Fire and Ice Can’t Stop our Whitacre Award Winners!

Our Company /

Get an inside look at AT&T's Whitacre award winners, including Kevin Mills, a power technician who took on Winter Storm Goliath in 50 mile-per-hour winds, as well as two California managers, Shane Edmonston and Chris Pankonin, who took on the Erskine Fire at Lake Isabella in California.

By Chris Morgan, Employee Communications

The Whitacre Award honors those of us who take on the extremes – whether it is snow-packed highways in the dark or mountains lit up with fire.

The Whitacre Award – AT&T’s highest honor – is about personal sacrifice, doing what's necessary so our customers have service.

This year, the Whitacre Award goes to Kevin Mills, a Weatherford, Oklahoma, power technician. Two California managers, Shane Edmonston and Chris Pankonin, earned Whitacre honorable mentions.

Kevin versus Goliath

Kevin took on Winter Storm Goliath when it threatened landline service in tiny Allison, Texas, on Dec. 27, 2015. The snow was so dense and winds so relentless that the duty foreman used a mapping app and provided Kevin with the clues to get him to the central office.

"There was a 50 mile-an-hour wind coming from the north. It was like being in a tornado that just stayed there. The snow was just horizontal. Temperatures were in the teens. About halfway there, I encountered whiteout situations," Kevin said.

Throughout his quest, Kevin was in and out of the frigid weather. He relied on his truck's heater for warm-ups. But when he thought the central office generator could be revived with his truck's battery, Kevin removed the battery and hauled it through the snow. Kevin eventually got the generator fixed – just in time.

Shane versus 4 fierce fires

When a series of devastating wildfires struck California last year, communities were destroyed. Residents lost our service when they needed it the most. The Erskine Fire at Lake Isabella, for instance, decimated more than 46,000 acres and more than 380 buildings. It also killed 2 people.

Shane Edmonston, area manager of Network Operations, is part of the AT&T community that has popped up in California to deal with the fires plaguing the state.

Shane's team includes a unique microwave antennae crew that can quickly revive service. It's a temporary fix – but it works. Local plant crew and splicers come back later with the fiber that will be permanent.

Shane is onsite for the round-the-clock restoration efforts. He helps come up with the restoration plan, removes any roadblocks and occasionally climbs the microwave towers himself.

Among the fires Shane and his team worked: the California Valley Fire, the Butte Fire, the Border Fire and the Erskine Fire.

Chris versus the big blaze

When the Erskine Fire broke out in the rugged Lake Isabella area of central California, it quickly became one of the most destructive in the state's history.

The June 25 fire was considered 0% contained when Chris Pankonin, Construction & Engineering manager, donned flame-retardant clothing. As the fire burned on both sides of the road, he and firefighters traveled up the mountain to check on our microwave hub.

Chris' eyewitness account meant our team could start rebuilding – immediately. Chris stayed on the scene, even sleeping in his car, so he could help move the work along as fast as possible. By the second day, the fire command center had service. In another 3 days, about 80 percent of service was restored.