Printed on: December 30, 2012

Downed power lines can pose threat at vehicle accidents

By Zach Kyle
zkyle@postregister.com

Car accidents on slick winter roads are bad enough.

Things can get worse in a hurry when downed power lines are added to the potentially deadly mix, especially when people rush in trying to help, Fall River Electric spokesman Ted Austin said.

While electrocutions at accident scenes are rare, people need to be mindful of the potential risk, Austin said.

"Fight the urge to go help if there's a downed power line anywhere nearby," Austin said. "Call 911. Stay in your vehicle."

Downed power lines always are dangerous, but winter conditions can increase the hazard from a greater distance.

Electricity carries through water, so a downed line that makes contact with puddles or wet snow is a threat to shock or kill, Austin said.

"Sometimes people think if a line is down in snow, the line is insulated," Austin said. "It's not. Any time a line is energized, it's a very dangerous situation."

Power lines sometimes fall onto the vehicles that downed them, electrifying the vehicle's metal frame and door handles, Austin said.

Fall River Electric recently held workshops with local emergency responder crews teaching about the dangers of working around downed power lines. The utility company serves about 16,000 connections in Madison, Jefferson and Fremont counties.

The utility preaches the same thing to emergency responders as it does to everybody else: Call 911 or the utility company that owns the line.

Wait until after the utility cuts power to the line before trying to help people in the vehicle.

People tend to jump to action at accident scenes rather than take a moment to size up downed power lines, Austin said.

"It's the ... good Samaritans who see the accident and want to go help those people who can endanger themselves if they approach the vehicle," Austin said.

Zach Kyle can be reached at 542-6746. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister.com/posttalk/.