By Brian Zaitz
Whether they are at a working structure fire, a miscellaneous still alarm, or a gas or electricity call, it is essential that fire crews have the ability to control an occupancy’s utilities. All occupancies have electric service, providing needed power for lighting and electronics and many have natural or propane gas providing heat and cooking fuel.
The first step you should take is to locate the utility service. At residential structures, you can normally find these on the side of the home opposite the parking area or garage. However, this location can vary. The first-due officer should note this during his 360° size-up. The utility service location can also vary on commercial properties, but you can find it easily during building walk-throughs and if they are marked properly on preincident plans. This saves time and headaches during a true emergency.
Many of today’s electricity flows into the meter from an underground feed, and older structures may have drip loops that “drop” the electricity from the main pole to the meter. Either way, the meter is supplied with power from the utility, and it measures the power going into the structure. It is possible to pull the meter and cut power from the exterior of the structure, but this is not a common practice across the industry.
A safer means to secure the power is to locate the breaker box; this panel takes in the power from the outside meter and then distributes it through a series of breakers to the rest of the structure, where power is needed through a system of electric lines.
Securing power at this location is simple and safe: Turn off the breakers starting at the bottom and work your way to the top, finishing with the main breaker controlling the utility. Repeat this procedure for multiple panels as you would in a commercial structure or a large home with multiple panels. This procedure also allows you to isolate an area that is an area on fire such as a small kitchen, allowing you to extinguish it with minimal damage. If the home is still inhabitable, you can isolate the kitchen through the panel and allow electricity to flow through the remainder of the home.
Gas—either natural or propane—is fed underneath the home and through a meter. The easiest way to secure the flow is to turn off the inline valve before the turning off meter. You can turn this quarter-turn (normally inline) valve, 90°, which will shut off the gas to the structure. You can turn these with the box section of a spanner wrench, a pair of channel locks, or the fork of a halligan. Never try to force this valve; it could break or damage the valve.
Whenever dealing with a utility, always follow up with the local utility company. Have them respond, verify, and restore service; they are the true experts. Take some time to review utility emergencies and look at the utility service connections in your local buildings. The best time to figure all this out is before the emergency happens.
Download this training bulletin as a PDF HERE (3.9 MB)
Brian Zaitz is a 15-year student of the fire service and the Captain-Training Officer with the Metro West Fire Protection District. Zaitz is also an instructor with Engine House Training, LLC , an instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy, and the Board of Director with the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He has several degrees including an associates in paramedic technology, a bachelor’s in fire science management, and master’s in human resource development. Zaitz is also a credentialed chief training officer through the Center for Public Safety Excellence as well as a student of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.
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