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by Peg Kalar, Minnesota State Community and Technical College

     Sinkholes. Banana spiders. Alligators.

    Those are not typical hazards encountered by electrical line workers in Minnesota, but they are nothing out of the ordinary for hurricane recovery workers in Florida.

    M State graduate and Verndale native Ethan Kern answered the call for volunteers in September when he traveled to Florida with 13 fellow Minnesotans to help restore the power in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which had caused nearly $67 billion in damage to several Caribbean nations and the southeastern United States earlier in the month.

    Kern, a resident of New York Mills, graduated in 2010 from the Electrical Line Worker Technology program on M State’s Wadena campus and is a journeyman line worker for Lake Region Electrical Cooperative.

    He’d told Lake Region that he’d be willing to travel to Florida if volunteers were needed, “and a day or two later we were on the road.” Of the group of 14 who went to Florida, four work for Lake Region and 10 work for other Minnesota electric cooperatives.

    “The trip was a real eye opener,” said Kern, recalling the initial safety meeting with the Florida cooperative that they’d be assisting. “We got to learn all about the hazards of working in their service territory like sinkholes, gopher turtle holes, some plants, banana spiders, alligators and venomous snakes like water moccasins, coral snakes, copperheads and rattlesnakes.

    “So being from the central part of Minnesota … we were all pretty scared the first time we had to walk through the tall grass. But by the end of the week the scariness wore off.”

    Kern and his fellow line workers spent about a week in Live Oak in northwestern Florida. Most of the devastation they saw was from trees uprooted by winds that topped 100 miles an hour, downing power lines and damaging cars and buildings.

    “The best part of the whole trip was turning the power back on, and the people thanking us along with the little children screaming when the lights and air conditioning turned on,” Kern said. “I would definitely do it again.”

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