Make us your home page
Instagram

Strawberry Festival Grounds hosting utility trucks, workers from around the nation

Utility trucks from as far as Michigan, Wisconsin and Canada have gathered at the Florida Strawberry Festival Grounds in Plant City. TECO is using the facility as a staging area. Photo by Breanne Williams

Utility trucks from as far as Michigan, Wisconsin and Canada have gathered at the Florida Strawberry Festival Grounds in Plant City. TECO is using the facility as a staging area. Photo by Breanne Williams

Best known for midway rides and music acts, the Florida Strawberry Festival Grounds are now playing host to more than 3,000 utility trucks from around the nation.

TECO is using the grounds as a staging area as it looks to restore power to hundreds of thousands in Hillsborough and Polk County. John Currier, the logistics coordinator for the storm, said as of Tuesday, 45 percent of TECO customers were without power. Statewide, estimates on Wednesday morning said 3.9 million homes and businesses remained without power, more than 37 percent of the 10.5 million electric accounts in Florida.

That's down about 2.8 million, though, from the peak outage reported by the state of more than 6.7 million accounts out as of 4:40 p.m. Monday -- 64.2 percent of the state.

Before Irma even made landfall crews from across the country including Michigan, Wisconsin and even Canada were headed south to aid in the recovery.

"We've been very proactive from day one," Currier said. "Florida can do a storm. We practice this all the time. We do mock drills and coordinate with our other utilities. I don't think we're missing a beat."

As teams arrive, they sign in, receive a briefing, a meal and, in some cases, given time to rest. Their trucks are refueled and then they are sent out to their assigned bases.

Currier said they are authorized to create 12 centers, though the most they've ever had to open were two centers in 2004 for Hurricane Charley. Thanks to Irma, six centers are being utilized by TECO to repair the immense damage.

The Florida Strawberry Festival Board was notified days ago their building, which was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, would be needed, according to Sandee Sytsma, the chair of the board.

"We've always been used, but it's never been to this degree," Sytsma said. "Initially we thought there would be 1,800 trucks on site but now it's nearly doubled."

Sytsma, who previously worked for TECO for 20 years, said she is proud to see such a massive response from organizations all across the country and happy the Strawberry Festival could help. She said when they built Grimes Hall, where the responders are gathering at the festival grounds, they were debating whether to make it Category 5 resistant. Now she is relieved they went the extra mile.

Responders will work 16 hour shifts, day and night, until power is restored throughout the area. Currier said while the plan is extremely efficient, no recovery operation of this size has been done in Florida since Hurricane Donna in 1960. The obstacles are many and yet the determination is high.

"There's not enough gas in our state and we're really in need of hotel rooms, but our guys are ready to go to work," Currier said. "They want to get out there, they want to go. It's a culture for us, that desire to keep people with power. It's in our blood."

Jeff Piechocki, an employee of Michels Power, drove all night from Michigan to aid in recovery. He said the traffic in Florida, specifically at the turnoff at Orlando, was "horrid" and added hours to their journey. He said the trucks were running "on fumes" by the time they arrived in Plant City.

Luckily, diesel trucks are bringing fuel to the center to send crews out as quickly as possible. Currier said the goal is to restore power to nearly every client by the end of the week.

Residents need to be patient, Sytsma said, and trust the power company will do its job.

"We thought we were going to be homeless a few days ago and now we're just electricity-less," Sytsma said. "We need to get in perspective. If people weren't trying so hard you would have a reason to complain, but they're doing everything in their power. It's an inconvenience, it's no longer a disaster. Don't worry, the calvary is here."

Contact Breanne Williams at bwilliams@plantcityobserver.com.

Strawberry Festival Grounds hosting utility trucks, workers from around the nation 09/13/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 13, 2017 11:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What ever happened to the Zika epidemic?

    Health

    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for transmitting Zika, sit in a petri dish at the Fiocruz Institute in Recife, Brazil. Cases of the virus are down dramatically this year in Florida, the result of awareness efforts, experts say. But the public, they add, should not let its guard down. [Associated Press]
  2. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. Is the Bundt cake back? How retro baked goods are becoming trendy again

    Cooking

    Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your …

    Nothing Bundt Cakes in Tampa offers a variety of options, from tiny “bundtinis” and 10-inch cakes that serve 18 to 20 people. Core flavors include lemon, marble, red velvet and chocolate-chocolate chip, with featured flavors like confetti.
  4. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.
[SCOTT KEELER  |  TIMES]