Staying Safe from Electrical Hazards II
Upon arrival at a fire or emergency scene where downed or arcing wires, or any other form of an electrical problem is involved, a good action would be to request the local power company to respond to the scene. Having the power company respond to all working structure fires is a good practice, should you need them. They will either be on scene or in route, which is a definite advantage. If the electrical hazard poses a threat to personnel or operations, a defensive posture is to be maintained until the hazard has been eliminated. If aerial devices, ladders, or hose streams are to be used in the vicinity of overhead wires or transformers, adequate placement distances should be maintained to prevent coming into contact with the wires or electrical devices.
As soon as possible, utility service should be turned off at the gas meter or propane tank and the electrical panel servicing the involved area or structure. A department member trained and knowledgeable in performing such a task usually can accomplish this and it will also prove valuable in the cause and origin determination. Just screwing out fuses and dropping them on the floor, or turning circuit breakers off just won’t do. Turn the mains off by pulling or removing the main fuses and leave all the circuit breakers or circuit fuses in their present positions as found.
In some instances where it is unable to reach the electric panel, the utility company will have to disconnect service at the pole or underground service point, and may eventually do it at major fires. Remember that during overhaul and opening of ceiling walls and floors, you may encounter electrical wires, outlets and fixtures; therefore, the power should be off before starting overhaul procedures.
When responding to motor vehicle crashes where electricity and downed wires are involved, caution is required. No approach to the vehicle or its occupants should be made until any electrical hazard has been removed. To attempt extrication of trapped victim(s) is foolhardy and should never be attempted, no matter who the victim may be. In the event of a pole and wires down, obtain the pole number from another pole other than the one involved in the accident. Don’t go walking under the involved pole. Surely the power company will find the location.
You are there to do all you can do to rectify the problem, but never lose site of the fact that you did not create the problem and your safety comes first. Risk always has to be evaluated as to what will be gained, and when up against 13,000 volt wires, defer to standing fast until the electric power has been shut down.
“Killing the power” is the responsibility of the power company. Emergency response personnel should never attempt to pull electric meters, cut wires, or pull pole fuses or circuit breakers. Secure the scene and await the arrival of the power company. During storms when wires are down in numerous locations, it may require longer waits before response from the power company arrives. The use of fire police, local, or state police to secure the scene may be required in order to place equipment and personnel back in service and available for additional response. Never leave the scene of any type hazard unprotected that you have responded to. You are responsible until you have transferred the hazard to another agency, the power company or when it has been eliminated.
One last thought for those departments that respond to flooded basement calls is to remember that most electric panels are located in the basement. Generally, they are above the depth of the flooding condition, but checking the depth of the water before beginning your pumping operation is important. Looking from the outside before wading into the water and confirming the location of the electric panel with the homeowner will enhance your safety.
Till next time, Stay Safe and God Bless!