In case of fire, be pre­pared to save your own house

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

The Dec. 29 ar­ti­cle on an elec­tri­cal fire in the Pal­isades area [“D.C. fam­ily says Pepco to blame in house fire”] high­lighted how the util­ity re­sponded to a home­owner’s re­port of a haz­ard. It bears dis­turb­ing re­sem­blances to an ex­pe­ri­ence in our Chevy Chase neigh­bor­hood months ago.

In our case, af­ter an in­tense thun­der­storm, a tele­phone line caught fire. Fire­fight­ers ar­rived promptly, but they were not au­tho­rized to put out a fire on a util­ity line. Neigh­bors watched as the fire burned through the line’s in­su­la­tion and shot sparks to­ward trees. Calls to Ver­i­zon went into a queue — with waits of 30 min­utes or longer. The res­i­dent of the house clos­est to the burn­ing cable was told that Ver­i­zon would send some­one to in­spect the line later that day.

It turned out to be three days be­fore the com­pany dis­patched the first crew to the area.

Be­fore leav­ing, one of the fire­fight­ers said the phone-line fire would prob­a­bly burn it­self out. When it didn’t, the firetrucks were called back, but they still couldn’t spray the line, though the fire had burned for an hour. Pepco, when con­tacted by the home­owner clos­est to the fire, said that as long as power was not in­ter­rupted, the prob­lem lay else­where. (Phone lines aren’t or­di­nar­ily flammable, and we learned later that a short in a power line up the street was the prob­a­ble cause.)

Our fire was put out, but only be­cause the home­owner used his hose on the phone line, a risk no one should take in the case of a power line. Sadly, the re­cent Pal­isades fire, which dam­aged a fam­ily’s home, shows what hap­pens when alarm­ing in­for­ma­tion does not pro­duce an emer­gency re­sponse from a util­ity.

Mary Ec­cles, Chevy Chase

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