11 Investigates restoring power after severe weather

PITTSBURGH — Spring and summer storms often turn severe and bring with them gusty winds and driving rain that can cause power outages. For students at WestPenn Power's training facility, those are the exact situations they're expecting to face once they graduate.

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"This isn't just a job. It's a career. When you come into this, you take a job knowing that you're going to be spending a lot of time from home. This is not a 7-3:30 job," said Paula Tauber, an instructor at the Jeannette training center.

Because the crews are working with between 50 and 500,000 volts of electricity, safety is always priority number one.

"It doesn't matter what time of day it is. You've got to be thinking safety, safety, safety all the time," said Todd Meyers, a spokesperson for WestPenn Power.

Safety includes specialized gear from head to toe, including hard hats, boots, and rubber sleeves and gloves.

"We work in an environment that's not very forgiving. There are very few second chances in what we do. And so our safety has to be first. And if it takes a little longer to get the power restored in order to safely do it, then that's definitely what we're going to do, to make sure all our employees go home safe every night," said Tauber.

But just because some crews have left for the night doesn't mean a job is being left unfinished.

"People wonder sometimes: Are they, do they leave for the evening? These guys are on 16 hours, eight hours off, 16 hours, eight hours off until the storm is done. Through the weekends, through the holiday - whatever. But they stagger the shifts so there's always somebody out there working. So they're working all the time to get the lights back on," said Meyers.

That often means leaving their own families in the dark.

"Back in the snowstorm in 2010, it was my son's birthday, and needless to say we were out of power and he didn't have a cake. Mom didn't make one. And the next day I was being called out," said Tauber.

Safety isn't just a priority for the crews working in the field. WestPenn representatives warn that anyone who sees a downed wire to stay away. Even 40-year veterans working at WestPenn can't tell by sight whether a line is electrified, so it's best to stay away.