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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

Escott braves the heat to check gas meters daily

Monday, August 6, 2007

(Photo)
Barb Escott readies to read one of the several gas meters she looks at daily.
HARMONY -- Barb Escott knows what hard work is, she reads gas meters for a living.

Working as a sub-contractor for Power One, Inc., on behalf of Vectren Gas, she ventures out into the heat and humidity daily.

"I'd say that most days I start work early, before 6 a.m.," Escott said. "It helps to get most of my work done in the mornings when it's a little bit cooler. I slow down as the day goes on, the heat just takes it out of you."

Beginning work at 6 a.m., she often doesn't finish her daily schedule before 7 p.m. That's a long day when the heat index is more than 100 degrees.

"On an average day, I read approximately 300 meters," Escott said. "The most I've ever read is 600 meters in one day."

That may not seem like a lot to most people, but she is speaking about individual meters on residences or business in town.

According to Escott, she has to be face-to-face with the meter in order to read it. That means she can't be in her air-conditioned car, and must walk from home to home.

"I walk about 12-15 miles daily," Escott said. "The most I've walked in one day is about 19 miles. I wear a pedometer so I can tell how far I've gone."

Escott had special training on how to read meters and how to use her hand-held itron, a small, portable computer that she enters the meter readings into and must upload to a main computer at the end of each shift.

"This is a good job for me, because I like being outside," Escott said. "I love meeting new people. I meet a lot of older people who are just happy to have someone to talk to, even if it's just for a minute. I also get a tremendous amount of exercise. This job has been the best weight-loss program I've ever been on. I've lost more than 30 pounds in three months."

The drawbacks of a meter reading job are as specialized as the job itself.

In addition to the escalating heat, continuous bending and constant walking, Escott has run into a few predicaments that she wasn't expecting.

"I was attacked by a dog," Escott said. "On everyone's bill, it shows the next scheduled day that readers will be in their area. Residents are supposed to have animals leashed or locked up, and fences unlocked. This was the second time I had read this address, and when I opened the gate and went into the backyard, this mixed breed dog attacked me and bit me on the hand and arm. I was really angry, and sad, too. I've always loved animals, especially dogs, and that totally changed how I feel about dogs now."

She also feels differently about landscaping in yards, especially hedges.

"This is my biggest pet peeve," Escott said, "The electric and water meters are always exposed. I don't know why everyone tries to hide the gas meter. But people have flowers around the meters, hedges around it and sometimes, people have built decks around it."

Escott explained that she has to be able to read the dials on the front of the meter, and the customer number on the bottom of the meter.

"The people with a deck have cut out an area to see the meter, but I can't read it looking down, I have to be level with it," Escott said. "It's the same with hedges. People will trim them, but I still have to be able to read the information. I've had to squeeze under the decks before, and I hope I don't have to do that in mud or snow. If I don't read it, I don't get paid."

The reason most people take a job is the pay. Escott doesn't get paid hourly, nor is she on salary. She is paid per meter, and that pay varies depending on the routes she works.

"I've been paid as little as 19 cents, and as much as 65 cents per meter," Escott said. "It really depends, and that's why you try to read as many as you can. I try to do a good job, and if I don't read a meter because a gate is locked or a dog is loose, I go back at the end of the day. It's what I'm paid for."

With all the challenges, and all the stress on her body, Escott still smiles when she talks about this job.

"This is a challenging job, sometimes fun but mostly hard," Escott concluded.

"It does have some high points, sometimes people will bring out a cold drink and visit. I like that part of the job."



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