- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

DUBLIN, Va. (AP) - There aren’t many snow days in the life of an Appalachian Power Co. line mechanic, and as of Thursday, the same could be said about those training for the job.

Thursday the company celebrated the ribbon-cutting for its 11,000-square-foot training facility in the Pulaski Service Center, which features a 5,000-square-foot indoor pole yard filled with 15 27-foot utility poles.

“Snow, ice, sleet, stuff like that, they don’t stop, they just come right in here and keep working,” Christiansburg District Distribution Manager Mike Wilson said.

Wilson was in charge of coordinating the move of the facility from its former location in Marmet, West Virginia, and said the 25-year-old building off Newbern Road in Dublin was ideal because of its underutilized space and central location within Appalachian Power’s territories, which also include much of West Virginia and parts of eastern Tennessee.

He said the facility, which also includes a 9-acre outdoor training yard, cost about $800,000 and took a little more than a year to complete.

Appalachian Power is one of seven operating companies within American Electric Power, which serve 11 states. AEP maintains seven line mechanic training facilities, but the Pulaski Training Center is only the second location with an indoor pole yard and will be the sole facility for Appalachian Power employees.

“This is it, everybody will come to Pulaski for training,” Appalachian Power President and Chief Operating Officer Charles Patton said.

A former president of AEP Texas, Patton said he felt the location trumped any he’d seen within the AEP family.

“I think it’s the best training facility in the system,” Patton said. “The ability when it’s inclement weather not to interrupt the training schedule is very valuable, and as you can see, in here you can do everything you can outside.”

That training schedule for each of Appalachian Power’s new line mechanics includes 17 weeks of course work spread out into two-week increments throughout a four- to five-year period, said the center’s training specialist Tracy Tuck.

Once complete, the mechanics also have the opportunity to obtain 45 credit hours through an agreement with West Virginia University.

Tuck said Appalachian Power had 53 new students this year and he expected the facility to serve about 100 students annually, as well as provide make-up classes for employees from other AEP operating companies when needed.

One of those new students was 2005 Pulaski County High School graduate Josh Gallimore, who has been working for the company since July and put his newly learned skills on display Thursday by scaling one of the indoor poles.

Having trained on both the facility’s outdoor and indoor poles, Gallimore said there were some major advantages to being indoors on some of his earliest climbs.

“I think it’s easier to learn inside, you don’t have the sun beating in your eyes and the extreme heat or cold. You don’t have the wind bother you and you’re able to hear better from your instructor on the ground,” Gallimore said.

Tuck said the indoor facility’s primary use would be to prevent inclement weather from delaying training, which was much needed in light of the company’s aging workforce of line mechanics.

“We’re going to be losing so many people in the next four or five years and it takes four or five to get these guys through the program, and that don’t make them a lineman - they still don’t have the experience behind them,” Tuck said.

Because the facility is operational year-round, that means a year-round influx of consumers to the area, much to the delight of Pulaski mayor and 35-year Appalachian Power electrical technician Jeff Worrell.

“There’s a school going on every week, so you have any number of students from out of town, and of course they’re staying here, staying in motels, eating in restaurants . I think it’s great,” he said.

Prior to the ribbon-cutting, Patton addressed the gathering of about 75 people. He said he hopes bringing employees to the new facility would help keep the area’s businesses occupied, but most of all he hopes it will better prepare workers for what can be very dangerous tasks.

“I think sometimes folks take it for granted how difficult and how complicated and how risky this business is,” Patton said.

“Training is incredibly important.”

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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