National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Downed Power Lines at Structure Fires

The working structure fire can create a number of hazards that pose significant obstacles to getting the fire attack established. Firefighters focusing on the fire and not the scene in its entirety are at risk of making the fire their last. This week’s report serves as a thought provoking reminder to avoid becoming fixated on just one task when other occurrences that you overlook have changed the landscape around you. 

“…The apparatus operator reported a working structure fire, heavy fire on division one and the front porch. He requested a Second Alarm at [deleted], which brought my department to the scene.

Our engine responded with four members and approached the scene from the opposite direction of the ladder tower. We spotted a hydrant mid-block and approximately 75′ from the fire and stopped short, anticipating the ladder tower using the hydrant and operating as the attack piece. The operator of the ladder tower, who was the sole responding member on the piece, had deployed a pre-connected 200′, 1.75″ attack line. He placed it on the sidewalk for use by the initial attack crew and then charged it. At this point, two members of my crew dismounted and gathered their tools. I told them to proceed to the front of the fire building and I would join them there. I instructed my apparatus operator to don an SCBA and meet the three of us at the front of the structure to join in the initial attack. The two members of my crew, who had gone ahead of me, met up with a firefighter from the home company and together began to attack the large flame-front using the attack line left by the ladder tower apparatus operator.

After grabbing a set of irons, I started up the sidewalk to meet my crew when I heard a loud crack and observed a blinding flash in front of the structure. The electric service drop to the structure had burned away, recoiled and was now draped across the ladder tower…Blue colored arcs and flashes intermittently occurred as the fire began to gain headway again. A firefighter from the home company ran up to us and stated he would get a supply line into the ladder tower. I pointed out the problem with the power line down across the ladder tower and told him we weren’t doing anything until a line was brought up from my engine.”

This week’s extended narrative portion provides a number of talking points beyond the topic of a downed power line, hot and draped over a piece of apparatus. The point here is we can get single focused on completing a task and overlook death or disability staring us in the face. The drop and recoil of a downed power line wreaks havoc on the fireground. It cannot be ignored and is difficult to work around until the power company arrives to disconnect the fuse on the nearest utility pole. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), and the related reports, consider the following:

  1. What is the absolute indicator that a downed power line is dead?
  2. What is the average response time of your local power company’s emergency repair crew?
  3. Single family dwellings can have electrical service that ranges from 60 to 200 amps. What is the smallest amount of electricity needed to stop a human heart?
  4. Review your department’s downed power line policy. What does it say regarding how to handle downed power lines?
  5. Does pulling the meter shut power off to the building 100% of the time? How about from the pole to the house?

Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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