SAFETY HARBOR — Broken streetlights might as well be really expensive bird perches. But to Dale Tindall, 52, of Safety Harbor they are real threats to public safety.
That's why, over the last two and a half years, Tindall has reported about 6,000 streetlight outages to Duke Energy, nearly all of them between Bay Drive in Largo and State Road 580 in Dunedin.
"I can brag that there haven't been any kids killed in Clearwater because the streetlights have been out," Tindall said. "Tampa can't say that; St. Pete can't say that."
Tindall's obsession about streetlights started when he observed 50 lights out on just 2 miles of road near his house.
In the beginning, he would drive around at night twice a week looking for lights to report, often finding more than 100 burned-out lights in a single night.
Now, though, he simply observes outages when he happens to be out and about at night.
"In the beginning, lights were out all over the place," Tindall said. "(Now) I don't do anything out of the ordinary. When I'm out, I just pay attention."
Tindall said that in Pinellas County, three entities oversee streetlights. The Florida Department of Transportation maintains the lights on major roads like Ulmerton Road. He said Transportation Department lights can be easily identified by their height and the small rectangular base at the bottom of the poles. Municipalities like Safety Harbor and Dunedin manage their decorative streetlights. Duke Energy maintains all the rest.
Duke Energy spokesman Sterling Ivey said streetlight bulbs have a life-span of about five years, and lights fail for many reasons beyond old bulbs, "including lightning and storm damage or repairs required to the underground cable serving the light."
Tindall's dedication to reporting outages is apparently unparalleled. Ivey said very few residential customers report multiple streetlight outages, though another North Pinellas resident active in reporting is Clearwater City Council member Bill Jonson.
Most reports, Ivey said, come from businesses and municipalities. When Duke contracts with cities for streetlights, Duke retains the responsibility to maintain the lights and restore outages, so Ivey said that's probably why cities report so many.
Those who report streetlight outages "are a great partner for us in helping us diagnose where work needs to be done," Ivey said. Duke Energy crews in the field are also instructed to note outages.
Tindall worked for IBM for 20 years as a technician and manager but is currently unemployed. He said he's been out of work "too long."
"I'm one of the people Obama's talking about," he said.
"So I said that if I can't work for pay, I'll work for free and do something that will save the lives of kids, because that's really what it's all about," Tindall said.
He's reported so many lights that he's developed his own strategy to make it simpler to describe the light's location. "All you have to do now is give them a street corner and then tell them where the light is from that street corner," he said. "I document them on the notepad on my cheap cellphone." Then he verifies the location on Google Maps at home.
Once a report is made, Duke generally repairs the lights within three days. Ivey said Duke repairs every reported streetlight outage.
"My intent is, they're supposed to work, and I'm just following the rules to make them work," Tindall said.
Tindall is so passionate about streetlights he even took out ads on Craigslist asking people to volunteer to report outages in their neighborhoods. The ads have yielded responses from a few people in Hillsborough County.
"If everyone reported five streetlights a week, there wouldn't be any more," Tindall said.
If that were to happen, Tindall would have to find a new obsession.
"Recently, I've started reporting potholes," he said.
Josh Solomon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155. On Twitter @JSolomonTIMES.