Monday, August 15, 2005


Kirk Kamanu, right, is a Hawaiian Electric Co. lineman whose job takes him to different locations almost every day. On Wednesday, he and the crew he works with were putting up a new electrical line to a home in Manoa. Working with him was Lance Tam Ho.

Putting his life
on the line

Kirk Kamanu has a high-energy job
making sure power on Oahu
flows smoothly

KIRK Kamanu

Title: Lineman

Job: Installs and repairs power lines on Oahu for Hawaiian Electric Co.

Kirk Kamanu couldn't be happier about his job. It's both physically and mentally demanding, and he gets to work at different outdoor locations around Oahu almost every day. He's a lineman for Hawaiian Electric Co., the Oahu utility that supplies power to all of Honolulu county. He joined the company about 14 years ago, after working as a highway laborer for the state Department of Transportation. A graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Kamanu, 35, is single but "seeing a beautiful young lady." He lives in Waimanalo.

Question: Do you like that song "Wichita Lineman" by Glen Campbell? Is that kind of like your theme song?

Answer: (Laughter) No, it's not my theme song, but I'll hum along in karaoke bars and such.

Q: How did you become a lineman?

A: Well, I entered the company at entry-level position, and one of the policies here is to hire from within first, so when an opening came up, I applied to be a lineman apprentice, was accepted into the program and it went from there.

Q: What was your first job there?

A: I was a helper. I just helped the various trades and crafts positions in the power plants.

Q: Where would that be?

A: There's three power plants around the island. There's one in Waiau, right on Pearl Harbor; there's one at Kahe Point; and there's one right downtown in Honolulu, near Aloha Tower.

Q: How many linemen are there at HECO?

A: I would say close to a hundred, but there's also maybe about 40 other guys in various stages of apprenticeship, to keep up with retirements and promotions.

Q: Do you guys work in teams?

A: We work in crews, yes.

Q: How many on each crew?

A: There's various combinations, but roughly four members in a crew -- three linemen and a crew leader.

Q: Are you like a doctor who always has to be ready to go out on emergencies?

A: We have regular 40-hour schedules, but on top of it, we're required to be available 24 hours a day for call-ups.

Q: How often does that happen?

A: I would say maybe one to two times a month, because there's enough of us to share the load.

Q: What's a typical emergency?

A: An accident pole, where someone knocks a pole down in a vehicle accident. That happens a lot. Or a tree on a line. Or high winds knocking the lines down, causing the poles to fall over.

Hawaiian Electric linemen handle high-voltage cables on a regular basis, but training and proper equipment, plus a healthy respect for danger, keep accidents to a minimum. Above, lineman Kirk Kamanu on Wednesday worked on a line in Manoa.

Q: Is there any part of the island that's more prone to these kinds of things than others?

A: Wherever there are trees, the valleys -- like Manoa, Tantalus. That happens at least six times a year we're up there (on Tantalus) taking trees off the line.

Q: How dangerous is it, really, to be working around downed power lines?

A: It's dangerous. Every day we actually touch 12,000 volts. Of course we're protected, but we're up there and it's energized. So it's a challenge. It's high voltage. It'll kill you. But we're protected. And I gotta say that the industry has come a long way in terms of equipment.

Q: How often do people get zapped?

A: The last one we had was a few years ago, and before that was many, many years ago. It doesn't happen very often. We're on a pretty strict safety program. And it becomes a respect that you have for the work.

Q: Are you and your colleagues all trained in first aid, in case any of you get injured?

A: Yes, we're all first aid- and CPR-trained. And we have defibrillators. We have annual certification. That's where I was talking about the industry coming a long way. We have all this equipment right on the trucks. You don't have to wait for EMS. I mean, because that's what happens. You get electrocuted, your heart stops. But now we have a little time to work on that person.

Q: Are you ever involved in installing power poles up on the ridges?

A: Oh yeah, all the time. That's part of our daily work. Every phase of the power being delivered to your doorstep, we're involved on a daily basis. From the overhead cable, the underground cable, on the ridgelines, down in the city, right to the eve of your house, that's our responsibility. So we're doing different things every day. That's probably one of the best things about my job. One day you find yourself on the top of the mountain. Next day you're down in Waikiki. Today I was in Manoa. It's almost a different thing every day.

Q: How do you deal with the fear of heights?

A: Yeah, everybody has a fear of heights. It's not natural to be up that high. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you get.

Q: Do you ever go up on the helicopters?

A: Yeah, we go quite often. Whenever there are jobs up in the inaccessible areas, we go up in choppers. That's pretty exciting. That's one of the highlights. They're also useful for inspection purposes. They're a good tool. That's what I mean about new technology being a part of the industry. Before it would have taken us days to fix something up there. Now we can do it in a matter of hours.

Q: I would guess most people think of linemen as working on power lines above ground, but what about lines that are buried?

A: We dig it up. We have a machine that locates problems and once we identify where it's at, then we come in and dig it up, make the repairs and bury it back up again.

Q: What would you be doing if you weren't a lineman?

A: I don't know. I don't know if there is anything out there. It's the right combination of being outside and using your mind. It's physical work. I like physical work. But at the same time it challenges your mind. You have to be pretty sharp to deal with the different situations.

And could I add something?

Q: Sure.

A: I just wanted to say I owe a lot to some of the guys who came before me and shared their knowledge. You learn a lot through the books and classes, but a lot of it just passed down through experience, from the guys who've seen a lot in the field.

Also, probably the best thing about my job is the people I work with. You're putting your life in their hands every day, working with the high voltage, so you need the relationships to make this work. A lot of us have become friends. And we've become a pretty tight-knit group.

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