Risks of public service can be scary. Just ask TPU workers held at gunpoint

Jackie Flowers is director of Tacoma Public Utilities.
Jackie Flowers is director of Tacoma Public Utilities. Courtesy

Last week we were reminded how dangerous utility work can be.

Two Tacoma Public Utilities employees were threatened by a person with a handgun when they went to check on an electric meter alarm. As described in a News Tribune article, the person’s handgun was fired near one of our employees and the weapon was later pointed at them.

After a five-hour standoff, the Pierce County Sheriff’s SWAT team took the suspect into custody without further incident.

Thankfully, our employees were not physically harmed.

Providing a safe workplace for our dedicated employees is TPU’s top priority. It’s why we supported state legislation this year sponsored by state Rep. Mike Pellicciotti of Federal Way allowing stronger criminal sentences for those convicted of assaulting utility workers.

With the support of Pierce County legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee, the law went into effect last month.

We train our utility workers on lifesaving measures, how to perform CPR and how to de-escalate tense or hostile situations. I believe it was this training that helped our employees stay safe last week.

We will use this real-life scenario as an example to continue our employee education and safety training. My job is to keep employees as safe as possible, and I am committed to continuous improvement of our policies and procedures at TPU.

Fortunately, continuing advancements in the utility industry will help us in our safety efforts for employees and our community.

In 2020, we will begin installing advanced meters that will provide customers with new services and reduce the chances of this type of hostile incident occurring in the future. These new meters will also help us identify outages or issues with our system so we can quickly and safely restore your service.

We have an amazing team at TPU. In my first year, I have repeatedly seen how deeply dedicated our employees are to serving customers. On the flipside, I have seen numerous acts of kindness and care given to our employees by the community.

Following a weather event, vehicle collision with utility equipment or other act of nature, our employees are quickly out in the community doing what they can to safely restore service. And more often than not, you are there supporting them.

Waves of hello, honks of support, hot chocolates during a winter storm – these gestures keep our workers focused on the mission of helping you.

We are not the only ones who appreciate such efforts. There are public servants all around this community – city staff, public health providers, first responders, transit workers, the men and women who serve in our armed forces, among many others.

Every day, these dedicated people quietly and competently serve us, even under hazardous conditions or in the face of danger.

Let’s remember these amazing people, continue to thank them and do whatever we can to make sure they return home safely once their shifts are done.

Jackie Flowers is director of Tacoma Public Utilities.