ALBANY, Ga. -- Water, Gas & Light Commission apprentice lineman David Payne scurries up the light pole in a flash, intent on safely getting the "man" dangling from the pole to the ground.
That the endangered person is actually a dummy and Payne is only practicing the lifesaving technique does not take away from the seriousness of the effort.
"This is not something we do every day, but it's something we need to know how to do," Payne, who has been with WG&L a year now, said Friday after he finished his rescue exercise. "Practicing like this helps us get down the actions required."
Payne and fellow apprentice linemen Clifton Keeler and Ronald Williams were at WG&L's training facility off Lily Pond Road Friday perfecting the rescue skills that will be part of the Georgia Lineman's Rodeo Association Rodeo Saturday at Chehaw Park. They and WG&L journeyman linemen Lee Green, Randy Paul and Stacy Cook, as well as fellow apprentice Mike Hearon Jr., will represent the utility at the 19th Georgia Lineman's Rodeo.
Jason Clenney, a senior lineman with 13 years of experience at WG&L, coaches the journeyman team and the apprentices during the competition, which starts with a written exam for apprentices at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and includes four skill events that kick off around 8:30 a.m..
"The kind of skills that are part of the rodeo are very important in our line of work," Clenney said. "If a man is hurt while working on a line, other linemen are the only ones who can save him. This is not something EMTs are trained to do.
"That's why the rodeo is, I think, a good thing for the people in our profession. It promotes teamwork and camaraderie, but it also reminds us how important the skills we learn are."
The team of Green, Paul and Cook will represent WG&L -- as will the four individual apprentices -- in four skills competitions at the rodeo: hurt man rescue, 8-foot wooden cross arm change-out (with a simulated 4,000-volt line attached), lighting arrestor change (with simulated 12,000-volt line attached) and a mystery event.
"They find out what the mystery event is during registration Friday," WG&L Light Director Jimmy Norman said Friday. "The idea is that not knowing ahead of time what to prepare for is more like the real-life experience of working on a line crew. You have to be prepared for anything."
As many as 30 three-member teams and 70 apprentices are expected to compete in the 19th rodeo, which will be held at Chehaw one last time before settling into a permanent home at Camp John Hope near Perry. Teams from Florida and Kentucky have already registered to compete.
"The rodeo is a lot of fun for the volunteers who participate; it allows them to showcase their talents and to see how they stack up against other line crews," Norman said. "But it also promotes safety, promotes the importance of training and promotes the power line industry as a career."
Norman has been on the board of the Georgia Lineman's Rodeo Association since it broke away from the Southeastern Electrification Council in 2006, helping draw up the bylaws for the event that same year.
The linemen who come into Albany for the weekend are expected to have a significant impact on the city's economy. Norman said an Electric Cities of Georgia impact study showed that last year's rodeo, also held at Chehaw, had a $1.2 million impact on the community.
The weekend kicks off with a 10 a.m. vendor show and a noon fish fry for participants Friday at Chehaw's Creekside Center. Following the early written exam for competing apprentices Saturday, opening ceremonies for the competition will start at 8 a.m. Competition, which is judged on safe work practices and work methods, with speed used as a tie-breaker, will start after opening ceremonies and conclude early afternoon.
"Competing in the rodeo is fun, but I have to admit the competitive juices get flowing once you get out there," Keeler, a three-year WG&L apprentice who had the top score on the written exam last year, said. "Bragging rights are a part of it, but what this is really all about is getting in good training experiences.
"You never know when we might need these skills."
The competition Saturday is free and open to the public. Spectators must pay entry fee to Chehaw.
"It's nice having the rodeo here at home," Clenney said. "We seem to have a little more of a turnout when the rodeo's been held at Chehaw."