By DAVID MONROE / Greenwood Commonwealth
GREENWOOD — Mike Nix says the most used app on his phone is The Weather Channel — for good reason.
On Thursday (July 11), with rain and wind in the forecast for the weekend and beyond, Greenwood Utilities’ vice president of electric operations had already met with his team that morning to discuss their response plan and had another meeting scheduled later that day. He had spoken with a contractor who would be sending a seven-man crew with trucks, which were to be on standby beginning Saturday. On Friday (July 12), linemen were to get their equipment together, fuel the trucks and stock them with the necessary materials. Nix also was to talk with a tree-cutting contractor.
It’s a familiar process for Nix, who has worked at Greenwood Utilities for more than 35 years and has held his current job for nearly 10.
“You hope you’re overprepared,” he said.
Nix, 62, was born in Flint, Michigan. He and his family moved to Alabama when he was 3 and then to Greenwood before he started first grade at Bankston Elementary School.
He attended the Greenwood Public Schools through sixth grade and Pillow Academy from seventh grade through high school. After graduating in 1974, he studied electronics at Mississippi Delta Community College for a year and spent half a year in the general education program before entering the workforce.
He spent 3 1/2 years at Delta Electric and then joined Greenwood Utilities as an apprentice lineman. He said he couldn’t have predicted then that he would still be working there so many years later, but the job was a good fit.
“I always liked working outside, especially when I was young,” he said.
He moved up at the utility from apprentice lineman to journeyman lineman, then serviceman and then assistant electric distribution superintendent before becoming superintendent. He remained in that job 10 years before becoming vice president for electric operations. He now oversees about 27 people.
A lot has changed in his years there. Greenwood Utilities has better equipment now and more of it, he said.
“When I first started, I pretty much climbed poles every day back then,” he said. “We had like one bucket truck on the line crew. Now we don’t have to climb as much because we have more bucket trucks.”
Battery-pack tools are a big upgrade over years ago, too, he said: “Everything was manual back in the day.”
In 1994, he was part of a group helping in Clarksdale after an ice storm, which required aid from teams from all over the Southeast. Greenwood escaped significant damage because the temperature remained just above freezing long enough for the ice on the lines to melt, but some areas to the north weren’t so lucky.
“We went to Clarksdale and worked 22 days straight helping them,” he said. “And it was like, everything was down.”
Even worse was the ice storm that hit Greenwood in December 1998, when he was assistant superintendent. He said it wasn’t expected to be as bad as it turned out, simply because the city hadn’t experienced anything like it. “We worked like 30-something hours straight,” he said.
That storm proved to be a learning experience, he said. Initially, the service people responded as quickly as possible to restore the lines. But since the bad weather wasn’t over yet, the lines would fall again soon after they were put up.
“We kind of learned then you’ve just got to sit it out ’til it’s kind of over with and just start preparing and getting help in,” he said. “That was the key then: We didn’t call in help early enough.”
Small municipal utilities face a challenge in bad weather because larger utilities scoop up a lot of the available contractors, he said. But Greenwood Utilities now has good contacts to get the help it needs. It also has a thorough emergency response plan that is updated yearly.
Another change in the job is that Greenwood Utilities places more restrictions on the work schedules. Years ago, he said, linemen might work 32 hours straight in an emergency; now they are limited to 16 consecutive hours at a time, which must be followed by eight hours off.
Nix said he has good people working under him and stresses up-to-date training, safety and good service. The staff is also knowledgeable enough to handle things even if he is out of town, he said: “They don’t call me unless we have major outages. Routine stuff, they know what they’re doing, and they solve the problem.”
Nix and his wife, Frances, have two sons, Michael and Justin, and two granddaughters, Karra and Kylee.
In his spare time, he enjoys hunting, fishing and attending his granddaughters’ sporting events.
“I had to miss a lot of both my sons’ (games) because of being on call. I’d be at a Pillow football game, and in the middle of it, I’d have to leave and go to work,” he said. “I try not to miss anything with the granddaughters if it can be helped.”
As he looks toward retirement, he plans to stay in Greenwood afterward. The city has felt like home to him for a long time, he said.
“I guess I never really thought about leaving Greenwood,” he said.
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