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Inside DTE's storm school: What it takes to become a DTE power line worker

Posted at 5:53 AM, May 20, 2024

Have you ever wondered what it takes for DTE to train workers who conduct the most dangerous jobs, often in the eye of a storm, to bring you power. I got a first-hand look at what it takes to keep the lights on.

Michiganders have come to expect severe weather at this time of the year, and it often results in downed trees, flooding, destruction and power outages.

DTE is tasked with restoring power when it comes out, but while some are happy with how quickly they restore it, others say they're not doing enough.

"We’ve got classrooms in the building up front. So, they’re doing more technical training, more classroom-style training. But then, it’s how do you apply that to the field. And, that’s when they come out here and do a lot of their training," Brian Calka, the DTE vice president of distribution operations, said.

DTE hires 40-50 brand new linemen annually from a pool of nearly 2,000 applicants.

The trainees must complete an extensive four-year apprenticeship to become fully-trained and fully-certified journeyman linemen.

While that sounds like a long time, they say it's an industry standard for this type of work.

I decided to get a closer look into their training, and I didn't realize how much equipment it took for them to be prepared and stay safe.

Once I was fully-clothed and secured, up I went to watch a downed power line simulation.

"How long would a process like this take to do in real time?" I asked.

"It’s hard to put a timeline on this because it varies per job. I couldn’t tell you that this takes an hour to do because it all varies the accessibility of it," the worker told us.

He also stressed that along with taking the necessary precautions, other factors like fences, storm debris and other objects can make a job much more difficult, which could slow the restoration time.

The trainees simulate over and over and over. Once the apprentices complete storm school, they'll be ready to take on some of the most challenge restoration issues.

"Our lineman are trained to perform work in both the de-energized state but also to perform work when it’s energized. And, when it’s energized and when they’re handling it, it’s a different type of protective equipment that they have to wear: gloves and sleeves and different types of equipment there. But, it’s important that they understand how to do both," Calka said.

For those who say DTE needs to invest more into growing energy demands, DTE said they hear you and they are working day and night to improve infrastructure, including toward a cleaner energy and response times.