The heartbeat of power restoration
Abel Hernandez is the kind of guy who doesn’t back down from a challenge.
“I had no idea how tough it would be but I never like anything easy,” he said.
Hernandez, husband to Melissa and father of 2-year-old Jacob, is one of Florida Power & Light Company’s 3,000 lineworkers who do what is arguably one of the toughest jobs. These men and women work hands-on with high-voltage electricity lines, scale poles up to 55 feet or more in the air and endure long, sometimes grueling hours to get the lights back on.
They are the heartbeat of power restoration.
For Hernandez, his journey at FPL began nearly 13 years ago when he started as a meter reader. Two years into it, the lineworker profession caught his attention.
“It intrigued me,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated by electricity.”
Hernandez then decided to pursue his passion and took part in a three-week course on climbing. It was intense, to say the least, especially for someone who had always been nervous of heights.
“It was mind over matter,” he said. “In the program, all you’re doing is climbing poles up and down, over and under, which is to get you comfortable climbing on hooks. In my class, there were 28 people and only six of us passed.”
After that, it was onto FPL’s Apprentice Line Specialist Program where he learned the ins and outs of the trade from construction, maintenance and restoration of overhead and underground lines to trouble shooting and repairing equipment.
“I wanted to better myself, and I knew with this career as a lineman, there were so many opportunities,” he said.
Since Hernandez began his career, he has been involved in some of FPL’s largest power restoration efforts in Florida and throughout the country, including hurricanes Sandy, Irma and, most recently, Maria. He spent eight weeks in Puerto Rico in early 2018 helping to restore power for thousands who had been without it for more than seven months since the storm hit the island.
“The people were so understanding and grateful of what we were doing over there,” he said. “When they saw us, they would hug us, cry and tell us, ‘We’ve been praying every day and night and you guys are the answers to our prayers’.”
Since assignments are often challenging in the field, Hernandez said being able to rely on his colleagues is crucial. In fact, he said it’s a unique dynamic that has brought forth many life-long friendships with his fellow lineworkers. They share photos and stories of their families and discuss the successes and difficulties of the profession. At the end of the day, he said he knows they’re always looking out for each other.
“My job is very dangerous so you have to have each other’s backs and in doing so, you create a bond with that person,” he said. “I want to make sure he goes back to his family.”
For Hernandez, it’s those friendships, the adrenaline and the awesome responsibility that keep him coming back each and every day.
“You bring power to the people,” he said. “You light up the city, and that’s amazing.”
Hernandez kisses Maria Santiago on the forehead not long after FPL crews restored power to her home in Puerto Rico.
Hernandez works to repair one of the thousands of power poles and lines damaged in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria.