This information is essential for anyone who might encounter emergency situations where energized electrical equipment creates a hazard. The language is intentionally non-technical in an effort to provide easily understandable information for those without an in-depth knowledge of electricity. Because of the wide variety of emergency situations first responders (i.e., law enforcement officers, fire fighters, ambulance attendants, etc.) might encounter, it is not possible to cover every situation.
Consider it Loaded
You must always maintain proper respect for downed wires even
though some may appear harmless. Electrical equipment requires the
same respect, awareness and caution you would accord a firearm -
always "consider it loaded." In situations where no emergency
exists and human life is not in any immediate danger, wait for the
local utility personnel to secure the area; they have the knowledge
and equipment to complete the job safely.
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First on the Scene
Law enforcement officers, fire fighters or ambulance attendants
are usually first on the scene when overhead wires are down --
usually as a result of storms, damaged utility poles or fallen
branches. They need to be aware of the hazards and procedures
involved in dealing with emergencies resulting from fallen
As Dangerous as a Rattlesnake
Electricity seeks the easiest path to ground itself and does not
"care" how it gets there. If you or your equipment create that
path, you will be placing yourself (and possibly others) in a life
threatening situation. In some situations fallen wires snap and
twist, sending out lethal sparks as they strike the ground. At
other times the wires lie quietly; producing no sparks or warning
signals -- as quiet as a rattlesnake and potentially as dangerous.
The first rule is to consider any fallen or broken wire extremely
dangerous and not to approach within eight feet of it.
Notify the Utility
Next, notify the local utility and have trained personnel sent
to the scene. Have an ambulance or rescue unit dispatched if
necessary. Remember, do not attempt to handle wires yourself unless
you are properly trained and equipped.
Set out flares and halt or reroute traffic. Keep all spectators
a safe distance (at least 100 feet) from the scene. Electric power
emergencies often occur when it is raining; wet ground increases
the hazard. After dark, light the scene as well as you can. Direct
your spotlight on the broken or fallen wires.
Remember that metal or cable guard-rails, steel wire fences
and telephone lines may be energized by a fallen wire and may carry
the current a mile or more from the point of contact.
An ice storm, windstorm, tornado, forest fire or flood may bring
down power lines by the hundreds. Under those circumstances
electric companies customarily borrow skilled professionals from
one another to augment their own work forces. First Responders have
their own jobs to perform at such times -- usually as part of a
task force -- which lessens the need for individual decision
making. But every first responder should be prepared for when he or
she faces an electric power emergency alone and must make decisions
about people, power and the hazards involved.
Remember that electricity from a power line (like lightening
from a thundercloud) seeks to reach the ground, so it is imperative
when working with fallen wires not to let yourself or others create
a circuit between a wire and the ground.
When a Car Strikes a Pole
In a typical power emergency a car strikes a utility pole and a
snapped power line falls on it. Advise the car's occupants they
should stay in the car. Call the local power company, but remember:
Do not come in contact with either the car or its occupants. If the
car catches fire, instruct the occupants to leap, not step, from
the car. To step out would put them in the circuit between the
wire, the energized car and the ground -- with deadly results.
If fire fighters are on the scene, they may be best able to
handle the situation; most full-time fire fighters are trained to
deal with electric power emergencies and will have the proper
equipment to do so. If you must extinguish a car fire without the
aid of fire fighters, use only dry chemical or CO2
If the car's occupants are injured and cannot leap to safety,
you may be able to use your vehicle to push them out of contact
with the wire. If you do this, it is critical to look around the
vehicle before leaving your car -- there may be another fallen wire
behind you or a wire hooked to your bumper. If there is (or you
suspect there is), leap from your vehicle.
Check for Vital Signs
Once a victim has been removed from the electric hazard,
immediately check vital signs. If the victim has no pulse and is
not breathing, begin cardio- pulmonary resuscitation immediately
(and any other appropriate first-aid treatment) until he or she is
placed in the ambulance.
In any rescue attempt it is essential that you protect yourself
-- it is a truism that dead heroes rescue no one. Do not, under any
circumstance, rely on rubber boots, raincoats, rubber gloves or
ordinary wire cutters for protection. Above all, do not touch (or
allow your clothing to touch) a wire, a victim, or a vehicle that
is possibly energized.
A Safe Partnership
As a first responder you may someday face the challenge of working with hazardous electric power. It's our hope this brochure addresses some of your questions. With knowledge, training and experience (and an on-going partnership with Bangor Hydro) your job will be made much safer.
For more information, please contact Bangor Hydro's Safety Department at 973-2868.