Practice, practice and more practice that’s what it takes to climb a standard 40-foot power pole.
But, if you want to be a field service technician for BendBroadband, Timothy Reams, coordinator of Technical Operations Training, says, it’s a task you have to be able to do. Reams, along with a team of three instructors in Bend, trains and re-certifies about 55 people every year in the art of climbing a telephone pole.
“All new FSTs need to be gaff-certified,” said Tim. Gaffs are metal spikes attached to metal splints that strap to your lower leg. Gaffs are used to climb up and down the pole. While Tim said gaffs are used infrequently, FSTs need to know how to do this skill when installing or uninstalling overhead cable at homes.
Along with practice, climbing a pole involves having the right equipment, clothing and an adherence to safety.
“Safety comes first,” said Tim. “We teach them to use the equipment safely, because within seconds serious injury can occur.”
Tim said the 24-hour course, spreads across three days and starts with safety training, gear instruction and inspection of the gear. Then the group heads outside to begin climbing poles.
From the beginning, Tim’s job is to identify people who have a fear of heights and then work with them to help them overcome it. To gain the confidence of the climbers, the training crew starts climbing a few feet off the ground and then gradually works their way up the pole. “They need to build up their confidence that their equipment will work,” Tim said.
During the course, Tim said the FSTs go up-and-down the pole anywhere from 30 to 40 times. Matthew Stewart, broadband technician and now pole certified, said he was surprised how “really tired” he was at the end of the day.
“They climb a lot,” Tim said, adding that the weight of the climbing equipment is 25 pounds and when you add in the tools it’s close to 40 pounds the FSTs are taking up and down the poles. “By the end of the course, those guys are just exhausted.”
“We teach some very specific skills,” said Tim. He gave a shout-out to instructor Jonathan Mirror, broadband technician III, for doing a “tremendous job teaching them” these skills.
All the trainees agreed that learning to come down the pole is one of the trickier parts of pole climbing. Tim said you are “using different muscles going down than going up.” He also said obstruction training, working around obstacles while on the pole, is also difficult to teach and learn.
Tim credited Will Strachan, broadband technician, with being the “star pupil” from the current graduating class. “Will made it look easy going up to the top of the pole and back down,” said Tim.
When asked if there was an advantage to being tall? Tim said yes, because they can stretch and reach down the line and pole much easier.
All the recent grads said the pole climbing class was fun. The FSTs said they enjoy their job because of the day-to-day variety of being in the field.
Zach Raines, broadband technician, said “there’s a lot of job satisfaction with his job.” He said he enjoys solving customer problems and, most of the time, they are happy you are there to help.
Climbing pole tips
The proper equipment when climbing poles includes: a climbing belt, hardhat, thick gloves and gaffs which are metal spikes that fit to your instep attached to rigid metal splints that are strapped to your lower legs. The gaff itself is surprisingly short; about an inch and a half long. When FSTs climb a pole the gaff rarely actually sinks more than a half inch into the wood.
When climbing a pole, the key is to keep your body at a sufficient angle away from the pole so that your weight will drive the gaff into the wood and prevent it from coming loose, or “cutting out.” If you lean in too close and hug the pole, a natural instinct, you will cut out and fall, collecting a whole bunch of splinters on your face and arms on the way down.
Pole climbing is all about your leg strength. And lean back in the utility belt and every two steps shoot your hips forward a little to loosen the belt wrapped around the utility pole to scooch it up farther.