Spirit of Hong Kong

The man you call when the lights go out

Handling testy clients and battling typhoons all part of the job for CLP Power's emergency services workers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

Time was running out for New Year celebrations in a darkened Kwun Tong housing development a few years ago.

Electricity supply to Tsui Ping Estate had been cut shortly after 9pm when smoke was seen coming from switches in the ground-floor transformer room.

As residents waited outside, CLP Power senior tradesman Wong Wing-wah and his colleagues were working against time to get an emergency generator installed and operating.

"I was under huge pressure," Wong, 44, recalled. "District councillors and residents kept asking me when the electricity would resume, while I was busy fixing stuff."

Then with 20 minutes to spare before midnight, the generator fired up and the lights came on.

"It was just in time," said Wong, a member of the company's emergency services team, which answers calls from consumers and deals with their problems.

Wong said the incident two to three years ago was one of the most challenging he had faced since he joined the company in 1984. He and other team members rushed to the site after receiving a call, saw the smoke and called in engineers while they worked to rig the emergency supply. "When I saw the residents go back up to their flats by lift before midnight and heard their countdown, I was very contented," he said.

Wong said his job required a wide variety of knowledge and at least five years of experience.

He had worked at the company for 11 years before he joined the emergency services team.

Recalling his days as a trainee electrician after a one-year course at the then Technical Institute, he said: "When I first looked at the power supply and protection system, I was overwhelmed. I didn't know if I would be able to learn everything about them before my course ended."

Things are easier for more recent recruits, he says. "They don't need to do a lot of things by hand, and the time needed for certain procedures is much shorter."

Before joining the emergency team, Wong worked at a district office doing maintenance jobs and assisting engineers.

"The jobs in the emergency services team are very wide-ranging," he said.

"We need to be very familiar with the roads in the district, so that we can reach the destinations as quickly as possible. We also need to be familiar with the locations of transformer rooms, where to get the keys to them and which station supplies electricity to the location."

The job was challenging because the situations were different every day, he said.

Wong's job often requires him to work overnight and in bad weather.

On a usual day he answers four to six emergency calls but this can rise to 10 or more in humid conditions - which put electrical connections under stress - and during thunderstorms.

Sometimes team members just need to tell callers over the phone how to reset circuit breakers, but sometimes they go to the scene to help, even though the power failure is not related to the supply but to faulty appliances. "Some clients demand that we be there even though the problems are their own," he said. "And we can't refuse."

In many cases, he says, the client should have called a registered electrical contractor.

"But if it is in the middle of the night, and if the caller is an elderly person, we will go down to see how we can help."

Sometimes the problem is as simple as supply being disconnected for non-payment of the bill.

"They sometimes call immediately after they've transferred the fees via EPS or the internet, demanding supply be resumed instantly," he said.

"But some clients are very nice. They won't call us in extreme weather even though their electricity is cut off. They understand that little can be done."

The emergency team will not work outdoors if a black rainstorm signal is in force or if the wind speed exceeds 63km/h.

When going out in a typhoon, they are required to ensure that the fuel tank of their vehicle is full and their walkie-talkie batteries are changed. Rubber boots and raincoats would also be ready in the van, he said.

Although Wong has to work on public holidays and at night, he said he was happy to be in the emergency team.

"It's just like working in the special duties unit in the police. There's a sense of satisfaction. Every day you are facing something new."