Hot Line

Hot Line Construction keeps its fleet of specialty vehicles moving throughout California to keep the lights shining and air conditioning cooling.

By Russ Gager

Electrical utility lines travel through remote regions, and in mountainous states such as California, these areas can be hard to reach. So when lines are down and power needs to be restored quickly, vehicle reliability is critical. That is the challenge faced by the transportation and logistics departments of Hot Line Construction.

“If a truck goes down in the middle of a job, we send our response team to that truck and fix it,” Fleet Manager Nick Barrick stresses. “If it requires heavy maintenance, we can have a spare truck run out to the job site so it’s not down for a long time. Each of our districts have spare trucks in their yards.”

Hot Line Construction also relies on regular maintenance from its eight mechanics stationed at its different locations in southern California to keep its vehicles running reliably. “Each district down there now has their own lube truck, which allows us to focus on 90-day inspections and services on our vehicles and lube services,” Barrick says.

The lube trucks perform oil changes and other regular maintenance wherever Hot Line’s service trucks are located. “A lot of service trucks report back to the same yard, and we do some maintenance at the yard, but the majority of the time, the lube trucks are on the road five to seven days a week, performing basic lube maintenance on the vehicles,” he adds.

The lube trucks carry tanks to hold waste oil drained from service trucks and are equipped with air compressors, cranes, welders, hydraulic fluid and other required maintenance equipment. The in-house maintenance staff also fabricates part replacements and performs more complicated repairs.

Hot Line Construction has nine districts in California and four offices, along with multiple yards where its equipment is stationed and satellite locations. The company is in negotiations to obtain its licenses to perform service in portions of Washington, Arizona and Oregon.

Electrifying Fleet

Hot Line Construction has approximately 800 pieces of equipment including digger derricks, light towers and cranes, along with 200 leased commercial vehicles in its fleet ranging from pickup, bucket and utility trucks to loaders, fork lifts, flatbed trailers and semi-tractor trailers. “Our substation and field departments prefer utility body trucks with ladder tracks on them and contractor boxes to store and lock up tools,” Barrick says. “We utilize quite a lot of those trucks throughout California. We’ve increased our fleet of utility trucks by 100 percent over the last year.”

Many of the vehicles and equipment such as pickup trucks are purchased new. The leased ones are frequently obtained with a rental/purchase option, and many of those also are pickup trucks. “It allows us to lock into a month-to-month rental agreement and apply a portion of the rental charges to the purchase price and into a lease from there,” Barrick explains. “That reduces the total buyout if we decide to purchase at the end of the lease agreement. Because we’ve had them on rental, we are able to deduct a part of the rental charge off the total purchase price. Five years or newer is our goal for dependability purposes for our crews out in the field.”

The advantage of renting vehicles is being able to return them without penalty when seasonal fluctuations occur and they are not needed anymore. “It gives us flexibility when we rent our equipment to fluctuate fleet size based on what our needs are,” Barrick says. “We do that with our pickup trucks, not just for commercial vehicles.”

Seasonal fluctuations in workload usually occur during the first quarter of a new year. “Traditionally during the first quarter, we drop crew size down in half, then we start picking up by the middle of the second quarter,” CFO Kelly Kutchera relates. “By mid-summer, we are fully ramped up with all boots and wheels on the ground until the end of December.”

The time it takes to accept utility rates and set budgets is the reason for less work being performed during the first quarter. The rush to get the year’s work done before year-end causes the rush during the last quarter. Greater load demands during the heat of summer and damage from the storm season that begins in October and usually finishes in March also accounts for the work increase.

Safety Training

Working with high-voltage electricity requires the highest safety standards and training. To calculate its safety grade, Hot Line Construction enters its safety data in two portals, the ISN Network and OSHA, including hours worked and any information on safety incidents or claims.

“All of our clients look at these portals monthly, weekly and daily sometimes to make sure we are within that range of safety,” Kutchera says. “It’s gotten much more strict in the last three years. Things have changed drastically. We’ve had to turn a lot of our profits from the bottom line back into the company to put together luncheons and large seminars for all our employees and field hands. We bring in outside vendors to come in and do training. Learning how to be proactive as opposed to reactive keeps you in the game, and we work very hard at it.”

To provide that safety training, Hot Line Construction has two yards, one in Northern California and the other in Southern California, where it provides hand-on training for its union employees. “We put together different types of mock scenarios to teach our employees, to retrain or educate them on what they haven’t learned yet,” Kutchera says. “Then we take new hires out there, as well.” The yards also are used during the first quarter of the year for vehicle and equipment storage during the seasonal business slowdown.

The company’s latest technological improvements are a GPS system that keeps track of the location of all the company’s vehicles and equipment. Additionally, a purchase order system keeps track of material ordered. Hot Line Construction maintains little inventory because most of the materials for its work are ordered custom for each job and delivered directly to the project site. “Very little material is left over at project completion,” Kutchera says.

The family owned and managed company is a woman-owned business enterprise that is certified by the California Public Utilities Commission. Kutchera attributes Hot Line Construction’s 30 years in business to “good management from a financial standpoint and a safety quality standpoint. Because of our impeccable safety record, we continue to receive the work.”

Not only does the family of the owner work at Hot Line Construction, some employees’ families also work there. “The larger clients that we deal with respect the fact that we’re still family owned and managed,” Vice President Troy Myers says. “We take a lot of personal pride in that.”

The number of employees at Hot Line Construction has more than doubled in the last six or seven years. “A lot of people who come to work here scratch their heads and say, ‘You’ve got a large corporation, but you really don’t treat your employees that way. You still treat your employees as though only 10 people are working here,’” Kutchera says. “Nobody’s task or job is less important than the next. We make sure employees know that through bonuses at the end of the year as well as paying above-standard wages to our team.”

Projected 2016 revenue: $235 million to $240 million

Headquarters: Brentwood, Calif.

Employees: 612

Specialty: Design, installation and maintenance of transmission, distribution and substation facilities

Dakota County, Minn., took a major step forward in its fleet operations in 2007 when it consolidated all of its vehicle and equipment maintenance and management efforts into a single department. Before then, each of the county’s individual departments including public works and the sheriff’s department operated its own equipment budget and maintained equipment at two different sites with their own staff. With the merger, the county pulled together budgets as well as union and non-union staff.

The nation’s second-largest producer and marketer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is increasing its footprint even further. Westlake Village, Calif.-based Applied LNG in June completed work on its second production train/liquefier in Topock, Ariz.

The new liquefier, located adjacent to an existing production facility, has a production capacity of 86,000 gallons a day, doubling the company’s total capacity to 172,000 gallons. The facility allows the company to reach customers in Arizona, California, Utah, northern Mexico and portions of Nevada.

More than 23 million vehicles in the world run on propane autogas, making it the third most widely used fuel on Earth. That figure continues to grow as more fleet operators and vehicle owners around the globe discover the cost savings and environmental benefits of switching from gasoline. The rapid growth in the autogas sector is good news for North Carolina-based Alliance AutoGas, the only company in the United States offering fleets a complete solution for converting their vehicles to autogas. President Stuart Weidie says the company has experienced robust growth since its inception in 2009, and it looks to continue that success in the years to come thanks to its technical expertise, reliability and the growing popularity of its core products.

There are many companies in the compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling products market, but TruStar Energy stands above them thanks to its extensive background in the trucking industry, Vice President of Sales Scott Edelbach says. “That’s an advantage for us that resonates with our customers.

“Our approach to designing and building CNG fueling infrastructure revolves around our in-house teams of professional engineers [PEs] and construction crews,” Edelbach says. “That means we don’t have any delays due to miscues between subcontractors. It also means we can build the stations faster – which allows our customers to take advantage of lower-cost CNG fuel faster.”

A lot more goes into running local government than many people realize. Take, for example, Prince George’s County in Maryland. The county employs about 7,000 workers and has an annual budget of $2.7 billion, all to serve a population of nearly 900,000 in 20 towns and cities.

Few ever consider how many vehicles are needed for such an entity – 4,300, to be exact, which are used by 18 county agencies, 12 municipalities, 40 volunteer fire departments and two nonprofit organizations. Police cars, ambulances, administrative sedans, garbage trucks, landfill equipment, highway maintenance vehicles, senior citizen buses — the list goes on. And it takes a lot of fuel to run them.

For Ozinga Brothers Inc., the decision to move from diesel fuel to compressed natural gas (CNG) for its fleet of concrete mixer trucks and other vehicles was a fairly easy one. “In 2011, we began to do research and look at what our options were regarding purchasing new equipment, and saw that diesel trucks were becoming more highly regulated,” says Tim Ozinga, a co-owner and director of marketing communications for the Mokena, Ill.-headquartered ready-mix concrete company. “At the time, the technology for CNG was becoming more advanced, and we saw it working well for companies in the refuse industry, so we considered it a good option.”

The company’s previous purchase of diesel trucks came in 2006, just before federal and state legislation regarding emissions standards began to phase in. The requirement to outfit diesel trucks with expensive particulate filters in particular helped motivate the company’s switch once the time to purchase new equipment once again came around. 

Ron Latko has overseen a number of major fleet-related projects during his 26 years working in transportation-related roles, but says his most successful endeavor is the one he’s currently overseeing. 

“I’ve been around for a long time and managed a lot of projects, but no matter how much you think things through, something that you didn’t consider will come along and present a challenge,” says Latko, director of transportation for Mesa (Ariz.) Public Schools. “This project has gone so smoothly it’s been unreal.” 

The school district began an effort in 2011 to convert its bus fleet from diesel fuel to propane. The district now operates 90 propane-fueled buses, and plans to fully convert its fleet of 544 buses to the alternative fuel before 2025. Mesa Public Schools that year also purchased two permanent 18,000-gallon tanks and a portable 1,000-gallon tank to fuel its fleet. A third 18,000-gallon tank will be installed later this year. “We’re ahead of schedule, and everything is working perfectly,” Latko adds.

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