Monday, December 11, 2017

We Energies employee rescues neighbors from house fire

On the night of Saturday, Dec. 2, We Energies employee Chris Burbey was driving home from a call in Racine. As a natural gas fitter, Burbey works with piping and appliances, ensuring the safety of customers’ homes and communities. He was not expecting any more work that night – much less a rescue operation.

As Burbey turned the corner to his subdivision, he noticed a fire in his neighbor’s backyard. It looked small, possibly contained. But to him, the risk was clear.

Chris Burbey (left) with Patty, Jamie (daughter) and Brett Filkins.
“I made a quick decision. That’s not a bonfire, that’s a house fire,” Burbey said.

He pulled over the car and jumped into action. With his company wrench and fire extinguisher in hand, he ran to shut off the flow of natural gas at the meter. He then pounded on the front door.

“Your house is on fire,” he shouted. “This is your neighbor and also the gas company. Get out!”

The residents, Brett and Patty Filkins, were asleep and unaware of the fire, which had begun at their natural gas grill and was crawling up the back of their house. When Burbey’s shouts woke them, the flames had just reached their bedroom deck.

Once they had safely left the house, Patty called 911 and Brett helped Burbey extinguish the fire. After the danger had passed, Burbey stayed with the couple until 2 a.m. to help in any way he could – speaking with the fire department, checking the furnace and water heater, and giving moral support.

“It was a traumatic event, and he went above and beyond to help us,” Patty said. “Without him, my husband and I might not be here today.”

Earlier that night, the Filkinses had cooked a pizza on the grill and accidentally left the burner on low. This small flame could have become a much more serious blaze. Investigating the scene, firefighters reported that the fire only remained outside the house due to the second pane on the kitchen window – a pane close to breaking when Burbey arrived.

“The stars and moon all aligned. It could have been a very different outcome,” Burbey said.

His quick thinking, skill and bold action made all the difference to the Filkinses. He hopes others can learn from the incident and make sure their homes and families are safe.

“Double-check the burner position,” he said. “We’re all human, and it’s easy to overlook when you’re getting pulled from all directions.”

Visit our website for more information on natural gas safety. If you smell natural gas or have a natural gas emergency, leave the building immediately and call our 24/7 emergency line at 800-261-5325 from another location.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Safety is main concern after hot air balloon becomes entangled in power lines

Early on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 3, a hot air balloon came in contact with power lines in Appleton. Riders in the basket of the balloon stayed put until We Energies arrived on the scene to de-energize the wires.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. The situation, however, was quite dangerous. “This is probably the oddest I’ve seen because there were people involved,” said employee Jeff Ortscheid. He’s pulled everything from trampolines to metal shed roofs from power lines, but the nervous passengers in the basket made this a trickier situation.

When Ortscheid got the call, his first thought and focus was getting people out safe. He, like nearly all electric utility troubleshooters, has responded to car/pole accidents where the lines remain energized, so he first de-energized the line, cutting power to four nearby customers so that the passengers could exit the balloon safely. Once the passengers were safe, the balloon itself was able to be removed from the power lines.

“It was heavy!” he said, noting that hot air balloons have lots of ropes and lines that make a downed balloon harder to maneuver. He waited for a co-worker to arrive at the scene before taking the balloon down. “We were glad to just get everyone in the clear.”

The passengers did the right thing by staying in the basket until help arrived. Their story is a good reminder of how dangerous an energized line can be, and how to react safely when a vehicle, be it a car or a hot air balloon, comes into contact with energized equipment.

If your vehicle contacts a power line, stay inside until rescue workers say it is safe to leave. If you must leave your vehicle because of fire or other danger, jump away from the vehicle so that you do not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Land with your feet together and shuffle away.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

We Energies sponsors annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech contest

On Saturday, Dec. 2, students gathered at the We Energies Public Service Building to give inspiring speeches to family, friends, teachers and a panel of judges. This year marks the third decade that We Energies has sponsored the speech contest. Company employees are happy to assist, with many volunteering year after year. This year these employee volunteers included Freddie Keith, Michelle Waters, Mekisha Linton, Marina Sanchez, Monique Jones and Karen Ryan.

K-2 finalists.
This year’s theme, “Take a stand for truth and justice,” comes from a sermon Dr. King preached in Montgomery, Alabama, on Nov. 6, 1956, just seven days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Alabama’s bus segregation laws. Dr. King stated,

 “… dare to take a stand for justice. Honesty impels me to admit that such a stand will require willingness to suffer and sacrifice. So don’t despair if you are condemned and persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Whenever you take a stand for truth and justice, you are liable to scorn. Often you will be called an impractical idealist or a dangerous radical. Sometimes it might mean going to jail.”

Students from Milwaukee public, private, charter and home schools embraced this theme in the writing and delivery of their four-minute speeches.

Grade 11-12 finalists.
Finalists of Saturday’s speech contest are listed below. All first-place winners will give their speech at the citywide celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy to be held Jan. 14, 2018, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Winners of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. art and writing contests also will be honored at the Jan. 14 event.

Grade K-2
1st place – Zadayne Miller, Milwaukee Parkside School of the Arts
2nd place – Josiah Franklin, Elm Creative Arts Elementary School
3rd place – Inezmari Chico, Curtin Leadership Academy

Grade 3-4
1st place – Amir Johnikin, Elm Creative Arts Elementary School
2nd place – Benji Johnston, Eastbrook Academy
3rd place – Salma Lewis, Golda Meir Lower Campus

Grade 5-6
1st place – Chloe Reader, Alcott School
2nd place – Katelen Pickens, Emerson School
3rd place – Kaylie Deluna, Victory Elementary School

Grade 7-8
1st place – Amillia Bell, Golda Meir Upper Campus
2nd place – Terynn Erby-Walker, Golda Meir Lower Campus
3rd place – Demi Figueroa, Curtin Leadership Academy

Grade 9-10
1st place – Ameen Atta, Salam High School
2nd place – Akili Pleas-Carnie, Rufus King International Baccalaureate High School
3rd place – Marvell Reed, Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education

Grade 11-12
1st place – Ariana Cawthorn, Eastbrook Academy
2nd place – Daniel Montalvo, Reagan International Baccalaureate High School 
3rd place – Biluge Ntabala, Milwaukee High School of the Arts

Thursday, November 30, 2017

We Energies named America's best at keeping lights on

We Energies representatives at PA Consulting's event, recognizing excellence in electric reliability.

We are proud to report that we've received one of our industry's top honors -- the ReliabilityOne National Reliability Award. Our president, Kevin Fletcher, accepted the award from PA Consulting Group at a ceremony in New Orleans Nov. 29.

"We're honored to be named the most reliable utility in America," said Fletcher. "This national award is a testament to the skill and professionalism of our employees who dedicate themselves to outstanding customer care every day."

This is the third time we've been honored as the most reliable utility in America following awards in 2004 and 2013.

Besides the National Award, we also received the Award for Outstanding Reliability Performance in the Midwest. This is the seventh year in a row we've received top honors in our region.

We have made significant investments in recent years to strengthen the reliability of its network by rebuilding hundreds of miles of electric distribution lines and replacing thousands of poles and transformers. These investments renew and modernize delivery networks, reduce operating costs and improve energy efficiency, all of which will strengthen our position as a reliable electric service provider.

All companies operating electric delivery networks in North America are eligible for the ReliabilityOne Award. The selection is based primarily on statistics that measure the frequency and duration of customer outages. After initial recipients are identified, each candidate undergoes a rigorous on-site certification process. Each year, PA Consulting names six regional award winners and one national winner.

PA Consulting also honored one of our veteran employees, Principal Engineer Val Werner, with an Outstanding Personal Achievement Award.

"Val is a true leader in electric reliability and outage data reporting," said Fletcher. "He has made outstanding contributions to We Energies and the industry. We congratulate him on this award."

Val Werner's career

Werner honored for lifetime achievement

As a child, Val Werner was always tinkering with things. He loved building models and later graduated to electronics kits from Radio Shack.

“I liked seeing how things worked,” said the We Energies employee. “I collected old TVs and would break them down to see how they were built.”

It’s no surprise he became an electrical engineer, but it is surprising to learn that wasn’t his first educational pursuit.

“I have a degree in art history,” Werner explained. “I earned it during my time in the Air Force.”

During his military career, Werner spent time in Europe and had the opportunity to pursue his passion for art. He traveled to world-famous museums and participated in condensed educational programs. Not only did he earn his degree, but he also was named “Outstanding Airman of the Year” by U.S. Armed Forces Europe while serving overseas.

Now, Werner has achieved another national award, this time for his engineering expertise. Werner received an Outstanding Personal Achievement Award at PA Consulting’s ReliabilityOne™ Awards on Nov. 29. Kevin Fletcher, president of We Energies, presented him with the honor.

“Val is a true leader in electric reliability and outage data reporting,” said Fletcher. “He has made outstanding contributions to We Energies and the industry. We congratulate him on this significant award.”

Werner began working at We Energies in 1990, the same year he received his degree in electrical engineering from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is a founding member of the company’s reliability engineering team. He has held key roles in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and co-authored numerous research reports. Annually, his We Energies Electric Distribution Reliability report keeps close track of the company’s outage statistics. 

“I like focusing on reliability. There are new challenges every year – it never gets stagnant,” said Werner. “And there’s always new technology being developed which can help us resolve outages more quickly for our customers. Everyone I have worked with over the years has been passionate and professional.” 

Werner calls his career rewarding, but award-winning? “I was surprised. It’s very humbling,” he said. “I certainly didn’t expect it.”

Werner with achievement award.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Don’t let your heating budget go up in smoke

It’s fun to cozy up by the fireplace now that temperatures are dropping, but the crackle and flames can do more than send smoke up the chimney – they can take your heating budget along with it. That’s because traditional, open-hearth fireplaces draw air from inside your home, making your furnace work overtime to replace it.


Here are five tips for more cost-effective comfort:

  • Turn your thermostat down to 55 F when using your fireplace.
  • Open a nearby window approximately 1 inch so the fireplace can draw cooler air from outside instead of warm air from inside your home.
  • Install snug-fitting, well-sealed glass doors to limit the amount of room air that’s drawn in.
  • Consider installing an energy-efficient fireplace insert, which can keep more heat in your home.
  •  Close the flue damper when your fireplace isn’t in use to keep warm air inside.

Find more energy-saving heating tips online.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Entertain efficiently this holiday season

As the holidays roll around, you may be opening your doors more often to your family and friends. Don’t let the winter chill creep in behind them. Use these tips to help keep your home warm and inviting all season long while boosting your energy efficiency.

Keep out cold air
According to the Edison Electric Institute, air leaks can account for 25 to 40 percent of the energy used for heating in a typical home. You can easily reduce this heat loss by adding insulation to your windows and weatherstripping to the cracks around your windows and doors. Both plastic film insulation kits and weatherstripping are inexpensive and available at hardware, home improvement and big-box stores.

Plan before you cook
Last-minute dinner prep isn’t just stressful; it can be inefficient, too. You don’t want to leave an empty pan heating while you finish chopping the last of the onions, and a frozen turkey can tax your oven for additional hours. Make sure to prepare ingredients before they are needed and think about ways to optimize your cooking. If you’re making a single dish, consider alternatives to the oven, such as a toaster oven, slow cooker or microwave.

Know your equipment 
Pay attention to your oven and stove top’s capabilities – they could save you some energy. If your oven has a convection feature, use it to reduce the cooking time and heat required. Check a dish’s progress with the oven light instead of opening the door and losing heat. On an electric range, match pans to burners of the correct size. According to the Department of Energy, a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner will waste more than 40 percent of the energy expended.

Automate your cleanup
After the guests have said their goodbyes and you find yourself with a mountain of dishes, don’t resign yourself to an evening in front of the sink. Dishwashers save energy and water when compared to hand washing. You can improve their efficiency further by turning off the heated drying cycle, opening the door and allowing dishes to air dry.

More ways to save money on your energy bill