TECO employee called 'hero' for restoring hospital's power during Hurricane Irma

Doctors, staff forced to work by flashlights

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - A TECO employee is being called a hero by staff members of a local hospital for helping restore power during Hurricane Irma. 

After more than three decades with TECO, electrical troubleman Jay Onheiser's day-to-day work can feel a bit repetitive. 

"Cut a limb here and clear a wire there, and get the power on," Onheiser said. 

But on the morning Hurricane Irma struck Florida, Jay's job was anything but normal. 

"The roads were impassable," Onheiser said. "Normally you have one tree down. This time we had a lot of trees down."

Onheiser volunteered to leave his wife and home to go to work, right as Hurricane Irma was clobbering Polk county. 

"You don't like working in high wind. It's not recommended but the need outweighed the chance that something might happen."

ABC Action News first reported last week, a generator malfunction caused a blackout at Winter Haven Hospital for several hours, forcing doctors and staff to provide critical care by using flashlights and cell phones

"When hospital's out, you know it's bad," Onheiser said. "They have multiple backup systems here. Unfortunately this time…it was worse than they could handle." 

Onheiser battled hurricane conditions beginning at 6 a.m. that Monday. He spent about two hours troubleshooting the power outage at a TECO sub-station in east Winter Haven. 

Hospital CEO Steve Nierman says Onheiser is a hero for helping restore power to the buildings that housed 250 patients riding out the storm. 

"It's just part of the job," said Onheiser. "We get paid well, we're trained well and we're just doing what we get paid to do."

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