In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we profile Gilbert Hernandez who started as a janitor in a temporary position and three decades later, works in Energy Delivery Services as part of our front-line efforts to provide reliable power to our community.
On the evening of September 10, 2023, a torrential downpour with over 620 lightning strikes hit the city of San Antonio, Texas.
“The thing about lightning is that it doesn’t have a cage. It likes to find the weak spots to contact the ground—a lot of the time transformers become those weak spots in the system,” says Gilbert Hernandez, who holds the position of overhead heavy line foreman with Energy Delivery Services (EDS) at CPS Energy. EDS is the team that ensures the safe, reliable and economical delivery of electrical power and natural gas to CPS Energy’s customers.
Gilbert knows a thing or two about lightning. He’s been with CPS Energy for over three decades and, when we spoke with him, he had recently returned from working all night as part of the team that replaced three transformers, restored power to 12 transformers, reenergized over 40 downed wires, and installed more than 30 electric lines that burnt because of the lightning strikes.
“I do think the community is starting to see us as first responders. During Covid, a gas station owner gave firefighters free cups of coffee. He gave me one, too,” Gilbert proudly recalls.
In Gilbert’s tenured career, he’s worn seven different uniforms and trained close to 80 field personnel. In his latest post of heavy line foreman, Gilbert oversees the jobs and safety of his crew while protecting more than 8,184 miles of above-ground electric lines that are critical to keep the lights on for the community.
Gilbert first entered CPS Energy as a temporary worker back in 1989. He had just been laid off from his job and had recently married. At the time, his brother-in-law told him to look into CPS Energy.
“I remember going to the building downtown, filling out an application and getting called right on the spot. Red, the nickname of the guy that hired me, said to me, ‘Don’t mess this up! You can make a career here if you take the right steps forward,’” Gilbert remembers about his first job interview. He showed up the next day and picked up a mop. Gilbert was hired as a janitor on a three-month contract.
“My contract was running out at CPS Energy. I found an open position as a utility worker’s assistant and I thought to myself, ‘This is helping me take the right steps forward,’” Gilbert reminisces.
He was hired and stayed in this position for six months. His next opportunity came while digging a ditch needed for a CPS Energy crew to replace an old utility pole.
“I wanted to do what those guys did. I told myself that I wanted to run a crew,” Gilbert adds.
Just nine months after he got hired as a custodian, Gilbert became a lineman trainee and trained for the next six years, including the rigorous training of climbing up and down 40-foot utility poles. He passed his apprenticeship and became a full-fledged CPS Energy journeyman.
Gilbert’s success is also about education. Early in his career he signed up for the computer courses offered at CPS Energy to learn how to read infrastructure maps, including CPS Energy’s circuit switches and utility pole locations.
“I do think the community is starting to see us as first responders. During Covid, a gas station owner gave firefighters free cups of coffee. He gave me one, too.Gilbert Hernandez
“When I started, there were only telephones with landlines. Next came beepers and then computers. Things have changed,” Gilbert laughs about how the industry has transformed. “Whether you polish floors or supervise a crew to make sure they work safe while restoring electric lines, it’s always about working hard and being a team player,” says Gilbert about the secret to his success.
Gilbert is proud of his work at CPS Energy. Thanks to his career here, he’s been able to support his two children as they pursue careers in the medical field.
“I think I did pretty good for a guy that started off as a janitor. Now as a foreman, I still make a difference with these younger guys (coming into CPS Energy) because we need more utility workers. I can show them my path. What we do is tough because the community relies more and more on the grid. It’s also hard because we can be away for long hours from our families, but when you see the eyes of a homeowner whose power has been restored, their ‘thank you’ means so much,” Gilbert said before heading back to manage his crew.