National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Downed Power Lines, Vehicle Collisions

A vehicle collision with downed power lines is not an uncommon occurrence. Training and frequent review reminds us of the hazard of downed power lines; or does it? How about we insert a civilian trapped in a burning vehicle into the equation, or the threat of one of our own being exposed to potential entanglement of a downed line. For predictable reasons, actions will be taken that overlook the hazard of the line. This primarily happens because the line looks harmless if it is lying on the roadway. However, the harmless looking power line is in reality more like a well camouflaged predator hiding in thick woods: virtually unseen but highly deadly.  That brings us to this week’s featured firefighter near-miss report:

Note: Brackets [] denote reviewer de-identification.

“…responded to a dispatch of an accident with injuries at [location omitted]. A female in the vehicle was reportedly having chest pains. Rescue [1] arrived with a crew of two and found a [vehicle] head-on into a utility pole with one victim inside. The officer of rescue [1] gave a size-up, established command, and requested [utility company] to report to the scene for a wire down across both lanes of traffic…The IC then observed the downed line being dragged by several cars. At that time, the IC made the nearly fatal decision (against all of his training and experience) to move the line out of the way of traffic…”

What propelled the incident commander (IC) to move the line? One suggestion is a serious pattern mismatch in the IC’s risk assessment. A downed power line that is not hissing, arcing and writhing violently does not look dangerous nor does it give any indication of being dangerous. So, once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

1. Why do you think the IC moved the line “…against all of his training and experience…”
2. What actions would you take to prevent the IC from grabbing the power line?
3. Is there a safe method for moving the line and not endangering yourself, the crew, or anyone else?
4. Does your department use power company equipment (gloves, hot sticks, etc.) for electrical emergencies?
5. If yes to #4, who maintains, inspects and approves the equipment to help shield the firefighter from an electrical shock injury?

Have you ever shocked yourself by contacting a power line? Have a “near fatal experience” involving power lines or other electrical equipment? Tell your story on 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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