Leatherhead Thursday: Lines Down

By J.R. Dennison
of the Leatherhead Instructors

The fire department is one of the first agencies that the public turns to when situations arise that pose any type of threat or emergency.  Fire departments across the country respond to countless calls involving downed utility lines and poles each year; the risk of injury or death is always there.  We are going to take a few different looks at how these calls can be handled and what our function should be once on scene.

Our job description varies, but at no point are we capable of determining if a downed line is energized or not.  Every line should be treated as if it was energized and our scene management should be accordingly.  A downed tree across utility lines can present a great danger in itself, because of the potential of transferred energy through that tree and any people in the immediate vicinity.  It is important to not only look at the downed utility lines as being energized, but the objects in which they are now touching.  Remember that you are the ground, and a direct route for that energy to ground.

Our primary function on the scene of downed lines is to provide safety for ourselves and the public.  Many times we respond to calls that involve lines down on a vehicle while occupants are still inside; it is best to keep these folks right where they are until the power company can de-energize the lines.  You limit the risk of grounding out the vehicle, the occupants, and the first responders when you wait.  One wrong move can be the difference of life and death!

Think about the operations and care that we take when using our aerial devices.  The platforms at the pump panel and aerial control area are not for comfort; they are keeping you from being a ground should the aerial device strike a live line.  This same concept should be viewed when operating at scenes involving downed lines.

Talk with your local power company about providing training for your department regarding utility lines.  Most providers will be glad to work with you to better educate about their profession and things to look for.  Awareness is absolutely the first step in helping yourself and others!

Stay safe and train hard!