By Ryan Peters, Captain Aptos La Selva Fire District
Well, here we are in the New Year and in the midst of what appears to be a very promising rainy season so far. Thankfully, rain and snow in the mountains on a consistent basis should have a positive impact on the California drought. As I prepare this months column, the Aptos/La Selva Fire District and neighboring agencies are preparing for a very busy seven day work period with several significant weather systems lined up to impact our area. Heavy rains and wind in the forecast will mandate that we ready ourselves for winter storm related hazards.
One of the more significant winter season hazards we often see as first responders are downed or low-hanging power lines. Downed electrical lines can pose an extremely dangerous situation to our fire crews and to bystanders. While we are on scene of any power line emergency, our first priority is your safety and the safety of our crews. 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 evaluating a “wires-down” call. The lower cables and wires running in thick bundles are typically non-electrical phone and cable lines. These don’t pose a hazard however, when the live electrical lines above contact the lower secondary lines, all lines should be considered energized and dangerous.
Power lines in contact with the ground or a fallen tree don’t have to be arcing, sparking, or humming to be deadly. Wires can, without warning, become re-energized. In short, please do not touch and keep a safe distance away.
When the ground surface is wet, as it is right now, firefighters maintain a safety zone of 60 feet around any downed or low-hanging wires. We also park our fire engines at least two utility poles away to ensure a safe work area. We will isolate the area, address imminent life safety issues, notify the 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 coming near a downed power line. Do not use objects to move downed power lines. Maintain a minimum 60-foot distance from any downed line. When downed wires contact the ground, electricity can spread outward through the ground causing electrocution.
Do not touch objects, people or animals that have come in contact with downed power lines.
Keep children and pets away from fallen electrical lines.
Avoid driving over 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 questions. Get more safety tips and information at PGE.com or call the Aptos/La Selva Fire District at 831-685-6690.