PLH Group company TTR Substations offered their emergency services to aid in power restoration efforts and cleanup following devastating Sonoma County wildfires in October 2017.
In the early morning of October 20th, a TTR Substations Inc. Field Engineer was on a routine substation project thirty miles north of Santa Rosa, California, when he received an unexpected call.
It was a colleague from Cupertino Electric Inc., recruiting teams to assist PG&E with restoring power to Sonoma county areas recently affected by wild fires. When he asked for TTR’s emergency rapid response team for aid with fire cleanup and restoration, the Field Engineer knew the procedures. “I began assembling crews and equipment and mobilizing any avaliable assets to the PG&E base camp staged in Santa Rosa,” he says. Here, they were assigned a PG&E inspector then given their addresses for clean up efforts.
The mood was lighthearted as crewmembers chatted on the drive up the hillside toward their assigned post-fire work sites, but that was about to instantly change. As their trucks passed through the National Guard road closure checkpoint, the severity of the destruction suddenly became apparent as everyone fell silent.
“Nothing could have prepared me for what we saw right in front of us,” the Field Engineer recalls. “It looked like a war zone. I don’t think we said a word the last twenty minutes driving to our first location.”
Indeed, a heaviness fell over the TTR crew as they saw firsthand the burned-out, grey wasteland that lay before them. The only remaining remnants of what were once homes, was an occasional standing brick chimney somehow spared by the enormous flames and fierce winds that had passed through only days before.
“Nothing could have prepared me for what we saw right in front of us, it looked like a war zone.”
— Project Coordinator/Field Engineer
However taken aback they were by the devastating landscape, TTR Emergency Response Service crews knew they were there for one important reason – to help those who had just lost everything.
Undaunted, they immediatley began working to clear roads, cut up poles, strip glass and hardware from cross arms and roll up wire. Vast amounts of debris left by the superfire were loaded by backhoe into waiting dumptrucks. It was during this period that some of the area’s residents were allowed back into their neighborhoods to inspect the damage.
“The looks on their faces are some that will be burned in our minds forever” the Field Engineer says while remembering the emotions. Most of the residents returning to clean up and look for any salvagable items weren’t even aware of the loss of their houses.
“Almost all of these people were seeing their homes and properties for the first time since they were evacuated,” the Field Engineer said. “This was the first time that most even knew they didn’t have a home until they saw it that day.”
Through the ongoing cleanup, the Field Engineer and his crew remained respectful to those who had come back that day, trying to give them as much space as they needed, staying at a distance. However, it wasn’t long before returning residents began approaching TTR workers to thank them.
“I lost count of the people that came up to us to express their appreciation,” the Field Engineer said, then adds “although they had lost everything, people even still felt it necessary to go out of their way, often times following us down the street to our next location, to thank us.”
The Field Engineer and other restoration contractors witnessed a lot of tears from those residents throughout the three days spent working to clear away debris, but many of the crewmembers also saw “big smiles,” he says. “They thanked us for stopping what we were doing elsewhere, for leaving our families and coming to their aid in time of need.”
According to PG&E, this was the largest scale collaborative effort in its history of bringing crews together for disaster relief efforts and TTR is humbled to have been able to aid those communities in any way possible. In all, TTR worked for three days, Saturday Oct. 21, through Monday Oct. 23. After completing their initial cleanup and restoration, two TTR employees continued to remain onsite to assist with the smaller manpower request that was needed.
TTR Substations was commended by PG&E and Cupertino staff for its’ability to quickly organize crews, work effortlessly alongside other company contractors and doing whatever it took to get the job done.
“You guys hit it way out of the park.”
— PG&E Leadership to the TTR Substation Field Engineer
The Field Engineer calls this an “eye opening experience. He says “regardless of what company you represented on your shirt, regardless of what name was on the side of your truck, we all came together as one company with one goal in mind.” PG&E leadership was also grateful and expressed this to the Field Engineer telling him “you guys hit it way out of the park.”
Safety remained the number one priority for all TTR employees during the three days of cleanup and restoration, and throughout all of the hours spent at the post there were no accidents. “Even though it seemed like we were working in what I would consider to have been something close to a nightmare, it was done safely,” the Field Engineer says with a serious tone, then after a pause adds “the word ‘brotherhood’ will forever have taken on a whole new meaning after this event.”