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Monday, October 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Final Spokane family to receive power stays positive in spite of hardship

Patrick and Ting Vollmer with daughter Zoe, 6, sit in front of their fireplace Friday after being the final Avista customer to have power restored. They stayed with family, but eventually found a generator and survived the last few days. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Patrick and Ting Vollmer with daughter Zoe, 6, sit in front of their fireplace Friday after being the final Avista customer to have power restored. They stayed with family, but eventually found a generator and survived the last few days. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
From staff reports

The Vollmers told their friends they expected to be among the last to have power restored to their home near Lincoln Park on the South Hill.

The claim would bring laughter and good-natured disbelief from those they told.

“There was a point that it almost became like a joke,” said Ting Vollmer, piling dominoes that were splayed across the floor in front of the fireplace back into a box Friday afternoon in their newly powered living room. “Like, ‘We are going to be the last people.’ And we really are.”

Avista Utilities Corp. reported Friday morning that all of the roughly 180,000 customers whose power went out after a deadly windstorm 10 days prior were back online. The Vollmers, who share a single power pole and transformer with a neighbor, were the last to receive restoration, the utility said, and they received a $150 gift card to Rosauers supermarket for their prolonged outage.

Vollmer and her husband, Patrick, knew they were in for an extended break from electricity. They followed reports on social media indicating Avista was working to restore power efficiently to the largest number of customers. So they knew their splintered pole and downed lines in their backyard weren’t a priority.

But a crew of three trucks arrived Thursday night after 9:30 p.m. Power was restored early Friday morning, a few hours after Ting Vollmer’s birthday.

“Let’s just say, when the three trucks pulled up, it was the happiest moment of my life,” Ting Vollmer said. “I said, ‘Avista is gifting me a pole for my birthday.’ ”

The Vollmers, with their 6-year-old daughter, Zoe, weathered the storm and its aftermath the same way thousands of Spokane residents did. They spent a night in a hotel, stayed with relatives and began a frantic search late last week for a generator.

Patrick Vollmer prepared for trips to Montana and the Tri-Cities to find a generator but discovered a fellow out-of-power scavenger on Craigslist who’d bought a unit and had power restored before he had a chance to turn it on. The propane-powered generator kept their refrigerator and lights working from Monday through Thursday night, in five-hour increments.

“I had no clue how you would do a generator, what does that mean when you get a generator? How do you hook it up?” Patrick Vollmer said. The family consulted an electrician to help them get the generator online.

The family spent Thanskgiving at the home of Patrick’s sister, who also was without power for a time after the storm. Patrick and his family as well as his sister stayed in Post Falls at their parents’ home for several days during the outage.

“It was kind of like a family reunion,” Patrick Vollmer said.

Despite the loss of some food, a pair of fish that died after their tank cooled and lengthy drives off the South Hill, the Vollmers counted themselves lucky. A fire continued to crackle in their stone fireplace Friday even as the furnace ran, and pieces from the board game Settlers of Catan were spread out on their living room table.

Two guppies – Genji and Soseki, named for figures in Japanese literature – survived the outage, the family said.

“I think it simplified life,” Patrick Vollmer said, as his wife continued to clean up their kitchen and living room of food, books and toys. “That was refreshing.”

Avista crews, some of them on loan from places as far flung as San Francisco, worked through Thanksgiving to restore power to the last several thousand customers who remained without power for the holiday. The utility has called it the worst outage in its 126-year history. There were Avista customers still without power after the Vollmers were restored, but those customers, Avista said, had damage to their homes requiring them to hire electricians.

Ting Vollmer, who said she was happy the family could organize their lives again after living more than a week “out of bags,” said they would be ready for the next major storm from lessons learned this year. They also sought perspective from a storm that killed two women and affected many residents without the support they had.

“It was just a real big inconvenience for us,” Ting Vollmer said. “It wasn’t devastating.”

Staff editor John Stucke contributed to this report.

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