It’s late in the day and you’re on your way home from work. Finally. You’re ready to eat dinner, put up your feet, and rest before you have to do it all over again tomorrow. You make the last turn into your driveway and there’s a tree down blocking your path. This is the last thing you need. A quick storm blew through a few hours ago, but you had no idea there was any issue at your house. You can see some kind of wire wrapped up in the tree limbs. You look ahead and can see that your porchlight is off and there are no lights on in the house.
The power must be out. So what should you do? Option 1, 2, or 3?
- Get out and move the tree? It’s not that large, and most of it will roll. The storm was hours ago, the line’s down and the lights are off, so no electricity risk. Just deal with it and then you can get home and make sure everything’s ok in the house. Wrong!
- Get out and inspect the damage? Try not to touch the tree, just in case, but there aren’t any sparks so it’s probably ok. Might even be a cable or phone line. Walk the rest of the way to the house and call the electric company to see when the power will be back on. Wrong!
- Leave it alone? Sit tight and call the power company. Turn the car around. Looks like dinner will be served with fries tonight. While fries may not be the healthiest choice, option three is the only safe choice. If you ever see a line down, it is critical that you act as if it is still energized and stay away. If electricity is flowing through that line, the tree and the ground around it may become part of the electric path, which means if you walk anywhere near it, you become part of the path. That choice could be deadly. Correct!
This scenario may sound far-fetched, but sadly it’s not. The month of June saw nearly 70 separate outages caused by broken and fallen trees, as two major storms left thousands without power. More than once our linemen arrived on scene to find trees and downed lines pushed to the side of the roads, or residents searching through limbs and debris just a few feet from a broken pole.
In one particularly frightening incident, a recloser - a protective device designed to shut off the power when it senses a fault on the line - initially worked as intended, killing the power when a tree hit the line, but later failed and re-energized the downed power line. The scene went from safe to deadly without any warning, and our linemen had to immediately clear the area to make sure no one was hurt.
Please, don’t risk it. If you see a line down, leave it alone and stay away. It’s always better to get home late than not at all.
by Dave Barton, Manager of Operations and Engineering