Towering Leadership

Cavalier Rural Electric’s line crew responds to downed communication tower with quick thinking, focus on safety


Emily Windjue


June 15, 2023

With a potentially record-breaking spring snowstorm on its way, Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative (CREC) General Manager Marty Tetrault was preparing his team for iced-up power lines and possible outages on the morning of April 5. Instead, he was surprised to receive a dispatch call that a 300-foot radio communication tower had fallen on one of the rural co-op’s distribution lines, and was now laying across Highway 1 south of Langdon, N.D.

“You see that tower every day and you don’t think it’s that high in the air until you see it lying on the ground. Then it’s really big,” Tetrault said.

Another priority for the CREC crew was to make sure the tower stayed off nearby snowmobile trails. The upcoming storm would have made it very difficult for riders to see the fallen structure.

With the tower’s debris strewn across the roadway along with potential electrical hazards, the CREC crew needed to respond quickly. With 25 years of linework experience before becoming the co-op’s leader in May of 2022, Tetrault wasn’t going to be content sitting on the sidelines. So he grabbed his coat and rounded up his team.

As Tetrault helped block and redirect traffic, his crew worked through the worsening winter storm conditions to ground the affected lines and begin assessing if the scene was safe. After determining the lines were de-energized, the crew began disassembling the tower and removing it from the highway with support from the local sheriff’s department. “Hats off to the Cavalier County Sheriff’s Department,” said Tetrault. “They did a great job stopping traffic far enough away, so we didn’t have any bystanders walking up.”

The downed communication tower was owned by Grand Forks-based Stones Mobile Radio. With the blizzard conditions fast approaching, it wasn’t safe for the Stones team to make the two-hour trek up to Cavalier County.

The communications tower collapsed onto CREC’s distribution line, which broke a few crossarms and caused minor wire damage.

“Marty Tetrault and his crew made my life very easy that day,” said Chris Ranisate, owner and president of Stones Mobile Radio. “After we received the call that our tower was laying across Highway 1 and took out Cavalier Rural Electric power lines, Marty asked what he could do to help. He and his crew handled everything.”

The fallen tower was cut into two separate pieces before a bucket truck towed it away from the middle of the road. After the road was safely reopened to traffic, the line crew of Tyler Feist, Derek Belle and Andrew Nyhagen got to work repairing their line.

“For line damage, it’s usually farm equipment or lightning, storms, something like that,” Feist said of the unusual event.

“It was a new one for us,” Belle added.

The line crew commented that they were walking through knee-high snow on the day they were removing the fallen tower from the highway.

CREC’s line was repaired and back online by 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. Not every general manager has the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and work alongside their crews, but Tetrault’s quick thinking and years of experience confirmed that he was the right man for the job.

“In my opinion, Cavalier Rural Electric went above and beyond,” said Ranisate.

Header image: (Left to right) Lineworkers Tyler Feist, Andrew Nyhagen, Derek Belle and General Manager Marty Tetrault stand near one of the cooperative’s trucks.


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