Electricians Light the Way
District electricians perform a tough job to keep the freeways operating
[Click on photos to read captions.]
There are a lot of tough jobs and hard working people in District 7. Imagine a job where speeding cars, hazardous materials, dangerous gases, criminal activity, rats, rotting trash, and human waste are part of your daily work. This is what Special Crews electricians experience while working to keep District 7’s freeways and highways operating.
Caltrans electricians maintain lights along the freeways and tunnels, pump houses that clear storm water from the freeways, highway signals, and other necessary items that are integral to freeways.
An electrician receives a call to check on a light that is out along the freeway. He removes the lid of pull box to find a family rats living inside. “Pull boxes become home to rats. The conduits become passage ways where the rats leave their droppings,” said Electrical Superintendent Jay Rodriguez. “Rat droppings can expose us to the hantavirus.” Hantavirus can be potentially deadly to humans.
Obviously, where there are rodents, their predators are not far away. “One time we blew pressurized air into a conduit to clear it and out blew a six-foot long King Snake. We were surprised to say the least,” said Rodriguez.
“We have come across snakes near the Imperial Highway, by I-405 near Skirball, and Calabasas off US 101. But most of them were harmless,” said Calvin Dubuclet, an electrical supervisor in Westwood.
Electricians along with other maintenance workers also have to contend with the human factor. “A lot of times the homeless defecate near the electrical boxes, there are needles and trash to contend with,” said Dubuclet.
Then there is criminal activity. Some of the lights along freeways in Los Angeles are out because of rampant wire theft.
The thieves steal the copper wire so they can cash it in. In turn this puts Caltrans maintenance workers in danger when they repair lights.
Thieves have stolen more than just wire. “People have stolen the metal grates that cover storage vaults on pump houses along the freeways so they can get money by recycling them,” said Leon Cadiz, an electrician supervisor. “The vaults are 40 feet deep, so it is easy for someone fall down and really hurt themselves.”
Pump houses clear water from the storm drains and prevent the freeway from becoming flooded during heavy rains. In some cases homeless have turned the pump houses into shelter. “I always encourage my staff to go in pairs when doing work at night in pump houses. There is always a chance someone may try to harm them,” said Cadiz.
Even changing lights or working on circuit breaks can be very difficult. Tasks that might appear to be so simple can be quite dangerous.
“Coordination is key when working high voltage circuits,” said Dubuclet. “Caltrans shares circuits with public utility agencies like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, so it is important to clear (or shut off) the circuits before working.”
Beyond the dangers, these electricians have stayed the course to ensure the pump houses, tunnel lighting, signal lights, and freeway lighting are maintained. Without their courage, we would we really be in the dark.
“It is rewarding to know that the work we do can help the public get to where they need to go,” said Dubuclet when asked about the positives of his job. “It is rewarding to put one’s skills to use to help keep motorists safe.”