Stop the lights! I got a shock when I blew a fuse with ESB

Trevor Laffan recalls encounters with the ESB over the years in his weekly column
Stop the lights! I got a shock when I blew a fuse with ESB

For ESB workers, safety comes first - and Trevor Laffan was put in his place when he had a rant at an engineer many years ago

I GOT a message last year from the ESB, informing me that a technician would be calling around to fit a smart meter to the house.

It’s part of the National Climate Action Plan, supporting Irelands transition to a low carbon future. They plan to fit 24 million of these things across the country.

I presume that will bring about the demise of the meter reader, but the new technology promises to bring benefits to customers, the environment, and the country.

That’s great, but when I hear that kind of talk, the cynic in me breaks out and I wonder what the catch is? We’ll have to wait and see.

Anyway, I got a follow up message to say the meter fitting person would arrive at 9.30am on the Thursday and sure enough, he arrived as promised. He got to work straight away, pulling bits and pieces out of his van, and he told me he would be shutting off the power for a short while.

I went out a few minutes later to see if he wanted a coffee while I could still boil a kettle and I got a shock. Not from the electricity but from the sight that greeted me.

I live in a cul-de-sac with only a few houses around me. The electricity box is on the wall outside and there was nobody around except the two of us and the birds. There was no chance of him being disturbed, but this lad had the place set up as if he was expecting trouble. I thought maybe he had discovered a nuclear waste dump site.

He was dressed in a boiler suit, high viz jacket, and a white hard hat with a safety visor. He had a sign on the footpath telling everyone in the vicinity to keep away - me in other words - and the area around the box was cordoned off like something you’d see at a crime scene. Images of Chernobyl flashed before my eyes.

He was a very nice guy and he explained that he was just complying with health and safety requirements. He said inspectors could visit him at any time and he would be in hot water if they found any breaches.

It seemed a bit over the top to me, but he did whatever he needed to do, tidied up and headed off to the next job.

It actually took him more time to set up the safety cordon system and dismantle it again, than it did to fit the meter.

When he was gone, I thought of another encounter I had with an ESB engineer many years ago, when I lived in a bungalow out in the country.

Rural living is different in many ways to what city dwellers would be familiar with. Cleaning out a septic tank, cattle wandering into the garden, the smell of slurry, and no street lighting would not be part of normal urban living, but for us country bumpkins, it was par for the course. Electricity supply wasn’t straightforward either.

There was a transformer on a pole close to our house that was constantly giving trouble because there were too many houses being fed from it and it needed to be upgraded. Whenever there was a strong wind, we were guaranteed to lose power, and sometimes, even a light breeze would do it.

When that happened, I had to ring the local ESB office to let them know and an engineer would be dispatched to solve the problem, and all would be well until the next breeze.

Dick was my local ESB engineer, and he was a regular visitor to my house in those days. He was an absolute gentleman. Standing well over six foot tall and built like a tank with big broad shoulders and a full beard, he reminded me of the Desperate Dan character from the comic books, but like most men of that size, he was a gentle giant.

One day, while I was in the middle of doing something or other, the power went. I wasn’t having a good day, and this was the last straw. 

I made the necessary phone call and bit the head off whoever answered the phone. I was running out of patience and demanded action.

Not long after that, I saw my son, who was about six at the time, standing in the hallway with his mouth wide open, staring at the front door. The hallway went dark, so I knew straightaway that Dick had arrived. His massive frame filled the doorway and blocked all the light coming into the house. My son was mesmerised.

Dick came in and I had a little rant and a moan about the constant power cuts. He didn’t say much, he just walked past me into the kitchen and reached up to the fuse board to open the cover.

Well, he didn’t have to reach up at all, because it was almost at his eye level - so he just flicked one of the circuit breakers and the power was restored.

It hadn’t been a problem with the transformer this time. I had tripped the switch myself somehow and I alone was responsible for cutting off our power supply. I hadn’t considered that possibility.

I was so used to dealing with the bad transformer that I just assumed it was the same old problem. I should have checked of course.

He just looked at me and smiled, but I would have felt better if he had abused me for being so stupid.

I felt completely ridiculous, and no amount of apologising seemed adequate. He had a cup of coffee and left the house laughing.

I only discovered a few years ago that the lovely man had since passed away, and I was very sorry to hear that.

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