Con Edison …Your Next Door Neighbor

John Pancotto and Thomas VarianWhenever there is a power shortage as a result of a storm, some as big as last year’s “Sandy,” two things can be counted on.  First, a large number of stories about outstanding events that occurred during the storm begin to appear in the news, and second, immediate criticisms of our public service organizations simultaneously begin to appear. But when one sees the 309-page report about Hurricane Sandy from Con Edison to the NY State Public Service Commission, it becomes apparent that very little, if anything, was left to chance during this or any other major storm. 

Left to right:  John Pancotto and Thomas Varian.

Con Edison’s area of responsibility is the five boroughs of NYC and nearly all of  Westchester County.  Approximately 14,000 people are employed by Con Edison and estimates are that at least 3,000 to 4,000 employees were involved in the Sandy situation.  River Journal was fortunate to have  the chance to interview two Con Ed field employees about working conditions during an emergency. Jane Solnick, Westchester Public Affairs Director and Bob McGee, Media Relations from the NY Office made the arrangements for the interview.

The two people who gave us their time were Tom Varian, Electrical Operations Supervisor, a 40-year Con Ed employee, and John Pancotto, Outplant Mechanic.  Both men have families in Irvington, NY, and as the headline of this story indicates, both men could, indeed, have been your neighbors in and about almost any Westchester village or town.  These gentlemen also would have lost power during the storm, but unlike their neighbors, they would be at almost-constant-work for several 14-hour days with very little, if any sleep. Unlike their friends and neighbors, they would be leaving family members at home in the middle of a huge storm for days at a time.

When asked what the public reaction to their efforts was, both men said the public wanted a return to power almost before the entire picture of damage was complete. In fact, when the lights did go on again, large crowds of neighbors cheered loudly and in unison. Those in authority bore the brunt of criticism and much of that criticism came from State, County and local officials.  What was marked in their emergency efforts, was their devotion to getting the system up running and adhering to company standards. After all, 40 years is a long span of devotion to a corporate task.

Pancotto related how he spent two hours getting emergency equipment into his car, preparing for whatever came their way from Sandy.  In addition to protecting neighborhood homes from damage by clearing trees, all sorts of protections were put in place, including the use of sandbags to keep rising tides and river overflows from disrupting the operation of a key facility, Keep in mind that this kind of protection goes into effect with each instance of severe weather problems.

Finally, as a major storm moves on, help is sent in from outlying sections of the country.  In the case of Sandy, cargo planes from California were packed with emergency equipment and sent East to help with the recovery process.

Con Ed estimates that in the case of the largest storms, like Sandy, that some 4,000 out-of-state personnel were welcomed by Con Ed.

The key to this constant preparation is the personal dedication of men like Varian and Pancotto.  In case anybody is wondering whether the personnel that Con Ed uses for emergencies are paying attention to the situation at hand, one need only remind themselves that they live in your neighborhood, possibly even next door.

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About the Author: Arnold Thiesfeldt