Meet the Nova Scotia politician who restores power in storm-ravaged areas
'Getting people's lives to some kind of normality ... it's gratifying to do that,' says Gilbert Johnson
Gilbert Johnson's hobby is not one most people would classify as a fun diversion.
The District 7 councillor for the Region of Queens Municipality in southern Nova Scotia spends about a month or so each year travelling to areas hit hard by storms and helps restore power, work for which he's paid.
The South Brookfield resident acts as a freelancer and gets hired by companies that put together teams of repair crews.
In the past three years, Johnson's been up and down the Eastern Seaboard and as far away as the Bahamas. Recently, he was in Florida to help deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which left millions without power.
"The satisfaction of getting the power back on and getting people's lives to some kind of normality, people appreciate that and it's gratifying to do that," said Johnson, 66.
Although Johnson retired from Nova Scotia Power in 2000, he never said goodbye to the electricity industry. From 2000 to 2005, he worked full-time at the Nova Scotia Community College, a job that included teaching a utility line work program.
He still does some consulting work for the college and began storm chasing after Hurricane Arthur, a 2014 storm that left 135,000 people without power in New Brunswick.
Johnson said his recent experience in Florida was fascinating for a number of reasons.
"You don't reach into brush piles because there could be snakes in it. You have to find another way to get the wire out of the brush pile and just keep an eye out in the swamp areas for alligators. It changes the whole complexion," he said.
Another thing was the logistics. In Florida, he sometimes found himself sleeping in a conference room filled with cots for power technicians.
On another occasion, he was staying in a Federal Emergency Management Agency staging area with what he estimates was a thousand people. He stayed in a trailer that had 12 cots, a Porta Potty outside, and had to shower in another trailer and eat in a mess tent.
Working in the Florida heat also made him realize how heating and cooling mean different things to different people.
"I have a whole new appreciation for air conditioning because here, we're pretty resourceful people and we can find alternative ways to heat our homes. But there are no alternative ways to cool your home in Florida," said Johnson.
He said it's tough to balance his duties as an elected official in Queens County with his hobby.
"It's hard to juggle that, there's no question about it because according to the Municipal Government Act, I can only miss three consecutive council meetings," he said.
He said his constituents, fellow council members and his wife are understanding.