Linemen are called out in the middle of the night to restore power in the worst storm situations. Through hours of grueling work, they work as a team to remove downed lines and erect new poles for their local communities. When lights once again illuminate the houses, linemen often feel a deep sense of pride and accomplishment.
The problem is that most Americans do not have any idea how much work it takes to keep the lights on. As such, linemen often are taken for granted and do not receive the credit they deserve. The new documentary “Storm Soldiers” aims to educate the nation about the vital role linemen play in building, maintaining and upgrading electric infrastructure.
“When you think ‘first responders,’ you think police and firemen, and after 9-11, those guys deserve a lot of credit,” says Jim Stone, producer of “Storm Soldiers.” “What people don’t understand, however, is that these guys go in before the firemen and policemen. When there’s a disaster and the power lines are down, firemen can’t even go in to rescue anybody with live wires. These guys have to go in the most dangerous of situations and lay their life on the line every day.”
Hubbell Power Systems Inc. partnered with Tytan Creates to film a documentary on the safe work practices of linemen and spent two years researching the trade. They unveiled the film during two special screenings on Oct. 18 at the 2013 International Lineman’s Expo at the Overland Park Convention Center in Overland Park, Kansas.
Filming the Documentary
While the project wound up as a full-length movie, it began as a safety training video for Hubbell Power Systems. Director Brad Kremer says a light bulb went off when he and Stone were working on a video about some of Hubbell’s linemen-grade tools in Centralia, Missouri.
“We met a few linemen and talked about the industry and the brotherhood,” Kremer says. “We then realized there was a huge story there that hadn’t been told about a group of people who are really heroes.”
After talking with linemen at the 2011 rodeo, Hubbell Power Systems Brand Manager Crystal Mistretta and Tytan Creates realized there was a much bigger story to tell. Hubbell then commissioned the film and worked closely with Tytan Creates on the film from the conception to completion.
After interviewing about 50 different linemen at the International Lineman’s Rodeo two years ago, Kremer and Stone traveled to North Carolina, Kansas, Montana, Arizona, Texas, Georgia and South Carolina to film scenes for the movie.
While in Montana, Tytan Creates and Hubbell Power System filmed the line crew at NorthWestern Energy. Stone says it was an honor to meet the 500-kV line crew and their families in Montana. During the filming process, the linemen took the production team under their wing and taught them the ropes, he says. For example, Mike Glueckert, a member of the National Lineman Hall of Fame, served as a lineman consultant for the documentary. In this role, Glueckert helped to arrange different shots, find different film sites and network with linemen from around the country. He also lent the name of his unpublished book, Storm Soldiers, to the documentary.
When they first started the project, Glueckert says they didn’t know how long it was going to be or what direction it was going to go in. He says it could have taken anywhere from 3 hours to 30 hours to show the public, who know very little about linemen, what it takes to keep the lights on.
The last movie about linemen was released back in 1941, and it was titled “Manpower.” Now, Glueckert says the world now has the movie, “Storm Soldiers.” Glueckert says enjoyed playing a small role in the film.
“I am deeply proud to be a lineman for Northwestern Energy and to be affiliated with all of the great people in the film and all the folks in this industry,” he says. “I hope we got it right and that we were able to represent our fellow brothers and sisters in the trade.”
To promote the film at the expo, Hubbell Power Systems featured pictures of Glueckert and fellow Journeyman Lineman Dustin Maier on posters scattered throughout the Overland Park Convention Center. Maier says he was very pleased with how the movie and the poster turned out.
“It was a great experience for me as well as all the guys who were involved in it,” says Maier, who assisted with filming and photography for the film. “It’s great for the trade and the industry for the world to see what we do.”
Shedding Light on Challenges
The documentary not only depicts linemen restoring power following storms, but it also is packed with statistics and information about the state of the nation’s electric infrastructure and the dire need for investment.
Hubbell Power Systems and Tytan Creates reached out to John Driscoll, a retired military officer at the Pentagon, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Speaker of the House in Montana, a member of board of the advisors for the Electric Power Research Institute and a regulator with utilities.
Driscoll, who traveled from Helena, Montana, to Overland Park with his wife for the movie screening, says he was impressed by the quality of the cinematography and was glad to be able to supply information for the film. After seeing it for the first time along with hundreds of linemen, Driscoll says it carried an important message.
“It was able to convey the things you can’t convey with words about the importance of electricity and linemen,” Driscoll says. “I hope people who are not part of this industry get a chance to see it. It gets to the ‘behind-the-socket’ problem. Most people think computers will solve all of our problems, but they run on electricity. Behind the socket is the system that relies on these men and women to do line work.”
Stone says that Driscoll was able to tell his story about the degradation of the power system as well as the role that linemen play in upgrading the infrastructure.
“We have a crisis right now that needs to be addressed,” Stone says. “That’s what this movie is all about. It’s about bringing awareness to the fact that these guys are heroes, but also to the fact that we need to do something about our distribution. We have problems with our infrastructure, and people need to make an investment. Linemen are such an integral part of it, and without them, it all comes to a halt.”
While the film focuses on the need for infrastructure upgrades, it also discusses how the trade has changed in terms of safety rules and regulations for linemen. Kremer says he learned a lot about the history of line work, from the crews to the early tools. He says many of the linemen featured in the film collected historic tools, and their homes were like museums.
Many of these old tools were shown in the film, along with historic pictures of linemen and interviews with retired linemen about what early line work was like. Kremer says long ago, there was a 50% mortality rate in line work, and it’s now down to seven-tenths of 1%.
“It’s incredible the steps they take to try to keep the guys safe in the field, but it’s still one of the most dangerous professions in the world,” Kremer says. “Utility companies, contractors, and companies like Hubbell are trying to do everything they can, but there is still more that needs to be done.”
After wrapping up production on the film, Hubbell and Tytan Creates invited linemen and their families to attend screenings at Mother Lode Theater in Butte, Montana, in May, and at the expo in October. To date, Hubbell Power Systems has shown the film at more than 40 industry screenings across the country. For those linemen who weren’t able to attend a debut screening, they can purchase copies of the DVD/Blu-Ray or T-shirts, hats and posters on the “Storm Soldiers” website.
Both Hubbell and Tytan put a lot of their own time and money into the film. Throughout the film production, Tytan’s team, including Photographer Roxy Stone, Creative Director Scott Jacobs and Senior Editor Josh Jasso, worked closely with Mistretta on film editing, branding and promotion. The two companies collaborated to arrange industry screenings, pitch the film to networks and produce the DVD to raise awareness for linemen and their work through mass distribution. The profits of the DVD will be donated to different linemen’s charities like the National Sisterhood for Journeymen Linemen and the International Lineman’s Hall of Fame.
Stone and Kremer say for them, the project was not to generate profit, but rather was a true labor of love. And Kremer says he enjoyed being able to introduce the film to the groups of linemen at the expo and is pleased with the response to the film.
“It’s been amazing,” he says. “Everyone we have shown it to so far wants to come out and shake our hand. Big macho guys are halfway in tears, which almost makes us cry. We couldn’t have hoped for anything better. It’s been well received, and everyone seems to love it.”
For example, Brandon Underdown, an apprentice lineman at Sturgeon Electric, attended the second screening with his newborn daughter, Bashlyn, and wife, Astra. He says the film documented the trade and the deep part of glory that goes with it.
“I love this trade,” he says. “It sure is fun going out on storms, closing in on the switch and lighting up houses. It is a great and unique feeling.”
The movie also hit home for his wife, who says she cried through the entire movie, and her heart swelled with pride.
“I can’t wait for the public to see it because it can help bring light to what our linemen do out in the field every single day,” she says.
Editor’s note: To purchase the “Storm Soldiers” Blu-Ray and other merchandise, visitwww.stormsoldiersmovie.com. A trailer of the movie is available athttp://vimeo.com/50999798. Visit the Electric Utility Operations landing page atwww.tdworld.com/electric-utility-operations to see a photo gallery from the screening at the expo or to watch video clips on T&D TV.