Beware of downed power lines and other electrical hazards
By Dianna Troyer
Resembling slithering snakes, downed power lines endanger emergency personnel and others responding to vehicular accidents.
“It’s human nature to want to help someone in an emergency, but keep your own safety in mind first,” says KC Ramsey, a lineman and safety committee chairman at Raft River Rural Electric Co-op Inc. “Don’t put yourself in danger and assume the lines are dead because they’re on the ground.”
KC and other linemen deenergize and repair lines after drivers collide into power poles, knocking the lines to the ground.
“We’ve had EMTs, Life Flight staff, law enforcement officers and other first responders ask us what to do in situations like that,” KC says. “Treat every line as if it’s live and call us. You can’t tell if it’s energized just by looking at it.”
KC and other co-op employees actively design and tailor safety programs and demonstrations suited not only for emergency personnel, but also for agriculture workers, ranchers and farmers, 4-H clubs, youth groups and other linemen.
“Our safety program has really expanded because people have come to us with their concerns,” he says. “We really want to get the word out about electrical safety.”
A new issue confronting electrical workers is the growing popularity of home installation solar panels and wind turbines, with excess electricity flowing into the power grid.
“Some homeowners aren’t always aware of bypass switches and other things they need to install in their system,” KC says. “When we’re working on a line nearby, we don’t know if their system is still running and might allow power to flow back on the lines to us.”
To demonstrate the power of electricity and how to be safe, those performing the safety demonstration often use a trailer equipped with a 7,000-volt electrode. The electrode, or conductor, is touched to a melon or hotdog—both have similar water content to a person—to simulate what would happen if an electrical current surged through someone.
With a crackling and zapping sound, the electric current makes the food smoke and leaves a black char.
Safety ideals extend beyond KC to all the employees and board members of Raft River Electric.
“Every month, we take turns bringing up issues with our Safety Share program —whether it’s something that happens at home or at work,” KC says. “Doing that makes us all more aware of reducing risks.”
All Raft River electrical workers complete mandatory monthly safety programs required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They stay certified in first aid, CPR and rescues from a pole, just to name a few.
“We hope we never have to deal with emergencies like that, but we’re prepared if something happens,” KC says.
Raft River Electric’s safety and maintenance program also entails traveling throughout its vast service area, ensuring everyone is up to speed on the ins and outs of the entire system. They also take time to tour the Minidoka Dam to become familiar with one of the several transmission points of interconnect.
Electrical workers are proactive, too, with protecting the system.
“Our service area is so large, we take a section at a time every spring to do preventative work,” KC says.
Covers are placed on transformers to keep birds out. Weeds are sprayed and brush is removed from around poles to reduce fuel loads in case of wildfires.
To encourage future linemen, KC is a regular speaker at Northwest Linemen College in Meridian, telling students about on-the-job safety experiences. At career conferences, he also tells teens about his job and how to apply for a lineman internship.
“We’re always coming up with interesting and fresh ideas to think about safety and maintenance issues,” KC says. “With all our electrical workers contributing, our safety program stays vital and energetic, in hopes that no one gets complacent.”
For information about safety programs, call Raft River Electric at 208-645-2211 or 800-342-7732.