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Staying Safe from Electrical Hazards

There are many hazards on the emergency scene, and one that can be found at almost all incidents, electricity, poses a continuous threat to all first responders. Caution is required at all times as the electrical hazards may remain hidden from initial size up, therefore, continual thought must be given to the potential for some form of electrical hazard suddenly appearing and compromising the safety of personnel. The best remedy to eliminate the threat is to have the power company turn the power off to the building or area if needed. The best remedy, but not always being accomplished in a timely manner.

In almost all areas of the country 13,000 volt electric wires or higher traverse our streets and highways, providing the source of electric to maintain our present lifestyle and dependency on electricity. As the growing demands for electric continue, so does the need to carry increased voltage over the transmission wires. Over the years there has been the continued increase from 3,000, 5,000, and 8,000 volt wires to 13,000 volt feeder cables in all areas of the country, down your street and in your neighborhood. Caution in your response is required whenever you suspect electric wires or contact with electricity may be involved. Electricity, under control or out of control, poses a deadly threat to emergency response personnel and the public. Have you ever responded to a report of wires down and found a 13,000 volt cable burning up the roadway. Maybe you didn’t know the concrete or blacktop would burn? Just imagine what it can do to the human body. Give any electrical hazard, or potential hazard, a wide berth, the further away from the hazard the safer you are.
We may think that an electric shock in excess of 500 volts may be more deadly than 100 volts, but either can kill, as it is not the voltage, but the current (amperes) that will make the difference. While any amount of current over 10 milliamps (0.01 amp) is capable of producing painful to severe shock, currents between 100 and 200 mA (0.1 to 0.2 amp) are lethal. Currents above 200 milliamps (0.2 amp), while producing severe burns and unconsciousness, may not cause death if the victim is given immediate attention. Resuscitation efforts, consisting of CPR, may revive the victim.
When responding to any emergency your initial size up should include observation of any electrical hazards such as wires down, arcing, or burning, vehicles into electric poles or tangled in wires, and the location of overhead wires and the danger they may present on ladder placement and hose stream operations. Are there additional potential conductors of electricity such as fences, wet roads, phone or cable television wires in the area, as they all can pose a threat to on scene personnel and operations as conductors of electricity. All departments seem to have those members who are so capable and quick to identify downed wires as telephone or cable TV wires, and, as well they may be. More importantly is to remember another name for wire, and that is conductor. A conductor is something that can conduct (carry) electricity even though it was not designed, or is being used to do so. Examples such as aluminum siding and aluminum ladders (all ladders when wet can conduct electric), and cable TV and telephone wires, pipe and metal fences when in contact with electrical transmission sources will conduct electricity. The many hand tools used are also conductors of electricity, along with hose streams and wet ground. Therefore, just don’t assume that because it is a telephone wire lying in the street that it is not in contact with an electric source; secure the area, call for the utility companies and let them make the decision. Some may think this can’t happen with all the safety devices, fuses, circuit breakers, and ground faults built into the system. Think again! If everything went the way it was supposed to go you would never be out on a stormy night for wires down arcing or burning on a tree or pole. Things can and do go wrong, and when you respond, you must be prepared, cautious and alert.

To be continued.

Till next time, Stay Safe and God Bless!

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HENRY CAMPBELLSenior Correspondent

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