By Ryan Peters, Aptos/La Selva Fire Protection District
As we get started on a new year of safety messages, one topic came to mind the other night, as our emergency crews were busy responding to downed power lines due to the recent windy and stormy weather. This is the time of year in which our crews respond to many calls having to do with downed power lines. Whether they’re low hanging or completely on the ground, they pose a very significant life hazard to everyone. For that reason alone, our Firefighters take these types of calls very seriously. In the Fire Service, our top four priorities on any call are to first address and ensure life safety, then to stabilize the incident, followed by protecting and conserving personal property and the environment.
Our first responders are trained to treat every downed or low-hanging wire or cable as energized. This is a good rule to live by. Downed power lines should always be considered energized or live. Do not touch and stay at least 60 feet away if possible. This is critical to your safety.
When you get a chance, take a look at a utility or “telephone” pole in your neighborhood. Most utilities in Aptos run overhead, while in some areas they run underground. Utility poles are set up to run electrical, phone, and cable services.
The thin wires you see at the highest points are the electrical or primary lines. You’ll also notice in most residential neighborhoods with overhead utility service, that each house has an electrical line or service drop leading from the utility pole to a corner of the structure. These are the types of lines we consider first when sizing up wires down call. The lower cables and wires running in thick bundles are typically non-electrical phone and cable lines. These by themselves don’t pose a hazard however, when the primary lines above contact the lower secondary lines, all lines in that area should be considered energized and dangerous.
Power lines once coming in contact with the ground or a fallen tree do not always break the circuit feeding them energy. Compromised wires don’t have to be arcing, sparking, or humming to be deadly. Wires that don’t appear to be energized can, without warning, become energized due to electrical back feed from generators, switch stations and circuit ties. In short, please do not touch and keep a good distance away.
When the ground surface is wet, as it is right now, our firefighters always maintain a safety zone of 60 feet around any downed or low-hanging wires. We also will park our fire engines at least two non-compromised utility poles away to ensure a safe work area. From there we will isolate the area, address imminent life safety issues, notify proper agencies and await their arrival. Here’s what you can do to keep you and your family safe if you encounter downed power lines:
- Always assume a fallen power line is live or energized.
- Avoid touching or nearing a downed power line. Do not use objects to move downed power lines. Maintain a minimum 60-foot distance from any downed line. From a downed wires contact point on the ground, electricity can spread outward through the ground causing electrocution.
- Do not touch objects or victims that have come into contact with downed power lines.
- Keep children and pets away from fallen electrical lines.
- Avoid driving or parking over downed electrical lines. If your vehicle comes into contact with live wires, stay inside your vehicle, and call for help. Warn others to stay away. If you have your cell phone, call 911. Wait until our fire crews or PG&E arrives and inform you that it’s safe to exit.
- Call 911. Immediately report the situation with your exact location. And please follow the directions of the fire crews on the scene.
Stay safe and enjoy this winter season! Our crews are always happy to discuss power line and utility safety anytime. Please feel free to drop by one of our fire stations if you have any questions.