Life on the Line: By Chuck Palmer
Brandon Wylie is a familiar face to many in Douglas County. Born and raised in Douglasville, he graduated from DCHS in 1995. He’s well known to many for his love of singing and playing a bit of country guitar. In fact, music is in his blood. Brandon’s grandfather, Hughie Wylie, an accomplished bluegrass mandolin artist, was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. But, he also has his father’s blood. Though he resisted it, he inherited his career from his dad. Kenny Wylie spent 37 years as a lineman, before retiring from Greystone Power in 2014. In the late 1990s, Kenny convinced his son to give the vocation a try.
Brandon worked as a First Class Lineman until the opportunity came to move into training, safety, and supervision. Being a lineman is dangerous work and requires focus, skill, and dedication. As the Assistant Director of Training & Safety with the Electric Cities of Georgia, Wylie not only helps prepare lineman for challenges in the field, but also works directly with them during major outages.
It was in that capacity, that he found himself working with crews from across Georgia in the devastated areas of south Georgia and Florida after Hurricane Irma in September. “When we travel to a disaster, we take linemen from many different communities throughout the state. During Irma, we spend several days working to restore power in Georgia before moving to central Florida (Winter Park, Mt. Dora, Starke, and the Gainesville area) then on to Key West and Big Pine Key,” shared Wylie. As the crews moved south, restoring power neighborhood by neighborhood, the devastation apparent to them intensified
By the time crews got to Big Pine Key, about fifteen miles toward the mainland from Key West, it was evident why locals in the Keys referred to it as “ground zero.” Some of the devastation was absolute. “The destruction was like nothing I’ve ever seen in almost 20 years. Some homes were just washed away. Boats were moved to other parts of the island.” The landscape had become a tangle of wreckage full of debris and dangers. “Some of those folks lost everything, but everyone I talked to still had a very positive attitude. Everyone was extremely thankful to have us there working. They would offer us food and water even though they really didn’t have anything to spare. I was blown away by their generosity and appreciation.”
Electrical workers put their families on hold to help bring power back to these impacted communities. It is a dangerous job. In Englewood, Florida a lineman from Pennsylvania lost an arm to a 7000 volt shock while restoring power. A Florida lineman died as a result of a five story fall during the Irma operation. A Georgia lineman was treated for serious burns in the Augusta Burn Center from injuries sustained in south Georgia. Lineman put themselves out there to help restore something that is easy to take for granted until it’s gone, electrical power.
Why do they take the risks? “One night in Winter Park, we worked through supper and later than normal so we could get a neighborhood back on. The crews worked extra hard because we could see how excited the people were at just the possibility of getting power that night. When we finally finished and energized the lines, people started cheering and yelling ‘thank you’ from their front porches. Their excitement and appreciation was overwhelming and THAT’S the reason why linemen do this.” Wylie proudly reflects of the crews working in the Florida Keys, “The people in the Keys were told to expect to be without power for 30-60 days. We were able to restore power to the section we worked on in 2 weeks.” They literally brought light to a community suffering in the darkness and wreckage that a major hurricane brings.
In 2006, after reflecting on his work on hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Wylie wrote a song called “Highline Cowboy” which is dedicated to power linemen. The song has been featured in several commercials, a documentary called “Storm Soldiers” and a motion picture starring John Travolta called “Life On The Line”. Wylie has said before that there may be better songs, lyrically and musically, but this one comes from the inspiration of God and the heart of a lineman. Indeed, when Brandon Wylie sings “He’s a high flying hero, his glories are zero, he longs for his family at home,” it’s clear that he has seen it first hand.
Brandon lives in west Georgia with his wife, Emily (House) Wylie. They have two teenage sons, Brayden Wylie and Chase Lytle. If you would like to learn more about Brandon, visit brandonwyliemusic on Facebook.