JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - If you saw someone stuck in a car with a downed power line draped on the hood, your instinct might be to help get that person out of the car. But on Thursday, Duke Energy field workers visited the Jeffersonville Fire Department to warn even first responders to stay back and call for help.
“You see an auto accident, you see someone bleeding in a car, you want to help - that’s your job to help them - and then somebody’s telling you, ‘Man you can’t touch this car for at least a half an hour,’ ” said Duke Energy engineering supervisor Mike Smith. “What kind of position does that put you in? Do you want to risk your life to help this person or are you going to wait?”
Smith hopes that after talking to JFD’s firefighters this week, the answer to that question will be to wait. That’s because only Duke Energy workers are equipped to evaluate a live wire and take the necessary precautions to address it. If there was any doubt to the dangers of approaching electrical power lines, a series of demonstrations showed the pops and sparks that can put lives at risk.
Firefighters watched in the JFD headquarters’ garage as field workers held a dummy squirrel to a live power line set up on a training platform. What came after was a sound loud enough to make a few people jump in their seats. JFD Sgt. Justin Ames said squirrels and other critters are the main reason fire crews are called out at least once a week for blown fuses or fires. During storm seasons, calls are more frequent.
“During storms it’s tree branches falling on (power lines), hitting them or shorting them out, and the moisture and everything affects that too,” Ames said.
Other demos showed the consequences of wet branches or kite strings falling on power lines. In those cases, firefighters may be the first to respond, but they aren’t the only ones on the scene.
“When we contact Duke Energy it’s anything electrical related. So let’s say power goes out, there’s a transformer blown and someone calls 911,” Ames said. “We basically get there, do an assessment so we can relay information to Duke Energy. … Even on the scene we don’t touch the electrical system. We work with the police to secure the perimeter and notify Duke of the location of the problem so they can respond there quickly.”
Ames said on the weekend it can take around 30 minutes for Duke Energy to respond, but during the week it may only take five or 10 minutes. Smith said JFD’s voltage detector can give responders warning, but that it’s not enough to proceed.
Things could just go wrong and it’s always a fear that someone is gong to walk up and grab that energized power line,” Smith said. “Like I tried to emphasize here, you can’t look at it, you can’t listen to it and tell if it’s energized or not. You touch it, you’ll know if it’s energized.”
The consequences of finding out by touch are too costly, Smith said. He closed the training session by offering cautionary tales of people who lost limbs or lives from touching live power lines. He hopes the firefighters walked away Thursday understanding they should call Duke Energy when power lines are involved, no matter what.
Lisa Brones Huber, a community relations manager with Duke Energy, said the public can benefit from Smith’s advice, too.
“Electrical safety is something that everybody can benefit from. So whether you’re a homeowner and you’re going up and climbing the ladder and cleaning out the gutters on your roof and you want to make sure you look up and make sure there’s not a power line above you before you move around,” Huber said. “So I think there’s just being aware of the potential danger and to contact us first for your own safety.”
Smith also warned homeowners against improperly using generators, particularly small generators that people rig up to use during a power outage.
“They plug it in, they don’t think to open up the disconnect that feeds our power in and what happens that generator will actually back feed the whole system. It will go into their house service, go back up the main line through the transformer and re-energize the primary line.”
That re-energized line could be the same line a field worker is working on during an outage.
“And all they were wanting to do was keep their house warm or keep the lights on,” Smith said. “They’re not thinking, ‘What am I doing to the whole system?’ “
Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.