Don’t get zapped!!

Ex­perts give lo­cal first re­spon­ders a safety les­son on elec­tric­ity.

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - FRONT PAGE - BY JIM DINO STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: jdino@stan­dard­; 570-501-3585

DRUMS — Even if it ap­pears there is no power, that does not mean an elec­tri­cal line is dead if it is ly­ing on the ground or on a car that crashed into a pole.

So the best way to avoid be­ing in­jured by elec­tric­ity is to not touch the wire un­til PPL Elec­tric Util­i­ties em­ploy­ees get to the scene and con­firm the line is dead.

With many elec­tri­cal fa­cil­i­ties now in the ground, a live wire can elec­trify the ground and cre­ate a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion.

That’ s the mes­sage Dou­glas Haupt, PPL’s lead dam­age preven­tion in­spec­tor, made dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion Aug. 30 to po­lice and fire­fight­ers from Val­ley Re­gional Fire Co., Free­land, White Haven and Slocum Twp. out­side the Val­ley Re­gional sta­tion.

“There are dif­fer­ent things you need to think about, the dif­fer­ent types of sit­u­a­tions, to keep your­self, your kids, any­one safe,” Haupt said. “Never as­sume a wire is not charged, even if homes in the area are dark. It can be de-en­er­gized, and get re-en­er­gized while you are work­ing there. It only takes a small amount of elec­tric­ity, 50 mil­liamps, to kill you. It’s enough to stop your heart.”

PPL Elec­tric Util­i­ties work­ers Mike Balash and Bob Warnock — dressed in “tested” over­shoes, gloves and sleeves — demon­strated dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions in which items touch elec­tri­cal fa­cil­i­ties, us­ing a sim­u­la­tor on a trailer called PPL’s Live Line Ex­hibit. The sim­u­la­tor has short­ened util­ity poles with var­i­ous elec­tri­cal hookups run by a gen­er­a­tor.

Ba las hand Warnock demon­strated what would hap­pen to a per­son com­ing in con­tact with elec­tric­ity by us­ing a hot dog — which Haupt said has the same wa­ter con­sis­tency as a hu­man body. In each test, the hot dog be­gan to burn.

“Wa­ter is a great con­duc­tor of elec­tric­ity,” he said. “The hu­man body is a good con­duc­tor of elec­tric­ity be­cause it is made up of be­tween 65 to 85 per­cent wa­ter.”

They sim­u­lated what would hap­pen to a My­lar bal­loon if it came in con­tact with elec­tri­cal lines.

Haupt said 120, 240 or 7,200 volts of elec­tric­ity could be pass­ing through that bal­loon.

“Where is it go­ing? It wants to hit the ground. It is go­ing down that string at­tached to your wrist, your child’s wrist, and on the stroller. It’s not go­ing to be pretty,” he said.

Then there is the do-it-your­selfer who gets on a lad­der at home and uses some­thing to push away elec­tri­cal wires — to clean the gut­ter, paint the eaves or hang Christ­mas lights.

“I saw, with my own eyes, a gen­tle­man up on a lad­der, and had his 8- to 10-year-old son, with a 2-by-4, push­ing the wire away so he could clean the gut­ter,” Haupt said. “It is not a good sit­u­a­tion. Wood isn’t a good con­duc­tor of elec­tric­ity, but it will con­duct.”

He said a squir­rel can chew a wire apart, al­low­ing the sun’s rays to pen­e­trate.

“A pin­hole in that pro­tec­tion will al­low elec­tric­ity to pass through you,” he said. “Con­sider it all elec­tri­fied, un­less you are a qual­i­fied elec­tri­cal worker.”

The federal Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­structs people to stay 8 to 10 feet away from power lines, he said.

Ex­ca­va­tors, mean­while, are re­quired by law to call 8-1-1 three busi­ness days prior to the start of any project to de­ter­mine the pres­ence of util­i­ties. The rea­son is that even though un­der­ground elec­tri­cal lines have to be sunk deep into the ground, the fi­nal grade of a home con­struc­tion site may strip away some of the cover, leav­ing the line closer to the sur­face — and close enough for a shovel to strike it, Haupt said.

“If you planted a fence post, put in a mail­box, ro­totilled a gar­den or put in a tree in your yard, you are all now ex­ca­va­tors,” he said. “The law states, if you are hand-dig­ging with a shovel, you are re­quired make the 8-1-1 call for the safety and re­li­a­bil­ity of our lines.”

The PPL work­ers demon­strated a wooden-han­dled shovel go­ing into the ground en­er­gized by 7,200 volts.

First re­spon­ders

Po­lice and fire­fight­ers en­counter sit­u­a­tions with elec­tric­ity at fires and mo­tor vehicle crashes. Haupt pre­sented a sce­nario in which emer­gency re­spon­ders are pro­tect­ing one of PPL’s wires that is ly­ing on the ground.

“The lights are out, you are un­der pres­sure to get that road open. It is go­ing to take us some time to get there, es­pe­cially dur­ing a stor m. At some point, you’ re go­ing to get coura­geous enough to walk over there and pos­si­bly grab hold of that wire or kick it,” he said. “T reat ev­ery wire that is down as en­er­gized un­til we get there and we tell you the line is out and grounded and safe for you to ap­proach and do what you need to do.”

A per­son hold­ing that live wire, he said, won’t be able to let go.

“What is your body’s nat­u­ral re­ac­tion if you come in con­tact with elec­tric­ity?” he asked. “Your body works from elec­tri­cal im­pulses from the brain, so your nat­u­ral re­ac­tion of your body is to con­strict, make a fist. Are you go­ing to be able to let go? You are tak­ing hun­dreds of amps of ground fault cur­rent to pass through. Ul­ti­mately, you can bur n free, or some­one can try to take a stick from the woods to try to knock you free. You won’t be able to let go.”

The wire it­self is not in­su­lated, Haupt said.

“A lot of people call the black (part of a wire) on an over­head ser­vice in­su­la­tion,” he said. “As a qual­i­fied elec­tri­cal worker, I give it zero in­su­lat­ing value. It is sim­ply a black coat­ing.”

The PPL work­ers demon­strated what would hap­pen if a fire­fighter’s lad­der came in con­tact with over­head lines.

Haupt also noted that cloth­ing that is ad­ver­tised as pro­tec­tive is not safe.

“T he outer glove pro­tec­tion, over top of our rub­ber-tested glove, you can buy in any hard­ware store,” he said. “They are go­ing to tell you it is elec­tri­cally tested. Is it elec­tri­cally tested enough for you to touch our sys­tem? No.”

The work­ers tested a hot dog in a glove.

“Noth­ing that you have in your turnout gear in do­ing fire­fight­ing, po­lice or first re­spon­der work, is go­ing to keep you safe from elec­tric­ity — even through it says it is elec­tri­cally tested,” Haupt said.

If emer­gency per­son­nel ar­rive at the scene of a crash in which a vehicle hits a pole, if a line is lay­ing across the car, the car be­comes en­er­gized, Haupt said. He ad­vised the first re­spon­ders to never go up to a vehicle that has struck a util­ity pole and touch it.

T hat’s be­cause of some­thing called the ground gra­di­ent, when un­der­ground lines elec­trify the ground over them, he said.

“You get to a scene, and there’s a vehicle into a util­ity pole, and a wire lay­ing across the vehicle or on the ground near the vehicle. If it is day­light, look for the con­duit com­ing down the poles near your scene,” Haupt said. “There may be a per­son scream­ing in that vehicle, and they need help. As hard as it may be, wait un­til we get there. Con­sider ev­ery wire elec­tri­fied un­til we get there and tell you it is out and grounded.”

They used a small child’s wagon to demon­strate what it would be like if a car were en­er­gized.

“With ground gra­di­ent, the safest place to be is in the vehicle,” Haupt said.

He ad­vised first re­spon­ders who may have to coach some­one to exit a vehicle that is touch­ing a power line that the per­son can­not lose con­tact with the ground.

“They have to open the door, stand on the door­jamb of the vehicle and hop, feet to­gether, a shoul­der width apart, so the feet don’t land sep­a­rated,” he said. “If some­one is in­jured, they may not be able to hop. They can shuf­fle, heel to toe. You don’t need to be in a hurry even though that vehicle is catch­ing fire. Never lift your feet off the ground or bring your foot up.”

Haupt also war ned emer­gency re­spon­ders that a de­vice called a TAC stick — which is sup­posed to de­tect dan­ger­ous elec­tri­cal cur­rent from a safe dis­tance by sound­ing warn­ing beeps — is un­re­li­able.

The prob­lem is, al­though a TAC stick may de­tect elec­tric­ity, it may not be at a safe dis­tance, given the sit­u­a­tion, Haupt said.


PPL Elec­tric Util­i­ties work­ers use a hot dog to demon­strate the ef­fects of a hand or fin­ger touch­ing a live wire dur­ing a demon­stra­tion Aug. 31 at Val­ley Re­gional Fire and Res­cue in Drums.

Bob Warnock shows what oc­curs when a shovel con­tacts an un­der­ground power line dur­ing the pro­gram for lo­cal first re­spon­ders.

Mike Balash makes ad­just­ments on a minia­ture 7,200-volt elec­tri­cal dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem that is par t of PPL Elec­tric Util­i­ties’ Live Line Ex­hibit.

Dou­glas Haupt, PPL Elec­tric Util­i­ties lead dam­age preven­tion in­spec­tor, de­scribes the dan­gers of deal­ing with live power lines.

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