Huntington lineman earns title, trophy as world’s best

Huntington resident Joe Hyrkas (middle) holds the giant trophy proclaiming him as the best apprentice lineman in the world. With him are his parents, Karen (left) and Bill Hyrkas.
Huntington resident Joe Hyrkas (middle) holds the giant trophy proclaiming him as the best apprentice lineman in the world. With him are his parents, Karen (left) and Bill Hyrkas. Photo provided.

Originally published Oct. 28, 2013.

Joe Hyrkas is the best at what he does, and he has the trophy to prove it.

What he does is climb high in the sky, sometimes as much as 80 feet, to keep the electricity humming along in Huntington.

And where he proved his skill was at the International Lineman's Rodeo, where he finished ahead of all 218 other apprentice competitors.

Hyrkas, a Huntington resident, is an apprentice lineman for Duke Energy, a job he's held for 3-1/2 years. After his performance at the Oct. 19 competition in Bonner Springs, KS, he can call himself the "overall world champion apprentice."

That's the title he won at the rodeo.

"That was my fourth time competing in that rodeo as an apprentice," Hyrkas says. "The last two years, I placed second overall."

In addition to winning the overall world champion title, Hyrkas placed first in the apprentice written test and was named top apprentice in the investor-owned utility division.

Linemen - the people who build and maintain power lines - are considered apprentices for their first four years, after which they become journeymen. The Lineman's Rodeo has a separate competition for journeyman linemen.

All of the competitors are judged on speed, agility, technique and safety procedures.

A lot of his preparation, Hyrkas says, was in studying for the written test - the first event in the competition.

Remaining contests are more action-packed, with the linemen scored and timed as they climb a pole and accomplish an assigned task.

"In the hurt man rescue, you rescue a dummy from the top of a pole," Hyrkas explains. "In the speed climb - I call it an egg climb - you climb up and down the pole with an egg in your mouth. If you break the egg, you lose points."

Forty-foot wood poles are used in the competition, and Hyrkas says he can climb the pole in 35 seconds when he's competing. Under everyday circumstances, it takes him just under a minute to climb a pole of that height.

Utility poles in the real world range in height from 30 feet to 80-foot-tall behemoths that carry high voltage transmission and distribution lines, he explains.
Speed, though, is secondary in winning points, he says.

"It's more about doing it right than doing it fast," Hyrkas says.

The apprentice linemen are also tested in their skills in administering CPR with an automatic external defibrillator (AED).

That's a skill they'd need "should we come across somebody unconscious," says Hyrkas, who says that's not something that's happened on his watch. "Fortunately, it has not,"

And every year there's a mystery event. This year's mystery event, which Hyrkas says is too complicated to fully explain, involved pole climbing, a rope throw and an insulator changeout.

Hyrkas, the only member of Duke Energy's Huntington crew to compete in the international event, won his way to Kansas by being a top finisher at a regional rodeo in Plainfield. It's something he volunteered for, and his employer gave him work time to practice to supplement the time he spends honing his skills on his own.

"A lot of the practice is just studying for the written test," he says.

But he also practiced the more physical parts of the job.

"We have training grounds in Plainfield, and we can go there," he says. "We can climb almost every day if we choose not to use the bucket truck."

There's a practical side to the competition, says a Duke Energy administrator.

"The rodeo allows our line technicians to think outside the box and to apply this experience to their everyday jobs in ensuring the delivery of safe, reliable electricity," says John Lowe, technical training specialist at Duke Energy Carolinas.

In all, Duke Energy sent 60 line technicians from its six-state service area to the international rodeo.
Hyrkas was the only participant from Huntington.

Eight Duke apprentices finished in the top 25 of the 219 competitors. Duke Energy's team also took home four awards in the journeyman team and senior-journeyman team divisions.