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Powerless in Fairfield

Seven days without electricity taxes one’s patience, especially knowing that a better-staffed UI might have restored power more quickly.

It was the morning of Day Six ATSI (after Tropical Storm Irene), and residents on Winnepoge Drive and environs were growing concerned about their .

This particular town resident has called Fairfield home for more than 38 years, and never – in my recollection – had we been without electricity for longer than four days. So, yes, label me concerned with a dash of annoyance.

But hope was on the horizon. I looked out my living room window and saw two people wearing hard hats and yellow vests. Their vehicle bore the United Illuminating imprint. Saved, at last.

I approached the pair, a man and a woman. They extended their hands and introduced themselves. They were friendly and solicitous, and offered their regrets for our powerlessness. But they were in no position to help.

These UI employees were members of the utility’s finance department, and they had been dispatched as “spotters” – to warn pedestrians and motorists of downed wires, and to provide information and comfort to the approximately 50 homes in the Lake Hills area that had been without power since early Sunday morning. Alas, they were noncommittal about when our power would be restored.

On the previous afternoon, another UI person had ventured a guess. He thought that a crew would be on our street that night. Unfortunately, this gentleman was wrong.

Later on Day Six, still another UI employee offered mild encouragement. “This isn’t a forecast or a promise, but a guess – with a lower-case ‘g’ – that your power will be back tomorrow,” he said.

Well, a UI crew was at work on our street late Friday night, but when we awoke on Day Seven, our home remained without power. So, lower-case “g” was incorrect as well.

Now, a confession. Unlike most of our neighbors, Patti and I had been away, on holiday in Oregon, when Irene began to batter Connecticut. So we missed the winds, the rains and the downed limb that fell into our neighbor’s property, as well as the first four days sans electricity.

We were in touch via cellphone and e-mail, and knew that one daughter had emptied our refrigerator and freezer of the rotting food. We were aware than one son-in-law had placed our grill and patio furniture out of harm’s way prior to the hurricane, and that his spouse had left us some staples for our arrival home Wednesday night.

The lede story in Thursday morning’s Connecticut Post was disturbing. UI and its northern competitor, Connecticut Light & Power, had a practice of leaving positions open whenever an employee retired or left the company under other circumstances, the story said. The unions had warned management that each utility would be understaffed when an emergency occurred, and the restoration of power would be accomplished at a slower-than-it-should-have-been pace.

Could that be the case in Fairfield, Ridgefield, Milford, East Haven and other hard-hit communities in the Nutmeg State?

I presented that question to one of the UI personnel on our street. He hedged his answer at first, but then admitted the utility was below staffing levels.

Sorry to hear that, sir.

On the afternoon of Day Seven, I drove up Black Rock Turnpike to the ShopRite parking lot, where town employees had been dispensing bottled water and bags of ice to residents who were still awaiting the restoration of power. Their vehicles were nowhere to be seen. In their place was a Fairfield Police wagon, with a blinking sign attached to its rear. “In Fairfield, 2,754 Residents Without Power,” it blinked. “27 Crews Working.”

Okay. A sign of progress, I suppose. But what if UI had filled those empty positions through the years. With more linemen on duty, would we and thousands of other UI customers been forced to endure a week – and maybe longer – to have our power restored?

I await an authoritative answer to my question.

Jim Eastwood September 04, 2011 at 10:48 AM
To All That are complaining Some of you have UI/CL&P stock and are inyterested in your dividends Some/ Most of you supportede deregulation of the Power companies All of that resulted in cutback in expenses IE Manpower--- Some of you compained when the Trees got trimmed back, some moved into rural areas--WELL WHAT DO YOU EXPECT I spoke to crews from Ohio, Washington State, Kentucky and on and on. I saw crews moving down the Penn. Tpke towards the North East on Saturday Yes Saturday morning The damage is so extensive, the crews so small, and the Public interest in Emergency response so little Do your Public officials attend planning sessions that have been held over the years--NO they send some lackie You will get your power back soon How about helping a Neighbor, saying Thanks to the crews working 18 hours a day--Could you do the job ??? Stop complaining and Start HELPING !!!!!
Brian September 04, 2011 at 11:21 AM
Obviously, Jim has (the) power. Guess he'd like everyone to sell whatever stocks they own or better yet, never purchase anything. Yup, that'll help. Or maybe move to a nearby city where trees are not a problem. I'm sure he has ideas about this too. I'd have spoken to crews too if I'd have seen them. Roads must be clear enough for him to get around and talk with these fellas. Thank 'em all for doing their jobs. It's not as though they volunteered for this line of work. I certainly don't want anyone working 18 hours on fallen electrical lines and transformers. Sounds dangerous to me. Happy Labor Day!
John O'Connell September 04, 2011 at 11:44 AM
UI is a business, they're objective is to make money, when a major outage hits their objective doesn't change, they don't magically morph into a mega-compassionate group of do-gooders throwing all their money at overtime and subcontractors. Yes, they will restore customers power but at a cost (to them) they feel reasonable. I appreciate the hard work being done on the ground by the workers, but they're not measuring the size of the response the company should pay for. Consumers are free to switch companies whenever goods or services fail to meet their expectations - except in cases like these where we are captive customers, left without a choice and subject to whatever level of service our almighty utility is willing to give us. You know a request for rate increase is in the works, only waiting for the level of outrage to abate a bit. :-)
CAB September 04, 2011 at 11:54 AM
Our street still has no power and we have had a UI truck parked in my neighbor's driveway babysitting a downed power line which has no power for 24 hours!! By the way Jim no one is faulting the crews that are working -- they go where they are told. It's the lack of communication on the part of UI -- they don't communicate with their workers or their customers. By the way, I would be happy to help any neighbor and when I do see a crew I certainly will thank them for all their hard work. Tell us Jim when did you get your power back?
Susan Valdes September 04, 2011 at 12:41 PM
A little perspective is needed regarding Irene - she was a monster who left behind quite a bit of damage and devastation over 12 states. The people on Fairfield Beach Road and folks in East Haven or Milford would be thrilled if their only problem was UI response time. That said, can UI be faulted for bad communication and poor visibility? Absolutely. Should mgmt have workmen parked in one spot for 24 hours? No! Did they do a good job of integrating the crews they brought in? Doesn't look like it. These problem areas give UI plenty to work on between now and the next storm. As a long term strategy, was UI right to let vacant positions remain open or should they have kept staffing at peak levels? As one who pays utility bills here, I am definitely in favor of staffing at the right level for "normal" business. UI just needs to get a lot better at their plans to bring in subcontractors or visiting crews to for emergencies. Note: I am not letting FFLD DPW entirely off the hook. They are no model of efficiency -- I had to follow up with them for 3 years before I had permission to take down a big old rotten maple in front of my house. From early reports on Irene, it is very clear that DPW must bear some of the responsibility for slowing down UI's response time. Best wishes for storm recovery to all.
tonypct September 04, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Well said Brian. It's usually the folks who have had their power restored telling the rest of us to quit our griping and whining. Well, this "powerless" individual will use the ower of my speech to continue griping and complaining until I get power, and water, restored to my home. Seven and a half-days is more than enough time to fix it.
Bob Tubbs September 04, 2011 at 08:00 PM
We are still without power. We have had this problem before with long delays to recovery. At one point a few years back during a 4 day winter outage, UI crews informed us that they didn't realize that there was a circuit that controlled the houses on lower Redding Road. They couldn't figure out how to get us back up. Seems they have never mapped it or fixed the glitch. It is the same circuit that is out. Oh, and by the way Jim, we too would love to talk with a crew, if there were any in sight. I certainly hope that 2 people from the finance department driving around, are not considered a crew. Can UI tell us specifically how many crews, actually capable of making a full restoration are in Fairfield, and will they please chart on a day to day basis when those crews were in Ffld and for how long each day. Did UI have the supplies necessary to make all repairs, or was inventory cut back as well as crews, so we were waiting for cable and poles? Let's stop the "spin" and get down to facts. By the way, probably the best thing that we as citizens can do now is to contact our state reps and push them to put fish hooks into evry increase granted the utility
Randatola September 04, 2011 at 10:34 PM
Our power is finally back up as of this afternoon. I think what the empowered may not understand about the frustration of the UI disempowered is that it is not about the inconvenience* of not having electricity, it's about the uncertainty about when the power will come back on. My coworkers are mostly CL&P customers. Since Wednesday, they have been able to call CL&P and get a commitment date/time for when their service will be restored. If their date/time changes, CL&P automatically calls them back and updates them with the new time. My coworkers may not have been happy with the dates they were told, but at least it gave them something to plan with. For instance, one guy who was given a date of Tuesday decided to take his family to Hershey PA for the weekend rather than spend it here with no power. Or, if you know your power is coming on tomorrow, maybe you only need more ice for your cooler. But if it's not coming on for a week, you might buy a generator instead. All my CL&P coworkers stopped complaining as soon as they had a firm date in hand. UI customers, however, were (and still are) left in limbo. We had no idea when our power might come on until we saw trucks on our street, and even that didn't guarantee anything. UI provided absolutely zero useful information to us. All we got were these vague, system-wide goals like "98% by Saturday" which is completely worthless to any individual customer. Continued
Randatola September 04, 2011 at 10:39 PM
(cont) * After a week of no running water, lugging buckets of water from the neighbor's swimming pool to refill toilets, the lack electricity starts to go from an inconvenience to a public health risk.
Randatola September 04, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Also, let's talk about the "goals" set by UI CEO James P. Torgerson. This one is from the UI press release on Friday 9/2: "The company expected to restore on Friday approximately 80 percent of the customers still without power in those communities. In Fairfield, the company expected by the end of the day Friday to restore 2,029 of the 2,751 customers without power." First and foremost, they missed that Fairfield goal horribly. They did not reach that milestone on Friday. They didn't reach it on Saturday either, according to the numbers that they post on ui.com. But what really interests me is where that number came from. Why did they think they could restore 2029? Did they just make that number up, figuring it was a good target to aim for? Or did they have information about which jobs were scheduled to be done, who was scheduled to do them, and how many customers would be restored when they were complete? If they have that information, why are they not sharing it with their affected customers? If I had known on Wednesday or Thursday (like CL&P customers did) or even on Friday that I wouldn't get power back until Sunday, I would have changed my plans accordingly.
Placko September 05, 2011 at 12:19 AM
Let's get off UI for a minute...clearly they lack communication skills but everything else was typical of a business with a monopoly. I want to talk about our local tree warden who Refuses to take down trees in this town even though they are clearly hazards to the power lines. People, power, and sidewalks be damned Placko is a problem. Let's hope we get someone new in town hall who will get rid of Ken Placko, Fairfield needs change in so many departments...tree warden is one. Let your voice be heard. Call the first select mans office and tell him you are sick of tree huggers one week without power is insane, especially along mill plain where we loose power ALL the time because of the same tree near a transformer that Placko won't take down.
Kirk September 05, 2011 at 01:13 AM
Take note - Rudy Marconi in Ridgefield, CT made such a loud noise post storm that the National Guard arrived on scene - I was there to witness the response. Ridgefield was 100% without power and is 100% with power now. I live in am in Fairfield going heading into day 8 with no end in sight. Where's our defender? Who's fighting for us? My neighbors are in their 90's – GOD BLESS THEM - they are HEROES in my heart - they are suffering not from the storm - they are suffering due to UI's ineptness. UI should be brought to task on this perfect failure to better themselves as an organization the next time they are faced with similar systemic failures.
Kirk September 05, 2011 at 01:33 AM
NO POWER ON CATHERINE TERRACE - SUNDAY SEPT 4, 9:33pm
ejlrosen September 05, 2011 at 01:57 AM
What is going on at Catherine Terrace? Why are there still 10 homes without power? Where is Ui? Where is town leadership? They ought to be ashamed of themselves!
jk September 05, 2011 at 02:50 AM
UI is doing what most of corporate America has done during these "difficult economic times". Kept all the chiefs and fired too many workers. Hope the chiefs are off somewhere quiet enjoying their generous bonuses while everyone else foots the bill and pays the price for their ineptitude. CL&P already announced it was going for a rate hike to pay for the added costs brought on by the damage (i.e. actually hire working crews). I'm sure someone at UI has enough brains to tell the powers that be to keep their mouths shut until everyone gets their electricity back. Deregulation is a joke - UI and CL&P are still a monopoly. We only get a small portion of our bills reduced by purchasing the energy from another supplier but at least it's nice to take even a little bit of revenue away from these two.
Fairfield Resident September 05, 2011 at 03:53 AM
Someone has to be last...... SUX2BU.
CAB September 05, 2011 at 11:26 AM
So sorry to hear that there are still people without power -- we got ours back yesterday afternoon -- I understand how awful it is. When I called and finally got to speak to someone and asked if she could possibly give me an idea of restoration time, she developed an attitude and told me that they weren't giving out times and everyone should be back POSSIBLY by Sunday. Terrible customer service and no people skills. I hope all of you get your power back soon. As for Fairfield Resident, I think he or she must be an extremely mean-spirited and cranky individual
Jim Eastwood September 05, 2011 at 04:37 PM
To All Hey did you hear the latest Some one just stole 900 feet of REPLACEMENT Power cable Remeber last year down at the Beach where some one stole a lot of PRIMARY UI wire which had come down during a storm---Hope these Theives get "Juiced" when they cut into a charged wire !!!!!!!! We Have met the ENEMY and He is us !!!!!! Powerless in Danbury !!!! Hey gotPower ??? Yes I do beleive the TOWN's EOC Must be open and some sort of a resolve be reached with UI--Are the Tow's officials doing their jb ??? Or are they "Tired"???

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