A somber procession escorted the hearse carrying Sheriff’s Lt. Shawn Anderson, of the East Baton Rouge Parish, to his final resting place. But as the scores of motorcycle-mounted law enforcement officers and vehicles of family, friends, and fellow deputies neared a major highway intersection, an uplifting sight awaited them.
Four bucket trucks from Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Dixie Electric Membership Corporation (DEMCO) flanked the roadway, their booms extended to form two high arches over the funeral procession. A huge American flag hung from the buckets of the first arch, and a Louisiana state flag flew from the second.
Three more DEMCO pickups were parked nearby, and a dozen uniformed linemen cradled their hardhats and bowed their heads as the hearse and its honor guard passed their stretch of the route to the co-op-served hamlet of Pine Grove.
The deputy had been killed in the line of duty, shot while trying to subdue a suspect after a nighttime pursuit. An 18-year veteran of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and promoted posthumously from sergeant to lieutenant, Anderson was a highly respected lawman who earned awards for serving “high-risk” warrants as a member of the sheriff’s SWAT team. Last year, he helped deliver a baby on the side of a road when the infant couldn’t wait to reach the hospital. Anderson, 43, left behind a wife and two children, ages 14 and 11.
His death on the job shocked Baton Rouge and the surrounding community, especially after a sniper attack the previous summer killed another deputy and two city police officers and left two deputies and a police officer wounded.
DEMCO linemen paid their respects to last year’s victims as well.
Lineworkers and law enforcement officers share a sobering awareness about their jobs: They and their families know that when they head off to work each day, there’s always a chance that tragedy could strike.
“The job we perform at DEMCO every day is a hazardous and dangerous job,” lineman John Ervin says in a video of his co-op’s tribute to Anderson. “We have a healthy respect for police officers and the line of work they do. We understand it’s also very dangerous and hazardous in some of the situations they get put in.”
That mutual understanding and respect starts at the top, according to David Latona, DEMCO’s manager of member & public relations.
“Our CEO [John Vranic] is the one who encourages us and allows us to participate in those events,” Latona says, adding that the co-op’s linemen are accustomed to joining cops and other first responders at disaster scenes and dangerous situations. “Those guys are always there to help us out, and we respect the hazards of their jobs as well. And as a community-oriented co-op, we just want to take part.”
Line crews from five of DEMCO’s seven service districts participated in honoring Anderson, joining staffers from the co-op’s headquarters.
“They have this tradition of honoring law enforcement officers and military folks in this community,” says Billy Gibson, director of communications at the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives. The statewide is based in Baton Rouge too, so Gibson was on hand to shoot the moving video featuring Ervin. He uploaded it to his YouTube account and also posted a series of photos online. “They’re very proud of honoring those who give their lives in service to others.”
‘Someone the Community Can Lean On’
DEMCO’s community-support events aren’t all grieving ones. Less than a month before Anderson’s procession, the co-op threw a big post-game dinner when the Air Force Academy Falcons baseball team came to town to take on the Louisiana State University Tigers.
“That was a real treat for us to be able to do that,” Latona says. “It’s part of our service to the community. It gives us great exposure, but it also gives us a chance to give something back.”
The dinner followed months of grueling recovery work in the aftermath of catastrophic flooding that damaged or destroyed the homes of more than 50 DEMCO employees along with nearly 150,000 other homes and businesses throughout the region.
“We’ve seen our share of good times, and we’ve seen our share of bad,” Latona says. “And we want to be in the communities we serve. We want to be able to serve them with power, but we also want to be able to meet the needs they have immediately, whether that’s a hot meal or just someone to talk to about the problems they’re facing. We want to be someone the community can lean on in their time of need.”
Know someone RE Magazine could profile for our “Front Lines” column? We’re looking for co-op operations and member services staffers, from meter readers to lineworkers to engineers, who make things work at electric co-ops nationwide. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can reach writer John Vanvig directly at email@example.com or 360-624-4595.