It's the most dangerous electrical job in America. Bill Reimels was born to do it.

Danger! High voltage!

The power is out, and people are worried.

The streetlights have gone dark, and the traffic signals flicked off. Hospitals and data centers have stopped humming as emergency generators groan to life. Across the region, everything — cars, transit, homes, and businesses — is at a standstill. Technicians monitoring the grid confirm it is a major outage. With millions of dollars in lost time on the line, it needs to be identified and repaired as quickly as possible.

Bill Reimels lives for these moments.


Bill Reimels approaches a work site in a helicopter. All images via Deepwater Horizon/Participant.

As part of a team responsible for maintaining and repairing power lines and transformers across the state of New Jersey, Bill Reimels' work needs to be done efficiently, correctly, and quickly. The company he works for, PSE&G, helps keep 1,200 miles of electrical transmission lines running smoothly — making sure cities from Woodbine to Wantage have consistent, reliable power.

The work he does isn't for the faint of heart, either. It takes electrical know-how, a calm demeanor, and the ability to solve complex electrical problems next to a high-voltage power line while sitting on a small seat off the side of a helicopter hovering hundreds of feet in the air.

Yes, you read that right. Watch the video below to see Bill in action:

Before he started working live lines, Bill climbed power transformers for 11 years. His new job takes him even higher — but he says it's well worth the risk.

"People used to ask me all the time — how do you do that?" Bill said. "It's just like anywhere else; you get used to working up there. You just watch where you put your hands and feet."

Bill hard at work.

That latter part is an understatement. Most long-distance high-voltage power lines in America carry a load between 155,000 and 765,000 volts, and touching even a spark could be deadly. At PSE&G, Bill is part of a huge team that constantly monitors and preventatively repairs lines so that big accidents where folks are really at risk are few and far between. That's crucial because people doing this kind of work risk electrocution, burns, and falls every single day, although all are relatively rare.

As for Bill, he said he's had a couple scares but nothing serious. That's amazing considering he does most of his work sitting in a chair hundreds of feet above the ground, held in place by a harness clipped to his back and a small sturdy seatbelt across his lap. That lap belt, Bill shares, is a new addition to their safety set up. "It's really for the pilot's comfort. If he needs to make a rough landing for whatever reason, he wanted to make sure we were safe and wouldn't bounce up into the rotor," he says. "I trust in my team to keep me safe, and make sure these lines are safe, too."

Bill's work isn't always about power lines. Sometimes he gets to help with other valuable work: helping biologists tag baby eagles.

"I love bald eagles, and as it turns out, we have 20 nests on our lines," he shares enthusiastically. Because bald eagles are protected in the United States, they can make their nests anywhere they want, and the helicopters on Bill's team generally give them and their nests a wide buffer when they pass by — at least 500 to 1,000 feet.

But sometimes they have to get a little closer, like when they're assisting biologists in identifying and tagging baby eaglets.

"We'll help gather them from the nest and take them to the biologists to do their thing, then we help put them gently back in the nest," he says. "It's pretty amazing, getting to hold my favorite animal in the world in my hands."

Ultimately, this work — challenging, thoughtful, and outside — is perfect for Bill. He couldn't imagine doing anything else.

"I'll never forget the first time I got to fly in the helicopter," Bill said. "I got to jump on a ride to check out a transformer. It was usually an hour and a half trip by car, but it was only 10 minutes by helicopter. It was such a thrill." He paused to think.

"Now it's kind of old hat," he laughed.

More
True
Deepwater Horizon

Comedy legend Carol Burnett once said, "Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head." She wasn't joking.

Going through childbirth is widely acknowledged as one of the most grueling things a human can endure. Having birthed three babies myself, I can attest that Burnett's description is fairly accurate—if that seemingly impossible lip-stretching feat lasted for hours and involved a much more sensitive part of your body.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via SNL / YouTube

Christopher Walken is one of the greatest actors of his generation. He's been nominated for an Academy Award twice for best supporting actor, winning once for 1978's "The Deer Hunter" and receiving a nomination for 2002's "Catch Me if You Can."

He's played memorable roles in "Annie Hall," "Pulp Fiction," "Wedding Crashers," "Batman Returns," and countless other films. He's also starred in Shakespeare on the stage and began his career as a dancer.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
popular