ST. LOUIS — As we’ve seen today and tonight, the severe weather season is upon us in the St. Louis region. Fox 2 News got an exclusive, inside look at the never-ending task of making sure someone answers the call to turn our power back “on” when disaster hits.

If you think the people from Ameren just show up and go to work, think again.  They train a lot. Mastering the basics is what determines the ups and downs of a dangerous job. 

“Over here we have ‘first-stagers’ who really just a couple of days ago were learning to climb,” said Jon Shockley, Director of Energy Delivery Training for Ameren Missouri.

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He pointed out each stage of training for dozens of workers who’ve just entered Ameren Missouri’s apprenticeship program. 

For the first six to eight weeks of their careers, Ameren Missouri’s training center in Maryland Heights is “the classroom” for every Ameren power restoration worker in the state. 

Every year, 30 to 60 people enter the program to keep the team of about 450 linemen state-wide fully staffed, Shockley said. The ‘stage one’ group was climbing wooden poles with strap-on ankle spikes, tearing out and replacing damaged power lines. 

The men and women now entering the program are either new Ameren Missouri hires or ‘transfers’ from elsewhere in the company, all of them driven by good and, above all, a desire to truly make a difference during a crisis.

‘Second stage’ training includes rescuing an injured co-worker from a pole.  For training purposes, a ‘dummy’ is suspended near the top of a pole in place of an actual person.   

It is a timed drill.  A rescuer on the ground starts out wearing no gear, then gears up and climbs to get the stranded co-worker quickly but safely.

“We call it the ‘hurt’ man rescue,” Shockley said.  “24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 at Ameren Missouri, we’re preparing for the worst-case scenario.”

Once the injured worker is secure, those on the ground lower him or her from the pole. ‘Stage 3’ centers on substation work.  The trainees must learn every task. They never know ‘how’ or ‘when’ trouble will arise.  

“They’ll take the equipment off the old pole. They’ll pull the pole.  They’ll replace the pole as well,” said Dusty Riley, Ameren Missouri’s Director of the Mackenzie Operating Center and Contractor Management. 

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“Then they’ll transfer all of that stuff back over onto the new pole.  A lineman’s going to go from start to finish when it comes to replacing a pole. On average, we replace about 10,000 poles annually.”

We track and regularly inspect each pole—more than 800,000 state-wide. Just last year, Ameren Missouri spent about $38 million on pole replacement and is now mixing in adjustable-height composite poles with the traditional wooden ones.

“Whenever we do have a wooden pole break, if we have a composite pole for  every 3–5 wooden poles, that will stop that cascading effect and therefore hopefully shorten our outages,” Riley said.