Ontario’s largest electricity transmission and distribution utility is not my friend.
More to the point, Hydro One Incorporated’s emergency repairs call centre helped make January 11 the worst day of 2016.
It started Sunday night when, following a weekend of mild temperatures and heavy rain. After sunset an Arctic low saw the mercury plummet and the rain change to ice, then driving snow. During dinner a large branch snapped off a poplar tree.
The branch ripped a power line out of the house next door, damaging a component on the house called the ‘electrical service mast’, leaving them cold and in the dark.
(Above) Illustration of an installed hydro service mast
Our house was unscathed. Or so I thought. Around 1 a.m. Monday morning I heard the gas furnace trying to start repeatedly without success. I turned on the lights to go downstairs and check it out. The light level dipped and rose in waves. Brownout.
The house felt warm, and this wasn’t the first time our 20 year old furnace acted up. My warm bed beckoned. I’d deal with this in the morning.
By 6 a.m. Monday the house was 55 degrees F. The furnace generated no heat. Some of our lights and outlets worked, but others didn’t. The coffee maker wouldn’t perk properly, but the scent of warm toast indicated the toaster functioned.
I reasoned the downed branch the night before must have grazed our hydro wires, causing the intermittent outage and dim lights. Unsure if the furnace issue was related to the storm damage or not, I contacted our provider Hydro One.
My call was promptly answered by a young lady named Ashley who assured me they were aware of the problem and a crew would take care of it by 2 p.m. Shortly afterward I saw an electrician and crew Hydro One crew next door. It is a rental unit, and the landlord was dealing with his tenants’ lack of utilities promptly.
With my son spending the day safe and warm at school, my husband and I bundled up in blankets and sweaters and watched the action next door. The electrician hooked up a generator so the family could heat their house and prepare their children for school, while the Hydro One crew climbed into the bucket truck and reattached the fallen line. By noon, the work was done. The house next door was warm and dry, its family back to a normal routine.
We watched the electrician and hydro crew finish up the job and pack up their equipment. Then they drove away. No one called us. No one came to the door to say we were next. Maybe they went on lunch break? We waited. One p.m. Two p.m. No crew came to repair our line.
I called the Hydro One emergency line again to find out what was going on. Ashley answered my call again.
“The crew can’t repair your line because the mast is bent. You have to get an electrician to fix the mast, then have an inspector pass it, then call us back to schedule a crew to reattach the line,” Ashley said.
We weren’t the only house in crisis, but we managed to find one who could fit our job in. A half hour later his office manager phoned back.
“When can we expect you?” I asked.
“Well, there is a bit of a problem,” said the voice on the other end. “You have an outstanding invoice from 2009.”
One thing I pride myself on is paying bills on time. It’s a matter of honour. Mortified, I assure the office manager the oversight would be cleared up immediately. I need an electrician ASAP. My son is coming home from school and it’s been over twelve hours since the house has had heat.
While waiting for the electrician to show up, I drove to the bank to get cash to pay the embarrassingly overdue bill. After using the cash machine, I pulled out from my parking space, only to have the rear of the car struck by a van coming out of a car wash. Police were called, reports written up and after another hour’s wasted time, I made it home, now with a damaged rear passenger quarter panel and split bumper.
The electrician was finishing up when I arrived. He poked around inside the fuse box with a tester.
“You are definitely not getting enough current in the house,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with the mast. It’s intact. Call Hydro One back and have them come do the repair. The issue is with their line, not at your house.”
He added there was no point calling a furnace repairman as the low voltage issue meant the furnace could not turn on properly.
I called Ashley back. Now we had been in the cold and dark for fourteen hours. We were all cranky and shivering, including our four cats and one dog. The hamster went into hibernation.
“Did your electrician call an inspector? I have no record of an approved inspector passing the mast repair. My notes report the mast is bent. Until your electrician follows proper procedure and I get a report from an inspector I cannot send a crew out.”
The electrician passed this news on to his boss, who made some more calls to individuals more highly placed than Ashley. After another hour’s wrangling, we discovered Ashley had been reading the work order for the house next door, on which Hydro One completed the repair six hours earlier.
By 8 p.m. the temperature in the house had dropped to 8.8C (48F). We were huddled around an oil lamp listening to a battery operated radio stuck on a hip hop station.
The bucket truck and crew discovered someone had thrown a bicycle chain over the line leading into the back of our house. Over time, wind action caused the chain to wear through the wires, creating a ground fault. This made our lights dim and the furnace non-functional. It had nothing to do with anything attached to our house.
The power came on, the furnace kicked in and we were relieved, if not entirely happy customers.
As we watched the bucket truck recede down the street, the furnace kicked out and died. Again.
Calling a furnace repair tech after regular hours costs $100 per hour here. Not in my budget. We had one small ceramic heater. We huddled around the small heater until bedtime. My husband is susceptible to lung issues, and his den is the smallest room in the house, so he took the heater. I thought my child and I would be OK until morning as long as we had lots of blankets.
At 11 p.m., our little Jack Russell mix nudged me. She had to do her business. A half hour later she nudged me again. And again at 1 a.m. About once or twice a month the dog has tummy troubles and gets me up four or five times in the night to go outside. This was one of those nights.
So I wouldn’t disturb my son’s sleep, I chose to sleep on the couch in the living room. The couch backs onto the north wall of the house. I froze. For awhile, our black kitten curled up on my blanket on top of me to share body heat. At around 1:30 a.m. a loud bang reported from the north wall of the house, enough to make me sit bolt upright, sending the kitten flying off my chest. The frost got into the walls of the house and probably split a support beam.
The next morning, I had a total of two hours of sleep and my son was sick from being so cold. The house thermometer read 7.2C (45F). The furnace technician arrived promptly at 8:30 and repaired the furnace. We all went back to bed until 11 a.m.
Although Hydro One’s customer service department made our lives a living hell for a day and a half. But, they also made me realize how lucky I am. We were cold and miserable for a few hours, but we knew heat would be restored in a matter of hours. We were dry, had lots of warm clothes and blankets and had plenty of food. And, we had funds to pay for the furnace repairs. Things could have been worse.
While this was going on, my husband suggested I contact the garage where the final repairs are being done on our Travco, to see how things were going.
I refused. I wasn’t willing to push my luck any further.
*featured image courtesy of depositphotos.com