On February 3, 1996, Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department Engine 22 and Squad 3, located in East Los Angeles, responded to a report of a man atop a telephone pole threatening suicide. On arrival, units found him atop a telephone pole yelling and acting irrationally. According to his friends, he was high on P.C.P. (angel dust) and speed. The man also had a history of attempted suicides. Fire department units and law enforcement personnel attempted to communicate with the individual from the ground, to no avail.

A truck company was called to the scene, as was the power company to shut off power to the pole. Since the man was on top of the last pole in the series, the power company shut off electricity to that particular pole. This eliminated the electrical hazard for the man and emergency personnel and also allowed power to remain on for the surrounding community. In general, the emergency personnel believed the man intended to end his life by jumping to the ground from the pole, which he had said and motioned toward doing.

The pole was located at the end of an alley bordered by commercial occupancies, which limited the truck company`s operating space. The truck was set up from the main street into the alley, the easiest method of access. Personnel wanted to make another attempt at communication with the man, so two police officers got in the aerial ladder bucket and were lifted toward the man on the pole. As the bucket approached the man, he leaped onto the deenergized power lines and proceeded, with his hands holding the upper wire and his feet on the lower wire, to move across the lines like a high-wire act.


The man`s action changed the incident from a static to a moving rescue. Crowd control became a problem once the man started to play to the crowd. This also created additional problems, since the risk to the crowd became a factor as the man moved the incident toward them. Police attempted to move the crowd back, but many accesses between the occupancies and the large number of people made clearing the area difficult.

The man then quickly moved toward the other pole, which was still energized on the other side. Noting his actions, power company personnel started to climb up the pole to shut off the rest of the power, but fire personnel stopped them for their own safety. The man was moving too quickly for them to climb the pole and shut off the power before he reached the energized lines. His behavior was dangerously unpredictable, and the fire personnel did not want to endanger more people.

On reaching the other pole, the man climbed higher up the pole toward the high-voltage lines, which at the time were still charged with 16,000 volts, and grabbed the power lines. As his hands touched the wire, his leg completed the circuit on the lower wire. A huge arc like a fireball exploded, breaking the wire he was holding onto, and he fell approximately 30 feet to the pavement. Fire personnel were held back from the injured man until the scene was deemed safe from electrical hazards. Los Angeles County Fire Department units assessed the man`s injuries, and paramedics began advanced life support measures; the man was rushed to County USC hospital via ambulance.

Due to the irrational behavior of the man, the uncontrollable rage associated with people on P.C.P., and the possibility of the man`s being armed, fire department and police personnel felt it was in the best interest of all to attempt to talk the man into coming down from the pole. They chose this method rather than attempting to grab and wrestle him and risk injury to the man or police and fire personnel. The man suffered burns to 90 percent of his body and inhalation burns to the throat but no trauma from the 30-foot fall. Also, the current passed over his body and not through it, so there were no internal electrical injuries. The patient was admitted to the intensive-care unit burn ward and lived.


Anticipate the unexpected with potential jumpers.

Be prepared for the incident to move from one side of the structure to the other or, in our case, from one pole to another.

Perimeter control is essential in such incidents. Have the police establish a perimeter for crowd control far enough away so the crowd cannot influence the patient`s actions or vice versa.

Continuously size up the incident, and perform ongoing risk analysis. For example, after the patient was electrocuted and fell to the ground, the natural instinct of emergency personnel was to rush to his assistance. You need to confirm if a new or potential hazard is present. Size up from beginning to end!

Police and fire personnel attempted to communicate with the man on the power pole from the ground. (Photos by author.)

Emergency personnel attempted to get closer to the man using a tower ladder.

The man grabbed the energized, 16,000-volt power line with his hand. His leg on the lower line completed the circuit, electrocuting him and breaking the wire he was holding onto, causing him to fall 30 feet to the ground. He survived.

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