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Meter readers must be fleet-footed, sharp-eyed

It’s a cold, windy day, the kind that comes as close to bone-chilling as Southern Nevada ever sees. And, at an hour when most of us are trying to remember how to work a toothbrush, Chad Imamura begins what will be a nonstop daylong scamper across the length and breadth of a Henderson neighborhood.

For Imamura, a meter reader for NV Energy, each workday is a ballet with questionable dogs, the weather, locked gates, occasional wintertime ice and possible summer dehydration, and electric meters that couldn’t be more inaccessible than if they were deliberately hidden by homeowners.

NV Energy employs a corps — a surprisingly small corps, given the territory they cover — of 72 meter readers, says Vanessa Farias, the company’s team leader of field services and meter readers. The readers’ day begins at 6 a.m., when they gather at NV Energy’s complex near the Las Vegas Beltway in the southwest part of the city to board vans that will take them to the neighborhoods in which they’ll work.

According to Farias, each of NV Energy’s readers is responsible for 20 “cycles,” or predetermined neighborhood routes. Each month, each reader will spend one day working one cycle, a process that offers the benefit of enabling readers to become familiar with their outdoor work spaces.

The number of meters a reader will read each day varies. On this particular day and in this particular neighborhood, near Palo Verde Drive and Boulder Highway in Henderson, Imamura figures that he’ll read about 1,000 meters — and walk 10 to 15 miles — by day’s end.

It’s a frigid-for-Southern Nevada day but Imamura wears shorts with his NV Energy polo shirt. He totes a stash that includes his ID badge, a radio, a bottle of water, an umbrella (protection against dogs as well as rain), door hangers (for notifying homeowners about problems or issues) and a small spotting scope (for reading meters he can’t physically reach).

In the van that dropped him off, and which will pick him up at the end of the day, is his pack, which contains a protein drink for break. That van, and its driver, serve as meter readers’ support staff during the day. Imamura can call it if he needs to make a restroom break, if he needs water, when he’s ready for a break, and if he requires anything else during the day.

Imamura has been reading meters for about a year-and-a-half, which makes him a relative veteran. How experienced he is becomes apparent when he begins scurrying from house to house, stopping at each to punch readings from each meter into a hand-held device at a speed that would impress the hardest-texting teenager.

The hand-held device is sequenced to each cycle, and as long as Imamura goes from meter to meter and house to house in the preset sequence, the device will bring up the next house after he enters the previous home’s reading, making for a seamless adagio of eye and fingers.

Imamura says it took him about a month to become familiar with electric meter dials, which must be read in the proper counterclockwise-clockwise sequence. But, he adds, it took about six months before he felt he had mastered the skill.

Now, amazingly, he spends no more than two or three seconds at each home before rushing off to the next. He’s slowed down only by man-made obstacles such as locked gates, having to peer at meters homeowners have obstructed with boxes, motorcycles or other items, and dogs.

Ah, yes, dogs. Farias says that about half of the injuries — less than a half-dozen — meter readers sustain each year are dog bites.

“They happen all over the place,” she adds. “We’ve had a stray dog and a dog inside a house the owner thought was restrained. We’ve had dogs in the backyard who hide around the corner waiting for the meter reader.”

As a defense, meter readers carry a dog stick — basically a stick with a tennis ball at the end that, ideally, will be jammed into a charging dog’s mouth — or an umbrella. Imamura carries the latter, which, when opened quickly, at least theoretically startles and deters an oncoming dog.

He has had to use it once, too. It worked, he says, adding that the umbrella didn’t survive the encounter. Meanwhile, while he’ll sometimes exchange a quick greeting with a resident, he’s usually moving too fast for any sort of extended conversation.

In fact, today is nearly nonstop movement for Imamura, who covers one side of the street, then the other, then moves on to the next as if he’s in a race-walk. At an apartment complex, he shaves a few seconds off of his time by being able to read several meters in a bank. At a home, he loses a second or two by having to peer at an inaccessible meter over the top of a masonry wall.

On the upside, he encounters no ice today. Ice, created by lawn sprinklers turned on during freezing early-morning temperatures, is his least favorite hazard, mostly, he explains, because it’s so hard to see until you’re on it.

Today’s chilling wind? Not so much. Ditto for summer’s triple-digit temps. In fact, Imamura says he prefers summer.

And those short khakis he’s wearing today? He smiles. “For me, as long as my ears are warm, I’m fine,” he says. “But I feel restrained with long pants.”

Farias says meter reading serves as a sort of entry level job for NV Energy, and that after six months, readers may transfer to another position in the company.

“Typically, people go to field service representative positions,” she says, but they also can “go into different apprenticeship positions with the company like lineman positions or substation electricians. So there are a lot of opportunities for them to move into other positions.”

Imamura’s resume includes stints at Mandalay Bay and Federal Express. Imamura, 36, would like to transfer into another job at NV Energy eventually, and thinks working in substation construction and maintenance would be interesting.

However, for now, Imamura likes what he does. He likes the exercise. He likes being outdoors. And he likes ending his workday in midafternoon so he can spend time with his wife and baby daughter.

But, between now and then, there are another couple hundred of houses to cover.

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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