JEA lineman headed to Puerto Rico: ‘They need help'

by: Jenna Bourne, Action News Jax Updated:

Dozens of JEA employees are preparing say goodbye to their families for a month.

Forty-one workers volunteered to fly to Puerto Rico this weekend to help rebuild the island’s electric infrastructure.

They will be the first of up to three waves of employees that JEA will send there over the next three months.

“They’re just in dire need right now. They need somebody over there,” JEA lineman Robert Hess said. “And I feel like we got a good group of guys that are well-trained that can go over there and safely help restore the power.”

A Crowley Maritime barge carrying JEA trucks left from its Talleyrand port on Wednesday afternoon.

In the meantime, Hess and his fellow linemen are getting prepared.

“I went to the doctor and pre-planned for it and went and got shots -- just to kind of prepare myself so that when we do get over there and there’s stagnant water or something -- that we’re prepared not to get sick,” Hess said.

Hess said he’s expecting a completely different set of challenges from Hurricane Irma. They won’t just be fixing the electric infrastructure; they’ll be completely reconstructing it.

“I mean, we’re going over to encounter situations that we’ve probably never seen. We’re going to work hills, terrain that we’ve never been across,” Hess said.

The JEA workers in Puerto Rico will have a few satellite phones with them so they can communicate with their families.

“Other than my kids, my wife understands. You know, I would like to be able to communicate back with my kids. So satellite phones, we’ll get a few minutes. And hopefully we’ll come back safe in 30 days,” Hess said. “We kind of got to look out for each other. Thirty days is a long time to be away, minimal communication to your family.”

JEA spokesperson Gerri Boyce said Whitefish Electric, the company in charge of Puerto Rico’s electric rebuild, is handling the logistics. That means making sure JEA workers are housed and fed, and JEA trucks are fueled up.

Boyce said JEA will be reimbursed by FEMA for the workers’ pay while they’re in Puerto Rico.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said FEMA still owes the city $27 million for Hurricane Matthew.

“We have worked out a contract and feel certain that JEA will be reimbursed,” Boyce said.

Boyce said it’s in JEA’s contract that its workers will come back home if a hurricane approaches Northeast Florida.

Next Up: