January 19, 2012

CMP contractor's work halted after death

Oakland man’s fall from utility pole to be investigated by several agencies

Central Maine Power Co. ordered one of its contractors Tuesday to indefinitely suspend work pending an investigation into the death of an employee who fell from a utility pole in Saco.

The employee, John R. Plante, 44, of Oakland, died at a hospital after falling an estimated 40 feet while descending a 95-foot wooden pole Monday.

Plante was working for Hawkeye LLC, based in Hauppauge, N.Y.

Don Rassiger, chief counsel at Hawkeye, said Plante was hired in July as an apprentice lineman.

He said when Plante fell he was wearing an apparatus known in the industry as a 100 percent fall protection device, which has one harness and two belts. Rassiger said that information came from both emergency responders and Hawkeye's ongoing internal investigation.

Plante's sister, Charmaine Haiss of Oakland, said her brother was a stickler for safety and that before he joined Hawkeye he had worked on natural gas rigs.

She said he was kind-hearted and "he loved life," adding that his smile and laugh were infectious.

Her brother enjoyed playing sports, including hockey, soccer and golf, and spending time with his family. He took his golden Labrador everywhere, she said.

Haiss said her brother named his beloved dog Barney after Barney Fife, the faithful companion of Sheriff Andy Taylor on the "The Andy Griffith Show."

Her brother loved being a lineman. "He was passionate about his work," she said. "His eyes lit up when he talked about what he was doing.

"This was such a waste," she added. "Why didn't one of the belts stop him?"

Saco Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Holland said Wednesday that Plante's safety harness was at the police station.

Holland said the first emergency responders arrived at 4 p.m., nine minutes after receiving the call for help.

He said emergency personnel made their way to the site -- a snowy, uneven area about 1,500 feet off Boom Road -- in a small truck used to fight forest fires.

The truck carried Plante to a waiting ambulance and he died later at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Holland said.

A coworker on an adjacent tower saw Plante's fall, he said.

"It was at the end of the day and I suspect they were finishing up," said Holland, who added there was no rain, sleet or snow falling when the fall occurred.

Rassiger said he believed Plante climbed the free-standing wooden utility pole to install something at the top, possibly a bird protection device, and was descending when he fell.

He said Hawkeye workers are deeply saddened by the accident and offered condolences and support to Plante's family.

Hawkeye and its sister and parent companies take the safety of employees very seriously, he said.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating. A message left with the agency was not returned by deadline Wednesday.

The state medical examiner's office will complete an investigation into Plante's death within six months. The office in Augusta investigates all sudden, unexpected and violent deaths in Maine.

"This is a terrible loss, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Plante's family and friends," said Douglas Herling, CMP vice president for special projects. "We have suspended any further work by Hawkeye until we are confident they can ensure the safety of anyone associated with the construction they are doing for our company."

After the fall, CMP ordered an immediate stand-down for all transmission construction workers and crews and briefed workers on Plante's death and safety procedures.

CMP announced in 2010 it had hired Hawkeye and two other contractors to work on CMP's $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Program, which includes construction of five 345-kilovolt substations and other facilities joined by about 440 miles of new transmission lines through 75 cities and towns.

Beth Staples -- 861-9252

bstaples@centralmaine.com

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