Despite reaching the age where many would choose to retire, Charles Mathis shows no sign of slowing down. For the past 51 years, his commitment to keeping the lights on in his hometown, rain or shine, has expanded past Volusia County during times of need.
“I’m almost 73-years-old and my family wants me to retire, but honestly I just love coming into work,” the senior Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) lineworker said. “I love being able to help people.”
For the past five decades, Mathis has restored power to countless communities in Florida and even across the nation that were impacted by hurricanes. Doing so meant working under harsh conditions, inclement weather and in 16-hour shifts back-to-back for weeks on end. None of it phases the nearly 6-foot, sturdy man. He loves his job.
Like most Americans, he opens his laptop once he begins his shift, but his office is quite different. It’s in a bucket truck 6-feet off the ground, which he effortlessly hops into every day.
“You never know what challenge you have to face,” he said as he logged into the computer displaying Volusia County’s service tickets needing his attention. “Fixing electric issues can be like solving a puzzle, each piece is instrumental.”
For him, there’s nothing more satisfying than powering up his hometown. As he drives across Daytona Beach to connect a new home to the energy grid, remnants of Hurricane Ian and Nicole can still be seen around town.
Beachfront hotels are gutted and abandoned, homes are missing roofs and windows are still lined with plywood. It’s an image he’s seen time and time again working nearly every hurricane that’s landed in Florida for the past 50 years.
“It’s tough because you can feel the trauma everyone goes through during a hurricane. You see the devastation firsthand,” he said. “Trees are down, poles are down, and your neighbors’ homes are flooded. You feel the loss whether you know them or not. When seeing that type of damage, I want to help and try to get as many customers back online as I can.”
Mathis’ commitment to his community goes hand in hand with the innovative strides made by the utility company he works for. Over the years, FPL has invested heavily in cutting-edge technology and innovative solutions to ensure it provides reliable electricity to its roughly 5.8 million customers, even during hurricanes.
This past year, this commitment again earned FPL the title of most reliable investor-owned utility in Florida. In 2022, for the seventh time in eight years, FPL was also awarded the ReliabilityOne® National Reliability Award.
The company’s success in reliability is due in large part to its newly strengthened, smart energy grid, including millions of smart meters and intelligent devices that can detect power outages instantly and minimize restoration times. Now, power-related issues can even be predicted before they happen.
“Over the years, the equipment we use just keeps getting better and better. It helps fix things safely and quickly,” he said. “There’s still physical things you have to do, but there’s a lot of fixing you can do through the computer.”
Additionally, wooden transmission poles have been replaced by steel or concrete poles; and many power lines have gone underground, especially in critical community areas such as fire and police stations, hospitals and 911 centers, making structures storm resilient.
Hurricane Ian, a high-end Category 4 storm, confirmed the resiliency of FPL’s storm-hardened energy grid, which saw no significant structural damage at any FPL power plant and did not lose a single transmission structure.
The company’s investments in smart grid technology have avoided more than 11 million outages.
“I tend to hold the record for responding to the most storms, but Charles has me beat,” Manny Miranda, FPL executive vice president of power delivery, said with a smile. “At FPL, we’re focused on delivering safe and reliable electric service. This wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of our caring, hardworking employees like Charles.”
Mathis’ past experience as an Army veteran has played a significant role in his success as a lineworker. During his time in the military, Mathis honed his skills in teamwork, problem-solving and critical thinking, all of which have proved invaluable in his current occupation.
“I always want to help somebody,” he said. “If you have an issue with electricity at your house, reach out to us. We’re here to help.”
Born and raised in the very town he works in, Mathis’ commitment to helping those in need expands beyond his day job. He’s an ordained minister who is deeply committed to helping troubled youth in his community.
He volunteers his time and talents to preach and teach at his local church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, and he uses his position to encourage and mentor young people who are struggling to find their way in life.
If he ever does retire, he plans on creating a prison ministry to help troubled youth onto the right path.
However, through his various roles as a lineworker, Army veteran and minister, Mathis has already touched countless lives.
“If I can put a smile on someone’s face, it makes it all worth it,” he said. “If I can save you some time, effort and money, I’ve done my job.”