Breckenridge Texan

Firefighters, first responders learn about dangers of electricity

Firefighters, first responders learn about dangers of electricity
November 06
07:51 2018

When Larry “Shorty” Hatley opened his training session on electricity for area firefighters and other first responders Thursday night, he was blunt. “It will kill you that quick and you don’t even have to touch it. You can be walking up to it and it will kill you because it’s in the ground,” he said. “There’s more fatalities then you can ever think of with electricity and a lot of it is due to not knowing.”

Hatley, the safety coordinator for the Comanche Electric Cooperative Association, has over 30 years of hands-on experience working with the electric grid and was at the Wayland Volunteer Fire Department teaching local firefighters and other first responders about the dangers of electricity during an emergency situation. He provided them with life saving techniques for dealing with downed power lines and other electrical dangers they might encounter during those situations.

Hatley told the group that it only takes one milliamp, or one millionth of an amp, to kill somebody. He said it’s not the voltage that kills someone but the amperage.

He also dispelled a common myth about electricity jumping during a live demonstration and provided information on hidden electrical dangers emergency responders might not realize exist at an emergency scene. During his presentation, he shared his first-hand knowledge of the situations he has encountered over the years and showed the group eye-opening videos of actual emergency scenes that illustrated the sometimes strange ways electricity can act.

He also had set up a live demonstration using transformers, like the ones found on power lines, to show how electricity arcs and a power line can set a tree on fire.

Explaining how it all works

Larry “Shorty” Hatley discuss electrical safety with firefighters and first responders at the Wayland VFD fire station Thursday night. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

During his presentation, Hatley showed the group components commonly found on power lines, such as breakers, fuses and transformers, and explained how those components work and where they are located in the power grid. He walked the group through the process of how the electrical grid delivers electricity from the substation to the customers so first responders would have a basic understanding of what they were dealing with at an emergency scene.

He also talked about some of the interesting situations he’s run across over the years while making repairs in storm damaged areas that were hit by hurricanes. For example, he said somebody will have a generator and put male connectors on the end and plug it into their house and then run the electricity from the generator into the house. He said, the 220 volts coming out of the generator can send power back up to the power line and energize the transformer on the power line. It will then come out of the transformer as primary voltage and feed the power line and the houses down the line as far as it can feed. To prevent that from happening, he said, if you have a generator at your house, make sure you open (turn off) your main disconnect or main breaker in your breaker box. That will isolate your generator power from the outside power line, he said.

Importance of pole number for location

One of the most important topics for first responders that Hatley discussed is the importance of using the ID numbers found on power poles to help dispatchers locate an emergency situation such as a downed power line or pole.

He said all of CECA’s utility poles, and most other companies’ utility poles, have a metal tag on them with a pole ID number. He said providing that pole ID number to their dispatchers can help them pinpoint the exact location of the pole very quickly.

For example, he said, emergency crews for his company cover a seven-county area and if an emergency responder in the area calls between 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on any night they’re going to talk to somebody in another state. If that emergency worker provides them with a 9-1-1 address, it’s not going to do them any good because they can’t get the location information from that. He said their computer system is designed for a name, billing address and meter number, map number and pole number.

“That 9-1-1 address, there’s no way we can use it, it’s not even in our system as an option,” he said.  He also said many times the billing address will not work either because hunters and lessees and property owners may live in Fort Worth or some other location.

Hatley used his laptop computer during the training to demonstrate how the pole ID system worked. He typed in the pole number for the pole in front of the Wayland fire station, and the computer immediately pulled up the location of the pole on their map.  He cautioned, however, that if the utility pole is laying on the ground or has downed wires around no one should go near the pole for any reason.

“If that pole is laying on the ground, do not walk up to it, go to the next one, one down the road, and give us that,” he said. “A county road number actually does us no good, and we run into that all the time.”

He said giving them a pole ID number will help locate the damaged pole faster and get a crew there quicker.

Step Potential, the silent killer

Hatley said one of the greatest electrical dangers emergency workers face at emergency scene is “step potential,” which he calls the silent killer. He said when there are downed wires on the ground or lying on vehicle, electricity can make a circle in the ground around the wires up to 30 feet from where the wires are laying or the vehicle is sitting and the emergency responders may not see sparks.

“Some say 10 feet; some say 10 meters, so it’s over 30 feet. It’s going to depend on the voltage,” he said. “Everybody’s nature is to run in there and help somebody, but be aware of what you’re doing. You don’t have to touch somebody, in that ring, it’s a silent killer; it kills you and you didn’t do anything but walk up there and try to help.”

He said that when approaching an energized wire on the ground or an object that is attached to one, such as an automobile that crashed into a utility pole, emergency works should stay back at least 10 feet. He said if someone is trapped in the vehicle, they’re safer if they stay inside the vehicle until an electric crew arrives to cut off the power, unless there’s some other hazard such as the vehicle is on fire. In that case, he said there is a special procedure to get out of the vehicles, which was explained in two of the videos he showed during the training. He also demonstrated to the group how to shuffle out of the situation keeping both feet touching together at all times after jumping away from the vehicle and not touching it.

He said the possibility of step potential is the reason to wait inside the vehicle for someone from the power company to arrive at the scene and tell the person when it’s OK to exit the vehicle.

Hatley said it’s one of the biggest hazards he sees at accident scenes with first responders. He said they get in a hurry to clear the scene. But, he said, if a line is down at the scene, don’t go near it. If the car’s in that line, don’t go near it.

“But they want to get that car out of there and get it on the wrecker and get gone,” he said.  “That’s the biggest problem. That’s why I really like doing training like this to express that.”

Training is key for first responders

Brian Williamson, the training coordinator for the Wayland VFD, said training like that provided by Hatley at Thursday night’s meeting is important for firefighters.

“Lots of good information firefighters didn’t know, including myself, and that’s why we have these,” he said.

He said safety is paramount out in the field because anything can happen. “Situations can change in real life in a second. Especially like back when we had the big PK fires, winds were shifting,” he said. “There’s so many scenarios out here, you can’t train for them all, but you just try train as much as you can on as broad range of topics as you can.”

Wayland VFD Volunteer Brian Rogers said whenever they have training sessions they like to invite other area fire departments and local responders. For example, at Thursday night training there were representatives from the Hubbard Creek Volunteer Fire Department, EMS workers and members of the Stephens County Sheriff’s Department.

“What we try to do is include everybody that we can,” Rogers said. “Like for tonight, the information that was presented here was for the first responder. When we come up with something, we invite everybody and vice versa. If they have something, they will invite us.”

He said the training was a way of bringing in experts to help firefighters and first responders deal with a wide range of situations.

“If you can bring somebody in that deals with this every day, it’s the only way to go,” Rogers said. “That gentleman has 30 plus years with Comanche Electric; he gave us a lot of good information. I think everybody that attended this class tonight will be way more aware of electricity in general.”


Story by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Larry “Shorty” Hatley, safety coordinator for the Comanche Electric Cooperative Association, demonstrates how an electrical power line can set a tree limb that is touching it on fire. Hatley was providing training for local firefighters and other first responders at Thursday night’s meeting. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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