When faced with an emergency situation, people have a “fight or flight” response that instinctively kicks in. No one quite knows for sure how they will react until it happens. For the line department at Columbus Southwest, that answer is now apparent:


While working a job with a 12-man crew in Grove City, two lineworkers up in the bucket spotted a burning building next door.

Twelve of the garage’s 27 lineworkers were in an industrial area of Grove City. It was a big crew for a big job; they had to upgrade electric service at a paint factory, which included installing two poles, multiple spans of overhead and underground wire plus an underground transformer (all in one day).

At around 1:15 p.m. the crew was in the process of setting a pole and stringing the next section of wire. They had paused their work to review the next phase of the job when they spotted large, black plumes of smoke billowing into the sky from the property a few hundred yards away. Two lineworkers hollered from their aloft buckets: “The building’s on fire!”

(Looking back, the timing was opportune. According to Line Crew Supervisor Rick Gallucci, they were at a safe point in the job. Had they been in the middle of doing energized work, they wouldn’t have been able to react so quickly.)

Because AEP Ohio’s line crew was on the scene so quickly, firefighters could spring into action without waiting for a line servicer to arrive.

There was little discussion about what to do next. The group – all 12 of them – raced next door to help.

The scene was chaotic: People were running in and out of the building and everyone was panicked. The fire department soon arrived and Gallucci offered to turn off the building’s electricity. (This is a common safety practice during structure fires; in fact, the Distribution Dispatching Center had already been notified and a line servicer was about to head that way.) The team’s quick reaction saved crucial minutes as firefighters could spring into action without waiting for the servicer to arrive.

A 16-year lineworker, Gallucci has de-energized electric service more times than he can count. But he’s never done it during a structure fire … and at the same time accounting for the safety of his entire crew.

Gallucci studied the maps to locate the proper disconnection point. He ensured the spot was clear of the billowing smoke. And he kept himself and his crew out of the path of firefighters. Safety was paramount.

“Don’t ever become the next victim. That’s everything we’ve always learned,” Gallucci said.

The electricity was shut off and firefighters were eventually able to extinguish the blaze. The good news was that no one was hurt; the bad news was that the building – a furniture warehouse – was likely destroyed along with all the items inside it.

In the end, there wasn’t much for the 12 lineworkers to do to help. Days later, though, Gallucci was still awed by the full-throttle response of his team. He says the actions they did (or didn’t) perform at the scene doesn’t tell the full story, which is something much bigger.

“I thought good of our team already, but to see them in action was something else,” Gallucci said. “The first thing on their minds was to help. They wanted to do whatever they could to rescue the people in the fire.

“It was pretty cool – we all just ran in together. It’s a good group of guys. Right now the culture at Columbus Southwest is one of the best I have ever experienced. So, yeah, it was just cool to see.”

Left to right: Donavan Shoffstall, Dave Tumblison, B.J. Scales, Shaun Watson, Blain Borden, Matt Chandler, Tom Ropp, Dustin Jenkinson, Rick Gallucci, Don Elliott. (Not pictured: Jared Hagan and Dylan Eshler)

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