Unique mobile demo helps first responders avoid electrocution
When disaster strikes, the world of a first responder shrinks to the task at hand—saving lives, saving property, and restoring normalcy to situations that are anything but. With their physical and mental resources at maximum drive, it can be easy to overlook the quiet peril of high voltage power flowing overhead, underground, even in the walls.
Daniel Lofland understands this state of mind all too well. Before accepting the job of energy efficiency and solutions specialist for Norman-based Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC), Lofland worked for eight years as a co-op lineman, huffing up poles at 3 a.m, in rain, hail and high winds with one goal in mind—restore power.
“For a lineman or a fireman or any other first responder, in a disaster it’s go-go-go, and when it gets like that they may not be thinking about everything that’s around them,” Lofland says.
With his experience and understanding of the hazards faced by first responders, it’s no wonder he became intrigued by a project his manager noticed at an industry meeting last summer.
“Someone showed him a photo of a high voltage demonstration trailer, and he said we needed one,” Lofland recalls. “When he showed it to me, I thought, that’s right up my alley.”
One year later, OEC has its high voltage demonstration on wheels, built piece by piece by Lofland, along with fellow OEC employees Ryan Spears, Clifford Chastain and Brad Hunter. Imagine a span of power line complete with eight-foot poles, transformer, security light and meter, all mounted on a 20-foot flatbed painted safety orange and energized from a welder.
Today, OEC’s Live Line demonstration trailer rolls across the co-op’s seven-county service area bringing on-site training to emergency medical technicians, firefighters, law officers, county road crews, and others whose day-to-day work finds them in close contact with electricity.
For these professionals, life-threatening scenarios are commonplace: A car crashes into a power line, and EMTs or law officers are the first to arrive at the scene. A road crew slices through an electric pole guy-wire or digs into an underground power line. Firefighters arrive at a burning house and must disconnect electricity to the building before entering to fight the blaze.
Such situations may prompt individuals with good-hearted intentions to act without fully understanding the potential hazards. When that happens, the rescuers are at extreme risk of becoming additional victims.
“Firefighters die every year because they think they can pull a meter and it will disconnect power to a home. That’s not always the case,” Lofland says.
Electricity can arc from the meter to the ground, using the nearest human body as an efficient conduit, he explains. While many fire departments have established a “no pull” rule on meters to prevent electrocution, deaths still occur because it was an accepted practice for so many years. During a recent presentation to volunteer firefighters, Lofland said the participants’ reactions when he disconnected the meter, and the light remained on, told him they were unaware of the danger.
“Their eyes got really big, and they all looked at one another like they didn’t expect that to happen,” he recalls. “But that’s exactly why we built this demo. It’s meant to get their attention.”
While first responders receive extensive and recurring training on many aspects of their job, tight budgets may limit their instruction on specific electricity-related hazards.
“Often they don’t get this type of specialized training,” Lofland says. “With our demo, we can show them exactly what they would see in a real-life situation, with actual wires, transformers, and meters energized with the same voltage we have running through our lines.”
And OEC’s Live Line training is free, he adds. During the demo, participants are encouraged to ask questions and bring up situations from their personal experience for discussion. Lofland, assisted by OEC linemen, explains how to evaluate and approach accidents involving electricity and the proper steps necessary to ensure the safety of everyone on the scene. It teaches participants to look beyond the immediate objects involved and see other dangers, Lofland says, and it’s a way to save lives.
“As a lineman, safety was a concern for me every day. I enjoy being able to share my experience and explain to others why we do things the way we do,” he says. “If this saves one person, it’s all worth it.”
Two electric co-ops in Oklahoma offer mobile live line training for first responders. For information, please contact Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, 405-321-2024/ www.okcoop.org, or Tri-County Electric Cooperative, 580-652-2418/www.tcec.coop.
Scene Safety: fight the instinct to rush in
If you witness an electrical accident or come on the scene of an accident involving power lines, fight the instinct to rush in and administer help. Instead, call 911 immediately and keep others away from the hazard. Remember, electrical accidents pose an ongoing danger to others as well as the victim. When electricity is involved, only those who are trained to thoroughly evaluate the risks should attempt rescue.