- Chet Farrell
As a line worker for Green Mountain Power, Chet Farrell has spent 18 years reconnecting Vermont homes to power lines knocked out by howling winds, driving rain and catastrophic ice storms. But he’s never seen anything like the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Irene.
“This storm sucked. It still sucks,” a haggard-looking Farrell said last week during a break in the action in Waterbury. “My hat goes off to all these people dragging shit out of their basements, and the volunteers. I’m getting paid to do this.”
Irene knocked out electrical power to some 40,000 GMP customers. But, thanks to assistance from 100 out-of-state utility trucks, the company managed to reconnect all but the hardest-hit customers within 48 hours of the storm’s onslaught. With that done, Farrell and other crew members were promptly deployed to help Central Vermont Public Service repair power lines in southern Vermont.
Farrell, 43, went to work for Green Mountain Power straight out of high school as a part-time custodian. From there, he climbed the ladder to running hydro dams and ultimately to line work. Seven Days caught up with Farrell before his crew moved south, outside a Waterbury church, where rows of folding chairs were set up for a makeshift outdoor service.
SEVEN DAYS: When did you get your first call for a power outage from Irene?
CHET FARRELL: The first call was 9:30 Sunday morning out in the Warren/Waitsfield area. And, actually, Green Mountain Power, we were fortunate. When we got out there — myself, the guy I was working with and another crew — this thing hit hard, and we actually lost the roads. We couldn’t get back. We were stranded out in the valley. Which was OK, because we had work to do out there anyways. But if we hadn’t been out there, we wouldn’t have been able to get there, and the whole valley would have been out of power.
SD: Did you sleep in the truck?
CF: No. Luckily, Sugarbush — the new resort up there — our company called up there. They had us all eat dinner up there. Beautiful place. Good food. And they put us up in the Sugarbush Inn. We weren’t there very long — only four hours. But it was still nice to get a shower and get in bed for a few hours.
SD: What caused most of the outages? Was it wind? Rain? Floods?
CF: Well, out in the [Mad River] Valley, we had a few really strong gusts of wind that snapped trees, and when that happened, it broke three poles. But a lot of it was just water getting into panels and frying transformer fuses; trees coming down on power lines, breaking lines. Just everything you could possibly think of when you have a storm like that.
SD: How easy was it to get everyone hooked back up to power?
CF: Some jobs are harder than others. Some places, you see four poles lying on the ground and shit just smashed everywhere. It’s like anything else: You start at step one and you just go. You just get it done. That’s all you can do.
SD: Is this the worst disaster you’ve ever seen in Vermont?
CF: The ice storm back in  — that was pretty bad, because everything was loaded up, and [the ice] took everything down. We couldn’t keep anything going. You’d get a line going and another tree would fall and take it back down again. We spent 12 or 15 hours on one line in Richmond because we’d put it up, a tree would fall, and it would go out. That was crazy. This year, I think, is worse because it involves so many people. So many homes are destroyed.
SD: Were customers especially glad to see you?
CF: People are appreciative all the time when you come out. But when John Smith loses his power on a Saturday, it’s “Oh, jeez, thanks, guys.” But it was no big deal. It was a nice warm day. He had another beer and moved on. But here, everything they’re doing, they need power for — pumps, fans. People are very nice when you get there.
SD: Have any power customers given you presents — cookies, things like that?
CF: Absolutely. The old ladies will drive down the road: “Coffee? Anybody, coffee? Sandwich?” When you work like this you don’t go hungry. We may not always get enough sleep, but we do eat.
SD: Have you done anything in your free time besides sleep?
CF: No. I actually asked my wife, “Please record the news so I can watch it Saturday when I’m done or whenever I get home.” ’Cause I guess we made the national news.