James Alexander is a line crew chief for Seattle City Light operating out of the South Service Center. He started in 1999 as part of the pre-apprenticeship lineworker program and in the last eighteen years he has risen through the ranks to his position in charge of an overhead line crew. We sat down with James to discuss his journey at City Light for Lineworker Appreciation Week.
Line Crew Chief James Alexander at the South Service Center
“We had a class of twelve when I started the Pre-Apprenticeship Lineworker program. I didn’t know too much about the job before then. My stepdad worked for Tacoma Power, and he asked me if I was afraid of heights. I told him I didn’t care for heights but I wasn’t afraid of heights. I figured I’d give it a shot,” said James.
“I took the test twice; the first time I made it to the interview round, but didn’t get a seat. The second time, I got into the program. There were almost two thousand applicants, so it was pretty competitive.”
“When you’re first hired, you have six months as a pre-apprentice. At the end of five months you take climbing school. Then you’re given another round of testing to enter the apprenticeship. One night a week during your apprenticeship, you have four hours of book time after you’ve worked your day. Even after you finish your apprenticeship, you learn every day on the job. You’re always learning different tools and techniques.”
“After seeing some of the senior guys retire, I decided to step up and take on a leadership role. I had good training from my former crew chiefs that I’d worked for, so I was prepared for it.”
“Depending on the crew size, I’m a working crew chief or on safety watch. Much of the work is safety; running the jobs and planning the jobs takes a lot of planning to make sure nobody gets hurt. There is a lot of responsibility involved. We work hard to make it home to our families safe every day, hopefully with all of our fingers and toes intact.”
“I’ve always been a hands-on person; I learned that from my grandfather. I like being outside and having a different problem every day. One day I might be working on a 20-30 foot pole, and the next I might be working on a 120 foot tower. I’m like to see what I’m working on. With overhead work, you can trace the lines and see what’s going on.”
“There are some sacrifices to being a lineworker. We get calls in the middle of the night. I’ve missed a lot of soccer games and dinners and full eight hours of sleep. It was a little grueling, but it pays off in the end.”
“It’s all about keeping the lights on for everybody else. We have a lot of pride in our work when we are out there. Even if we are cold and wet, we know we are working to keep people warm.”