An especially stormy spring has left power on East Texans’ minds – rather, the lack of power that often follows high winds and heavy rains.
Multiple strong storms which struck Kilgore and surrounding cities have left thousands of customers without power, some for days at a stretch, in the last few months. Storm-damaged power lines are the cause and downed lines can pose a serious danger.
According to safety specialists from Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation, workers who toil to repair broken lines after bad storms exercise extreme caution and so should the people who live, work and drive near power lines.
“Back when I was in elementary school, we actually had people that would come to us and talk to us about electrical safety,” said Tony McCullough, Communications Director for URECC, addressing the Kilgore Lions Club on Thursday.
“We don’t see any of that going on today in our area. Nobody’s reaching out to the kids, going into the schools and the civic groups.”
McCullough said URECC had developed a mobile electrical safety program in the previous year to fill that educational gap. The Safety Education Vehicle includes a replica of a section of power lines which can be hauled on a truck trailer.
Once in position, the power line section can be hooked up to a generator, allowing URECC linemen to provide a live demonstration of the dangers of power lines and how to stay safe around them.
URECC’s Safety Education Vehicle was parked outside the Lions Clubhouse on Rusk Street Thursday as Chris Burks, a URECC foreman with 23 years of experience as a lineman, taught the Lions about electrical safety.
Burks said linemen take extra precautions and wear specialized protective gear when working with any power line.
“We have rubber gloves, we have sleeves that cover us all the way up to our shoulders. We have line hose, or ‘guts’, they slide over the wire and make a barrier between us and the wire. We also have fiberglass sticks like we’re using here today which allow us to touch the wire without actually having to touch the wire,” Burks said.
Throughout the demonstration, linemen used the fiberglass poles with grasping and hook attachments to manipulate items around the live wires. They were also used to hoist a voltmeter up to the wire to show a reading of the current running through it – 4,000 volts.
Burks added typical lines in their system carry even more power, over 7,000 volts.
That level of electricity is extremely dangerous.
“Just one volt at one milliamp can stop your heart,” he said.
To demonstrate the danger, Burks placed a hot dog inside one of the gloves used by linemen in the field. The gloves was placed against one of the live wires – no reaction.
The same hot dog was then placed inside a nitrile glove, the kind often seen in doctor’s offices. Placed against the wire, the hot dog and glove erupted in flames and left a smoking, charred mess.
Burks and the linemen also demonstrated the importance of caution when working around power lines, whether in a backyard, on the street or on an open property.
A metal ladder placed against the wires made no sound and gave no sign it was electrified. When the voltmeter measured its current, however, it read 5,000 volts.
The case was the same when a small metal wagon, simulating a passenger vehicle, was placed in contact with the wire.
The point of this demonstration was to explain what to do if a driver wrecks their vehicle into a power pole.
Burks said the safest option was to stay inside the vehicle until help arrives. If an escape from the vehicle is necessary, he said, the best option was to jump clear, then stand up and shuffle away, moving your feet just an inch at a time.
“If you take a big step, one foot will be at one potential and the other foot will be at another potential,” he said. “And your body will be the difference,” causing an electrical charge to be conducted upwards towards vital organs.
Watch closely for power lines when working in the yard, avoid downed power lines after a storm and try to wait for emergency responders after a vehicle accident near a power line.
Electrical danger can even occur from seemingly innocent situations.
The URECC linemen placed a balloon, the kind often seen at parties, against the wire.
It popped in a bolt of blue flame.
Releasing balloons outside can cause them to drift into power lines, potentially causing a power outage or even starting a fire.
To learn more about electrical safety or about URECC’s mobile safety demonstrations, visit www.URECC.coop or email firstname.lastname@example.org.