Smallegange currently lives in is not good news.

Gerry Smallegange, center, along with his COO Dan Guatto  explaining to Kilbride area residents just where Hydro was in its restoring power to the community project.

The temperature hasn’t risen enough for enough of the ice on the trees in north Burlington to melt.  If those tree branches start swaying in the wind they could come down on all those hydro lines he has had to re-build.

Smallegange is the chief cheese at Burlington Hydro who, along with his second in command,  Dan Guatto, have been at it  24/7 since the first sign of a serious weather problem became evident more than a week ago.

It was close to impossible to keep up with the demand for help.  Saturday of last week Smallegange knew that he had thousands of homes in the city without power.  Situations like this are not new to the people who supply homes with electricity – it was the sheer volume that came close to crippling the hydro people.

By the end of the Monday, the 23rd, things were beginning to look a little better.  Lines were getting put back up in the communities south of the QEW but there were still some stubborn pockets that were taking longer than expected.

While north Burlington wasn’t being ignored by any stretch – the scope and scale of the problem up there was brutal.  Smallegange knew that he had a very significant problem on his hands and needed all the help he could get.  He also needed a break in the weather – and that wasn’t happening.

The ice that had built upon the hydro wires needed to melt – and the temperatures were staying at a stubborn six to ten degrees below zero.

Working from his cell phone with an ear piece, Dan Guatto, the senior operations person at Burlington Hydro, is in communication with each of the hydro crews and the eight tree trimming trucks out on the roads of North Burlington during the power outage.

The city’s Emergency Coordinating Committee was almost in constant session and doing their best to maintain a constant flow of information to city residents.  The difficulty was that with no power radio and television were useless as was the internet and social media.

What worked best was  neighbour telling neighbour and in the north – community meetings.  The city held its first community meeting in Kilbride where hundreds showed up with questions.  The city did its best – but at times that wasn’t good enough.

The lack of information was frustrating for the residents without power and the politicians and bureaucrats who had information.  Information, like energy, has to have lines it can flow through – and the available lines weren’t working all that well when it came to keeping people informed.

For those without power – they were in the dark in more ways than one.   For reasons that are not yet clear the city’s communications department didn’t seem to have strong working relationships with the radio stations – which meant the people needing the information weren’t getting it from the radio stations – apparently because information wasn’t getting from the city to that media.

The news people have one need – information – and if it is given to them – they get it out.  Mayor Goldring expressed considerable frustration over the lack of radio coverage.  “This has been a frustration and challenge for us, compounded by the time of year when so many organizations are working with lighter than usual staff compliments., he said in his blog posted on the city’s web site.

Mayor Rick Goldring explaining to Kilbride area residents what was being done and the time frames the repair crews were working to in their community.

Mayor Goldring went on to “ assure you that we did communicate extensively with the local stations that reach the Burlington audience. Burlington is without its own radio station; if we had our own station, it would have helped enormously in pushing communication out to those without power. I will be asking our Communications staff to reach out to area radio stations in order to create better connections during times of emergency.”  Better late than never, I suppose.

Many of the outdoor locations that families use during holiday periods are not operational.  Of the seven facilities run by the Galton Conservation Authority – just the one, Glen Eden, is open. All the others:Crawford Lake; Mt. Nemo; Mountsberg; Hilton Falls; Rattlesnake Point and Robert Edmondson are closed and are expected to remain closed until early in the New Year.

While it has been tough for Burlingtonians – the rest of Halton has had it hard as well.  The situation in Toronto is beyond comprehension and it isn’t much better elsewhere.

Bolton: 368 customers 

Guelph: 1,639 customers 

Orangeville: 1,774 customers 

Toronto Hydro: 32,400 customers (300,000 at peak)

Brampton: 500 customers 

Halton Hills Hydro: 900 customers 

York Region (Power Stream): 1,000 customers 

Durham Region (Veridian): 1,000 customers 

Milton Hydro: less than 1,000 customers 

The city is now running the Emergency Operations centre out of the Kilbride Fire Station which is also serving as a Warming Centre where people can get drinking water and to use washroom facilities.

The Haber Recreation Centre – 3040 Tim Dobbie Dr., Burlington, is set up as an overnight evacuation centre with warm beds and hot showers.

A photographers paradise: a major problem for hydro crews when there is ice on those tree branches that become a real problem when the wind rises and the branches begin to sway and snap off – falling onto the hydro lines.

Hydro just might be able to report by the end of the day that they have our local problems licked – assuming the winds stay low and the temperature rises.  Burlington Hydro crews can them move on into other communities and beginning stringing hydro lines elsewhere.

Burlington has a neat little habit of referring to those occasions where problems have cropped up as opportunities to learn – and learn they will.  Mayor Goldring added in his blog that: In the following weeks, we will be conducting a thorough review, debrief and analysis of our response to the ice storm. We have learned a great deal from this experience and much of what we have learned will be incorporated into future emergency operations response. Our communication protocols and the tools we have available are areas that we have realized need particular focus.

He got that part right.


Mayor leafs through his emergency Measures Manual

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 comments to Hydro crews closing in on the final home that will get power restored: biggest problem they have had in decades.

  • Joan Turbitt

    Dear Editor while all that you say is true and hats off to the crews involved in this dreadfully, cold, tedious and dangerous work I wonder why cables are not buried. In the 80’s I brought to the attention of a committee and the then MPP someone I knew with qualified experience in this field who was looking or employment. This was to a group we were involved in. Absolutely nothing was done about it and the person has been employed since in a factory to support her family as a new widow she had to take immediate steps. Why has this not been done, would it not prevent such situations?
    Many thanks to all the people involved as volunteers helping others in warming stations, in their homes seeing that they have food etc. I don’t think this Christmas has been celebratory in the usual sense but certainly the community has come together where and when they could. We do need our own radio type station and wind up radios that do not cost too much for these types of events. I do not even know where the 2 warming stations are and no way to get there on my own. This is multiplied many times throughout the Region for sure. I have been on the phone non stop re housing need for to rent to others and for some to rent or lose everything HELP. We have to do something about All these things ASAP.

  • Susan Lewis

    So, Burlington Hydro has 8 tree trimming trucks. How many does the City have? How many people are qualified to work on the hydro lines? Are there crews who just trim the broken branches and remove branches from the road so that Hydro crews can focus on just repairing lines? Does every crew need a tree trimming truck? What percentage of our power lines are above ground and what percentage are buried?

    I’m trying to get a sense of whats involved to restore power. Or to put it another way, what’s going on?

    Editor’s note: The quick answer was that a lot of people worked some pretty long hours in some pretty cold weather. When a road with lines down was approached the tree trimmers went in first and made sure that any branches or tree trunks that posed a problem for the hydro lines had to be cut – THEN the line guys went in and re-strung the hydro cables – did all the safety checks and then let the power surge through.

    Some of the farm houses with those lively tree lined lanes required as much as 8 hours to get the tree trimmed and the lines up.

    There was one situation that called for new cable to be run and because of the geography and a few other technical details – the line had to go up over a part of the escarpment and back down.

    with Burlington almost all back on-line these crews will now move on to other communities – Guelph and Milton are still in trouble – and continue with the work.

    While there were certainly some communication screw ups – the men on the ground were working their butts off in tough weather. You want to be glad we ad those guys out there.

    • Susan Lewis

      I’m so sorry my comment appeared to be a criticism, that was not my intention at all.

      I am just very curious about what it takes to get hydro restored. Everyone should know by now that there’s a lot of people working long hard hours, I’m aware of that and I am thankful they’re out there. My own hydro was out for 10 hours and when it was restored, I did a little happy dance in my kitchen, which scared the cat. I’m trying to get a sense of the magnitude of what the front line is up against and what they have to work with.

      The tree trimmers that went in first, were they Burlington Hydro workers, City workers or both? I’d like to give credit where it’s due.

      What does repairing a line mean? Do they splice it and/or glue it back together? Did they have to install new hydro poles in some areas?

      I am also aware that had these lines been buried, that would pose a different problem if flooding should occur. I know there is no perfect solution to maintaining hydro service. But I would still like to know how many of our lines are buried.

      Our hydro service is so very important to our quality of life or even life itself so I would like to know more about it. When we bought this house 25 years ago, one of the first things we did was have a gas stove installed. I also have a coffee press so when my hydro was off, I could cook and also make a nice pot of hot coffee. I’ve been through this before. I remember November of 1965 when the whole eastern seaboard went down.

      When this is over, I would love to hear from the front line workers as to what it was like to be out there.