They do their jobs while the Valley sleeps
“I knew the night work was part of the job when I started the training program 30 years ago,” says Terry Williams. A specialist in Reliability, Analysis & Operations, Williams has worked the 4-3/3-4 (four nights, three days/three nights, four days) shift rotation for 28 years.
He and two co-workers in the Control Room of the Regional Operations Center at Chickamauga Dam monitor the “reliability region,” that is, the section of the national transmission grid that includes TVA and five other companies in Kentucky and Missouri. If there is a problem on the system — say, a transmission line or an interconnection tripping — the reliability team takes steps to avoid cascading outages and maintain the integrity of the system.
Kelvin Summers has worked a night/day rotation as a health physics technician at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 1 for 15 years. Carolyn Felton works the 3:30 p.m. to midnight shift as a custodian and dual-rate supervisor in Muscle Shoals, and Matt Buck, a shift operations supervisor at Colbert Fossil Plant, works rotating shifts.
They, like 2,339 TVA employees, work evening and night shifts to help keep the electricity flowing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including all holidays.
“It really doesn’t bother me,” says Summers, who is usually able to watch his son, Kevin, play linebacker for the Carson-Newman Eagles and spend time with his wife, Barbara, and their daughters Kara, Kayla and Kaitlin.
“It’s important to be there,” says Williams. His wife, Diane, is an operator for McKee Bakery. “Over time, you adjust to not being at home on weekends and some holidays. Now that our kids Tavares and Trey are grown, it’s not as big a challenge for me as it is for someone coming in.”
Felton has worked for nine years at the Muscle Shoals Reservation. She and co-worker Jeff Richardson are among seven Facilities Management custodial workers at the reservation. Working at night, and in mostly empty buildings, they pay special attention to safety.
“There is always something to do,” says Felton. “We have safety meetings every week, sometimes twice a week. We are reminded to wear our PPE [proper protective equipment] — safety glasses, proper shoes — and to work safe.”
Buck has worked a swing-shift rotation in operations at Colbert Fossil Plant for 10 years. Shift turnover times are at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. “It’s necessary to have operations personnel on the night shifts, because fossil plants are required to run 24 hours a day,” he says.
Buck’s night team includes a 13-person operations crew and is supported by a minimal maintenance crew. And safety is always a priority.
“We have shift turnover meetings to discuss all activities from the previous shift and to review all activities planned for our shift.” he says. “We try to schedule critical tasks early in the shift. We also use a lot of self-check and buddy-check techniques to prevent mistakes during routine and non-routine work planned for the shift.”
Does he like the night duty? “That’s a two-edged question,” he says. “I get more days off, and I do like that. But having to change my sleeping patterns every few days, that’s difficult.”
Buck’s wife, Lisa, owns a gift shop that is closed on Mondays. So when Buck gets a Monday off, he and Lisa can spend it together. Buck is looking forward to watching his sons Dylan and Logan play high school and middle school football this fall, when he can.
“It’s not the most desirable shift, but we understood the requirements when we took the job. And we know that it’s our diligence and dedication that allows the plants to keep running. We can’t just turn the switch off and go home.
“People sometimes ask me, ‘Do you have to work Christmas, too?’ and ‘Why?’ I just smile and ask them, ‘Do you like to have your Christmas tree lights shining on Christmas morning?’”