A United Illuminating Co. line crew staged a drill downtown last Friday for a delegation of Chinese visitors to show how they work on overhead wires carrying 13,800 volts of electricity.

The demonstration at Sherman Green provided an "opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with others," Joseph Thomas, UI's vice president for electric system operations, said in a statement issued afterwards.

As the Chinese looked on, the UI crew donned hard hats, heavy gloves and rubber arm coverings. Before work started, they held a brief "tailboard meeting" -- a routine pre-work review of potential safety issues the crew might encounter and strategies to address them, according to the UI statement.

Line workers ascended via the bucket truck, first covering exposed live wires with orange insulators to minimize the chance of contact. They worked to mount a "power bank" of three new transformers on the pole to address a low-voltage issue that had been affecting that part of the distribution circuit.

In China, such work is often performed on lines that have been de-energized, which means that customers lose service while the work is under way.

UI line workers, on the other hand, often work on energized lines, relying on specialized equipment and extensive training to protect them, Scott Murphy, manager of overhead and underground power delivery at UI, said in the statement.

UI line workers undergo a five-year apprenticeship, focusing heavily on safety, before they become fully qualified, according to Murphy.

"When you're working 45 feet off the ground on lines carrying high voltages of electricity, it's your training that allows you to finish the job safely and go home at the end of the day," he said in the news release. "Our line workers and supervisors understand and respect that."

The Chinese task force included safety officials representing governmental, industrial and utility groups touring the U.S. to observe safety practices. The visit was arranged by Terex Corp., the Westport-based manufacturer of UI's bucket trucks, and its Massachusetts-based distributor, the James A. Kiley Co.

"With the recent expansion of the Chinese economy, the need to provide reliable energy to the businesses, hospitals and other power-critical customers becomes greater, as does the need to do hot-line work which requires the proper training, tools and work policies to do it safely," Jim Lohan, vice president for sales at Terex's utilities division, said in the statement.