Former PG&E employee suing utility after he was fired, claiming it was retaliation

NAPA, Calif. (KGO) -- A former PG&E employee is suing the utility after he was fired for what he claims was retaliation.

Todd Hearn worked for the company for 20 years. He began alerting PG&E about the dangers of a new piece of electrical equipment which, he says, could initiate wildfires.

RELATED: Telecom executives face California Public Utilities Commission on outages during power shutoffs

The devices are called TripSavers. They automatically re-energize a line after power has been cut off due to anything that hits the line such as a tree branch.

Todd Hearn was a safety lead for PG&E in Napa when the company began installing them between 2016 and 2017.

"They started putting these TripSavers in high fire areas," he told ABC 7 news reporter Lyanne Melendez

TripSaver sends three bursts of current to re-energize the line. This way PG&E doesn't have to send workers out there to inspect the line and restart the process.

But if the line is broken and comes in contact with dry vegetation while re-energizing the line, it can cause a fire.

"Pretty much like sending lighting strikes into a dry forest area, it just didn't make any sense," Hearn explained.

TripSaver is another version of a recloser, which utility companies have used for decades, except that according to Hearn, TripSavers are cheaper and PG&E uses them in remote areas.

State Senator Jerry Hill, a long-time critique of PG&E says the utility was not taking a safe approach when using TripSavers even after the 2017 fires.

RELATED: PG&E testing technology that could reduce future Public Safety Power Shutoffs

PG&E acknowledges it began disabling them for the 2018 wildfire season.

"The other utilities have used them they know when to turn them off so we don't have wildfires,"

Hearn was eventually fired, he says, for expressing those concerns.

PG&E says he was fired for "misusing company time, miss stating work activities and fraudulent submissions of timecards."

Hearn is suing PG&E.

"Trying to do the right thing. I'd like to get this equipment fixed and make the community safe again," he added.
Copyright © 2022 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.