Monday’s early afternoon departure from Cleveland by the volunteers truly was a heartwarming moment. But, as we said, it came as no surprise.
That’s because these types of humanitarian acts define “The City With Spirit,” and they tell us much of what we already know — that our public servants at Cleveland Utilities understand need, and they understand it well. They’ve lived it, and many know the feeling of being on the recipient end of such kindness.
One does not have to thumb back too many pages in our community’s chronicles to find a time when we too were forced to our knees.
It came April 27, 2011, when five murderous tornadoes ripped through the heart of our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown — all within a 12-hour window of terror. Not only did the beasts take nine lives, they splintered almost 300 houses into horrifying piles of debris, and badly damaged hundreds of others.
Their fury also destroyed one-fourth of Cleveland Utilities’ electric distribution grid. It was a complicated network of lines, poles and technology that fed power into the homes of thousands of public utility customers. Such an array of modern necessity was years in the making, yet it was reduced to shambles in only a few hours.
CU crews immediately went to work. Some worked through the night, stopping only when new alerts warned of the approach of additional merciless storms.
By daylight, utility crews — as well as law enforcement, rescue, medical service, disaster relief and other emergency responders — were working 16-hour shifts to help a staggered community to its feet.
But the task was so very formidable. The extent of damage was overwhelming and the resources — in the face of such horrific disaster — were limited.
Working on their own, CU electric crews — which included company retirees and workers from sister divisions — would have required weeks, even months, to restore to full operation what the fury of an angered Mother Nature tore apart.
So Cleveland Utilities leaders did what good leaders do. Like Memphis Light, Gas and Water officials did three days ago, they asked for help.
It came. And it came quickly.
Over the next 1 1/2 weeks, utility companies from within Tennessee and from neighboring states dispatched more than 30 emergency crews to Cleveland. They traveled from as far away as Orlando, Fla. — a giant utility that deployed a fleet — and from as close as tiny Sweetwater which deployed one of its own bucket trucks and crew.
A storm-weary Cleveland regained her footing and electric power was restored to all CU customers — at least, to those whose power could be restored — within 10 days.
It was an achievement as historic as the storms themselves. But CU did not do it alone.
This is why in November 2012, Cleveland Utilities deployed five line workers and three trucks to the storm-battered Northeast where Superstorm Sandy had reduced cities to rubble up and down the East Coast and all along the Eastern Shore, and especially in New York and New Jersey; and only days later, even as power was still being restored, Winter Storm Athena unleashed a foot of snow onto some of the same areas, and right on top of utility workers ... many of them volunteers from distant states.
It is also why Cleveland Utilities on Monday deployed seven of its own — of our own — to the Bluff City where the so-dubbed Winter Storm Titan is reported to have dumped 3 paralyzing inches of debilitating ice.
Ken Webb, CU president and CEO who well remembers April 27, 2011, as well as the Blizzard of ’93 from 21 years ago, said it best Monday when he told our newspaper:
“Over the years, Cleveland Utilities has received assistance from others and we are always willing to provide assistance when possible. My thanks go out to our employees making the trip. We will be praying for their safety for the duration of their time away as they are assisting our friends on the other end of the state.”
In the utility industry, memories are long and hearts remain open to others in need.
To seven Cleveland Utilities line workers, Godspeed on your safe return home: Bill Raulston, Nathan Davis, Josh Day, Steve Kiser, Anthony Hicks, Mike Isham and John McClain.
All live by the shared doctrine, “I am my brother’s keeper.”
Their kindness one day will meet with a just reward.
Their willingness to sacrifice epitomizes the depth of humanity that dwells within our hometown, one now long accepted in the hearts of most as “The City With Spirit.”