GREAT FALLS — NorthWestern Energy crews have been working round the clock since a record-breaking blizzard knocked out power for thousands in Cascade County this weekend, and social media is buzzing with gratitude.
"Once you start to see everybody thanking them on Facebook, you kind of realize it's a thankless job," said Jenni Paranteau, the owner of Porkie D's Soup To Go in Great Falls. She lives in the Riverview neighborhood; her power was out for about 16 hours this weekend.
"I'm almost 50, and I don't remember it ever getting to where it was out for 16 hours," she said. To show her appreciation, Paranteau told utility crews they could drop by for a free hot meal, no questions asked.
"It was just a little gesture we could do," she said.
A record 13.4 inches fell from last weekend's blizzard, and wind gusts reached between 40 and 60 miles per hour. Out past Stuckey Road in Great Falls, about 18 power lines went down, leaving thousands, mostly in Vaughn, without power.
NorthWestern Energy had redundancy in place, though, so customers had their power restored, but around 37 crew members were still braving the cold Wednesday morning to get new poles up and the original line running.
"We're a needed entity," said Glenn Pacini, construction manager for NorthWestern Energy's Great Falls division.
Pacini said although his team was prepared for the storm, something surprised them — the outpouring of gratitude.
"Yesterday morning, I was coming into work, and as I was coming up, a customer was pulling up," Pacini said. "I thought he was probably going to pay his bill in our drop box .... He said, 'No, actually, I'm bringing you guys a thank you card.'"
It was one of many small gestures since the storm that gave Pacini pride in his team.
"Thanks to them for their hard work in some challenging and actually dangerous conditions," he said.