We can’t say it enough: Stay away from downed lines. Zanesville Line Servicer Eric Erwin was recently able to prevent yet another close call with this extreme danger.
Erwin was called to the scene at 8:45 p.m. January 5 following a reported wire down. A tractor trailer had failed to turn sharply enough and ran over a guy wire supporting a pole with 69-kilovolt transmission wires on it. The damaged cable came into contact with our lower-voltage distribution lines running underneath – energizing the dangling guy wire as it hung toward the ground.
When Erwin arrived there was no one there. The truck driver had left, as had the police officer (who barricaded the area with caution tape but had not recognized the safety hazard). Erwin stopped a couple hundred feet from the pole, shined his light on the equipment and, through his nearly 25 years of experience, knew instantly the wire was energized.
One bit of better news: a black porcelain insulator (aka a “Johnny ball”) about seven feet in the air stopped the current from reaching the lowest part of the cable. Without that insulator, the danger would have even more severe.
“If you grab a downed line 99% of the time it’s going to be fatal. When you touch it with an open hand your muscles will contract, your hand will tighten and you won’t be able to let go,” Erwin said. “When people try to move one out of the way, most of the time they think they’re helping. Don’t do it.”
The incident is a reminder that the general public – and even first responders like police officers, firemen and emergency medical personnel – may not always fully appreciate the seriousness of these situations. It’s also a reminder that the proper construction of our equipment (such as the installation of Johnny balls, when appropriate) helps save lives.
Though these situations are uncommon, Erwin has seen them enough times to remain vigilant.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, so my mind thinks a little differently than the normal person,” Erwin said. “You never know what you’re going to find. You can’t run right up on the scene, you have to stop and assess the situation.”
“I’m going to consider all our equipment energized until everything has been isolated, tested and grounded. For everyone else it’s pretty simple – don’t touch a downed wire.”