When he first started working for PSE&G Carl Pellegrino was one of the workers who spent his time working underground for the utility. Now he and fellow Howell resident Ryan Hill spend their time with a much different vantage point: servicing the power lines from a helicopter.
Hill and Pellegrino both started working on the ground but eventually turned their eyes to the sky. Getting there, Hill said, was not easy. "There's a lot of training that's involved with it," he said.
Going from climbing the structures to flying over them took some getting used to, but now that he is in the air Hill said there is no looking back. "I get more of a thrill out of doing it out of a helicopter," he said. "It brings you right to the top of the structure and brings you right to the working position."
Flying high over the state Pellegrino said the helicopter is used for inspection, maintenance and security for the lines. "It's a completely different perspective, the way you look at the circuits and the grid and the territory," he said.
That territory includes more than 5000 towers and structures across the state that their crew is responsible for servicing and monitoring. The team includes three linemen and one pilot. Hill said for bigger jobs that can mean one person on the platform, the pilot and another worker onboard serving as an extra set of eyes.
Sitting in such a delicate position Hill said communication is key so everyone is safe while flying above the wires. Once they take off from the Flying W Airport in Medford Hill said they can only be in the air for an hour and a half which is usually plenty of time for them to take care of the job. "You want to get in there and get the heck out of there," he said.
One of the main concerns for the crew is the wind and the impact it will have on their job. "The weather is the first thing the pilot will be looking at," he said. A windy day can make their work more hazardous. "If the pilot's not feeling it for whatever reason any source of doubt you won't do it."
Pellegrino said that the goal is to fly in ideal situations but sometimes that is not possible. "Some days it's an emergency situation," he said. "Sometimes you have to bite the bullet."
Whether they are flying above the wires or back on the ground both agreed they are in a unique career which very few people will ever take part in. "I try to explain it to my friends," Hill said. "They think I'm crazy and nuts and they're not sure if they would want to do it or not."
He called it "a select mind to be doing this kind of stuff." Pellegrino said the fact that JCP&L has this service makes them unique among other power companies. "There's only one or two other utilities in the country that have their own in house not only live line department but also to have a live line department with the use of a helicopter." Most companies, he said, turn to private contractors to do the work their department does on a daily basis.
Whether he is working from the top of the truck or outside of a helicopter Hill said it is doing a job he enjoys just from very different vantage points. "It's the same kind of work work no matter what you're doing it out of," he said. "I like getting up and doing the work."